Saturday, August 28, 1999
TEAM TOPA STRIKES AGAIN!
Paraglider flies 139 Miles from:
Launch Pine Mountain Ventura County about 11:30 am
thru Los Angeles and Kern Counties
landing north of Trona in Inyo County about 6:30 pm
Firebird Flame / DHV 2 Intermediate Paraglider
Pine Mountain, Southern California N 34 degrees 38.158' W119 degrees 18.336", is located 25 miles northeast from Santa Barbara, CA. The elevation is approximately 7000' MSL. It is one of the most prominent peaks in the area and the one that is readily accessible and flyable by hang gliders and as of late paragliders. It is approximately 30 miles west of The Antelope Valley, more high desert than valley, which is not only the western gateway to the Mojave Desert, but in addition segregates the Great San Joaquin Valley and The Los Angeles Basin. Generally it is the Antelope Valley where these two air masses converge. Hang gliders have flown from this site for the last 12-15 years with the longest flight being 179 miles and a few flights in the 150+ mile range. Pine Mountain is generally a convergence site with 3000'+ altitude gains being average and 7000'+ common. Being that the site has close proximity to the Pacific Ocean to the west, the longer distance flights are flown east. The days to look for are the days after we have been under the influence of the Monsoonal flow, which is typically from the southeast, to when the typical westerly onshore flow begins to reestablish itself.
Here is my story. Wednesday 8/25/99, I awake to definite signs of monsoonal flow. By noon there is a convergence line with beautiful cumulous clouds from Pine Mountain east as far as the eye can see, with cloud base at 14K-15K. The temperature in the desert is hot,105+, and is expected to remain so for the next 3 or 4 days. I watch the clouds all day knowing that it is one of the best days of the year, the ones you wait for all year, and we're not flying. My friend, and mentor, Tom Truax is leaving town for the week to visit another pilot friend and family in Washington. It is only this summer, with very few exceptions, that this site is being flown by paragliders at the height of the day. Half jokingly I tell Tom that "if you leave town I'm going to break your paragliding record, approximately 60 miles (Tom also holds the site hang gliding record 179 miles). After watching the dynamic flying all day Wednesday I promise my self that I'm not going to be on the ground watching again tomorrow. Thursday comes and the Monsoonal flow has actually increased and it is almost raining. So much for the flying.
Saturday, August 28th. 3 pilots and myself agree to meet in Ojai at 9:30 for the hour and fifteen minute drive to takeoff. The day is warm and southwest winds at altitude are predicted. As we drive up the road to take off I look to the east and see an isolated cloud on the Tehachapi Mountains approximately 30 miles northeast of takeoff. The Tehachapi Mountains run east and west for approximately 40 miles, separating the Central Valley and The Antelope Valley. At 11:00 we arrive at takeoff. I notice a number of inversion layers to the south of takeoff, in addition it appears that the wind is blowing 10-15 miles per hour which is right on the edge for a paraglider in the mountains. These conditions appeared to be very similar to my last flight at Pine Mountain when one pilot ended up in the hospital and I ended up hiking for 5 hours. After studying the conditions it appears that is not excessively windy but that thermals are cycling thru. No cloud development as pull my FIREBIRD FLAME overhead. I' m lifted off the ground and have to scramble to recover and takeoff.
The initial 20 minutes of the flight are spent low and close to the terrain in front of takeoff in ratty air with numerous asymmetrical tip collapses. I top out at 9000' over take off and still no clouds. The other pilots seem to be having trouble getting off of the hill. After flying above takeoff, in relatively smooth air, I drift over the back and onto the North side. I immediately connect with a thermal which is climbing slowly and drifting out of the Southwest towards Lockwood Valley 10 miles east. Unfortunately I am not able to get any higher than 9000', which for hang gliders and paragliders is not enough altitude to comfortably make the glide over 10 miles of canyons and scrub pines into Lockwood Valley, which is the major lift source in the area. Fully committed I am drifting towards Lockwood Valley and it's first landable area. I dive into Lockwood Valley grateful that I've made it this far and thinking what a nice flight this has been given the weak conditions.
At the west end of Lockwood Valley I'm 800' agl when I contact a broken thermal climbing at 200-300 ft. per minute. 7 miles ahead is Frazier Mountain, 8000 msl, the jumping off point into The Antelope Valley. At Frazier Mountain there are clouds mixing and tumbling indicating a convergence. I make sure that I top out ,12000', prior to arriving at Frazier, not wanting to have to top out in the converging air mass. Some of the worst turbulence I've experienced in paragliding has been in convergence flying. I pass Frazier climbing to 13000'.
There is a cloud street from Frazier the length of The Tehachapi's. The first 15-20 miles of transition from Frazier Mountain into the Antelope Valley are the most difficult part of the flight. Of the hundreds of flights to I5, less than 20 have connected and made it to Highway 14, approximately 60 miles east of launch. In addition this area is a major air corridor between Southern and Central California. I leave Frazier Mountain on glide to The Tehachapi's, with small planes zipping around and the cloud street diminishing. I arrive at the foothills of the Tehachapi's at 8000' msl, approximately 2500 agl, behind The Cement Plant. Making sure not to let the wind carry me into the mountains I work the foothills.
Working light lift I continue to drift eastward towards the first prominent peak on the range 15 miles ahead. This is where the mountains become more pronounced and where the cloud street begins. There is a rock shelf about 2/3 of the way up the peak which faces into the wind. If I can just make this shelf I'm sure that I can ridge soar up the shelf to the peak where a thermal must be working. At two miles west of this peak it is no longer an issue. I climb to 10,000' and drift over the peak. I am now established on The Tehachapi's when a Lear Jet, on final to Bakersfield, flies 300' over head. Expecting turbulence and receiving none I look below me to see a dark object. Is this an eagle or a condor? No its a F117 Stealth Fighter climbing thru me and turning out to the desert towards Edwards Air Force Base.
I am now above Double Mountain with the town of Tehachapi to the north, the Antelope Valley to the south, and to the east is the beginning of The Sierra Nevada range and the City of Mojave is approximately 12 miles away. Knowing that reaching Mojave represents the site paragliding record, and thinking that I've probably got it in the bag. I go on glide to the cloud street forming on The Sierra Nevada's, which run more north-south. I immediately start plummeting out of the sky in 1000' per minute sink. I am sinking out into a meadow/canyon called Oak Creek with a substantial walk ahead of me. Within five minutes I have gone from breaking the site record to landing short and out.
As I enter Oak Creek Canyon I am low in leeside turbulence when with two options; one of which is to try and fly upwind to a south facing ridge with probably one shot at getting up, or let the west wind carry me to a north facing ridge with maybe a couple of opportunities to get up. I continue down wind, and with about 800' agl I contact a broken thermal and slowly climb into the heart of the convergence. I finally caught up to the convergence, which has eluded me all day, always pulsing out just in front. I am now flying under the cloud street at minimum sink and climbing at 500' per minute without turning.
Below to my left are the wind generators in The Tehachapi Pass. I decide to give them wide berth. I fall off of the wind arriving over The City of Mojave at 4:30 and immediately climb to 14,500' in smooth lift. I have broken the site record. At this time my options are to continue of fly due east towards Barstow where there are no clouds and extend the record or to take a more northerly course, staying with the clouds which are running parallel to Highway 14 NE towards Ridgecrest. Topa Chase is now in the area, unfortunately my radio will receive but transmits marginally.
As I turn northward, I apply 50% speed stirrup. I am having trouble staying on course. The West wind is carrying me on a more easterly track. I am now west of the California City airport. The airport is located 14 miles NE of Mojave. At the airport there are glider and skydiving operations. I have flown sailplanes here and know Cindy and Marty who operate Carolco Soaring. Additionally, there is a parachute drop zone. With retrieval questionable this is looking like an attractive landing area. Just west of the airport I climb back to 14000'. 10 miles ahead is the automobile test track, in Fremont Valley, with good cloud development. I arrive at the test track and see a sailplane climbing. I go to him. He reaches cloud base before I do and heads back to the airport at California City. I wonder what he must have been thinking? Here he is out in the desert and with some guy at 12000' next to him in paraglider.
At this point chase has caught up to me and we have broken commun- ications. My goal is Ridgecrest 20 miles a head. I am heading up wind above The El Paso Mountains. My ground speed is negligible, at this rate I'll be on the ground in 15 minutes, with a long hike in the middle of no where and without communication. I fall off down wind and arrive at Laurel Mountain north of Randsburg. I slowly climb back to 12000' feet. It is 6 pm. I continue to head north over the Spangler Hills and top out in my last thermal. Below me is Searles Valley, east of Ridgecrest, and up ahead the mining town of Trona. I am now on final glide hoping to make Trona and wondering what the wind velocity is on the ground.
My goals are to stay out of the lake, which the wind seems to be blowing me towards, and to land away from any power lines. Trona is now five miles behind. I pass by the Trona airport, at 6:30, in light and variable conditions, turn into the wind and land at a turn out in the road. 7 hours, four counties, and 139 miles later. Unofficially the longest foot launched flight in The United States. Topa Chase crewed by "Fast " Eddie Scow and Ron Faoro were there to pick me up within 10 minutes of landing as I was discussing my flight with a couple of "locals". "Fast" Eddie, a veteran hang glider pilot, knew with little or no communication by looking at the clouds and wind direction where I would probably be landing. To both of you thank you being there and sharing this with me. In addition thank you to the folks that designed and manufactured The Firebird Flame. In a short time I've had some memorable cross country flights.