However, after much debate Steve Pieniak succumbed to his fear of no flying for the next (who knows how long) and he trundled into his truck and up the pass.
In route reports of cirrus to the north and east increased fears of the day's less than stellar potential and Steve ventured no further than the summit, stopping to have lunch and serendipitously watch as the Snoqualmie sky turned from white to blue.
Hey Dave, what do you think about Rampart? My answer was: If you think I can do it and it is flyable then I’m on my way. 1:45 hrs later I was at the Hyak exit getting a site orientation.
Everything sounded great except for the promised 45 minute hike (an hour plus for me) and something about the last person who died here did so two years ago. – Hmmm. I remember reading site notes on nwparagliders about Rampart: it was not rated but kinda like a high end P3. What is wrong with this picture?
I have 180 flights, some dicey launches including some in high wind so we will see. – On the hike up I am deafened by freight trains coming up the LEWARD side of the hill. This prompts me to call up the hill to Steve. – “If you can launch then do so and I will be waiting for Glass Off if it happens to shows up later.”
By the time I get to the Hang launch I find Steve fruitlessly attempting what he describes as a first for him; to launch a bag off of the snow from behind the Hang Bump. – It was a no go as the cliff and leeward winds kept balling up his wing. We take a short trudge up to the Para-launch to find lovely cycles just wafting up over the lip. Hey I can do this.
Steve graciously offers launch to me. Good thing, as I needed his help. Here is where the two cherries come in. The first cherry was that it was my first Rampart flight. The second is assumed: this was almost surly the first Rampart flight by anyone this season. (correct me if anyone flew this winter.)
Winds: cycles only, calm to 10 (maybe more), much like Blanchard West only 20 to 30 deg. cross from the W.
First launch attempt: – Wing grabs fast and tumbles in a frontal. – set it down – Steve me reminded to run up hill!
Second attempt: I ran up hill but not far enough. Enough to avoid the frontal but not enough to keep from getting plucked. – Not a bad pluck though, as it was in the middle of my turn. As the cross wind pushed me left, over the side of the hill, I pushed back with brake (no lean because my gear was down) I swing over the drop off, back and forth ( Steve yells STAY WITH IT!) Yea, like by then was there anything else to do? – Just as I was being plucked and was heading left I thought, for a very split second, of aborting but that would have thrashed me for sure so FLY THE WING! – with very kind words Steve would later tell me: “Nice save.”
On speed – away from the hill and ridge with nothing but wonderful lift. Now the flight that I will never forget begins in earnest. Early season at Rampart delivers visuals that you just don’t get anywhere else. – Spectacular vistas of snow corniced ridge tops, sheer granite faces with bright sun, blue skies and puffy clouds.
Topping the list was high mountain Gold Lake filled with brilliant aquamarine water, ice and snow. Falling from the lake was a 300 meter water cascade only seen from well up the canyon or from this silent airborne perch.
Steve launched after I had been in the air for 10 minutes or so. He said he had to clear his lines after enjoying a private moment with a tree and a snow hole. After launch he passed me up and was heading toward Alta Mountain in less than 5. I want a wing like that. – Cold and beautiful the view was stunning.
Once away from launch the lift was whip cream smooth all the way across the ridge with little bubbles bumping you ever so gently higher. I topped out about one or two hundred above the ridge apx 6,200 or 1,600 over launch. Steve went another 4oo or so to a light whispy base. Very cold with fingers numb I managed a few quick shots with my camera phone. I had to have something to prove my claim.
My triangle was about 10 miles but can’t share it with you on Leonardo. Just catching my breath from the hike I felt like I was stealing candy from Steve as each minute passed on launch. This feeling didn't come from Steve as he was very patient and gracious, but I know how much he loves to fly this place. In trying to slow down and focus on my safety preflight I forgot to turn on my GPS and didn’t even put on my vario, so I flew old school.
The flight wrapped up with a windy, bumpy set up and approach – all skills were needed for the approach but a P1 one could have set it down the last 30 feet of final. The flight was wrapped up with a whisper smooth landing in a lovely little spot of land previously scouted for just such a purpose.
Steve I can’t thank you enough for the providing me with my best flight so far! – I need work on my high wind kiting/take off skills and may not run the ridge again until they are solid but for now I have memories to feed my dreams of snow cones, whip cream and cherries.