Friday, August 13, 2010

Into The Lion's Mouth

When I talk with people about Rampart I tell them that Rampart only has two problems: first there is the launch and then there is the landing. Lion Rock does not have Ramparts first problem, Lion's launch is super sweet. There are several choices of directions and no shortage of flow generating mechanical lift or cycles for thermic lift.

The view is stunning and if you go this weekend you will be joined by 800 star gazers. Speaking of which they were out in force Thursday. Driving to launch we had to go through a gauntlet of lovely, yet a bit wacky looking folk who had flung their telescopes all over the mountain meadows. Geodesic domes, popcorn and tee-shirt stands, music and seminars dotted the fields. The experience reminded me of when Jody Foster, in Contact, returned to her telescope field / research station 3 days after the announcement of First Contact to find her path nearly block by thousands of nutty, space alien loving, telescope wielding gawkers.

Back to the flying. - Exploration crew #2 came together after the club meeting on Tuesday. I didn't get to go on last Sunday's "initial" run at the site. - Yes I know it has been flown before. Like Matty, I have been looking at the site for some time - not as long as Matty has but with a similar focus and certainly desire.

The core challenge to Lion Rock is the weather. - Lion Rock weather dynamics and suggestions deserve a right up all their own. From what I could see Thursday was shaping up to be just about right. - CU development needs to be minimal and heating needs to be strong and winds need to be light. - We had two of the three with the winds being a bit stronger at altitude (6 - 7,000) than would have been optimal.

Matty launched first around 11:30 or so and found light lift, climbing to about 800 over. On his magic wing he was able to push into the wind, which was either South or West depending on how high you were. He pushed South over the next ridge and then came back in front climbed up again and then over the back to the fields behind the sky gazers. I would guess his flight was in the 45 min category an appeared to require a good chunk of his light lift talent.

Both Armon and Conrad took their shots early as well - Both made admirable efforts but gravity eventually won out over the early light conditions. To say light conditions does not mean it was easy - The thermic mountain wind dynamic is very challenging and both pilots along with two of the three that landed in the LZ's in the valley Sunday described the landing and or set up effort as challenging. This includes Matty and Frank - I present these names as a warning sign - If our best pilots found these landings, on two different days, to be challenging, we should listen carefully to the experience. I add my flight to the list not claiming best pilot status but as one who affirms the challenging dynamic of the landing Lion. - More later.

Heading into the Lion's cage - or cave, or mouth as the case may be I had only one goal in mind. I want to fly Blewett Pass and land at the Ranch. To pull off that flight I knew I needed more altitude and better lift/wind conditions than the early launch group discovered. I waited till just before two to set up. Around 1:15 a strong blow came through - likely the upper level West dropping in for a visit. When I launched it was mild up slope cycles with a 7 mph West base flow.

I pushed out and found a little mechanical and a little thermic lift in front of the rock but not enough to get up so I pushed on down stream until I caught a drifter that took me up and back to the ridge North of the Rock. There I played the lift game at Table mountain. - Good and very good pockets of lift combined with stronger and stronger West base to drive me back and challenge my commitment to the effort.

Ridge running in the mountains is normally a blast but when the prevailing is too strong then you really set up a bad situation where you just can't stay out in front. - I exited my last climb at 7650ft because of building West as I got higher. I just pulled out in front and then took the elevator down all the way to the ridge in front of the lift. - It was pin city.

Flight over but not on the ground as I knew the West would only get worse. I pushed for the LZ and making 5 to 10k an hour inching my way to goal. I was about 3-500 over when I set up to land and "enjoyed" very poppy lift coming off the LZ field. The upslope valley flow was about 4k under my trim so I just parked it in in 2-300 down.

At tree top plus 50 it was up and down reading the cycles in the tops of the trees. Check out the last video below for the final approach and landing.

I streamed the whole flight to YouTube for those with nothing to do or a keen interest. - Make note of how little turning I did toward the end of the flight. - Just punching into the flow.

I really enjoyed the flight but staying out of the trees wasn't a certainty until the very last.

Till next time with lighter winds.

The flight in Youtube segments 1 though 7.

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