Rampart to Stevens pass, my first attempt. Conditions looked to be excellent for the effort. XC Skies was calling for lift to 11,400 to 12,000 on route with generally low pressure and South winds over the Cascade crest.
Up pass winds from both the West and East on the surface were to be 4 to 7mph. This is a little strong but you get that with good lift. The conditions on launch were a bit challenging - nothing new there, but a bit of a stronger East push kept us sitting on our hands until the West face really started to move. Until then we had cross winds out of the East.
3 minute video above, 1hr 45min below
When cycles started to come from the SW it was after 2:00. I really had hoped to get off by 1:00. Next time I think we will launch East just below the Hang launch.
Climb out was fast and easy and the crest was boaty and lifty. - Strong windy lift with undetermined, lea and windward sources were the name of the game all day. For one who is not use to mountain flying it was quite disconcerting to not have a clear read on either the direction of the lean of the thermals or their actual source. - After a couple of turns I could figure it out but I was never sure when they kicked off and some were as strong as 5.5 m/s up.
The view up there is just amazing but to give you an idea of the work involved I can honestly say that I spent almost no time looking about and almost all of my energy flying and working for best lift and line.
After my initial climb I got a nice lift in the bowl just south of Alta and then flew on a lift line just east of the peak. I didn't have to turn again until past Chikamin where I was back to ridge level. This is at the back end of the major bowl that you see when you look up valley from the freeway. From the freeway it looks like the last high hill but it is a ridge / bowl that has a S and SW face.
Chickamin faces S and I had to push past it to its West face to begin to pick up my next lift. It was slow to develop but eventually really took off and was my first climb that had a strong SW to NE lean to it. This one sucked me farther into tiger country which was good and bad. It was forcing me to make a call and with the extra lean I began to imagine valley winds in the back of my mind.
Flying high in the mountains is easy, the big problem is at the end of the day and you have to make your calls way before you have all the information. This leaning thermal told me that the West winds were winning and going to pick up. - I was facing a push now to the North that had about 20k left (though I didn't know the distance for sure).
I was certain I could make the next transition to Chimney Rock having over 9,000ft at Lema Two. But it was becoming the point of no return and I just didn't have the guts or other apparati required to continue on. I was already at a point where I wasn't certain I could make it back but thought I could. In hind-sight I should have pushed on.
Back to the challenge of valley winds. - When you get low they can be very strong and I was worried that if I got stuck in big sink I would not only have limited landing options but they would involve major winds based on the lean of my last thermal. So I turned about and ran like a little scared kid hiding from the bully.
The return was quite nice, though I wanted to go West side of Mt. Thompson, but again didn't have the guts. I dove in for the lea side ride back to the mid section of Alta where I knew safe lift was waiting, assuring me of the LZ.
ALTA ALMOST HOME
It was there that I caught the best lifter of the day cranking all the way to 10,300 or so. On the way past the summit I chatted with a hiker who had a dog. Didn't get the dog's name though. (6,250ft) From Alta I pushed West along the crest over Snoqualmie peak and on to Granite Mountain thinking about making a run for North Bend. I was at 6,500 when I decide to play nice and join the crew back at the cars and turned back to land about 3k West of Hyak. (parked in West winds by the way)
I don't know if I would have made it back to Mailbox, the Winds at ridge level were not bad and the sun was baking the ridge between Bandera and Mailbox so I figure it should have been easy but those are more might-have-beens. It was a great day of flying.
Next time, maybe.