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How NOT to cross the Shasta Valley

Day 1 is in the books, and there are a LOT of tired (and frustrated) faces to go with it!  The day dawned with the promise of good lift and light winds; but cloudbases of only 10,000 - 12,000'.  However, the morning clouds were only at 8000' and a lot of people were nervously watching to see if they'd lift. An east-west convergence line was forecast for the day across the south end of the Shasta valley, but it didn't look to be super-strong (or super-straight).

Lots of pictures are here (Sorry that Picasa's new look is horrible, I'll be posting these somewhere else tonight so you can see them in order)  

One person who didn't seem nervous was our CD ("Contest Director"); who set a TAT to "China" (near Weed), then "Backscatter Radar" (wayyy the hell out in the eastern Basin towards Nevada), then "Carter" (back to the west of Shasta and into the mountains that direction), then "Restaurant" (up at the OR/CA border).  With a 3.5 hour minimum time and only 10 mile cylinders around each turnpoint (20 at Backscatter), this meant averaging at least 53mph just to achieve minimum distance!  The CD here definitely doesn't seem to care about making it easy for newbies or allowing them to get their bearings.  I'm a bit frustrated about that, as some of the flying techniques (such as this convergence-line-flying) are somewhat unique to this area and calling tougher tasks like this seems to favor the locals and the people who've flown here before.  A couple of people (including at least one local pilot) were heard to be grumbling about this later in the evening - so at least I'm not alone!

I was tail-end charlie on the launch-line, so it was a long wait to get up in the air.  Most everyone was on-task by the time I got high and into the start cylinder; with just a few folks remaining, floating around and trying to pick their moment.  I thought that the day would die later on, so I pushed out immediately.  I had a good run down to "China" along the western edge of the Shasta valley; but got low coming in to China itself (I detoured for some clouds that didn't work) and had to scratch up for lift.  I came across Chris Young and Kerry Richards, who were also working their way up.  We all fiddled around the area trying to get high for the dreaded valley-crossing to Shasta.  Chris and I wound up near each other so we tag-teamed across the valley, trying to find lift as we pushed across to the big mountain.  A few clouds along the way made it easier; but this is also where I made my major mistake.  I was just 300-400 feet below Chris coming in onto the Shasta slopes, and I thought "no big deal, there are tons of clouds right up against Shasta and I'm sure one will work to get me up to cloudbase".  I then proceeded to fly for an eternity without finding any solid lift.  

Before I knew it, Chris was 1500 feet above me, cruising along the face of the mountain. I, on the other hand, was scraping the trees in the low, broad, flat lower slopes of Shasta - its not a fun place to be!  I knew that if I turned away from the mountain and into the main valley, I was going to land in the valley or land back at the home airport.  So I pushed on and used a few tiny bits of lift to gain a couple-hundred feet.  Some major good-looking clouds in the next valley (to the NE of Shasta) looked inviting, so I held my breath and dove over a ridge into...  A higher valley - full of trees and a few swampy meadows and NO ROADS.  Things were getting pretty serious at this point, as I didn't have a good glide to any airports from this area.  I tried the clouds and they didn't work, so I scooted my way north along the narrow high valley and started to dump my water.  I was looking at the long shallow sloping ground to the east and targeting a few farm fields way off in the distance as a possible land-out.  There were lava beds between me and those fields, however - not a comfy situation!  The swampy meadow below me would have been a messy (though survivable) landing.  However one small dirt track led to a dilapidated wooden cabin, and nothing else - it would have been a day or two to get me and get out of the area.  Oof!  

Just as I came to the NE corner of the valley, I hit a booming thermal and was able to climb from 6000' to over 1000' (a gain of 4000' in one thermal). What a relief!  Of course, by this point I was highly frustrated and knew I'd lost time against other people (as well as having dumped my water; which means I would have to fly slower the rest of the day) - so the rest of the flight was not as much fun as it could have been.  I continued to work hard almost all the way to Medicine Lake, where I FINALLY got up to cloudbase (11,000') and was able to find the convergence line.  I ran the front edge of the clouds pretty well on my way back to Mt Shasta (about 25-30 miles), and was starting to feel good again.  

But at Shasta I had a dilemna - clouds ringed the mountain and I could go back on the North side (which didn't work for me earlier in the day) or the south side (where the clouds looked to be booming).  I chose the south side, and again I found myself making the wrong choice!  While the air in this area wasn't bad, there was almost no lift so I continually lost height flying around the south side of the mountain.  I popped out the other side to see Chris way ahead and above me, trying to poke his nose through the mountains to the west.  I had to spend time again, scratching up the mountains near "China" and cursing my choices for the day.  I finally got high and tiptoed across the ridges, as Chris got into a tight situation with almost no exit and headed back out into the main valley with only a few feet to spare between himself and the ridge.  Did I mention it was a challenging day?

I worked my way along a spine towards the "Carter" turnpoint, now well-behind on time and with the day getting late (it was after 5pm at this point).  Wispy bits of cloud were working well so I was able to stay high; meanwhile Chris and Kerry unfortunately got squashed - Chris back to the home airfield, while Kerry had to land at the airport in the Scott Valley (west of Montague).  By the time I turned north for the Restaurant turnpoint, the day was dying rapidly and all the clouds were evaporating as quickly as they formed.  I nibbled my way along, flying off the wing of Steve Mason, and we worked our way up the ridges on the west side of the Shasta valley.  I detoured deeper into the mountains while he flew straight, but in the end we came back together near the turnpoint at about the same altitude.  There was absolutely no real lift the last few miles, and when Steve's computer said that he was flying out of gliding range from the airport he turned back for home (just 1 mile short of the last turnpoint!)...  I pressed on, figuring "what the hell, there's a dirt airfield near this turnpoint and its been a bad enough day already".  I ghosted my way up to the edge of the turnpoint and immediately yanked the glider around for home.  Now I had one final obstacle: a slot between two mountains (our "house thermal generators" for initial climbs away from the airport).  I headed towards it at minimum speed, trying to conserve altitude (as the computer said I could make it back to the home airport with only 800' to spare).  As I came through the slot, a large upwelling of air pressed me upwards about 300 feet and I marvelled at my newfound margin.  I was able to push the nose over and head for the barn at 80 knots, using this extra altitude for a brief fun run.

In the end, if was a tough day and although a few people posted massive speeds, about 25% of the pilots didn't finish the task (4 out of 12 in Standard class, and 2 out of 12 in the 18-Meter class).  I wound up in 7th place, not so good; BUT well within striking distance of the top spots as the contest wears on (we have potentially 9 total days of flying).  Chris was disappointed he had to cut the task short; but had some AMAZING flying on the face of Shasta and its Glaciers.  Steve Northcraft finished in 5th, and was obviously unhappy with some of his decisions and lack of aggression on the day.

Today we do it all again, and I have to run to my glider now - so wish us luck!

Our flights for Tuesday (click on the "i" icon at the far right to see details about each flight)

The Scores

--Noel (Glider "Papa-Mike")

Posted: 6/27/2012 By: Noel Wade

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