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Days 4 and 5 - Good flights and bad decisions

Sorry for the delayed posting, the last couple of days have been long and tiring!  To make up for it, here's a spectacular shot of Mt Shasta from 23,000 feet.  It was taken by Aussie guest-pilot Allan Barnes, who got into wave on one of the practice days and climbed quite high!
Mt Shasta from on-high

Days 4 and 5 have been interesting, yet frustrating for me.  Both days I've had stompin' good flights going, right up until late in the flight - where I've made critical mistakes and gotten low (and slow, because I have to claw my way back up).  The good news is that Steve Northcraft has been tearing it up the last couple of days - finishing 2nd and 1st on Days 4 and 5, respectively.  This has bumped him up to third overall, and I'm sitting in 4th (but I'm also behind Allan, our Aussie guest pilot).

On Day 4, the task was a long MAT that required us to go across the Scott Valley to the west, and turn at Quartz Valley (at the north end of the Marble Mountains).  After that, we had our choice of turnpoints and many chose to run laps north and south along the mountains.  The clouds looked good, but were very close to the top of the peaks so you had very little maneuvering room.  Also, the clouds worked best on the west side of the ridge; but if you fall below ridge-height on the west side of the Marble Mountains, there is NO PLACE to land for 20+ miles!  Rocks, trees, and possible death await - so its fairly intimidating.  Therefore, most of us didn't go deep enough across the ridge to really work the lift.  My initial run south to the "Carter" turnpoint (about 30 miles down to the south end of the Marble Mtns) was not that great, but I found a booming thermal to the west over the "Callahan" turnpoint to get me back up and on-course again.  My trip back to the north, however, was great and I found myself all the way back up at "Wright" (a high mountain peak at the north end of the Marble Mountains) without stopping for a single thermal.  Of course, with the clouds being as low as they were (and the peak being as tall as it is), I had to tiptoe to Wright itself and turn away from the tree-covered mountainside at the last second in order to nip the small 1-mile cylinder surrounding the peak (in order to get scored for reaching it).  The run south along the mountains again worked well, though I lost some height coming into "Carter" again.  Another glider marked a wonderful thermal, so I again zipped back up to cloudbase.  Since the clouds stretched west towards Callahan, I again floated out to it before returning to the Marble Mountains.  

But I made the mistake of cutting diagonally back to the mountains, across blue sky that wasn't providing any lift.  As I got under the clouds, I found that they weren't working well on the east side of the slopes and I steadily lost height for the next 20+ miles as I tried in vain to limp my way northward along the hillsides.  I arrived at the Quartz turnpoint not at the 8000' I desired; but rather at a meager 3900' - just barely above the floor of the Scott Valley.  Cursing and dreading a land-out, I drifted over to some low hills in the middle of the valley - hoping to find some wind-induced lift (or at LEAST hop over them and reach the Scott Valley Airport on the far side).  As luck would have it, I found a very weak thermal that netted me 300 feet of hard-won altitude.  The next little hill to the west did the same, and a very weak waft of air over the Scott Airport itself got me up to 5000'.  Still FAR below the height of the mountains between myself and home; but enough breathing room to drift across to the east side of the valley and try to use the slopes there.  They were facing into the wind and into the late-afternoon sun,  so I was hopeful that I'd get something off of them.  As I curved into a little hillside bowl where two ridges joined, a surge of lift rocked my glider and I turned into it. It was a mix of thermal and ridge-lift, and the turbulence was bouncing me all over.  It was a fight to keep the glider banked over properly, and I would fly into 4 knot lift on one side of my turn - then back into 1-2 knot sink on the other side.  As I got higher, the lift became better and easier to center, and after grinding my way around for a long while, I was able to get up to final glider altitude and set course for home.  The low save was way better than a landout, but cost me a good 8-10mph on my average speed for the day - ARGH!  Interestingly enough, I was able to take about 8th place on the day (not dead last) - as many people found unreliable clouds and had difficulties of their own.  But it certainly separated me (points-wise) from the top dogs in the class.

Next blog post, I'll wrap up Day 5!  Off to today's pilot meeting (for Day 6) - where I expect to be told that we'll be flying in very weak, blue lift today with a bad inversion and possible cirrus.  Oh, joy!

--Noel

Posted: 7/3/2012 By: Noel Wade


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