Monday, July 9, 2012

Egg Attempt in the Blue

Walt Rogers got me excited that the weekend held an opportunity to continue my quest to capture the egg from it's nearly permanent home at Air Sailing.  Great conditions were called for in the Great Basin, the challenge as always is connecting from Avenal to the desert.


I had a plan, a westerly line down the California Valley, jump to the Sierra Madre's near Santa Ynez and run the convergence past the Tehachapi's connecting to the Sierra and blasting north hoping for something late in the day near Minden for final glide into Air Sailing.  Sunday, we'd take a tow out of Air Sailing, egg safely tucked in the Duo and fly back South hopefully getting to 18k somewhere down near Mammoth and dead glide our way back across the Sierra and the valley towards Avenal.


Conditions looked like they might allow for an early (for Avenal) start around noon.  I was set to go it alone in the Duo as Karl was flying our ASW-20 with Julie willing to crew should I end up short or need a retrieve on Sunday if I couldn't make it back to Avenal.  


Arriving at the field, I found a cohort for the adventure in Ethan.  A little hemming and hawing about the uncertainty of the whole deal, but he jumped in on the opportunity to go see what we could do free of the constraint of returning to Avenal at the end of the day.


We launched shortly after noon and released into a mystery thermal that disappeared on circling back for it.  Almost immediately we were lower than desired.  I pushed in to Tar Peak 200ft below the top or so and proceeded to figure eight in some thermals streaming up the slope before getting up enough to circle.  That got us to nearly 4000.  Not enough to escape the Avenal Valley with any comfort.  We pushed towards Black hoping to connect with the convergence to the west and start our travels south.


I worked the foothills with Mario and Karl, unable to really connect with a decent climb or a complete circle in lift.  Working a hotspot in front of Black I finally got up enough to get to the main ridge around 4300.  We just couldn't find a decent climb on Black.  We spent a good amount of time to finally find something to get us 500 over Black and with that I committed to going over the back to the microwave towers.  Part way there we connected with a good climb to 7500 and turned SE trying to follow the convergence line.


Nearly over Camatta at 7500.




The 30 mile run to Camatta was pretty easy and Ethan got us up there to nearly 8500. I pushed us into the mountains and should have cut east into CA Valley where there were a couple of big dust devils. I didn't expect the westerly flow to have come through, but it had and the dust devils had been the clue that I misread. The diversion to the mountains put us low near the CA Valley airstrip.  We were not low enough to be certain on the width of the fences, but I was eyeing a fresh cut hayfield a couple miles west as a safer option with 10mph west winds.  We got back up to 5000 and pushed towards Soda Lake since that was downwind and the convergence must be downwind. 


15 miles later we found ourselves about 1500agl looking at fields and dirt roads as our landing options and discussing which options seemed best all the while pushing east hoping for a dust devil or a bird or something to indicate lift.  We blindly hit a good climb at 3500 taking that to over 8000 and then bumping up in a really strong climb to over 10k.  Not much heading into the Cuyama Valley so we turned east, heading towards Mt. Pinos and picked up a climb to over 9k on the south side of New Cuyama out over Foothill Rd.


We worked into Pinos and after almost starting a retreat back to New Cuyama and rowdy thermal threw itself at us and took us high enough to clear Pinos where we picked up a southerly flow.  Again we climbed near the drop-off into the San Joaquin Valley and pushed across into the Tehachapi range past I5.  Strong southerly winds were flowing over the pass and it was a dead smooth glide as we pushed east.


We weren't going to make Tehachapi and it wasn't good enough to press any further so I turned back at around 4:30pm and headed for Taft after running downwind to escape some sink.   As we headed downwind we could see dust devils indicating the convergence in the valley between the south and north flow.  We crossed over most of the dust devils at 5000 or more and there was nothing but smooth air. We were squeeking into Taft after 40 miles of still air.   3 nautical out from the airport and I still couldn't clearly see the runway from our low angle.  The glide computer claimed we were going to arrive 750ft agl, but the last few miles was up a shallow canyon without many options.  I was concerned that if the runway was past some houses, I was pushing way past my comfort and safety level.  I decided to commit to some nice open plowed fields back behind us if I couldn't get up.  Thankfully I turned to the nearby hill and nabbed a thermal to 3500 and avoided the airport while some skydivers jumped.  A good reminder to always be on the Taft frequency when in the area.


We worked into the mountains and then nw in weak stuff that only occasionally produced a full circle in lift.  We bumbled and burbled along the ridge top to the NW.  We reached a point where we were easily within reach of Taft, but 500 below a pattern to Belridge.  Since Belridge is surrounded by pipes, oil wells, and various evil metal structures, I wasn't willing to push into that area.  Approaching Mckittrick I made a dive for it a steeper ridge line and ridge soared my way up from there.  


After a pass to get up on the lower ridge


We had a field immediately below the ridge as a safety and farm fields to the NE that were reachable from our 3400ft arrival on the ridge.  
Getting over the ridge top after benching back from a lower ridge




Several passes along the ridge got us in position to thermal away and finally got us to 6000.  


Looking down from 6000 at the ridges that gave us safe passage home.  


We ran north, gaining on glide to Paramount farms.  One last thermal at highway 58 to 7000 got us close to final glide to Avenal nearly 50 miles north.  Only 2000 below glide and with some friendly air we might make it despite it being nearly 7:00pm.  We stretched the glide across 46 and 41 only 1200 below glide now, but clearly not making it without some lift. 


Looking towards Avenal from 12 miles and 2300ft.  Not gonna make it at this rate.


 A west wind was pushing hard through the passes and I hoped to pick something up along the China ridge keeping a quick downwind run to Hewiston as my bailout option.  We picked up a little lift, but not enough to circle in.  I spotted a tractor in the field NE of Hewiston and saw North winds while we had strong west.  Somewhere out there was a convergence line and I turned downwind on what would have been a downwind to base for the SW runway at Hewiston.  800 agl or so approaching Hewiston and 33 we hit strong lift as the two air masses came together.  60 degree bank and pulling hard we climbed away on yet another low save.  I set the glide computer for MC4 and climbed until we had Avenal by a couple hundred over pattern and rolled out dropping the nose to 90 knots.  Now within 10 miles, the Avenal effect took over and at 90knots we weren't even sinking.  We blew past Avenal 3-4 miles to get down to a reasonable arrival height blasted back and saluted Julie, Mario and Alex with a low pass before pulling up and around for an easy landing on 31.






All in total it was nearly around 7 hours in the air and the OLC score was nearly 450km on a day with almost no markers.  Despite failing to get the egg and struggling in many places, those struggles made this one of my most memorable flights and certainly the most challenging.  I was glad Ethan decided to join me, he got to fly a little, I did hog the controls a lot.  I didn't take many pictures.  Too busy for the most part and not much scenery in the hot, blue conditions.


The egg awaits another attempt.  Next time Lee, next time...