Yosemite and The Owens Valley: Beauty and the Beast

There are few sites in the world that symbolize beauty and adventure more than Yosemite National Park and the Owens Valley; Yosemite of course the beauty, Owens the Beast (and yet beautiful in its own way). Lucky me to fly both the same week this July.


The setting sun greeted me as I entered the park, producing a spectacular gradient of yellows to reds grander than any red carpet. What a welcoming! Winding my way along the curvy road, giant trees towered along the sides—moments like this are why sunroofs exist. My first visit to Yosemite and already living up to expectations.

Soon it was dark as if the curtain fell after the first act. Tomorrow, act 2. I pulled into a trailhead parking lot to sleep for the night. My cell phone stared at me blankly without coverage, and I happily accepted the broken bonds with civilization. So quiet was the night, and a nearly full moon illuminated the tree tops. I had no idea exactly where I was, though I knew the following day would be something special.

The morning came. Not knowing what time setup and launch was, I arose extra early. I completed the winding journey to Glacier Point. There it was, Half Dome perched above the valley. My ears made out the faint roar of waterfalls. Scents of pine and granite mixed into a freshness unpolluted by urban centers. Arriving early meant a solitude unavailable once the herds arrive, and time for me to relax alone and in peace before the focused ritual of getting ready to fly.

7am. Time to setup. The site monitor gave us the site intro and walked us out to launch. Without a glider, I sweated, inching my way across the steep granite face. One misstep and I would roll down rather than fly away from the cliff. Without a glider, like many pilots, my fear of falling is a very forthright, yet protective friend to have, saying “gravity is not your friend, and neither are your klutzy feet.”

And then 8am. The launch window opened. My turn came and again I inched my way, stepping carefully, across the granite, this time with a glider—my trusted Speedybird. I felt naked and vulnerable without being hooked in*. A few stops to rest later, my wing and I were in position to launch. I carefully turned to hook-in (ahhhhh, much better), and then pause to soak in the experience along with deep breaths.

(*I typically hook my harness in before getting in, but site protocol requires us to hook in just before launching.)

A dream awakened…

In a few steps I was in the smooth air floating near silently above one of the most wondrous sites in the world. As I launched, the whoops of the crowd made the experience even more memorable, reminding me that I was doing something few have ever done, and most people can hardly begin to dream of doing. Yet, here I was slipping past the sheer granite faces, the Yosemite waterfall, and above the meandering Merced river and the valley below.

That we are allowed to fly here at all is an exceptional privilege. Big props to the Yosemite Hang Gliding Association for managing the site and working with the park service to make it possible. And a special thanks to Arthur and Barton for assisting us this particular weekend.

Those that have flown here realize how lucky we are.


My friend also flew here recently and produced this awesome video that goes far in attempting to capture the experience of flying Yosemite.

Owens Valley

The mention alone of the Owen’s Valley can send shivers down pilots’ spines. The valley is the site of legends, and has been the cause of many “there I was, I was gonna die” stories. And yet, if you give the site the respect it deserves, safe flights are possible. A few very trusted friends planned to fly the weekend after my Yosemite trip so I decided to join them.

Located between the Sierra Nevada mountains to the west—some of the tallest mountains in the continental United States—and the Inyo and White mountains to the east, the Owens Valley is among giants. Mount Whitney stands at 14,505 feet, along with many other “Fourteeners” nearby.

My route to “base camp” rolled me down 395 past the small towns of Bishop, Big Pine, Independence, and finally Lone Pine—the towns I’ve read about. The ride was a good intro to the valley, passing lava and boulder fields where I most definitely would not want to land. I half wondered if I’d have a Kari Castle sighting.

Lone Pine is an adorable town radiating adventure. Yes in our world of hang gliding it’s a famous hub for pilots, but it is also the closest town to Whitney Portal, the start for many hikers climbing Mt. Whitney, and any of the other many climbs nearby. Many movies are filmed there, and this visit the airport was a staging area for yet another film.

Walt’s Point launch sits 9,000 feet above sea level, 5,400 feet above the valley floor, and my highest launch ever. A couple other pilots were setting up when we arrived. We were more than happy to have “wind dummies”. The wind was light, the direction was good, and the day promising. The first pilot to launch immediately climbed well above launch and on his way up the range. 30-45 minutes later it was my turn and I was pleased to receive similar results.

Yet, we could only climb to about 12,000 feet. Puttering up the range we scratched every chance we had to stay above 10,000. Though not having an oxygen system I was somewhat relieved to know I would not be tempted to reach for the stratosphere. Ridge after ridge, that was the highest we could get. The site known for tumble producing turbulence was today a gentle lamb. I sank to less than 9,000—still high, but getting to a point where I needed to consider flying out to the valley to land near the road.

Scratch, scratch, scratch. Win some, lose some. My luck was not over. I found some lift to slowly climb my way up a finger, and then WHAM! My vario howled and without even turning I seemed to hover above a spot and climb straight up in my winged elevator. A few thousand feet higher I began turning and watched as I finally passed 12,000, and then 13,000, and 14,000. That’s when it became turbulent and I realized the lamb could roar. My friend had continued on north and so in the turbulence I decided to leave the thermal and follow. “Stick with those who know the site,” I thought.

This is where we passed the Onion Valley. Before yesterday, the name was unknown to me. Today I had been warned. The valley runs from the Owens Valley west and is a funnel for west winds to flow. Apparently sometimes known for torrents of wind to flow. Though the winds were light this day, passing Onion Valley was not a smooth ride. Not scary, however not pleasant either. I gripped tight on the base tube and pressed on north. What would a flight at the Owens be without at least a taste of its potential?

Beyond the turbulence my next thermals drifted me toward the east. Were the west winds coming through? I decided to cross the valley to try my luck on the Inyos. My friend stayed back on the Sierras. I love learning from cross-country decisions, especially crossroads like this. From the middle of the valley, the view was impressive. Cinder cones speckled the landscape, appearing as merely hills from the ground, from the air burgundy dimples on those hills shed light on the dynamic geographic history that played out eons ago.

Once across the valley I realized that my lack of knowledge about the valley would likely doom me to the ground. Despite some light climbs, I found myself over lava fields and behind a river with no noticeable roads. To fully commit to the Inyos meant a possibility of landing in difficult retrieve territory. This is when I heard on the radio my friend was sinking like a brick on the Sierras, and heading out toward the road. I decided to meet him out there and try to work lift on the small hills in the valley. It seems either decision led to the same place today.

Three hours after launching, we met again in the center of the valley a few miles south of Big Pine. The wind was strong from the south, and a light thermal I found could have drifted me to Big Pine. I regret not sticking with it, but after a nice flight I like to land with company and especially when a nice LZ is below me. Yes, I succumbed to LZ suck. Three hours and 44 miles—I’m ok with that.

Now why didn’t someone tell me to pack a swim suit for the post-Owens dip in the river???

My track on Airtribune

Above the Sierras

Above most of the Sierras


Life on the Road, Part 4 – Midnight Oddities, Floods, and Virginia Flying

[This is the fourth and final installment on my month long trip from San Diego to Massachusetts. It took place in April 2015]

The exciting finale of my coast-to-coast road trip. I departed San Diego on April 4th, flew 8 new sites, logged 12 hours of flight time, had amazing, unforgettable flights, met cool new friends, flew with cool friends I already knew, and arrived in Massachusetts on May 2nd. I’m so looking forward to the return.

My New Wills Wing T2C 136

My New Wills Wing T2C 136

First though, I must say, or rather yell, I BOUGHT A NEW GLIDER, I BOUGHT A NEW GLIDER, I BOUGHT A NEW GLIDER!!! But I think it’s missing parts, or at least I can’t seem to find the king post 😉

Yep, an impeccably cared for Wills Wing T2C 136, at a price I couldn’t resist, that’s slowly becoming known as Speedybird, or the glider formerly known as Tom’s. This glider ushers in a new era of my flying, and as much as I have enjoyed the Sport 2, I look forward to the many hours, and miles criss-crossing the country, me and Speedybird will spend together.

Now back to your irregularly scheduled journey already in progress. I warn you, it’s longer than previous chapters, but I hope a less dry read with ghosts, UFOs, floods, and exciting new flying sites…or at least some of those things.

Act 1 — The Ghost Truck & The Sea of Red

So there I was, on the long, straight, flat road after having left Lookout Mountain, Colorado. Acre after acre of farm fields. The only elevation changes were overpasses. The sun setting behind me and a dark sky rising ahead. This would be my only night not having a hang-friend hook me up with a place to stay. Wanting to get to another flying site, my motivation was to plow ahead past the farmlands from one Lookout Mountain to another. My mind prepared itself for the long, isolating drive. I, however, was not prepared for the oddities of that night.

By now that night has blurred together. Somewhere in the time frame of before midnight and after 10pm I was in my road trip induced trance rolling over Kansas—occasionally passing someone and occasionally getting passed—when a truck, white like a ghost, came speeding by. The unmistakable image of a grey bag with red tips on top shook me from the trance. The sight of gliders atop my car apparently shook the driver of the truck too. Although he was flying past, I soon saw brake lights shoot on and the truck slow until we were side-by-side. For a few seconds, as if I was looking at a UFO descending upon me, and ET looking down at me, we eyed each other confused, attempting to place who the other was. And then, after we had in some way acknowledged each other, the truck sped away. I can only hope whoever it was had enjoyed a great day of flying. It’s a strange bond that we hang glider pilots share. Sometimes all it takes is a chance meeting in the middle of the night, in the middle of the country, to remind us that what we do is special and links us by some indescribable bond.

Still on I-70, even later in the night, or likely morning, came another unusual surprise. In the distance appeared a vast sea of red lights blinking synchronously. Marching toward me like soldiers until finally I was amidst towering fields of red, it was such an eerie and disorienting sight. *Blink* *Blink* *Blink* Just when I thought I had left the lights behind, I topped another rolling hill and more appeared. The experience induced in me another weird mental state and once comfortably miles behind me I decided it was time to call it a night. Later I determined that it was a wind farm, likely one near Ellsworth, Kansas. Someone on a forum I found probably described the experience best (though a different wind farm):

“Last fall I was driving late at night through eastern Colorado. Suddenly I was surrounded by strange red flashing lights and thought I was either too tired to drive, having a life changing UFO experience, or somebody slipped me some LSD…It turned out it was a huge wind farm.” ABryant

And so, there I was, miles away from any flying site that I knew and hoping morning would come soon.

Act II — Nashville and the Relentless Rain

Another day of driving and I was beginning to feel I was making progress. Au revoir Kansas. Goodbye Missouri. Illinois, Kentucky, sorry we only barely got to know each other. Nashville was coming up soon.

It seems that Nashville and I have a one-sided rainy relationship. I pass through. Nashville rains on me. When I first passed through in 2011 heading to California, I encountered downpours. I splish splashed a bit at the Parthenon—one of my favorite Nashville attractions—and then swam on out of there. This trip proved no different. As I arrived the rainy weather was threatening, and the forecast for Lookout Mountain did not excite me. Rather than drive further into gloom, I’d skip the flight park and hurry on to surprise my parents in Virginia. A few days later I find out flooding plagued Chattanooga and areas surrounding Lookout Mountain Flight Park (Read All About It!).

On a brighter, sunnier side, I met up with rising star Cory Barnwell for dinner and had a great time reminiscing about the 2014 competitions and discussing future flying fun.

So sadly, Lookout Mountain was, literally, and figuratively, a wash. Next time LMFP!

Act III — Virginia, Sweet Virginia

The day after spending the night in Nashville, I hurried on to my hometown in Virginia. So great to be home, and spend a few weeks with my parents. I could almost not care if I did not get to fly Virginia sites. It didn’t take long for an opportunity to fly came up.

You see, the glider I was buying (the awesome T2C) had traveled from Massachusetts to Florida for one last hurrah with it’s prior captain. But he was scheduled to stay in Florida another few weeks, and impatient as I am, he sent the glider back with a couple friends. These friends just happened to know a pilot near me and were planning to stop a few days to fly with him. Long story short, the following day we were meeting at a local site and I received my glider.

Flying Ravens Roost along the Blue Ridge Parkway

Flying Ravens Roost along the Blue Ridge Parkway

That site was Ravens Roost, an overlook on the Blue Ridge Parkway with one hell-of-a cliff launch and trees. Oh my gosh trees. First, I could not believe that for my entire childhood I had this site practically in my backyard. Second, trees! Tall, intimidating trees. This Californian, used to mostly open land with some bushes and perhaps a few cacti, did not expect the shock of flying over forests. It didn’t help that the LZ was borderline reachable on my Sport 2 (I decided it was not a great idea to fly a new glider at a new site).

Ravens Roost Launch

Ravens Roost Launch

The launch is a boulder field with no good clear area to run, requiring a hop, skip, and jump practically before leaping off the sheer cliff lined by—this time of year—mostly leafless trees. Or at least this was my first impression, and first impressions are everything right? Nothing like I had ever seen in California. The LZ however was one of beauty; green grass, mooing cows (safely fenced away), and a babbling brook. Once in the air the view of the Blue Ridge Mountains was astonishing: the valleys on both sides, a local ski area, more green than in all of California. A nice flight and great no-wind landing later, I was giddy with having flown in Virginia…finally.

A couple days later the forecast looked good for a site near Amherst Virginia called Tobacco Row. Given the launch at Ravens’, I had no idea what to expect. Told it was a ramp launch, visions of beautifully crafted ramps like Lookout Mountain’s danced through my head. Sure, I can’t expect it to be that great, but… We investigate the LZ first, hearing that houses had been built around it. The wind was switchy and the every landing direction required a thoughtful approach, including the large bowl among the fields, endearingly called the Soup Bowl and historically the primary landing spot (down one side and up the other).

Staring down the ramp at Tobacco Row Virginia

Staring down the ramp at Tobacco Row Virginia

Arriving to the road to launch, we immediately realized the site had not been flown for years (a decade?). A tree blocked the road, and after clearing it, we found launch over grown with trees perfectly in front of our launch path. Of course they were no match for determined hang glider pilots, with ropes and, well, ropes. With a little ingenuity we (mostly the guys) were able to bend the trees enough for us to launch cleanly.

The ramp you ask? Well, though it had a solid enough structure, was basically a three foot wide plank giving a pilot just enough height above the trees to glide out to clear air. Light winds allowed me to be comfortable and balanced as I stared the trees down and ran off.

And once in the air, yet again this trip, the sky was magical. For an hour I boated around 2,000 feet above launch enjoying another site so different from California, so familiarly unfamiliar.

First flight on my Wills Wing T2C 136

First flight on my Wills Wing T2C 136

The last treat Virginia gave me was a first flight on my new glider. Feeling mostly comfortable with Ravens Roost, we headed there for another flight. Conditions looked great, with puffy cumulus clouds splattered across the sky. Winds were light and supposed to get lighter. For over an hour I played among the clouds, climbing to base and then finding sink when I became too cold. It was a perfect first flight and I felt very comfortable on the glider.


During the flight I felt the winds increasing. Oh contrarian you are Mother Nature! You read the forecast and play with our puppet strings! When I finally decided to journey out to the LZ, I found even Speedybird had difficulty. Near to the ground I found conditions even worse. Vicious gusts rattled my nerves, but I was not going to let the wind beat me. After a wild ride down, terra firma approached, and though not the most graceful landing, my feet were once again on solid ground nonetheless, and my glider and I happy with the flight.

Act IV — Onward to Massachusetts

A couple weeks with my parents, friends, my hometown, and three fantastic flights later, and it was time to complete the journey eastward. Repacking my car and tying down my gliders—all three of them now—I departed, next stop Massachusetts and Hang Glide New England!

Hard to believe at the beginning of the month I still worked a typical 8 to 5 job, loathed rush hour traffic, and only flew weekends and holidays.

This may be the end of the drive, but the journey is barely beginning.

Life on the Road, Part 3 – Colorado

[This is the third installment on my month long trip from San Diego to Massachusetts. It took place in April 2015]

So Utah didn’t quite live up to my expectations, but I had fun. And anyway, what can I expect on such a short visit?

Lookout Mountain Colorado. Notice the Coors Brewery in the background.

Lookout Mountain Colorado. Notice the Coors Brewery in the background.

On the way to Denver via the beautiful I-70, I got a surprise. I thought my flying was over until I reached Lookout Mountain Georgia or even Virginia, but nope. I found out that Zippy and Majo were in Denver and planning to fly a local site. That site happened to be Lookout Mountain…Colorado.

After checking out the launch that evening, enjoying the sunset, grabbing dinner, sampling some local beer, and making our way to a local pilot’s house to crash for the night, we discussed plans for the next morning. Do we fly Lookout? Do we take a gamble and try to fly the legendary Pike’s Peak? In the end there were too many uncertainties with Pike’s Peak (wind, gates, road to launch) and Lookout won out. Pike’s would be incredible, but no complaints on my end. A flight is a flight is a flight, and a new site on top.

Heading east

Heading east

Lookout Mountain’s bowl launch unfortunately is a hike-up site. Between the three of us we were able to make quick work of it. Launch overlooks Golden Colorado, home of the Coors Brewery. Behind launch are the white peaked Rockies and steep sided canyons. Though my flight itself wasn’t the greatest—I was flushed out after 30 minutes—it’ll be a site I definitely add to my itinerary on future trips.

After touchdown, it was back in the car and onward for me. Next stop, after a long, straight drive over the flat lands, the more well known Lookout Mountain, the one in Georgia.

Life on the Road, Part 2 – Idaho and Utah

On the road to Boise

On the road to Boise

Ok, so I’m already in Massachusetts; I arrived May 2nd. But before I get ahead of myself, there was a long drive in between San Francisco and here.

I planned to stop by the site called Slide near Reno before heading further east, however I chose instead to visit my brother in Boise. Tough choices we pilots have to make. It was a beautiful drive nonetheless, and it was great seeing him.

Point of the Mountain Paragliders

Point of the Mountain’s Gaggle Galore

After a night in Boise, I headed out to Point of the Mountain, Utah. Excited to arrive before sunset, a splattering of airborne paragliders greeted me along with weening conditions. This would not be my chance to fly. Sadly, I think that meant my streak of great flying ended…or did it? The next day Felix and I headed out to fly a place called Inspo or Inspiration Point (though not the one in Bryce). Wow! Inspo! What an amazing and beautiful site. The mountains rise up behind launch and snow capped peaks greet you in every direction. Intimidating in ways, but beckoning me to soar.

The mountains tower above Inspo

The mountains tower above Inspo

Arriving at launch, the wind was stronger than expected, but the cloudbase was tauntingly high and Felix was still optimistic that we’d XC to the point, indicated by the many hand warmers that we broke open. With our gliders preflighted, and hand warmers tucked cozily in our bar  mits, it was time to go. There was quite a crowd gathered to watch us too. See how wonderful our sport is?!

I launched first, and with the wind was able to ridge soar easily and climb a few hundred above launch. Back and forth, back and forth, waiting for a good thermal to blow through. Eventually I caught one decent enough to circle in and climbed a few hundred feet more before either losing it or it dissolving in the wind. The thermals that I encountered were small and disjointed, and very frustrating to deal with. And don’t get me started on the sink. Felix launched a few minutes after me, with the help of some bystanders—the wind had picked up and he had a no-stepper launch.

In the air he found the air difficult too. I slowly began to sink out and head toward the LZ. Slowly Felix did too. Far out front I finally found bits of lift and climbed a little, but again the thermals were not easily cored. A couple times I thought the sink would get the better of me and force me to the bailout LZ. Felix finally caught something decent and climbed out. As I headed to the primary LZ—overcoming the sink, yay!—I watched Felix sky out. Go Felix! A few burbles on the way to land but nothing significant. I guess no XC for me, but one of the best LZs ever with a huge expanse of green, fluffy grass.

On the ground I broke down alone hoping Felix was off to the Point. As I zipped up the bag, unbelievably I spotted him over the LZ. What? Why? He’s supposed to be at 14,000+ feet and on glide. After landing he said the thermal took him to 9,000 or so but then broke up and the strong sink got the better of him too. Oh well. All in all, a great day, but not the flights we were hoping for.

The following day I hoped to try the Point again, but the conditions were weak. What kind of “most flyable site” is this? Maybe my streak really had ended. So I take off for Colorado and leave Utah for another day.

Life on the Road, Part 1 – Bay Area Invasion

It’s been a great start to my trip east. Friday night was mayhem packing, a little bit of remaining work, and tying a few loose ends. I always seem to overestimate how much room I have in my car, and so I spent much of the night reorganizing and ditching stuff that I probably didn’t need to take anyway (I hope). Late into the night I gave in to sleep planning to wake up early, finish packing/repacking and head out to Dunlap California. I almost gave up on that too knowing I needed to arrive by early afternoon after a 6 hour drive, but I made it. Me, my two gliders, and a car full of stuff departed San Diego about 7:30am. On the road finally, yay!

Dunlap turned out to be great. Climbs to about 8,000 feet, and a fun day running up and down the ridge, looking back at the snow capped mountains, meeting the local group of pilots, and simply enjoying the novelty of flying a new site. The swing in the LZ, teeny kittens in the dome house, a nearby monastery with nice affordable rooms to stay all make it a quaint, fun site. Can’t wait to fly it again when I return to the west coast.

funstongroupThe next day, Funston also welcomed me with open arms. On a clear day with good winds, after buzzing around launch for a while waiting and waiting for the locals to guide me over to the higher, longer cliff face called Westlake, I decided to go it alone. Soon I was 1,000 over the ocean, with the best view of anyone (any non-pilot at least) in the Bay Area. Super jumbo jets departed over us from SFO, the Golden Gate bridge rose above the hills spectacularly keeping watch over the glistening ocean, whales frolicked…I smiled. After what felt like three hours of a dreamlike state, I landed to realize I only had flown for an hour and forty minutes. Funston is special. Maybe it’s just that I typically avoid Torrey and the paragliding apocalypse that explodes there in good conditions, so finally being able to relax at an ocean cliff site let me more fully take in the experience. More likely it’s special because Funston and its taller sibling Westlake provide an unparalleled view of any metropolis in the world—and it’s on the ocean with world renowned icons like the Golden Gate Bridge. Though I am to my core a mountain pilot, having a fun, relaxing site like Funston makes me understand what it is about the Bay Area that attracts so many pilots.

Ed Levin on the epic day

On Monday the call was for Ed Levin aka Sled Heaven. Arriving, paragliders were cruising around above launch and the day looked like it was going to treat us. I scrambled to setup. Eager to get in the air, I decided to follow a couple locals to launch. They hesitated to launch, and I accepted a slight crosswind at an adjacent launch to become the first in the air.

…I should have waited. There was lift but not yet well formed, and apparently just after I launched the cycles backed off. I scratched for fifteen minutes before having to wave the white flag and land. A few other locals waited and launched a bit later to better results. Breaking down quickly it was back to launch for another attempt. I love having someone willing to drive. By the time I was setup and ready for round two, the sky had filled in more obscuring much of the sun, but the lapse rate seemed better and the wind was stronger. Back in the air the ridge lift kept me aloft. Sporadic thermals allowed me to climb a few hundred feet above launch, but never very high. And then the magic happened. I caught a thermal which at first drifted with the strong wind back toward radio towers, but then the drift decreased. Up I went. 1,000 feet over launch, 1,500 over. “Can I make 2,000?” I asked myself. Sure enough I soon climbed through 2,000 feet and on up to 2,500. “Oh the view!” The rolling hills, the bay, the reservoir behind launch. I nearly did not realize how cold I was getting.

Then I did. Ignoring lift I sank back to launch only to climb back up. After a few yo-yos I had had enough. As I descended toward the LZ a thermal toyed with me. Still cold, but not wanting to turn down good lift I soon found myself 2,000 feet above launch, again. This time however was different. I glided to west of the LZ, far from the hills only to find myself higher than where I started. The vario laughed at my predicament stuck above a large mass of lifting air. Wingovers, high banked turns, steep dives. Nothing seemed to eat much altitude. Brrrr. In 30 or more minutes the ground finally seemed to inch closer. On the ground my fingers were numb, too much so to undo the carabiner. Oh what a great flight though. Long time pilots of the area stated it was one of the best days they’ve seen at Ed Levin.

Tuesday became my rest day. No, I still flew, but I didn’t drive much, I had lunch with friends, and I didn’t worry about the logistics of a mountain retrieve. I decided to fly Funston again. Upon arriving, dark clouds, rain, and 30+ mph gusts insinuated the site had other plans for me, and my streak of good weather was on the line. Believe it or not, the gust front passed, the sun came out, the wind calmed. Time to fly. Giving my Sport 2 a rest I setup my Northwing Ezy 170. It’s been neglected since the Sport 2 came along to hog its attention, and it was a nice change to fly the single surface again. Later a pilot offered me a chance to fly his Northwing Freedom 190. What a big glider for me, but I had fun taking it to Westlake and back, and skying out relative to the pilots on more appropriate gliders for their weight. Wow. So much great fun and flying in four days. What else did the Bay have up its sleeve?

Well, Mt. Tam, that’s what.

Mt. TamWednesday would be my last day in the area. Five days of flying. Four sites. Mt. Tam, short for Tamalpais, is a beautiful site above Stinson Beach and adjacent to Muir Woods. It offers a great launch, and landing on the beach. There really aren’t any downsides to the site. Oh, wait, just that the locals say it is a finicky site soarable only about 10 days a year. This particular day looked good and why not play the Tam lottery? After setting up, no one was super excited to go first. Cloud base was low, nothing showed signs of much lift, there was very little wind on launch, and the “over-the-back” windsock was bipolar. Meh.

A few minutes later I spotted a gaggle of locals (aka birds for my non-pilot friends), circling up slowly. I decided to get ready to go, with the intention of watching the conditions from launch. I’ve heard the site can have a short soarable window, and with no one very certain with what conditions are ideal, I became impatient. We all agreed a sled ride would be more than enjoyable. I launched.

On glide I felt a few bumps, but nothing to turn in. I arrived over the house thermal site and began preying on the air. I’d turn in light lift to maintain, and then sink a bit. Once I climbed a few hundred feet and was ecstatic. If this is all the soaring I get here I felt my life was complete enough. And then something amazing happened. After scratching and scratching, I connected with a well formed thermal. Up and up and up. I glanced back at launch and watched with awe as I rose above, and then kept rising. From that moment on, the lift continued into the afternoon. We were some of the lucky few who have soared Mt. Tam! One last incredible flight, with incredible views, and an incredible landing on the beach. Simply incredible, and what a way to end my Bay Area Invasion.

So after a super time meeting great pilots and flying beautiful sites, it was time to mosey on east. Sad to leave but excited for what the road would bring, I packed back up and set off into the sunrise.

Many thanks to everyone in the Bay Area who helped make my visit super fun. I will most definitely return. See you all again soon!


Hanging Around at Sylmar

As you can tell by my lack of posts, it’s been a slow season for flying since the Santa Cruz Flats Race. Between unusually poor soaring weather here, a vacation, car shopping, and kitten rescuing, I’ve missed out on way too much flying for my liking. At least I have a more hang gliding friendly vehicle to show for it, good memories with family, and those kittens successfully found a great home together. Meow.

All set up on Kagel Mountain

All set up on Kagel Mountain. No, neither of those topless gliders are mine.

Up until Thanksgiving weekend, between October and November I only found time for two–yes, you read that right–only two flights.

After one of them at Palomar Mountain we came across three malnourished kittens. After catching them, and then recatching them in the car to put them in a box, we spent a few weeks getting our kitten fix and found a wonderful home for all three of them. A happy ending for all.

An (even more) hang gliding friendly brewery

An (even more) hang gliding friendly brewery

Over Thanksgiving weekend, which I like to dub Hangsgiving, I finally made the trip to fly with the Sylmar Hang Gliding Association at their historic site. Thanks to Janyce I had a place to stay, and to the local pilots for showing me around the range. Though we never journeyed too far, I realized that I’ve been missing out on this fun site. A wonderful LZ, a great atmosphere, and many budding pilots including a sizable population of women pilots. What a great club they have! Also finally, Joe Greblo graced my presence, imparting to me a few crumbs of his encyclopedic knowledge. Coincidentally my visit came on the same weekend as their holiday party where I met many more of their members, including the amazing Katherine Yardley who once held the world straight distance record for women. The event was held at Golden Road Brewery where they even have hang gliders on the beer cans!  I cannot wait to return to fly there. Between Sylmar and Crestline, we Southern California folk live in a paradise for hang gliding.

And of course, how can I mention kittens without at least having one pic? Sky, Taj, and Jasper!
The Three Musketeers found at Palomar Mountain

The Three Musketeers found at Palomar Mountain