Cross Country Season Officially Arrives in San Diego

It is only February 23rd and San Diego’s air is beginning to boom. Today five of us flew Horse, a site in Buckman Springs.

First, a little bit about the site. The namesake is Horse Canyon located just behind launch. Despite having a tendency for the wind to cross from the north (the launch faces west), Horse perhaps is our most consistent site. Some days it gives us the excitement of a full blown buckin’ bronco ride; some days the lift is nearly magical. No matter what, the site continues to provide great conditions for many types of flying. I cannot remember the last time I was the unfortunate recipient of a sled ride…though I’ll take any airtime and be happy. Moreover, I am partial to the site as my first mountain solo came there, as well as my first flight over 10,000 feet—and many memorable moments with friends. One of our local pilots suggests renaming it to Area 51, after the exit number. Ok with me. How else can we compete with sites in other parts of the state, like Santa Barbara’s Eliminator?

Last year, two weekends in a row proved the quality of the site. On each weekend a flock of us climbed to over 11,000 feet, followed the lift over the back and flew north for at least 35 miles. Though not our best XC site, it certainly has great potential on the right days.

Yesterday and today were again great flying days at ol’ Horse. Cloud cover yesterday brought down the altitudes, but that did not stop four of us hangs and a swarm of paragliders from enjoying wonderfully smooth air. Then today we arrived to find the clouds gone and hawks circling up. The forecast predicted lift to 7K, which was fine with us. I mean, it is February after all. No one planned to fly XC.

Some forecast. The first pilot to launch climbed quickly to 8K. After launch, I circled and circled in light lift but never could quite get there. After 30 minutes or more at over 6K—in February remember—I was beginning to get chilly. Getting cold easily is perhaps my greatest weakness in the air. Hanging around at that altitude and not getting much higher, I decided to head off for a high school a couple miles southwest of launch to see what lift existed in the valley, hoping to practice a bit of somewhat flatland flying, defrost a bit, and go on a mini excursion away from the mountain. Descending, the air became rough but pockets of lift could be found here and there on the flats. Farther out though, the lift died leaving sink to rule the sky. Just short of the school my decision was to turn back.

Back at the mountain the lift was broken up, allowing me to only maintain a few hundred feet above launch. Wind streamers at launch confirmed somewhat gusty conditions. But did I give up? No. I chose to fly north to a rocky pointed ridge. Initially only the mild lift persisted. In time though the lift grew. The pilot at the top of the stack called from over 9K, “I’m thinking of going XC.”

Well below him, I relegated myself to landing at the usual field. But the lift continued. It seemed like no time passed before I was climbing through 8K, and had drifted well north of launch. Looking out at nearby Pine Valley I said, “Let’s go!”

Combining the glide out toward the southern turn point, and the flight back to Pine Valley, the distance was about 7 miles. Not great, but not bad for a first XC flight in February. Entering the flight in my logbook I noticed that today’s flight also happened to be my 50th flight at the site.

At Pine Valley after XC. From Horse to Horses.