Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Aftermath of a fall - This one turned out well.

White Mountains in the Owens Valley -
Click photo for larger version - Photos by Jay Gordon
None of us wants to leave a three-day flying weekend knowing that we are leaving one of our own injured and alone in the mountains. We all want, even less, to be that guy.

This weekend, at the Nor-Cal XC league event; three days of flying geared towards new and improving XC pilots, one of our experienced pilots found himself down in the White mountains at around 2:30 pm and spent 12 hours lying injured on the hill, awaiting rescue.

I've heard words of surprise from some of my fellow pilots, that it took so long to get him to the hospital, but I was actually VERY IMPRESSED that the efforts of many culminated in the successful resolution of this event.
Let's work through the timeline of the event -
  • Shortly after 14:00 the crash occurs at 11,000' in the Whites. No radio call is made by PilotX. No phone call is made by the pilot. It is not known if he was conscious or not.
  • One of our group happens to be flying in a position where he can see this area of the White Mountains (which is approx. 1 mile East of flight tracks of those flying the task that day.)
  • The pilot who knew the position of PilotX and another of our group, who had a private aircraft, fly over the crash site to verify the position of the victim and verify if he is injured.
This is the point where I got involved; Just back from goal, with no idea what's up– around 16:10.
  • Once we had verification that he was on the hill and injured, with an accurate position, I called 911 to get to the local SAR teams mobilized.  (I had just been talking to the Mono Sheriff SAR Sargent, 2 days earlier, and actually had asked him the best way to alert them to a problem like this - 911 was the answer) 
  • Stephan & I worked with the SAR coordinator and the ball started rolling by 16:30. Sunset is 1800 – I don't say it, but I know the odds are good that PilotX may be spending the night.
  • The next 5 hours are spent getting SAR volunteers mobilized and up to the Barcroft Research facility. Once there, it was a 2.5 mile hike – in the dark – in tough terrain, with a couple steep canyons to enter/exit/work around (you get the picture – it took them a while to hike with their 50 lb. packs of med gear and technical equipment. They get to PilotX at 1am.
  • It takes a while to assess, stabilize, immobilize, and package PilotX for carry-out to a suitable LZ for the chopper, which has been dispatched from NAS Fallon (200 miles away). The Navy pilots are using IR gear to navigate at 11,000' in the terrain – it ain't easy flying – RESPECT.
  • By 3am I get word that PilotX will be arriving at the hospital in Bishop for evaluation. I get word at 5 am that he is going to be transported to Stanford by air, at 7am

    Why did it take 12 hours? Well, we got lucky on this one – that's why.
  • BECAUSE one of our pilots spotted the crash, and
  • BECAUSE another of our group had an airplane to view the scene and pinpoint the position, and
  • EVEN THOUGH no radio or cell contact was made for hours, and
  • EVEN THOUGH PilotX had no survival gear accessible, and
  • EVEN THOUGH PilotX had not a single light source – NOT ONE. and
  • BECAUSE the weather in the area was the warmest September 27th in history,

    This one turned out well.
This situation, if things hadn't gone well, could have easily been a body extraction, folks. 

You simply can't find someone in a mountain range, this big, without some hints.

Even though PilotX's injuries weren't life threatening, he was incapable of hiking out and had no survival gear with which to buy time to allow for rescue

The guys hiking into the site would have arrived sooner if they'd had the ability to see his position with a strobe light or headlamp. A SPOT would have been a valuable aid to pinpoint PilotX's last known position and to get rescue started in a timely manner. (I'll just go on record now – if I go missing, use my SPOT page on my blog & you'll see where I'm laid out.)

Yup, we got very lucky on this one.  Please carry some gear.  I carry a spare radio battery. I carry a AA power source for my cell-phone,  I carry a strobe light and a headlamp.  I carry enough clothing that I could spend the night on the hill.  A SPOT is cheap insurance.  If the crap slaps the fan, at least put the odds on your side that you'll live long enough to get rescued.

If you fly XC anywhere, even in the Dunlap valley, and you don't carry some survival stuff that is accessible while sitting injured, IN YOUR HARNESS,  then you are the intelligence equivalent of the idiot that hikes into the Grand Canyon in flip-flops, carrying a diet pepsi. Please don't be that guy.

It's not like I haven't preached about this before – My article about survival strategies and a DIY survival kit was in the USHPA mag a while back.  It's available at EDIT: I've had some input from the NAS Fallon helo crew, and they recommend carrying Lite Sticks (red is best) in our survival kits.

The 2010 XC season is almost over for us in the Northern Hemisphere, so take some time and make a survival kit. I hope you'll never need to use it.  But if I'm coordinating your rescue, I'll rest easier knowing that you have a light source, water, warmth, and can communicate. I'd also like to send a word of Thanks to the Mono County Sheriff's Dept. and their volunteer team of SAR team members who gave up a nice warm bed to help one of our guys. Fly Safe, Tim

Owens Valley - Bonus Day!

Mt. Whitney from 13,500'
Click on photos for larger version
A group of us decided to do some "value-added" flying today.  Conditions have been suitable for launching from Walt's Point on the Eastern side of the Sierras all week.  This launch has been a popular launch since the 60's and allows for long flights to the North.
The launch can be tricky though.  Walt's is a cliff-launch - that is, you layout on level ground and then pull up-turn and walk off a cliff. . . It can be interesting.  Unfortunately, Walt's launch isn't suitable for a large group due to it's restricted size and requirement of high launch skills.

Flights from Walt's are spectacular because it provides views of the Eastern Sierra Range from perspectives that noone else can experience.  You can hear and smell - almost touch the most beautiful mountain range in California.

Mt. Whitney over my shoulder - at 14,000''
We didn't have a goal today.  Bishop would be nice, crossing to the White range would be cool, but we were just going flying.  A nice relaxing flight with friends.  Dean was flying high point - patiently relaying info to Heidi, who had graciously offered to drive for us.

I launched first and went directly to 13,500'.  I loitered around launch for 30 minutes to allow a gaggle to form so we could convoy up range together.  The views were so amazing that I won't even try to convey their beauty with words. Even my photos don't even begin to produce the vivid colors of the rock and the deep blue of the alpine lakes.

Dean on his R10.2
We all made it to Big Pine without struggle but some high Cirrus was washing out the sunlight so lift was getting shut down.  I was tired (not much sleep while monitoring the situation in the White mountains all night) a bit hypoxic, and generally beat.  I found a nice big field about 63 miles from launch and landed.
The flight.

It was a great weekend with 13.5 hours flown and 185 miles flown.

Results will be HERE, when posted.  My flights are HERE.

BAPA Comp - Owens Valley - Sept. 2010 Day 3

Paiute Launch - Click on photos for larger version
Another great day in the Owens.  To be able to fly three straight tasks is a treat, not often experienced here, due to the areas sensitivity to winds.  The ridge has brought us sweet conditions and high temps at the surface - GREAT racing weather!

This was the last task of the 2010 Nor-Cal League and it was fitting that there were pilots from all over the country in attendance.

Many pilots who started their XC comp 'experience' in the league have moved out of the area and it's great that they traveled as far as they did to experience 3 straight days of perfect flying.
Jug leading the pilot meeting

Jug Aggarwal has done a great job of organizing the league events and we acknowledged his contributions to the league.  Without him at the helm the events would not be nearly as easy to participate in.  This weekend, in particular, highlighted the generosity and selflessness of many of the pilots and their partners, who served as indispensable drivers, fluffers, and just generally spiced up the landscape.  Thanks everybody!  Seeya next year.

My track on task three
Since most of the pilots would be heading home this afternoon, we called a short task of 30 miles to goal in Benton.  Conditions were similar to prior days, but the lift improved during the short task.  Today I had some serious fun since I was in the hunt for much of the race and, in the last two thermals, managed to put myself in a position of contention with Kansas, Jug, and Arnie.  I was very fortunate to find a nice core and roll out just at the right moment and altitude to allow me to use full speed-bar all the way to goal.  Kansas, who was on a superior/faster wing, wasn't able to use full bar due to the turbulence, and this allowed me to hold him off to goal.

Dean Stratton won the day, but I was second - First among us mortals ;-)  It was a really fun day.  I think this flight was the most 'racing' I've done on an XC task.  There were more than 20 in goal again today so there were many pilots who had fun.   A great way to end the weekend for many of us.

On a more somber note, we had one pilot go missing.  He had crashed at 11,000' in the White Mtns. and was extracted by Mono Co. volunteer SAR crews and a NAS Fallon helicopter early the next morning.  His injuries are still being addressed and our thoughts and prayers are with him. My write-up on the rescue of this pilot is HERE.
Fly Safe,

Sunday, September 26, 2010

BAPA Comp - Owens Valley - Sept. 2010 Day 2

Another fun task in the Owens.  We had around 40 pilots fly today.  Conditions were essentially identical to yesterday, although climbs were higher in the afternoon.

The task was from Paiute Launch to Qendix -29k north, back South to Jeffry 18k, then North to goal at Benton.  Total task distance was 73Km (45 miles).

I was low for the start but headed out anyway, which was a slow beginning to my flight.  Eventually I got in the groove and made good time to the North in spite of some weak climbs and low tops of lift.  After the turnpoint at Jeffry I had two fantastic climbs to 12,500' and 13,000' that made it possible to cover the last 17 miles in less than an hour.

Results will be HERE (when published)
My flight is HERE

I was off the pace a bit and placed 5th or 6th today, but had a fun, great flight.  The views of the bristle-cone pines, high on the White Mtns. and peeks East into the next valley were fantastic.  There were over 25 pilots in goal today - many for the first time.  Many pilots had their highest, and longest flights of their lives today.
Here is a photo of some happy pilots in goal.
Happy Pilots in goal at Benton.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

BAPA Comp - Owens Valley - Sept. 2010

Today was an eventful day. . . and a lot of fun.  We had a great turnout for this weekend and the weather was classic high-pressure Owens.  The nice thing about a ridge of high pressure moving in, is that the winds are generally light.  The less than nice thing is that the thermals are rocket ships that just shoot through your wing with lots of enthusiasm. . .  If one isn't flying with the same enthusiasm as the bullets being launched upward, it can be an un-enjoyable day.

We met at the Motel in town at 9am and had a large parade up to the Paiute launch.  There were a lot of new faces so we did a site briefing and an extensive pilot meeting.

The task was from Paiute Launch North to Montgomery Creek (just short of Boundry Peak) the South to the Flynn LZ - 86Km or 53 miles.

I launched about 40 minutes before the 12:45 start and had a decent start.  Kansas, Jug, Fred and I were leading out for much of the first 20 mile leg to Montgomery Creek.  The winds were light, but definitely had a South component.  Just after tagging the turnpoint, I was heading into a nice bowl on about 1/2 speed-bar when the right line severed and I was suddenly without speed-bar for the 30 mile upwind leg to goal. . .

Things were going fine (in spite of my equipment problem) with Kansas a thermal ahead and Fred flying deep and downwind of course.  Jug and I were making good time and staying ahead of a gaggle of 4 or 5, behind us a mile or two.  We flew a good line with abundant lift and finally Jug and I got a climb, 7 miles from goal, that gave us a 5.2:1 glide to goal.  We rolled out & within 5 minutes I saw a wing ahead of me fold up and cascade to impact in the foothills ahead.  I thought it was Kansas and made a call.  It turned out to be Fred, and he sounded OK.  I landed near him about 10-15 minutes later and hiked up to his location with a group who had 4-wheeled as close as they could get, to help.  When we arrived, Fred had packed his wing and was just about ready to hike to the ambulance that had arrived.  It was a welcome surprise to find Fred walking and talking after watching him pound in.  We were met by a Cal-Fire crew and Fred posed for a recruiting ad.

My flight is HERE.

Scores will be HERE.

Friday, September 24, 2010

2010 PWC Superfinal Task 3

Well today was a tough one for some of our guys -
Jack Brown and Nick Greece were leading out, much of the day and had great times to the ESS (end of speed section) but landed a few hundred meters short of the goal line. This mistake (which was also made by many others in the lead gaggle) cost them 500 points.

For Nick, who's flown quite well, today's score will be discarded when the next task is flown.
Nate, Len, Josh, Brad, and Eric all had a 900+ point day today, so they are still in the running after the discard.
Cumulative results are
Stay tuned.


Another task flown today.  Around 100 pilots into goal with (at the time of this post) Jack Brown of the USA crushing the field (in terms of PWC finishes) by almost 3 minutes.  All 7 of the US pilots made goal today and Nick's lead may not be enough to hold first, over Japan's Kurimoto, but it looks like he'll be in the top-2 or 3 after scores are tabulated tonight.  The US Pilots are flying very well and, if enough tasks are flown, the low task score will be dropped - which will help the overall scores of those who had a low task score on the first or second task.

The weather forecast for tomorrow looks OK, but the wind is coming on Saturday so there may be some down days for the guys to rest.

I'm off to the Owens Valley for a three-day end-o-the-season XC Comp.  The turnout will be large and it should be fun.


Again, for those who are looking for links to stay in touch with the action, here are some links -
- Organiser's site 
- World Cup site 
- Pilot list 

in English: Jack Brown : John Ellison : Neil Roberts 

Weather forecast 

Thursday, September 23, 2010

2010 PWC Superfinal Task 2

The cumulative results are HERE.  Nick Greece (USA) is leading the Superfinal after two tasks.  Eric Reed is the next US pilot at 23rd.  Len and Nate are in the top-60 but the rest of the US pilots have had one bad day.  Their standings will improve when enough tasks are flown to allow a discard, so noone is out of the running at this time.  Nick's lead is small but impressive considering the stature of the field.  NICE FLYING!

Here's a bit of video, shot by  Phillipe Broers.  You get a good feel for the type of flying a PWC task requires.  Today's task was 63K with an average speed of 41.3 kph! That's fast.

Superfinal Turkey taks 1 from broers philippe on Vimeo.

Tomorrow's weather looks good for another task, but later in the week they can expect some wind.

Go Team America F*#K Yeah!


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

2010 PWC Superfinal Task 1

The "LiveTracking" units didn't arrive in time for Task 1 so the provisional download leaderboard is as fresh as the news gets.  It looks like many of the big names fell out early in the course.  Still many names to be checked in at this time.  At the moment, Nick Greece (USA) is leader and Josh Cohn (USA) is in the top-10.


Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Ask me why I fly . . . I dare ya.

The perspectives available, when flying close to otherwise unviewable landscapes, at slow speed, and hanging from a virtually noiseless machine . . . Sometimes they take my breath away. 

Watch this video and then ask me why I fly paragliders.

Monday, September 20, 2010

2010 Paragliding World Cup Super Final

The PWC Superfinal begins this week.  For those of us, in the US, this year has been a very progressive and successful year for the top pilots.  Much of their success is because of their commitment to fly in PWC events around the world.  2010 was also the first year of the altered PWC format, allowing pilots from the non-alpine nations to compete in more regionally located events.  We also had our first PWC event, held in the U.S. this decade - U.S. PWC event in Chelan, WA in 2010.

The bottom line is that we have 7 pilots in the Superfinal in Turkey this week:
Jack BROWN (95)
Josh COHN (595)
Nicholas GREECE (451)
Brad GUNNUSCIO (744)
Eric REED (717)
Nate SCALES (158)
Len SZAFARYN (164)

Good luck to all!

For the rest of us, this can be a great spectator event.  It is still not evident that the "live-tracking" will be used in this event, but every morning I hope to get some information out.  As always, the information is at the mercy of the web access available to the participants and the meet organization.

Below is a list (put out by Tom Payne with some additions by me) of potential information sources during the event.
There may also be info HERE

Official sites 
- Organiser's site 
- World Cup site 
- Pilot list 

in English: Jack BrownJohn Ellison : Neil Roberts 
in French: Charles Cazaux : Ain Team Parapente / Team ABAC : Yann Martail : Julien Wirtz : Maxime Bellemin : Jean-Michel Aro-Somohano 
in German: Swiss League : Helmut Eichholzer 
in Russian: Russian Team 

Weather forecast

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Dunlap Pilots in Goal

Frank Marquis just sent me this photo (taken by Jon Stallman) of the happy faces in goal on Sunday's BAPA race.  Congrats to everyone!

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

BAPA Comp in Dunlap - Sept. 2010

Smoke at sunset
The troops met in Dunlap for the last time in 2010 this weekend.  The weather was reasonable with clear skies and light winds forecast.  I arrived at the top on Friday night and watched the sunset while assembling my pop-up trailer.  The sky was red and the sun a bright red due to smoke in the air.

Saturday morning we awoke to smoke clinging to the canyons and in the air.  Apparently a fire was burning in the Sierra between Dunlap and Bishop.  It was in the deep Sierra and wouldn't affect our flying tasks to the West, but was a good indication of the Easterly evening wind.

Saturday Jug built a task that had us do the valley tour, then head Southwest to Cutler, and back to meet at the pizza joint in Squaw Valley.   I launched early and found the lift to be dependable up to the 6,500' inversion.  I manged to get a great start and was first over to Hill 49917 and back to launch for the leg to Last Chance.  Fred went ahead of me on the way to Last Chance.  Josh and Jug took a higher line than I did on the way back to launch and we flew together for the remainder of the task.

It was obvious, as we proceeded from Hill 49917 to Bald Mtn., that the West wind was much stronger than expected.  The leg SW to Cutler was going to be tough even if we could get up at Bald (which we didn't).

Everyone except Fredric landed at (or prior to) the ranger station.  Fred continued on to land a few kilometers South of the pizza joint.

My flight is HERE.

Sunday's forecast was similar to the preceding day's with light, Southy winds.  Jug built a great task of 24 miles that had two valley crossings and some good opportunities for tactical decisions.  As it turned out, the task was very enjoyable racing and put a lot of pilots into goal.

I had another good start and was chasing Josh around the course.  Another gaggle was trailing me by a climb or two and kept me hustling to stay ahead.  It was nice to find climbs when you needed them and, sometimes, nice climbs were found in spots that usually don't work too well.

My last climb was to 7,000' and gave me sufficient altitude to fly to Bald and then to the finish.

It was a very fun day of racing and great to see the happy faces in goal after one of my most enjoyable flights in Dunlap.

Cumulative scores for the league will be HERE when they are up.

Next week the league heads to the Owens Valley and it's looking less than likely I'll be able to attend.  I hope the weather cooperates and you all go high & far.

Fly Safe -


Saturday, September 4, 2010

Sun Valley Nats Day 6 - It's over. . .

We met at 10AM for a pilot meeting today.  The cold front is coming and bringing with it, too much wind to safely task Saturday or Sunday.   The awards dinner will be held tonight at HQ at 6PM.

Yesterday was a great task and the winners of the day were Eric Reed and Brad Gunnuscio, who both  received 1000 points with Jan Voegeli, Dean Stratton, and Nick Greece into goal.  There were 18 in goal total.

Winner of the Sun Valley meet is Eric Reed.  After two competitions the U.S. National Champion is Jack Brown.  Congratulations to Jack!

It was great to see everybody and fly over this amazing terrain.  Ketchum is a great place to spend time engaging in outdoor activities, when conditions don't allow flying.

The competition was very well organized and run with enthusiasm and a good respect for safety.  My hat goes off to David Glover and Mike Pfau for putting on a great show.  Thanks and I hope to fly with you again soon.

Fly Safe,


Friday, September 3, 2010

Sun Valley Nats Day 5 Task 2

Strategy session
After yesterday's great task we were all looking forward to flying today.  The climbs were forecast to be a bit higher and winds, generally light.  A cold front is headed this way, so the prevailing wisdom was to get off the hill soon to avoid any excitement on launch.

The task was a dog-leg of 66 miles to Int-so.  Basically a route to the East that crosses the beautiful ranges East of Ketchum.  The length of the task was reasonable but, for many pilots - me included, just getting across to the East side of the valley was the first crux.

The gaggle over launch was compressed into a small area again between 9500' and 10,500' and the air was, to be polite, crappy.  Many pilots left the hill with minimal altitude to make the crossing.  It was very crowded and rough on the sunny, West face of the small foothills.  Many of us had our flights terminated by rough sinky air and insufficient working room to use what shards of lift we found.

View of the chair lift and steepness of launch
The gaggle that made it up and over that first ridge was high and going downwind when I got into my ride to HQ.

I'll update with the top 5 and more info when it's available.  At this time (9 PM) I know that there were many in goal with a smattering of pilots along Hwy 93.

Unfortunately, the National Weather Service has issued a weather advisory that forecasts strong winds associated with the cold front approaching the sawtooth area on Saturday, with winds increasing on Sunday.

Results can be seen HERE when available.
A time-laps of the view at the top of Bald is HERE.

We had one incident over launch which resulted in injury to the pilot.  His injuries were limited to ribs and clavicle.  Responders were on site very quickly to stabilize and transport the pilot.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Sun Valley Nats Day4 Task 1 - NICE!

Click on photo for larger version.
We finally got some flying weather today.  Top of lift was only 10,500 feet before the start and the gaggles were tight.  The winds aloft were light and, unlike previous days, the sky was dry with no clouds.

The task committee built a simple task of 47 miles.  We were to head North to land at Stanley Airport.  The first stop was the butte mid valley.  A great thermal trigger, covered in rock, it didn't disappoint as the gaggles headed from the East side to the West.  Once established mid-valley, we headed into the high ground which was both stunning visually and rewarding to fly.

Lift was punchy at times, but climbs were reaching 12,500' and higher.  My group stayed together much of the day and most made goal in around 3:25 elapsed time.  The task winners finished at around 3:00.

Meanwhile many of the pilots were flying along the East side of the valley and eventually picked up the pace to pass our group.

Happy van ride back from goal
There were many happy pilots in goal today.  I'd estimate (since results aren't up yet) over 40 in goal.
Unofficially, the first 3 were Nick Greece, Nate Scales, and Eric Reed.

Tomorrow looks good for another great day of flying.


My flight is HERE which placed me 13th and first in the serial and sport class since I'm flying my XC2.

Fly Safe,

Wednesday, September 1, 2010