RAIN FOREST THERMALS
Published in Winds Aloft, The Pacific Northwest Hang Gliding Association newsletter
I am delighted to share with you one of the greatest thrills of my life. It is a story about skying out in the Olympics.
Doug seals invited me with his wife Cathy on a trip to Lake Cushman last week to go hang gliding (Doug was one of my long time local Kitsap County flying buddies). On the way there, I spoke about a previous experience on New Years day with a thermal and my old Seagull III. This time I was ready for another encounter with a thermal using better equipment, SST 100-B, variometer, altimeter, and long-johns.
At the launch site things looked good. There were Cu clouds in streets across the entire Olympic range. I knew it was good, as I watched several other gliders fly out away from the launch. Doug took off, with great signs of thermal activity hitting him. Even my old Seagull was looking good, as another flyer made his way to the lake. Launching as soon as possible after Doug, I did a little dance getting into my new prone harness stirrup just as I hit the first thermal.
From here on, I pretended I was the greatest thermal hunter in the Olympics. For several minutes, I searched out each area for lift, until I lost about 300 feet per my altimeter. At about 2,200 feet, I hooked one on the SE face of the hill that spun me up to 5,800 feet at just below the cloud base.
For the next hour I cruised the face of Mount Ellinor and Washington at over 5,000 feet. It was just fantastic I could observe climbers leaving their cars for the trails to the mountains.
I quickly learned the best way to handle thermal lift was to do a 270 degree turn to hit them straight on if they lifted one wing up. This was after getting a blister through my gloves trying to turn the other direction against the bank caused by one wing being in the lift.
About an hour after my launch, I noticed the gang was trucking back up the hill to the takeoff. I flew down to about 1000 feet above launch to harass them with incoherent screams, and then another big blast hit me, probably caused by the heat off of their heads. Saying to myself, "What the Hell, I might as well go for the ride." made a trip of 10,000-360's to off the scale of my altimeter, while my Colver went to an inaudible high pitch up scale.
Guess what happened next! I nearly got stuck in a cloud...still maxed out on my vario. Pulling in to dive did nothing but make the glider scream, so I went for the edge at a slower speed almost wishing for a compass. When I got further from the cloud, I was able to look over the tops of every mountain to the far edges of the Olympics.
At this point, I went for a little cross-country trip over the top of 4,000-foot Mt. Rose with at least 3,000' feet of clearance to the Staircase area located at the West End of Lake Cushman. Over this area, I turned back to the launching area. I met Doug there just as he launched and we flew down together. At the lake's edge we hit more thermals, so I went over the lake in order to drop down. That was almost over done, because I lost 200 feet in just seconds in strong sink and just made it back to a dry landing.
Finding myself exhausted, I now realize that I must get in better shape for this type of flying. After 1-½ hours, I could barely move my own glider.
Hoping to return to Earth again,
I welcome your comments and suggestions.
Bob Farmer - email@example.com