Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Petty Creek Route

Last Wednesday Karl, Brian, and I were looking to go flying. The forecast was calling for a very light NE (wrong direction), but Karl thought by the afternoon, the westward valley flows should overtake the regional wind direction. Since the winds were forecasted to be light up to about 25,000 ft, Karl and Brian thought Alberton would be the place to go.

Once on launch, we found the East wind to be present still. Since it was early and we were still optimistic, we decided to do some work on launch and set up the gliders. After about two hours the East wind was still slightly there, but launchable cycles were coming from the West. That would have to do.

Karl stood on launch for a while since conditions weren't optimal. Eventually he got what he was looking for and launched cleanly. I was next. There was a slight right cross leading me to believe the wind was from the North. After standing on launch for a while, I started contemplating bagging it. I didn't like the launch conditions. Suddenly the wind indicators pointed up the hill. I didn't hesitate and launched.

Immediately I found strong lift and knew it would take me to cloud base. After climbing for a few minutes at 800-1000 ft/min I was at 13,000ft. I looked down Petty Creek and knew I had to try for the crossing.

Jeff and I had talked about crossing the mountains from Alberton to the Bitterroot valley many times. It had yet to be done, but we knew it was possible. We knew it could only be done under certain condition since the few small landing options were in a tight canyon.

At 13,000ft with almost zero drift in the air, I knew these were the conditions that Jeff and I had talked about. Besides, I knew at this altitude, if I didn't try, Brian and Karl would kick my ass! I pulled full rope and went on glide. The temp was around -4c and with nothing more than biking gloves on, my hands froze quickly. 8 miles later I was over some landing zones and at 9,800ft. My hands started to painfully rewarm and when I could feel again climbed back up to 12,000ft. I could now see my next landing option 11 miles away. I again pulled rope and went on glide. At first I wasn't sure if I would make, but the air was buoyant and I eventually found my self over Elk Meadows at 8,000ft.

I was now over route 12 near Lolo but too low to make it to the main valley. With no lift I sank to 7500ft when I found a thermal. I focus hard knowing this thermal could get me high enough to make the main valley. At 8500ft I decided to shoot for Lolo uncertain if I would make it. I headed to the North aspect of the canyon where I hoped I would find lifting air. Bingo! On glide and at zero sink, I knew I could "cut the corner" and make it into the Bitterroot valley. With landing options everywhere, I headed down wind towards the town of Florence.

Landing in a field just short of Florence I had completed the goal. Immediately I was on the phone with Jeff and waiting for a ride. Moments later Brian landed in the same field having made the same crossing. We broke down while Jeff, Jeff, and Karl congratulated us on the new route.

White line indicates the route. (32 miles)

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