Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Hang Gliding at Tarkio

Sunday was a high pressure day, but several of us were itching to flying so we made plans to fly Tarkio. As expected, conditions looked good. The winds were blowing straight up launch with good cycles and good lulls. We set up quickly and I punched off first. The air was a bit turbulent right off launch, but the mass lift made it easy to climb out. Once I had ample clearance from the hill, I started trying to core lift. I quickly climbed out to 9,000ft and thought maybe this would be a cross country day. I couldn't break 9 grand and didn't know the character of the day yet, so I decided I would try to stair-step my way up.

Again I found my self climbing to 9,000ft and unable to break through. It appeared I barely had the ridge-line of Stark Mtn. on glide, but the thought of landing in the 9 mile valley seemed like a total was of time and inconvenience to the group. If I was to go for it, I needed to get high so I would have a good chance of making the jump over Squaw Peak. It just didn't seem like the right day for it.

I decided to bail and head for the town of Superior. I glided about a third of the way finding very little lift and made the decision to head back for launch. When I got back there, I found more good lift and climbed out to 10,200ft. This was the elevation I was hoping for. Unfortunately it was late in the day and my vario started to die. Shut down again.

With the intention of keeping the LZ within glide, I headed into the Bitterroots Mtns. The air was starting to get buoyant and my glide was great. I glided deeper and deeper into the mountains finding my self nearly at Quarts Peak a short distance from the Idaho boarder. I was alarmed to see how far I had let myself dive into the mountain through the confidence of having such a high performance glider. I turned around with hopes that I would make the valley and an appropriate place to land. As I glided out, it was obvious that not only would I make the valley, but I was going to make it back to the hill above launch.

Don and Bob launched for an evening glass-off flight and I chased them around the hill trying to take pictures. Eventually I was getting tired and decided to land. After about 3 hours of flying, I found myself back on the ground with a cold beer waiting for me.

Gliding into the Bitterroot Mountains

Looking back at the Tarkio valley and launch

Bob Garrety

Don Lang

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Searching for Launch

Sunday morning without enough coffee on board, I packed up and headed South with a posse of hang glider pilots in search of excellent flying. Our plan was to fly Grant mtn then continue South to either King mtn or Big Southern Butte. After a 3 hour drive we were in sight of Grant and the sky was starting to look threatening. We continued up the steep road to launch and waited with hopes that the sky would open up. Cloud after cloud passed, occasionally raining down on us. It was time to move on and Peter had a place in mind.

Peter knew of a launch not too far from where we were and without any other options, we jumped in the rigs and sped away hoping to get a flight in that day. Before we knew it, we were 4 wheeling though alpine meadows at 8,000 ft. We were in search of a site that had probably only been flown once before, by Peter and Karl. I would call it more of a mountain that pointed in the correct direction than a site. After following barely distinguishable roads that most likely get traveled more by cattle, we reached the launch.

Josh waiting patiently at Grant

A classic Montana/Idaho road to launch

A perfect slope about 2,500 ft above the valley floor. We quickly set up, assessed the conditions, and began launching. A large shade cycle was moving across the valley making flying difficult. One after another, the guys launched and worked hard for every bit of lift.

I hung back helping the less experienced pilots with their launches. By the time I was ready, the valley was full of sun shine and thermals were rolling up the hill. I launched and quickly climbed out.
As soon as I had the necessary altitude, I headed North to a ridge-line I thought would be producing better lift. When I reached it, I found very punchy small thermals that were difficult to stay in. Eventually I managed to hang on long enough till the lift became more organized and easier to utilize.
I climbed out to 10,500 ft and tried touring around. The going was slow so I turned cross wind into the valley to look for other lift. Surprisingly not much was happening so I used the slightly buoyant air to glide across the valley as far as I could. Eventually I turned in the direction everyone else was, landed next to the guys, and was greeted with a nice cold beer.

We loaded up Karl's rig (9 people and 8 gliders) and headed back to launch with just enough time to find a suitable camping site. After plenty of beer and whiskey, we determined anywhere in the alpine meadow would do.


I woke early to watch the sun rise and see the sky filled with storm clouds. As the morning progressed, more clouds built to the point of raining. Eventually we accepted defeat and headed home. Every site along the drive back was plagued with dark storm clouds. By early afternoon we were back in Missoula and all pretty happy with previous days flights. We also learned that a tornado touch down in Dillon earlier that day confirming our smart decision not to fly.
Sunrise on the Lemhi mountains

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Climbing and Flying

The last few days have been a blast, full of climbing and flying. Saturday Dan Hoffman and I headed to Blodgett Canyon for two days of climbing. We got on a route he established a few years prior which still needed some finishing touches. The plan was to climb the route, put chains on the last two anchors, and fix a line on the last pitch. The last pitch is a difficult one; 140ft of fingertip layback up a dihedral (5.12a/b). I was intimidated, but the pitch takes great gear, so I gave it a go. I was pleasantly surprised with my performance having hung on the rope only a couple of times. Dan and I installed the chains, fixed the rope, and rapped off.

Sunday, with the route all fixed, Dan and I headed back up to "mini-traction" the route. It was awesome. We barely had to carry any gear and were able to race up the route. It was a little spooky the first time because even though we knew the belay system would work, neither of us had ever tested it. On the last pitch I found out how well it worked when I blew the finishing moves of the route. The mini-traction locked up immediately. We rapped down and strolled out of the canyon stopping once for a dip in the creek.

Pitch 2

Pitch 1

Starting up the last two pitches

Monday I went to Sentinel with Ian for an afternoon flight which turned out to be uneventful. It was a blue sky with punchy thermals. I was able to low save over the LZ extending my flight, but eventually was forced to land.

Last night a crew of us headed to Alberton with hopes of an evening glass off. When we reached the launch, conditions looked great. I launched second and climbed out immediately. The lift wasn't incredible, but it was plenty to maintain above launch. As the evening came to an end, we glided out to the LZ where I had plenty of altitude to play with. I tried to get better acquainted with my new glider through a bunch of wing overs. It flies a bit different from my old wing so it will take a little getting used to before I'm really confident under it.