The cockpit of "ZR" showing Sylark Field as the destination
Have you ever had a day of soaring that more than lived up to your hopes and expectations?
I will remember Sunday, September 2, 2001 as a day when it all came together. The
anticipation started building the night before, when the forecast was showing climbs
to 9,000 feet with clouds expected to form right at the tops of the thermals. I
love going to bed after loading up my rig with all the needed items for a great
day of soaring, knowing the potential is there for some good cross country travel.
When the morning arrived and I re-checked the forecast, everything looked great.
In no time I was on the road to Elsinore. Driving down the Ortega Highway, I got
my first look at the valley and was amazed at the clarity of the air. I could see
all the way from the San Gabriel’s up north down to the mountains south of Palomar
and Warner Springs. San Jacinto and San Gorgonio looked nearer and clearer than
I had ever seen. In fact, the whole valley seemed etched in relief with the air
crisp, clear and unstable.
Heading out on course, the CUs were everwhere.
By 10am Cu’s were popping all over the inland ranges with it becoming obvious that
the clouds would overdevelop on the higher peaks. This soon happened and by the
time I launched at 11am, the tops of the higher peaks inland were already hidden
in massive and growing Cu-nims. I took a “pattern” tow, courtesy of Randy Spencer
and Blue Max, and soon had 6 knots on the vario to cloud base over the Elsinore
peak towers. I loitered there until Jeff Wright in his Pilatus joined me and together
we set off for Santiago peak.
We had a nice cloud street leading us to within a few miles of the towers on Santiago.
We then found more lift over the peaks of the saddle, between them and beyond. We
cavorted there for 20 minutes or so, putting on a show for some mountain bikers
and maintenance workers. Eventually, we tired of that, and Jeff headed across Corona
and the 15 freeway to the “dishes” southwest of Lake Matthews. I followed him after
first performing a few more wingovers for the benefit of some day hikers. Very soon
I was flying on the east side of the 15 looking for Jeff and for a good route to
A nice shot of the radio towers on top of Santiago Peak.
A huge CU with Lake Matthews in the foreground, taken from on top
Just then I ran into some strong sink, 10-15 knots of it, in fact! I was forced
to put the nose down and run south toward Skylark field to stay within glide. I
did not relish the idea of landing out on the north shore of the lake. I finally
reached some zero or positive air just south of the blue house on the Sedcos. Fortunately,
Matt and Hans were marking some weak lift there with the red 2-33 they were flying.
The lift was marginal and the wind was chopping up the thermals down close to the
ridge but after slowly climbing back up to 5,000, feet I was able to scoot inland
a mile or so and hit a boomer that took me up to cloud base at 8,000 feet. For some
reason Matt and Hans chose to leave the lift in favor of flying through the sink
I had been in. This they did in spite of being warned about it by me on the radio.
They soon found themselves scratching to stay up over the north end of the drop-zone
with a somewhat testy Carl telling them to get out of there.
A nicely defined cloudstreet taken from near the S ridge.
Meanwhile, Jeff had been on the radio calling the Hemet gliders and checking on
conditions ahead. I hooked back up with him and we porpoised right along until almost
to the S ridge north of Hemet. There I stopped to thermal back up under some beautiful
billowing clouds while Jeff pressed onto the ridge. While I was waiting for him
to search out a fat thermal so I could go leach him, a nice Discus 15 meter sailplane
went by me heading for Elsinore. Looking around, I could see several other gliders
in the area, and on the radio there was a fair amount of friendly chatter. It seemed
that the sky was full of happy glider guiders. I took the opportunity to try to
raise my buddy Mark Navarre (ASW-20 “OD”) on the radio. He was flying in a sports
class contest up at California-City. Much to my surprise he immediately answered
my call and was coming in clearly. He was waiting for the start gate to open, and
it was over-developing up there just as it was around me.
View throught the Banning Pass.
When I checked back on 123.5, Jeff told me he was over Banning heading for San Gorgonio.
I followed as far as Banning, where I circled at cloud base to wait and see how
he did. It was getting a bit ominous under those booming thunderstorms!
Sure enough, our running radio commentary went something like this. Me: “Howz it
goin Jeff?” Jeff: “ Sink...Bad Sink…ooow… getting kinda low…WOW did you see that
lightning, it was right next to me! Pretty knarly, I’m getting rained on…it’s POURING...ok…OK
I found some lift. I’m cool…are you still coming?” Me: “NO WAY, over.” I just didn’t
feel thirsty for that kind of pain. I’m still thrilled just to be 40 miles from
home, without needing to see how much I can push my luck against the mountains at
cloud base under a thunderstorm.
Jeff said later he was skimming the ridges of San Gorgonio, and that there was snow
on the ground. He also mentioned that it was very rough and was glad to get out
of there, so I don’t feel too bad for chickening out. I plan to make my first time
going up on San Gorgonio or to Big Bear a more relaxing and secure flight with tamer
Thunderstorms threatened over development.
Since I was not going to make the jump over to San Gorgonio, I left Banning. I decided
to set course southwest and flew up against the ridges leading to the peak of San
Jacinto. The cloud cover was solid and the top of the mountain was completely obscured
by thick black menacing clouds, so I did not get far. Instead, after getting sprinkled
on, I headed back towards the S ridge from the “back side” and started thinking
about working my way closer to home. A nice cloud street was setting up from the
S disappearing into the distance towards Perris Valley, so I made that my next goal.
Lift was a bit spotty and disappointing and I noticed that the winds at 7000 to
9000 feet were blowing pretty hard from the southwest. My ground track when thermalling
was moving me in the wrong direction at an alarming rate. I therefore chose to drive
straight upwind several miles before taking another climb and was rewarded with
some much stronger lift under the upwind and sunny edges of the cloud street right
where the lift was supposed to be!
Soon I was comfortable; I had glide for the next 20 miles to the Elsinore area and
passed a pleasant time just cruising at cloud base. I called Perris valley to warn
them I was flying by the drop zone. They were courteous and thanked me for giving
them the heads-up. My ground speed was only 40-45 mph going into the wind, but with
clouds to mark the lift, I was not coming down much at all.
I arrived under a large solitary Thunderhead just east of Canyon Lake and could
see that wave clouds were forming over the top of it. The whole sky was getting
interesting with rotor clouds, Cu’s and lennies in various directions. After reaching
the cloud base and playing tag with Jeff a bit, I headed off at 90 knots in the
direction of Santiago peak and some rotor clouds. I worked an area of weak wave
roughly over the 15 freeway just north of Lake Elsinore and then continued up to
the peak again.
Suddenly I was thinking of landing; I had been up nearly five hours and Jeff had
just put down after hitting big sink in the Sedcos. He actually got low enough there
to fly the ridge lift. I turned and burned for the airport, wanting to do a “contest”
finish to top off the day. When I called Carl at the drop zone, however, he informed
me that an Otter full of jumpers was taking off in four minutes. I contented myself
with an eight mile run at 100 knots to a full-spoiler full-slip pattern from 2,000
agl at the IP ending in a nice landing. After that I helped Jeff put away his Pilatus
and went into the clubhouse for some adult beverages and hanger talk.
All in all, I think that soaring has taken on a whole new meaning for me now that
I have earned my silver badge and made several cross-country excursions. I am learning
so much so fast again; it is a lot like making my first solo all over. I hope to
see you “out there” on the next booming day, doing what we were trained to do!
Thanks for reading this; I hope you enjoyed it.
“Ships are safe in the harbor, but that’s not what ships are made for.”