St. Helena to Elk Creek

The forecast for Friday May 8th, 2015 was the best I had seen all season and my dad, David was available to drive for me. The final model runs that morning switched the forecast wind direction from southwest to north and the visible satellite showed marine stratus receding down the Napa Valley. However, the conditions still looked promising enough to go for it.

We headed up early and swirling cumulus clouds were already developing over the mountain, and to the north and east when we arrived at launch. I set up and launched into a good cycle around 11:30. I climbed right away but was approaching cloudbase at only 5000′. I immediately bailed over the back toward Middletown, hoping to reach the higher clouds forming there.

I struggled for a long time to catch a climb to cloudbase near Middletown, but it just wasn’t going to happen. The wind was south down low, but the cloud drift was showing north and I couldn’t figure out how to work through the shear.

I headed for Hidden Valley Lake and eventually found a better climb. I got drilled on my glide to Lower Lake, though, and was setting up to land just south of the 29/53 intersection when I found enough lift to pull off a low save. The climb coalesced and ended up being the best of the day, taking me all the way to cloudbase at 8500′.

Gliding at full speed to punch through a large blue hole on the way to Highway 20, I took my first accelerated frontal. The Mantra seems to respond best to frontals if you give a quick tap on the brakes. However, I was a little late with the brakes and went parachutal for a moment. The wing dove and regained airspeed nicely, though.

I continued for New Long Valley and had another low save there. I pushed north toward Bartlett Springs Rd. and instructed David to take 20 to Bear Valley Rd. I never found a great climb at Indian Ridge, but continued north anyway. More climbs were required here to avoid an ugly land out and hike. Fortunately, I found them. This brought me to the M5 above Trough. I tried to climb to cloudbase there and got pretty close.

Then I went on glide toward the Salt Spring Valley, passing Stonyford and taking the site record back from Cody. I continued to find climbs near Gravelly Ridge, which I attributed, in part, to rain falling between St. John and Felkner and eventually had a nice final glide to Elk Creek.

My dad arrived in the truck just as I turned final and watched me land. Ron and Mark also showed up. They were driving to Potato for the Sprint Leage and had seen my approach. My dad and I ate dinner at the Elkhorn and headed to Dixie Glade to camp out. With a distance of 106km/66mi, this was a new paraglider site record for St. Helena, and my second longest open distance flight!


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