RVHPA was hosting a barbecue and ribbon cutting ceremony to celebrate the completion of their new launch at The Whaleback and the weather forecast looked promising, so I headed north for the weekend.
When we arrived at launch on Saturday morning, conditions were strong and we observed overdevelopment to the north, but none of the nearby clouds were growing too tall, so most of us punched off. I was the last pilot to take off before the wind really kicked up on launch grounding the rest of the pilots. As soon as I stepped off the mountain, I started going up vertically. I pointed upwind and climbed out while inching forward at 3-5kph. I tried to turn a few times when I hit stronger lift, but the best strategy seemed to be flying straight ahead at 1/4 to 1/3 bar.
I soon found myself at cloudbase around 13,400′. The pilots who launched earlier on hotships had already headed out on course downwind and I looked down to see the others who had launched just before me (Cody, Greg, and Benny) bailing crosswind for LZs.
I headed to the upwind side of the cloud and easily scaled its face, eventually topping out at 15,950′, a new personal best for altitude. I got myself into a position where I could see how much the cloud was developing vertically and prepared to run away upwind or crosswind at top speed if started threatening to overdevelop. It looked pretty well capped, so I enjoyed the view of Mt. Shasta and my shadow on the cloud ringed by rainbow glory.
Soon the cloud stated to dissipate. I hoped that cloud dying would mean lighter winds on launch and others coming up to join me and go XC. I called on the radio, and no one was getting ready to launch, so I headed over the back on my own.
I had a decent glide, but I didn’t manage to connect with any more lift and decided it was unwise to try to scratch on Orr Mountain and wait for a cycle to kick off. The surface winds were still pretty stiff and I felt like I needed to be extremely conservative having spent so much time at altitude without supplemental oxygen.
My landing was uneventful and I was soon met by Annie and a truck full of pilots who had launched earlier and landed to avoid being sucked toward significant overdevelopment downwind. We headed back up to launch for an evening flight.
Paul Murdoch cut a ribbon to officiate the opening of the new launch by taking off through it and was followed by many other pilots.
My launch timing on my second flight was not ideal as a large band of cloud blew through and shaded the entire valley. I had to scratch near launch in weak lift for the better part of an hour before I was able to climb up to the summit. Then things improved as a convergence set up providing widespread lift, marked by clouds up to about 10,000′.
After flying for about two hours, I headed out to the LZ, threw down some asymmetric spirals to burn off altitude and executed a soft landing.
That night we hung out at the campground, drank beer, and barbecued meat.
We headed up the hill on Sunday to find conditions similar to the previous day. Preacher and Cody were the only ones to get off the mountain before the winds kicked up and made it unsafe to launch. Cody landed at the LZ and Preached skied out and headed downwind. The rest of us eventually decided that we should drive down.
This unforgettable weekend provided two of my most spectacular flight flights to date. I can’t really describe and pictures can’t really capture the beauty of looking down on Mt. Shasta from over 15,000′. I eagerly await my next trip to The Whaleback.