Skyport to Del Valle (5/13/20)

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Skyport to Del Valle (5/13/20)

Postby DTM » Thu May 14, 2020 8:33 pm


The morning of May 13th, 2020 started with blue skies here in the Santa Barbara area. Tom Truax had very helpfully posted his thoughts on the day's potential early in the morning and it got my gears turning for deciding to fly (thanks Tom). I did some forecasting myself after that and decided the day looked decent to me as well, and after one more quick consultation with Logan Walters to get a third opinion, I committed to taking the day off from work and flying (and boy I'm glad I did!).

The only real question in my mind was how much the predicted north wind was going to affect things. According to the ECMWF model (which I usually find most accurate for SB out of the 3 three models on Windy), we had forecasted strong-ish winds in the mid teens up at 5k that were diminishing as you got lower. Tom and Logan were confident that we'd get a good block going, and the flying would be sheltered below 4-4.5k (where there looked to be an inversion on top of the very thick marine layer). They ended up being very right.

It took a little while for the mountains above town to start blocking the north wind effectively, but at around 10am we started seeing some cumulus clouds popping along the Santa Ynez range... always a good sign.

Chris Heckman and I were in cahoots for the day, and my wife Caitlin had signed up to drive for us with Chris riding all the way in the back of our SUV for social distancing purposes (masks on too, windows down!). Chris jumped in the back at Parma at 11am and we were off.

Skyport to the Noon Peak

After waiting for the fighter planes to finish their scheduled buzzing of Santa Barbara (20 minutes late, no less), Heckman launched at around noon and I launched 10-15 minutes behind him. Several of our local XC pilots were already in the air, and things were looking promising, with maybe just a little bit of west wind coming through at our relevant altitudes.

After separately warming up for a bit around the Skyport bubble, Heckman and I met up at RR, climbed out together to somewhere around 4,200', and headed eastbound. We climbed together again up to 3800' at Thermal Factory and were on course from there.

It was surprisingly consistent flying all the way to the power lines on the front range, with a light W wind (under 5 mph) giving us just a little push. The lowest I ever got was around 2,800' while on approach to Romero, and lots of our better climbs were taking us up to between 3,500' and 4,000'. There were some thin clouds that pointed out lift, but there were long sections of blue as well. The flying certainly wasn't mindlessly easy, but it wasn't particularly tricky either. I felt a little bit of squirrely-ness from the north at Castle and on the OHV bumps after it, but those spots always seems to be a little squirrely to me, even on banner days. Heckman and I continued to team fly and leap frog each other all the way to the power lines. It was good clean fun for sure.

I got to around 4k at the power lines and decided to just keep going to Noon Peak. In my experience, the triggers right around the power lines don't tend to be that consistent, and this day was no exception. I wanted to get to Noon Peak and see how high I could get before making the decision of whether or not I wanted to try for the pass going eastbound.

Noon Peak to Nuthouse

Heckman and I danced all around Noon, but eventually hooked into a decent bubble that brought us up to 4,500'. I asked Heckman what he wanted to do and it became clear that he was game for whatever, happy to fly along with me wherever I wanted to go. It didn't take too long to decide to keep going eastbound, and we made our way to Divide Peak.

4,500' is my typical minimum altitude for continuing eastbound past Noon Peak. With that altitude, you can typically squeak over Casitas Pass, even if things aren't working all that well at Divide Peak. That was unfortunately the case on this day, but it still wasn't too big of a deal. After some concerted effort, we topped out at 4,200' at Divide, which isn't terrible but also isn't that great. Getting past Divide Peak was probably a crux of the flight, but it wasn't too stressful, and I think both Chris and I believed in the day at this point and were confident we'd always be able to climb out if we needed to.

After passing over East Divide ridge, I just kept going east to intersect the lower SW ridge of White Ledge. Whenever the going is tough at Divide, and I think I can make that lower ridgeline on White Ledge, I go for it. It just works. You've also got some landing options by the fire road right below there with a fairly straightforward walk out to Hwy-150 if need be, so it's all pretty low stress.

While I dove in to lower White Ledge, Heckman stayed at East Divide and kept trying to work that. My climb at White Ledge was must faster and this allowed me to gain some ground on Heckman, something that is always nice to do when you are on a B glider trying to keep up with a highly skilled pilot on a modern 2-liner. I didn't complain.

I got to something like 5,100' at White Ledge under a beautiful cumulus cloud and headed east from there, downhill to Hwy-33. It was up to Chris to play catch up, but I knew he'd get back to me soon enough.

I was grateful for the long glide down towards Hwy-33 in Ojai because I had to pee REALLY badly at this point and hadn't been able to relax enough to do it yet. I still have a hard time peeing in flight in turbulent air, and it's a big thing I want improve at for longer flights. Anyway, the smooth glide down to the Hwy-33 crossing gave me the space to relax and relieve myself. Phew! Reset button pushed, time to keep going! :)

I took a line fairly far out front in the foothills in front of Bumps 1, 2, and 3 on the descent, before angling back toward the Nuthouse. I have learned from experience and from many conversations with much better pilots than me that on thermic days, large volumes of air are going to be drawing up canyon mouths and you don't want to fight this if you can prevent it. This is pretty much always the case when crossing Hwy-33 above Ojai, and I now like to place myself somewhat south of the main ridgeline when making the crossing so that I can then use the flow to my advantage when attacking the mountains on the Ojai side.

Nuthouse to Topa Topa Ridge

Right as I was approaching Hwy-33 at about 2,700' on a northeasterly line toward the Nuthouse, I caught a thermal up to 3,100' to bring me directly over the Nuthouse in a great spot. I think this is the third time I've caught a thermal seemingly right in the middle of the riverbed. I'm not sure what's going on with this, but I always take bonus climbs during any difficult crossing, and these magic climbs off the Ventura River's floodplain are always welcome in my book and make getting established on the Ojai mountains much less stressful.

Between Nuthouse and Nordoff Ridge, I find that, at least on days when we're flying (i.e. it's thermic), there is almost always a significant draw from the south which wants to push you over the back of the main ridgeline. This whole area seem heavily influenced by the significant gap in the mountains that the Ventura River cuts, and lots of air flows through here and venturis through the gap. The upshot of this is that I always try and stay on the very front points through this initial section, because flying on that back ridge is just playing with fire too much for me. I frequently reject very strong climbs in this section because I know they will draw me back towards the ridgeline quite aggressively. This was definitely the case on this day. Each little spine I flew over was putting out up to 1,000'/min climbs, but I left several of them be because I know where that can lead if taken too far (answer: being parked into a 15+ mph draw in turbulence... not my idea of fun). Eventually I got far enough along where I risked one of these climbs and I gained 1,000 ft in 6 turns. It was a ripper! It did draw me back a little bit, but I left the climb before it got too out of hand in drawing me back towards the maw.

At this point, Heckman had just about caught up to me (damn 2-liners!) and we converged at Nordoff Ridge and kept pushing on together. He passed me on the way to Chief Peak spine and I took a climb on an intermediate knoll which put me back a little further (I'm typically very conservative when I fly XC and take most good climbs that I run into). Heckman climbed a bit at a minor ridgeline before Chief spine, but skipped climbing at Chief spine and kept pushing on to the next front point pretty quickly. I took a different approach and milked my bread-and-butter trigger on the western bowl of the front point on Chief spine. In fact, if I could condense my entire approach to going eastbound from Hwy-33 in the Ojai mountains it would be: "just get to Chief spine... you'll get up there!" This trigger put out for me like always and boosted me up over 1,300' to over 5k MSL.

There were clouds in front of me on the next ridge to the east, and I climbed there as well up to cloudbase (5,800'), which was my high point of the day. Heckman took a faster (but riskier) approach, and kept pushing low and hard on the very front-most points. As luck would have it (or lack thereof) he ended up getting pretty stuck down low on Topa Topa ridge. I had a nice cushion of altitude and came in relatively high on Topa Topa ridge, a little below where the cliff band starts. There were a couple wispies showing me lift and I got one more climb there up to 5,100' before heading on to glide into Santa Paula Ridge, leaving Heckman to dig his way out his low position on Topa Topa ridge (which he eventually did, by the way :wink:).

Santa Paula Ridge to Del Valle

I flew alone for the rest of the flight, with Heckman behind me still working Topa Topa ridge, and Tom Truax already safely landed in Fillmore (he was out in front of us all day, flying fast).

I got to Santa Paula ridge with about 3,900' which was enough to gain the lower southwestern ridgeline and fly over a few triggers there. It was working here, and I pieced together a few climbs to get back up to 5k and continue my way toward Fillmore. Feeling a 10+ mph W wind at this point, and knowing I had Fillmore on glide easy and would still be left with some altitude to play with once I got there, I made a beeline for town.

I made it over downtown Fillmore with about 1,300' MSL. At this point I was feeling around a 15 mph W wind which wanted to push me further east. I wasn't sure what I wanted to do, as I had never been past Fillmore before, but I figured altitude is never my enemy, so I decided I'd take any climb that I found over town. I eventually linked into a very light frisbeeing climb that took me up to 2,200' MSL before it petered out. At this point I was right above the foothills on the east side of town (the ones with the "F" on them) and I searched upwind for another climb.

What I found was a little gem of a climb that I stayed in for over 2,000 vertical feet, frisbeeing up and over Sulphur Mountain (did I mention it was magical?). I topped out at over 3,700' MSL and knew then that I was going to achieve a personal best flight from Santa Barbara. I was well above Sulphur Mountain, Piru was within an easy glide, the wind was pushing me onward, and my wife was on her way to come get me wherever I landed. Life was pretty good at that moment, and I soaked it all in, there over 3,000 above the Santa Clara River Valley.

I made a straight glide right into Piru, and decided that if it worked in Fillmore, maybe it would work in Piru! So I flew right above town, getting there with 1,500' MSL, and hooked into a zero that I frisbeed with until I got to the foothills on the eastern (leeward) side of town. I figured maybe I could find another thermal in all the air that was pillowing up against the backstop of the foothills, and sure enough I did!

I should take a moment here to just emphasize how particularly rewarding it is to fly over brand new terrain, problem solve on the fly, make educated guesses about how and where to fly this new terrain, and for it to actually work out. I had that in Fillmore and in Piru, and it is always such a special feeling.

Anyway, this thermal drew me NE into the Lake Piru drainage, and I then quickly linked into another climb (cheating toward the main valley to find it) and took that climb up even further, eventually topping out at about 3,400'. By this point I could see Six Flags Magic Mountain and glimpses of the greater Santa Clarita area, and I headed that way, feeling like I was on the top of the world.

Instead of heading directly east toward Santa Clarita, I cheated towards Hwy-126 on a more southeasterly line, because I am conservative and wanted to have the highway on glide if I didn't catch another good climb. This turned out to be the case, and after a long glide, I ended up landing in a field in Del Valle right to the north of Hwy-126, elated.

Shortly after landing, Neal Michaelis called me up to congratulate me and tell me that he's landed right in the same spot maybe a half a dozen times, and that making it past Del Valle can be a real crux. Sounds like I've got a new challenge! :)

A little later, my wife Caitlin picked me up on the side of the highway, masked and with an also masked Heckman already retrieved and in the back of the car (at a safe social distance). We picked up burritos in Fillmore and enjoyed a scenic, smile-filled drive home. What a day!

I want to give a special thanks to Tom Truax and Logan for giving weather support and getting me motivated to take the day off and fly. I want to also thank Chris Heckman for being my partner-in-crime all day, and just flying with me wherever I wanted to go, even though he likely had to hold some brake on glides so I didn't fall too far behind! :wink:

Lastly, I'd like to thank my incredible wife who devoted her entire day to support this flight. You're the best, Caitlin! :P

-Derek Musashe


Flight Visualization
[Note: you can toggle back and forth between Heckman and I by selecting either of our names in the people icon pulldown in the upper right corner of the screen]

Flight Stats
Distance: 98.8 km / 61.4 mi
Time: 5 hrs 48 seconds
Average Speed: 19.5 km/hr
Top Speed: 62 km/hr
Top Altitude: 1796 m / 5892 ft
Top Ascent Rate: 5.2 m/s
Last edited by DTM on Mon May 18, 2020 8:06 pm, edited 5 times in total.
Posts: 4
Joined: Sat Oct 07, 2017 9:18 pm

Re: Skyport to Del Valle (5/13/20)

Postby LNW » Thu May 14, 2020 10:16 pm

Great flight D! Patient where you needed to be and willing to move on where it wasn't working. And continue to show the community what is possible on a B wing
Posts: 11
Joined: Wed Jan 09, 2019 3:51 pm

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