“I’m at gas station by fork. Where are you?”, Joe messaged at 1540 as I sat in my driveway about to drive down from Suncrest. The afternoon’s wind was proving ambiguous and we lacked clarity on which flight park to try. “Maybe go to NS for low-wind/wrong-direction kiting in anticipation of a turn-around?” I mused. KSLC had started blowing solidly north and KU42 had begun showing west but FPS was stubbornly and confusingly locked in on south. We ultimately decided to push our chips onto FPS and headed that way.
Upon arrival the sock offered scant reason for hope and yet another pilot was managing to soar at the west end. OK, so, weak baseline wind for consistent ridge lift but some hope of thermals… We strapped in and kited for a bit to feel it out. “Guhhhhh, I think it’s about to go north!” I shouted over to Joe. “Time to fly!” he replied. We prepared ourselves for a sled-and-hike affair.
I launched first, turned right, and felt wind that initially promised a sledder, but as I approached the lip that leads to the west-end bowl I felt a thermal buoy me upward. Finding myself surging beyond launch height I carried onward into the bowl and continued to exploit the lift, turning back just before the power lines. As I approached the lip on an easterly track I had enough altitude that hanging a 180 back westward to re-exploit the thermal felt sensible and so I did. On the subsequent easterly return, however, I felt myself beginning inexorably to sink and so returned to the main portion of the hill in anticipation of landing. Once I had cleared the lip I began eying the LZ and sussing out the wind direction from the lower sock. I found a southwesterly wind while rapidly losing altitude and so had to execute a fairly hard 135 degree turn to a short final to land with wind alignment. This was tense but not crazy and I touched down gently.
Joe, meanwhile, had turned leftward after his launch and found a thermal that allowed him to top-land four (!) times, and so was several minutes in the joining me at the bottom. Upon arrival he was of a mind to attempt a side-hill launch after some uphill kiting but the wind had gone hard west and eventually he recognized this for the fool’s errand it was. I, meanwhile, decided that we should hike directly upward instead of taking the switchback to practice being miserable for an eventual Northside summit hike.
Back at the top the wind seemed to offer nothing more than a rapid sink-out and so I was feeling done. I offered to drive Joe back up if he wanted a sledder and he took me up on the offer. No sooner had I tossed my wing in my trunk, however, did the Super Fly trailer begin doing laps as Chris pushed his baby birds off the side of the hill, and so I let Joe make his return trek by hitchhiking off that option and quickly set my own wing up to take advantage of this gravity well counter measure.
On my subsequent flight I attempted to capture the thermally goodness of my previous flight’s westward foray but the moment had passed. I found myself instead sinking out very quickly so as soon as I reached the west-end’s bowl’s lip I hung a hard 180 back to the main area and prepared for a semi-sketchy landing. I was tracking eastward along the ancillary road that parallels the main road and had just barely cleared some troublesome brush when I had to make a choice about how to execute my landing. I was nicely aligned to the road while also quite low to the ground and ultimately I decided that the weak tailwind did not merit a hard turn to wind alignment. Better to sprint hard on touchdown and accept with certainty a mild amount of abuse to my knees and back than bank hard in a manner that risked a tumble and more comprehensive soft tissue damage. This proved a reasonable choice.
Arriving back at the top to a rapidly waning sun I set up for one final flight. This one proved the most sketchy, if ultimately less impactful, since my ill-fated Northside tumble. After reverse-inflating, spinning forward, and beginning to sprint down the hill in wind conditions low and variable I found my feet briefly off the ground but then rapidly reproaching it. Before lift-off I probably should have stayed in running mode longer to more fully power up the wind. After lift-off I probably should have kept my “landing gear” down and ready to re-engage as well as managed my brakes better. Ariel, from his vantage above, said he saw my wing come too far forward. My butt caromed across the ground as I struggled to find a brake pressure that would eventually give me the clearance I desperately sought. Yikes. “That was exciting!”, Ariel remarked of my launch as he got into the trailer at the bottom. “Yeaaaaahhhh, I did not love that launch”, I replied. Everything beyond that crux, however, had been as smooth as butter, and I had landed just feet away from the aiming tarp at the bottom.
All told a surprisingly productive and fun day given how uncooperative the wind appeared at the outset…