Paragliding Day 70

I debated yesterday whether I ought fly or ski. These are the difficult decisions of Utah life. I had some sleep disruption that precluded morning flying but the afternoon forecast looked promising and the subsequent days not so much so I opted to fly. I arrived at FPS ~1530 and met Joe at the bottom where we staged a return vehicle in anticipation of sinking out. At the top that became evident as having been a good idea as we engaged in some para-waiting…

Eventually we felt a puff of wind, Joe shouted over “wanna fly?”, I shouted back “sure!”, spun forward into the light wind, and ran over the lip. There was enough wind to feel some bite immediately, but not much and as soon as my feet came off the ground I was hyper-vigilant about maintaining the brake pressure to avoid a deflation and find the lift I needed to get away from the hill. All things considered, the take-off felt pretty good for what it was.

I quickly banked right and felt a tad hopeful about the thermals I encountered, just enough to cross the protrusion at the west end of the hill where conditions felt very thermic, but not so much that I did not immediately turn back versus continuing into the bowl, partly in hopes of re-exploiting a thermal, partly not wanting to maroon myself far out if the lift proved inadequate.

On my eastward return track I found myself sinking very quickly, noted a dead wind flag at the bottom, wanted to get as east as possible both to avoid weeds and a long walk, and so simply opted for a loooooooong final. The ground where my feet touched down, however, made for some awkward stumbling, owing to being soft, crumbly, and downward inclined, so I could not run as hard as I hoped, which meant in the dead wind my wing came down messily. Bleh. Oh well. One more facet to consider about landing zones. Joe and I hopped in his jeep and we made the return drive.

Back at the top I began setting up for another flight only to realize that my reserve parachute’s handle had caught on something and one side had been tugged out, probably when stuffing my un-stowed harness and wing expeditiously in the back of Joe’s jeep. If both sides had been pulled out then I would have called it a day and swung by Super Fly for some professional help, but with one side of the handle still in position I both knew that nothing had been meaningfully discombobulated internally and also I had a visual reference implementation to follow in remedying the bad side. With some patience and care, and borrowing a bit of cord from Joe, I set about re-rigging things.

First use the auxiliary bit of cord to gain leverage on the reserve chute’s line
Then feed the helper cord through the nearby eyelet
Then feed the helper cord through the metal ring to pull the reserve’s line’s through
Lock things in place with the plastic ring
Ensure the plastic ring stays in place by securing the handle’s tabs
Remove the helper cable
And finally close up the protective flaps

Out of an abundance of caution I sent Ben this panel of photos for his inspection and he assured me that everything looked sensible.

With this task out of the way I set up for some more para-waiting. At the first hint of wind I reverse inflated, held that position just long enough to visually scan all of my lines, then spun forward for what I knew would be a very minimal wind launch. My wing had a mind to both fall rightward and collapse backward but I corrected by taking off all brake pressure and sprinting hard toward the lip and rightward to get back under the wing. As I crested the lip I felt just enough bite of the wing to commit and began a hard run downhill followed by carefully adding brake knowing I had to pounce on that small moment when the risk of excess drag began transforming into a risk of deflation. I found that moment, it felt really satisfying, and I was off for a quick sledder followed by a slog of a hike that I made deliberately hard by hiking straight up versus following the switchback.


I had imagined that Joe would be hot on my heels but by the time I had packed up and begun my hike he still had not launched. Toward the end of my hike he messaged me that he had missed the window to reverse-inflate and was now having a frustrating experience with multiple failed attempts at a forward launch, noting that the wing was refusing to come up evenly. I said I would come over and help him figure out what was up.

I started helping by spreading out his wing, which is a bit hard to do nicely when hooked into your harness, owing to the opposite tip getting tugged inward by the line when you’re far enough over to lay out the other one. After this he turned to face forward, began setting up his hands, and… we noticed that that As and Bs were twisted on one side. At first Joe was convinced that this was just a forward-facing setup screw-up. I had him turn back around to face the wing. Lo and behold, however, the As and Bs were still twisted. Mystery solved, though somewhat unsettlingly… “I’m not sure whether to feel better or worse about this,” Joe remarked. “Both”, I replied, acknowledging that a posited technique issue had actually been a safety issue that he had been attempting to power through on half a dozen failed forward inflations.

Joe unhooked his harness, took the twist out of the lines, re-hooked, and began his safety checklist, reciting “One, two, three…”. “What did you start with?”, I asked Joe. “One, as in ‘one helmet’,” Joe replied. “Uh, you’re skipping ‘R’? You know, that step that just failed for me for the first time ever and that you just watched me spend fifteen minutes in the dirt fixing?”, I rejoined. He replied that he does not always do the ‘R’ (reserve) step beyond initial harness hook-in. I suggested that by making some steps optional he was both creating additional cognitive load and furthermore making the treatment of other steps as optional more acceptable and that this might not be unrelated to the line-twist issue he had just had. I sensed a touch of defensiveness in the moment but later he would message me out of the blue to express gratitude for my having his back and suggesting that both of us need to do more of that going forward.

Eventually Joe was off with a forward inflation that came up cleanly…

I shared the video with Joe afterward and offered the feedback that although the inflation looked good he had immediately switched to a very upright posture with a leisurely trot as opposed to a continual hard forward lean with aggressive sprinting steps to keep the wing pressurized. Later still we would discuss how much no/low-wind launches are a game of confidence. Once you reach the crux you need to be either 100% committed to launching or 0%. Everything else in the middle is more dangerous, especially if your wavering leads to a launch with an underpowered wing. Lord knows I learned this the hard way, though thankfully with minimal injury and no equipment damage, when several weeks ago I clipped a bush on a Northside launch, got irrevocably tangled before getting away from the ground, and came down in a tumbling mess.

Waiting for Joe to return to the top after his flight I took a moment to enjoy the various dogs at the park. One of them, after playing hard to get, decided she wanted to be my best friend when I went to my car for a snack and she smelled the jerky I keep there as one of my goto-noms. I gave her some in exchange for showing me the high-five trick she had learned.

The day’s actual flying was unremarkable but there was lots of other gold to be had if you took a comprehensive view of the collection of experiences.

Paragliding Day 69

The morning offered southerly wind that initially appeared ideal but quickly strengthened. Arriving at FPS ~0900 I opted to pull into the bottom parking lot, rig up in the shelter thereof, and kite my way upward to two side-hill launches.

On the first pass I kited my way about half the distance to my launch point. There were many students at the hill and circumstances quickly became uncomfortably congested. With pilots launching every which way I regularly found myself jumping on my brakes and rears to prevent a surprise inflation as they sailed directly over me at low altitude. I eventually decided to rosette my wing and hike the latter half of my ascent.

During this hike I watched another pilot near my destination turn the wrong way after a reverse inflation, thereby creating a full riser twist, and subsequently slam into the ground, giving me serious worry that I had witnessed a severe back injury, except that he quickly got up and began fighting with an unruly wing until an instructor ran over and rescued him.

Eventually I would perform a reverse inflation that forced my hand and I launched a little lower than I would have liked. I wish I had run toward the wing to depower it and continue my ascent a little longer. I unsurprisingly sunk out after a couple of back-and-forths of the hill.

By my second ascent the students had cleared out and I could kite my way all the way up to the shelf without safety concerns. On this circuit I was hyper-vigilant about exploiting body motions to make the wing do my bidding. As it powered up I would both jog toward it as well as shuffle laterally to maintain moderate powering and deliberate directional progression. When I found myself in middling and variable wind I preferred an As-and-Cs technique to alternate rapidly between adding and removing power with hand inputs. As I got higher and thus into more consistently strong wind I opted for brake-toggle holds that had me ready to fly at a moment’s notice lest the wind unexpectedly pluck me.

Eventually I reached a height where I felt I ought launch, though frustratingly cravat’d the wing just before I wanted to go, and so reeled in asymmetric brakes and rears to creep up alongside the wing to sort it out. After this I was able to build a good looking wall and let’er rip. This flight was again on the short side and I regretted that I did not kite up just a little bit higher. Alas. I had been hesitant to push my luck as by this point the pilots aloft were limited to a couple of mini-wings, a sure sign that conditions has become spicy.

My two flights were less than excellent duration-wise but I executed them safely and left satisfied with having gotten some really quality practice with ground handling generally and uphill kiting specifically.

Paragliding Day 68

I spent a pleasant afternoon skiing at Alta, kept an eye on the wind during my subsequent drive down, and opted to head by FPS to see if I might catch some end-of-day flying. I arrived ~20 minutes before sunset, found fairly dead wind, and decided I would at least attempt a forward inflation to launch with a possible hike afterward.

I had Ariel spot my inflation to ensure I did not launch in a bad configuration, heaved against the lines, felt the wing come up, dumped the As, continued my sprint toward the lip, and… I felt excessive drag, thought “this is a bad idea”, heard Ariel shout affirmation of the moment’s folly, spun around, and collapsed my wing. I reckon that I released the As too soon, an overcompensation for unpleasant earlier situations where I had held them too long and risked a deflation-and-face-plant moment.

I rosetted the wing, carried it back up the field, plopped it down, and… found that the wind had gone subtly north. I didn’t feel good about this and so boxed up my hopes of flying for the evening. Hoping to squeeze some training juice from the circumstances, though, I laid out my wing perpendicular to the usual run/wind line, set up for a forward inflation, and took another practice go. This time I managed the lines well and executed in a way that would have been a fine preamble to a flight. Just as I was about to declare success and deflate, however, my wing dumped substantively leftward toward the hill’s lip.

At first I figured this messiness was the result of some sloppiness. I put some tension in the lines in preparation to re-rosette the wing and… it wanted to launch. Creeped out by this I released the tension, approached the wing by running askew to it, smooshed a bunch of cells together, put a knee on the wing, and then worked at unclipping my carabiners and speed system.

As I got things under control for my purposes I noticed some drama playing out in my peripheral vision. To my horror I saw Joe pancaked on the ground, his wing in the gully with a mind to drag him southward with it, and a couple of other pilots helping him get circumstances under control. He had been reverse-normal kiting when the wind had pulsed on and caused him to lose control. Whereas I had been practicing perpendicular to the surprise wind’s direction, he was square to it and got overpowered, rescued with small margins by an attentive nearby pilot who jumped on his brake lines.

We talked about the scary occurrence afterwards and, apart from being grateful that he was uninjured, the high-level lesson was that in unusual circumstances you want much larger margins than he was tolerating, or to just pack it up and GTFO. Sometimes the wind turning off is just the wind turning off, but on some occasions it is prelude to something scary happening not much later, and so best you gird your loins for shenanigans.

Paragliding Day 67

“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.

Joe finally touches down after running up the top-landing scoreboard…
… and then tries in vain to kite up the hill in an almost full cross-wind…
… while I just focus on the 45 (?) degree upward pitch hike and savor the calf burn…

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.

Purple mountains, blissful pilots, and a free ride: good times

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…

Paragliding Day 66

Doubtless much spittle graced my monitor owing to maddening struggles convincing the computers of the world to do my bidding but by 1600 they finally went clickety and I began vectoring myself toward a ~1650 Northside arrival. An initially lackluster wind would turn into a slightly less lackluster wind, enough to eke out a respectable amount of ridge soaring, but nothing remarkable. By 1705 I was ready to go, performed a preliminary inflation to inspect the riggings, then let my wing down to wait for the right moment.

At 1710 I inflated again, spun forward, checked for clean brake lines, danced around another pilot whose wing was taking up a goodly portion of the finger, dealt with a brief asymmetric deflation, and powered through enough of a headwind to have some work but nothing epic. I had wanted to turn left initially to head toward the greater of the two thermals I had observed other pilots riding but turned right instead to avoid oncoming pilots. Happily I found enough lift to chain things together into a flight that lasted ~20 minutes.

Perhaps most notable from the experience were the challenges and risks around attention splitting when attempting to exploit thermals while flying near the ground. I caught myself at one moment overly fixated on another pilot’s trajectory as I attempted to emulate it from behind and below. I was nowhere near an actual hill-strike but found myself imagining how easily I might have allowed fixation on one problem to foment ignorance of another. I resolved to be more diligent.

I find myself reminded of my only at-fault car accident, an unpleasant affair from over a decade ago. I had just left a volleyball game and was on a side street (Main St) that merged awkwardly onto a highway (Route 1) where you needed to be looking over your left shoulder then stomp the gas at the right moment. I did what I had done countless times prior: waited for the car ahead of me to go, looked over my left shoulder to ensure clearance, let off the brake, and *CRUNCH*. The car ahead of me had balked and I rolled into it at 2 MPH. No serious damage, no injuries, but a painful lesson. You need to be continuously glancing where you are going. Sounds obvious but when there is a lot going on it can be easy to forget…

This evening I was mostly doing the right thing and the results were fine but multi-tasking is a hard yet critical thing where laxity can yield tragedy.

Joe comes in for a landing moments after I do.

Paragliding Day 65

Southside was a tease in the morning. Joey got there early and snagged some good stuff before I had even pried my eyes open. Ariel got there shortly thereafter and eked out just a sledder before the wind switched north. I was barely upright before the party unambiguously ended. I saved whatever ambitions I harbored for the afternoon.

By early afternoon there appeared some hope of a northside session. In anticipation thereof I set about unpacking my wings and disentangling their lines in my driveway. By the time I had finished it seemed time to head over. I arrived ~1550 to find wind still wild and pilots patiently parawaiting. I hauled out my full-size wing and harness, set them on the ground, and waited for a good twenty minutes before the most intrepid pilots began gearing up. I watched them fly for a bit to to assess the conditions. Ariel landed perhaps ten minutes later and said he had done so because the thermals were scaring him. By that point I was still scared by even the prospect of trying to inflate my 37m wing and so continued to wait.

By perhaps 1625 the wind felt approachable and so I figured I would at least kite. I reverse inflated and then forward kited my way up the nearby finger and parked for a few minutes to feel out the wind from a forward facing position. It felt quite reasonable and I sensed that this was my moment and so made a go of it. I found myself lofted quite pleasantly and not at all excessively.

I would ultimately crank out a 90 minute flight, nearly double my closest record, which proved both immensely satisfying and quite exhausting. Conditions were fairly thermic which required very active piloting but also offered the opportunity to exploit thermals which I did deliberately if not particularly competently. I definitely managed to ride many in a way that allowed for such an extended flight, but from various vantages Ariel noted that I was blowing through many without meaningfully capturing their potential and Joey noted I was preemptively applying brake to prevent surges in a fashion that was both denying me the thermal’s full potential while posing undue risk of a stall. Doubtless these follies are what left me always on the cusp of benching up but never quite making it happen.

As the sun slipped behind the nearby mountains the wind quickly attenuated and I began my sink-out to the bottom. Just as my feet bumped the ground I let out an involuntary hoot of joy. I hiked back up feeling completely different from the previous evening. Fortune favors the prepared. The painful lessons of yesterday drove me toward better outcomes today.

Paragliding Day 64

Yesterday morning I arrived at FPS ~0830 just after some some wonderful 12MPH wind had passed through and left me choosing how to handle 14G16. I walked to the lip where I found Ariel engaged in what looked like swinging on an invisible swing set.

He suggested a side-hill launch but I opted to pull out my smaller wing and headed to the far end for some kiting practice. I would regret this. No sooner had I begun to deploy my kit did the wind surge to 17G19 and I thought better of it.

As I was stuffing my wing back into its sack, another pilot (Danny?) who had been struggling for the last ~10-15 minutes to penetrate the wind got plucked from a forward kiting position and dumped over hard backward, presumably from a regrettable application of brake at a key moment. With his wing behind him and his orientation still toward the lip he began getting dragged scarily backward until Janica ran over and started reeling in his rear lines. Despite this the wing looked on the cusp of an explosive relaunch and so I ran over and began sucking in and bearhugging his wing until I was sure there was no chance of that.

From what I gather watching other pilots, the thing to do in this situation of getting plucked is to just say “oh, I guess I’m flying now, just a little sooner than I thought”, and act accordingly. Easier said than done, of course, and doubtless if I found myself in that situation I reckon there is a pretty good chance I would have suffered the same fate as this other pilot. Thus the decision to abort. The pilot seemed uninjured but a bit shaken by the experience. I have been in similar circumstances and found it quite sobering. One can easily forget the staggering amount of lift a little bit of fabric can generate until one gets a violent reminder. It’s worth remembering that my 37m is perfectly happy to haul a 300lb man into the air like it ain’t no thang in the right wind conditions. I know what it is like to deadlift 300lbs and the idea of my wing effortlessly hauling that loaded bar upward is a good way to visualize the matter.

Having loaded up my car I thought about pivoting to the bottom of the hill to practice in that shelter with my 37m wing but bailed on that idea as well. I was feeling biologically out of sorts, my head fuzzy from lackluster sleep and my guts churning from god knows what, so I went home and pooped. Not a morning for the record books but I do always feel good when I can help another pilot out of a scary situation. I have been thus rescued many times and hopefully what goes around comes around.

Joe talked me into an afternoon return to FPS even though I was suspicious there would be wind worth having and it also would make my dinner plans a bit late. Arriving at 1530 conditions where as meh as I had imagined. There was enough strength for some worthwhile low-wind handling practice but eventually I got bored, charged over the lip, and went for a sled ride. I was just about to stick my spot landing by satisfyingly stomping on the small green tarp at the bottom but with my feet just slightly above it the wind gusted and I found myself with other priorities. Oh well. At least the hike back to the top was invigorating and less treacherous now that the snow had been scoured away.

Arriving at the top shortly before 1700 I found wind that promised nothing more than another sled ride and so imagined calling it a day and getting dinner prep underway. A few moments, later, however, it showed potential, and I chose to strap in. I had a brief fright as the wind seemed likely to cause an inflation when I had only gotten one leg strap attached so I ran over, pinned the wing do the ground with my knee, undid the leg strap, then worked at more thoroughly ensuring the wing would stay depowered. A few moments later I had gotten fully setup and was about to inflate but Joe, struggling against the wind, forward kited over to me, remarked that his speed system was unhooked on one side, and asked me to hook him in. I obliged, doing so with great care not to have my wing make an explosive launch while doing so, and off he went for what he would later describe as his best southside session ever. I would not be so lucky.

Firstly, I built a wall with my wing do allow for line inspection, which perhaps was wise from a safety standpoint, but problematic from a gradual power-up standpoint. Secondly, I was on terrain that was a little bit muddy and had a slightly backward cant to it. Thirdly, I was doubtless overly focused on hand technique to the detriment of body posture and footwork. Fourthly, wind got a lot stronger very quickly, and probably I caught the gust component (note what happens @ 1710 in the following table). My reward was that when I tugged on the center As the wing exploded upward and yanked me several feet off the ground. I did not panic and stuff the brakes which would have manifested in an awful dragging affair into a car-filled parking lot. Rather, I was too late on the brakes altogether, and as I was dangling in the air facing the wrong direction the wing surged over my head, deflated, and unceremoniously dropped me on my posterior. As fast as I could I returned to my feet, removed a line that had tangled with my helmet, sprinted askew to the wing while reeling in brake, and then ran to the wing and kneeled on its center cells from behind while I collected myself. Oof.

After disentangling the wing I returned to the front of it with enough brake to ensure that the wing remained tipped over backward and thus fully depowered. I thought about making another go of things but then thought better of it. Some part of my brain was saying with increasing urgency that I was trying to force something that was not meant to be. My head was foggy from suboptimal sleep, I was slightly injured from the drop (my back obvious in the moment and my left knee now today), the wind was leaving the range I could handle reliably, my guts had been churning all day in a way that was probably leaving me improperly nourished, I was feeling a bit angry at myself for not clipping into my kit before the wind started amping up, and I was fretting about executing on my dinner plans. I packed up and went home fairly miserable.

I relayed my experience to Ben and he remarked that as people get more competent with their hands they often begin to neglect their feet and body posture. That rings true to this experience. When inflating in higher wind conditions I need to be highly efficient in using my own mass in bleeding off the wing’s energy to put it in equilibrium. Leaning backward provides at least two key benefits. Firstly it turns my body into a lever arm to which the wing must apply substantial torque as it fights to stand me upright, during which time it has less energy to surge past me. Secondly it enables me either to slide or at least take long striding steps, during which time my body’s horizontal distance from the wing decreases in a way that partially depowers it. In doing those things I buy myself more time to switch from As to brakes and thus park the wing directly overhead while remaining more thoroughly in control.

I continued to reflect on all this as I prepared dinner. Ariel showed up shortly after 2100 and we had a really nice shared meal in the backyard as I mulled over the day’s experiences and he offered insights. One of the biggest takeaways was that I should probably focus my short-term investments on getting highly comfortable and proficient with high-wind side-hill launches as that will yield exponential returns by capturing airtime in lots of situations where currently I’m stuck either sitting it out or kiting on a small wing. We talked through a variety of ways I can make that happen and I’m thinking about how to act on them.

The other big thing on my mind is how much Fortune Favors The Prepared. One of the awesome and unexpected outcomes of my burst of training toward my P2 with Ben was the sleep hygiene it forced me to develop. I was up every morning at 0600, which felt great in and of itself, but also meant I was reliably catching the edge of sunrise around which conditions can quickly progress from meh/yikes, to perfect, and back to meh/yikes again, which makes timing critical. I was more motivated to do that back in October when the weather was epic and I had a reliable accountability buddy, subsequently fell out of the habit, and have been paying the price since then in trips to the hill where I just barely miss an excellent opportunity. Similarly it was regrettable that I did not immediately hook into my harness after my hike back up toward the end of yesterday as if I had I would have been fully deployed and ready to launch just as the wind turned soarable. Instead I was racing to setup reactively and then missed what turned out to be an extremely narrow launch window, my punishment being that I got to stand on the ground nursing a mild injury while watching a dozen other pilots have a great time. Ugh.

Pain + Reflection = Progress

Paragliding Day 63

I did not fly. Nor did I so much as kite. So why is there an entry today?

I began the drive down from Solitude at ~1545 after an invigorating afternoon’s skiing…

… and arrived at FPS ~1645.

During my descent I had seen 12G13 and gotten excited at the prospects. As I made my last-mile navigational decision to proceed to FPS, however, doubt began to seep into my calculus as the wind was showing 11G15, evincing an uncomfortably wide gust factor for someone who does not relish the idea of a near-ground catastrophic deflation.

Pulling up to the parking lot I observed multiple pilots balling up their wings and calling it a day. Jeremy was among them and remarked that things had gotten a bit scary for his tastes. I did not take this PIREP lightly. Looking out over the lip I saw a handful of wings still aloft doing their best impression of being trapped in a lava lamp.

Hard pass.

I hung out and watched for half an hour, the wind getting inexorably stronger, reaching 16G19 moments before Ariel executed a tumbling top landing. I watched a couple of pilots struggling even to have a clean landing at the usually well sheltered bottom. Later Janica would tell me of a scarily substantial asymmetric deflation she had 20’ above the ground as she was approaching a landing. Ariel would also remark on a moment while aloft where just as he was beginning to fear for his own safety a nearby and newish pilot was having a “WOO!” moment, perhaps not properly appreciating the danger they were courting.

In the end everyone got their feet back on the ground without incident and yet the evening was one of those where things might easily have gone materially differently.

One of the earliest decisions one executes in the Aeronautical Decision Making process is whether to get in the air at all. Although I did not fly this evening there was nonetheless an act of piloting. And so there is this journal entry lest the stream of entries suffer a regrettable selection bias.

Better to be on the ground wishing one were in the air than to be in the air wishing one was on the ground. Live to fly another day.

Paragliding Day 62

It was close to 1100 by the time I arrived at FPS. Wind sensor readings had appeared weak but the forecast promised slight improvements as the morning wore on. Upon my arrival Chad remarked that he had been up for about ninety minutes. “WUT?”, I asked incredulously, remembering the sad looking values I had seen from the sensor. “Thermals”, he replied. “Damn it”, I thought to myself.

I quickly setup and got going. After launch I swung right and found myself slightly behind and below Ariel, a somewhat regrettable situation as I did not want to pull in behind him and risk getting pinned. Eventually he turned, I snugged closer to the hill, and then shortly before the west-end bowl I hit a delightful thermal. “YAAAASSSSS!” I shouted as I surged to way above launch and then continued into the bowl. Once in that region, however, I found the ridge lift wanting. By the time I had emerged on a return leg my wing was sinking along with my optimism. On the next circuit i caught the same thermal again though less dramatically. After a minor surge in altitude I sunk again and realized that my fate had been sealed. I accepted this, focused on enjoying what was left, and sunk out.

The return hike was a serious slog as well as seriously treacherous, especially with my being so heavy owing to the tandem wind strapped to my back. I nearly lost my footing several times in deep snow.

As I neared the top I caught a video of what appears to be Ariel frolicking with an Eagle…

Eventually, upon returning to the top, I found myself debating whether the wind and terrain merited another flight. With the base wind attenuating but the thermic action growing I decided against it. This gave me more time to reflect on the mistakes I made with regard to exploiting thermals. Two sessions in a row now I had effectively sunk out for want of shrewd thermal management. In both cases I had been trying to ridge soar when instead I should have been aiming to maximize my time spent in narrow updrafts. This clearly represents an area for major improvement, both on a specific technique and in being more perceptive of and adaptive to varying conditions. Having gotten passably competent at ridge soaring I am relying overly much on that technique by default.

Paragliding Day 61

I arrived at FPN ~1515 to find fickle wind. Ariel had just benched up but others were now kiting patiently in weaker stuff. I took a leisurely pace to setting up, swinging by the restroom first then continuing to dawdle for want of pressure to the contrary.

I was strapped in and good to go by ~1540, performed a preliminary inflation to clean my lines, and was rewarded by almost losing my footing on the snow and wet grass, the wing flopping back to the ground after it got past me owing to my clumsy management of low friction conditions. I got my bearings, inflated again, let things ride for a moment, then deflated to wait for the wind to amp up.

Eventually I felt the wind strengthen, saw a couple other pilots make a go of it, inflated, and… found myself in a messy fight to approach the ledge. For a minute or two I spun my proverbial wheels in a forward kiting posture as the strength of the wind and the slickness of the snow made for difficult circumstances. With persistence, however, I powered through and was off.

I managed to ridge soar for ~25 minutes before sinking out and landing at the bottom. If I had been more skilled at exploiting thermals I might have managed to bench up but the baseline wind on the ridge was not adequately directly inward to enable that. It was a good flight in and of itself but also offered insight on what more can be had with greater skill in exploiting the available updrafts.

The flight offered one scary moment where my left wingtip presumably exited a thermal well ahead of the right one, causing the wing to dump hard hillside. I applied, IIRC, moderate brake on the left and harder brake on the right to both prevent an asymmetrical deflation and correct my trajectory. All was well but with such little ground clearance the experience offered a sobering reminder of how on-the-ball you have to be at all times when flying near the ground. I also had to be constantly reminding myself to maintain tight cognizance of my relative position with the LZ because imminent sink-out was a constant threat.

After the return hike I found myself tempted by the wind to try to soar again but eventually decided that my time would be better spent on kiting practice. I was happy to find that the recent kiting binge on Ariel’s borrowed 18m wing was fresh enough that in more modest winds I found the muscle memory serving me well on my 37m. I’m not sure I had ever previously felt so comfortable inflating with my hands only on the center As and in control enough to stay that way for some time, using only body position manipulation as the other control.