Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Task 3: Frostbite Freeway

Among local free flying pilots, the crest of the White Mountain range is known as the Hypoxic Highway. Thom and I borrowed oxygen kits so we wouldn’t get hypoxic. But I’m calling this mountain range the Frostbite Freeway because that’s what I got today for spending too long too high. I pulled out of the lift at 17,000 feet because my fingers were numb. I finally got some feeling back into them when I got lower, but tonight I can see a dead white spot on the end of one finger. I had gloves that I thought would be good at those temperatures but apparently I need better ones!

The lift was huge. My vario made more screaming sounds than the day before, higher pitched and for longer periods. My track log on Leonardo shows 1,400 fpm but it sure felt like more than that.

JK was flying without oxygen and with only mechanics gloves so he purposefully stayed low, no higher than 14,500 feet his whole flight. After a quick bomb out on his first attempt, he relaunched and sped down the range to catch up with me at the turnaround point. We actually circled together a few times before he caught a nice one and pulled up the ladder behind him. I just couldn’t seem to find the core and eventually lost it completely.

I watched him join another guy and climb away in a convergence line without turning. I felt like I’d been left for dead, scratching my way down the course and hoping for another chance to make some turns. Finally I connected with a few good thermals myself, and benched up to see if I could catch JK.

I got nice and high again at White Mountain, around 15,000 feet, high enough to make goal directly from there, I thought, but now I had a problem. The wind was strong now at this height, pushing me high and back over the mountain, and I needed full bar to creep out, getting off occasionally because I was taking collapses. It was strong and rough. I was the only person that high and that far back in the race. I was terrified. I think I made some promises to the powers that be if they’d look out for me.

Finally I eked my way out over the valley and got down to around 11,000 where the wind was better. I turned to see if I could finish the race, but now it looked like the valley wind would be my next problem. It was not terrifying like the wind up high, just annoying, because it was degrading my glide terribly to the next turn point, which was the spot where we’d launched.

I made it there, but pretty low, and I wasn’t patient enough to try and climb back up from there, so just headed out on course to see if I could reach the end of speed section. Apparently JK had the same instinct. He was ahead of me and just barely tagged the end of speed before landing right at the edge of it. I landed a few kilometers short of that, after four and half hours flying, same as the day before. Both of us were just a few kilometers short of goal in this 86 kilometer race.

Apparently there were at least 30 in goal (out of 81). That’s a lot! But many people were penalized because they cracked airspace at 18,000 feet. Hopefully they don’t have frostbite like I do! I think I came in about 13th in the sport class today. JK needs to correct his score.

Thanks to Thom and Stone Brewery for the delicious refreshments. Thom showed up to retrieve me with a cold bottle of Arrogant Bastard Ale, my favorite. Thom had a better day today, getting up and away from launch to reach his highest altitude yet, around 9 grand I think,  and he was able to hop a few ridges along the course line. Hoping he gets a chance to feel the chill at 17k over the next few days!

I didn’t take any pictures in the air today. My fingers were too numb and I was too busy keeping my glider open. Hopefully I’ll be able to click a few this week. The views from up high are truly sublime.

1 comment:

  1. Hey Alex.. go to Wilson's East Side sports in Bishop - they will have new gloves for you if you want to go that route or just buy those hand warmers that you open and shake. I know from your photos that you fly with your hands through the brakes - if you switch to taking a wrap it puts the tension on the back side of your hand/pinky and you won't cut off the blood flow from the the arteries running from your wrist like when you have them through the brakes. Might stave off the cold. I usually fly in light weight gloves in the Owens (mechanix) and as long as you keep your core warm and the blood flowing, you hands can typically hold up during excursions over 15k. Sounds like an epic day... Im jealous - except for the high winds over the crest... ahhhh ... dude, thats the steering flow - you broke free of the lower atmosphere!!!! nice work!!!!