Saturday, February 25, 2017

Why I Love Kuratake in Winter

I love my home area because it keeps delivering days like today.  Meteo winds were NW, and at the SE-facing takeoff, the wind was all over the place.  Today I was flying by myself, so I hiked up from the bottom, arriving at the launch around 11:30.  The wind was all over the place with occasional strong gusts.  Thermal clouds were forming actively, throwing most of the south side of the mountain into shade.  Unsure whether I could find lift while getting flushed down the shady slopes, I waited for a change in the shade and wind conditions. Evidently it wasn't going to happen, so I gave myself about an hour of flying before work, taking off at 12:30.  No big loss if I bombed.

Wind record for the launch (courtesy of our excellent FreeFlightWX weather station).  Upper graph is wind strength, with the red zone starting at 12 knots.  Lower graph is direction, with the green zone centered on SSE, facing down the slope.
I nearly lost it right off the start!  I picked up a weak thermal which drifted SW, a good direction toward a big leeside lift that usually sits near the ridge on the left of the image below.  But, blew apart in the wind at ridge height, leaving me with a difficult decision: the house thermal was completely shaded, whereas the valley to the north was in the sun but usually doesn't yield lift.  Sinking fast with no time to think, I tried for the house thermal but only found more severe sink.  So I did a 180 deep into the valley, a move I have never done before.  I couldn't shake the catabatic wind, and it looked like I was going to lose it!  But at the last opportunity, I picked up weak lift low on the slope.  A little higher, a better thermal coming from the other side of the ridge.  And, off to cloudbase!

Conditions were great high up: either 3-meter lift or 4-meter sink!  I was able to do the rounds of the Kankai Alps ridge, and the entire Kuratake massif in the time remaining, encountering some unexpected winds on the way.  For example, every time I caught a thermal on the south side of Kuratake, I drifted in a different direction!  One can never get tired of conditions like these.  It's the same place, but the air is so different minute to minute that I might as well have been flying straight-line XC!

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