This might be premature, but here are the results of the third annual St. John record encampment. For the third year in a row a site record has been set. The new absolute distance record for St. John is now 144.4 miles!
Nancy, two dogs, a parrot and myself arrived at the top of St. John on Thursday night, about 10:00pm. Greg Sugg was already set up in his trailer. Greg had just arrived from King and Lakeview where it overdeveloped every day. When he arrived in the afternoon, St. John was overdeveloped and raining. He was thinking, “Here we go again”.
Friday morning looked great. CU’s were popping over the mountain by 10:30. It looked like it would be just Greg and me for today. I set up my glider early and started doing some of the tuning I had learned in Austria. I got 3 of the 7 items done. As a final preflight, I check the control cable where it goes over the pulley and found one of them frayed. It was not like this before I left for Florida in April and this was the first time I had set up my glider since then. I decided not to fly even though it looked like a 100+ mile day. I called Rich Sauer and asked if he could bring some 2mm cable and his swaging tool when he came up on Saturday. He said he could. Greg decided he did not want to fly alone so we all went down to the river and went swimming.
Friday night Matt and Lori, Todd and Suzie, and Leo came to camp at the top. Greg had a fire permit, so Matt built a nice fire and we sat around swapping stories and lies. On Saturday morning Rich, Bill, Linda and Kim drove up along with Ernie, Jon James, and Lou. It looked like we had a good turnout. The CU’s did not start popping until 11:00. It was not until 11:30 that they started to stay over the mountain. I made a new cable and got my glider all set to fly (thanks for the help, Rich). By 11:50 Todd, Rich and I were hooked in and ready to launch. I was trying to get an early launch, since last year we did not launch until 1:30. I was hoping that the extra hour and a half would add up to a new record. The old rigid record was 96 miles and the flex wing record was 92 miles.
Todd, then I and then Rich launched. We three were in the air by 12:02. We climbed almost directly to 9,300′ and headed north. The winds were all over the place. They were 20 mph from the west up high (this put us in the lee side) and east, south, or west lower. After leaving St. John, we tried 5 thermals in the first 20 miles and never climbed more than 300′ in any of them. They were shredded with cores all over the place. About this time the rest of the guys launched and started heading our way.
Rich was concerned that we had launched too early. We finally climbed 1600′ in a thermal and headed toward Paskenta (the 30 mile mark). I had taken 2 hours for the first 30 miles. Rich and Todd took a different line than me and were one thermal behind at Paskenta. My glider was flying great, at least 5 mph faster with the same bar pressure and sink rate. I was flying 10 mph faster than Todd at the same sink rate. For the first time I felt I was noticeably out performing Rich.
For the next three thermals after Paskenta I would top out and try and wait for Rich and Todd, but they fell behind and I decided to speed up. I covered the next 30 miles in an hour and twenty minutes. Rich and Todd were 10 miles behind. I hit a hard section from 50 to 70 miles, only two thermals and some really long glides. When Rich and Todd hit this section they hit the deck for about 64 miles. Jon and Greg were still in the air at the 50-mile mark. Leo was down north of Paskenta and Matt had landed just south of Chrome (21 miles). Ernie landed somewhere but no one knew exactly where.
The thermals so far where still very broken and hard to core. They were also rough. With the changes I made to my glider, I now had to push out while thermaling, which was tiring my arms. At the 70-mile mark the thermals got better (higher and stronger). I had been climbing to 5,000′ agl but now was climbing to 6,000′ agl. I covered the next 30 miles in an hour. At the 90-mile mark I climbed to 8,200′ msl and figured I had a new site record as well as the first 100-mile flight from St. John (and, sorry Scot, the coffee can).
At the 100 mile mark the real fun began. I would have to climb over a 5,000′ pass and cross the Sierras to continue my flight. Just past Round Mountain and 4 miles before the pass I climbed to 9,600′ and had the pass easily. I was on my way to Burney, 114 miles from St. John.
There were plenty of LZs around the town of Burney and I was down to 2,000′ agl. To go any farther, I would have to cross 9 miles of forest and another mountain range 2 miles across. I climbed in 100 fpm for 1000′. I had drifted to the southeast and my course was to the northeast. Just as I was getting as far as comfortable from my last LZ in Burney, my thermal turned on a little and I was back to 7,400′. This was just enough to get me across the forest and then mountains to Fall River Mills.
My designated goal for today was Fall River Mills (127 miles). I headed for the airport hoping I could make it with the altitude I had. Just before arriving, I hit one of the best thermals of the day and climbed to 10,100′. Fall River Mills is in a big valley. To continue I would have to cross another mountain range. The wind was now from the northwest and I had to fight a cross wind to stay on course. The area in front of me was completely shaded by clouds. I crossed the next mountains with 500 feet to spare and never hit another bump of lift (but lots of turbulence). I noticed an airport at the town of Bieber. I had just enough altitude to make a normal aircraft approach and landing, 144.4 miles from St. John, almost 50 miles longer than the previous record. This was my longest flight in both distance and duration (6 hours and 3 minutes). This was also a record for Nancy to retrieve. She left the mountain an hour before we launched (it takes that long just to drive down). She stopped twice for gas and was only 2 miles behind me when I landed. She drove for more than 7 hours and 250+ miles.
Here is a picture of me after 6 hours in the air and my new “Bruce Barmakian hairdo”.
Rich and Todd got the longest flex wing flights of the year. Greg and Jon got their second best flights from St. John. Ernie also got his best flight for St. John. I will leave it to him to tell his story.
My new goal is to fly to Lakeview from St. John. If anyone has the GPS coordinates for the center of the spot at the Lakeview LZ, please email them to me. It would be great to end a 220+ mile flight at a spot landing contest.
Record flight: 144.4 miles to Bieber CA., 7/3/2004 Vince