Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Paragliding Jean Ridge, Las Vegas

After the rainy weather in Santa Barbara our best bet for good weather looked like Las Vegas. Usually we come to Las Vegas to climb at Red Rocks. This was our first trip since we learned to paraglide and we were keen to check out the local sites. Jean Ridge looked like the obvious choice - close to town and doable on our own without a second vehicle to shuttle. Driving to the top required a four wheel drive vehicle, but we could get to the bottom in a regular car and then hike up. We tried to contact the local pilots but didn't get any response.

Shelley launching

The first day we were the only ones there. We hiked up to the launch about two thirds of the way up the hill where the wind was about 12 mph, no problem to launch. It was forecast to get stronger later so we didn't wait around. Shelley launched first without problems. She went up right away but moved out front and seemed to be doing ok. I launched shortly after. I was more concerned about staying up but the problem turned out to be the opposite - I was soon well over launch and unable to penetrate. Even on full speed bar I slowly drifted back behind launch. On the positive side the air was smooth with no turbulence. I debated whether to turn and run downwind but I wasn't sure what was back there. I landed (if you can call it that) going slowly backwards. If I'd been thinking I would have killed the wing with the rears as soon as I landed. But I wasn't thinking that clearly. I was too busy cursing myself for ending up in this situation. Luckily there wasn't much rotor (turbulence) since the slope was rounded and not too steep and there was a big plateau on top.  It was hard to resist the instinct to flare (pull the brakes) but that's not what you want to do when you're landing backwards. I didn't even attempt to look behind me and steer. Luckily there was only scattered bushes and sand. Since I hadn't killed the wing and there was (obviously) strong wind, I got dragged until the lines caught in the bushes. Thankfully there was no cactus here! Every time I'd untangle some lines the wind would grab the wing and wrap it around a new bush. Eventually I got it free and gathered up. I was about half a kilometer behind launch and then had to walk down the hill. Holding my bunched up wing I couldn't see my feet and the stumbles on the walk down were more painful than the landing!

In hindsight, I obviously should have gone to the top of the hill and checked the wind up there. I knew it would be stronger up top, but didn't think it would be that much stronger. If we could have contacted the locals and got a site briefing that probably would have helped too.

The next time we drove out, the wind was the same at the bottom (about 12 mph) so we hiked up to the top without our gliders. Sure enough it was too strong at the top (over 20 mph). No flying that day.

view from launch

Our third attempt was on Saturday and there were actually other people flying. Winds were light and they weren't staying up long, but at least we could fly. There wasn't enough wind to ridge soar but there were some small thermals to stretch the flights out.

As we were leaving some other pilots showed up and offered us a ride to the top for another flight. We decided not to go since conditions were getting a little squirrelly. I felt a little guilty about passing up a flight, but it turned out they weren't able to fly due to the winds, so I guess we made the right call.

The next day conditions looked similar (i.e. light and unpredictable). Although it was still the weekend there was no one else at the bottom of the hill when we arrived. But a few minutes later, a truck pulled up. They opened the window and asked "You here to shoot?". We said, "No, we're here to fly". It turns out this is a favorite site for shooting. They can get up to a mile away from the hill. We countered by saying it was a favorite site for paragliding. Eventually they conceded that we'd got there first. Every day we flew here we could hear constant gun fire in the area. A bit disconcerting!

We also got visited by the dirt bikes and ATV's. One time I was coming in to land and was lined up to land on the road right beside the car. Three dirt bikes roared up and stopped to watch me land. The only problem was that they stopped right where I was about to land. I assumed they would clue in and move, but no such luck. I had to shift to the side and land in the bushes instead. They called out "nice job!" and roared away.

Another dirt biker showed up as we were packing up. He asked what we were doing and we explained we were flying off the mountain. But he was more impressed with us getting our Prius up here. (The road is marginal for a car with the clearance of a skateboard!)

Overall I've been pretty happy with my launches this trip. But I had a sketchy launch on my first flight that day. The wind was shifting directions and strength and my wing didn't come up straight. I lowered it almost to the ground, and brought it back up, straight this time. I turned and ran, but the wing again got off to the side. I followed it and steered. You can see in my video that I turned to look at the low wing tip, decided it wasn't too bad and kept going. I got off fine, but the corrections cost me some speed and I barely cleared the boulders below launch. It's a fine line between what you should try to correct and what you should abort and start over.

Jean Ridge is normally a ridge soaring site but unfortunately we didn't get soarable conditions. The wind was either too strong to paraglide or too weak to soar. We did get enough small thermals to stretch out a few flights to about 15 minutes, not bad for a 400 foot hill. One flight I managed to catch a thermal to about 300 feet above launch, but that was the best I did.

Luckily the one time this trip that I actually videoed my flight was the longest flight here. This is a few highlights. For more viewpoints and much more polish see Shelley's video.

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