Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

May 28, 2014

Lone Peak Hike'n'Fly

Ok, finally getting my lightweight paragliding hike'n'fly kit together.  It's just been helped along by the addition of a Gin Yeti reversal harness with airbag.   The Gin Yeti is about the only light harness that has any sort of back protection, so it was a no brainer for me.   I think my whole kit now weighs about 10 kg, or about 22 pounds.  I can and will get that number lower but for now it feels pretty light compared to my regular kit, and it's pretty compact too.   As long as I squish the packing to get the zippers to close on the backpack!  

No time like the present to try out everything, so on a sunny day I set out from my house to walk to the mountains and find a place to launch.  We live about 3 miles from the base of Lone Peak, and I was even able to use some biking trails so it was a nice walk even in the city.  

I've been eyeing this trail up the mountain all winter up the main shoulder of Lone Peak, and wanted to try it out.  With the snow on it the trail was clear, so I figured it would be easy to follow.   After I crossed the Bonneville Shoreline Trail, a faint cut in the hillside marks the Draper Ridge trail, no longer maintained but still a viable way up onto the hillside.  The marks I had seen in the snow were in fact large cuts in the hill, with flat surfaces large enough to camp on.  Big cuts.  I wonder why anyone thought they were necessary?  
With short grasses, the way up was steep but open and easy to navigate.   As I climbed higher, the wind speed increased and got a little cross on the hill.  Uh oh.   It was late afternoon so I decided to wait a little and see how it went.  I dropped my wing and did a little hiking around while I waited, but never got high enough for a good view of Lone Peak itself.  

By 6 pm there were a lot of people flying at north side already but it was still gusty and cross where I was sitting.  I decided I might wait forever for the wind to drop, so I got my gear out and waited for a small break in the wind.  When it came I got off the hill safely to find much sink and more cross winds.  I couldn't make it over to North Side for any lift, so within minutes I was landing in the valley.  A very nice lady came out of her house and practically begged me to let her give me a ride home!   It was a very nice offer but I wanted to get there and back under my own steam and set off hiking the few miles back home.  

So not much flying but I did have an ADVENTURE (with capital letters).   Plus I got to try out my gear so now I can tweak it a little for better performance.  I definitely carried too much water...all that extra weight, uggh!  

May 25, 2014

Timpanogos Trail Marathon - 24 May 2014

The Timpanogos Trail Marathon warns that it is a difficult, hilly course and should not be taken lightly!  That sounded right up my alley as flat routes through cities aren't really my style.   Thankfully, though, the course didn't actually go up and over Mount Timpanogos...this time of year that would still take crampons and an ice axe, I suppose.

The course starts from Timpanogos Park on the southwest shoulder of the mountain.  And what a charming, hidden set of trails!   I've passed by this area of the Wasatch front many times and never realized that there were such great single track, backpacking and camping spots so close to civilization.

Jim and I had both planned on doing the race, but we had some work being done on the house that he had to be around for.  Bummer.  Instead, he started the run with me and went out a ways, then back to the finish to do a half marathon, and still get home in time.  Perhaps missing the worst part of the climb was a blessing after experiencing the rest of the course!

With almost 6,000 feet of climbing, the miles on this race ticked off slowly.  Even the Bonneville Shoreline Trail for the first 10 miles was very undulating to say the least.  I have my doubts the trail was actually on the ancient "shoreline"...shouldn't a waterline be flat?!    But the worst of the race came at about mile twelve up Grove Creek.   The trail started up steeply and continued that way for about an hour and a half.   But the views alongside the cliff trail were outstanding, and the creek far below was rushing with water.

Luckily the weather was really good for the race.  Dry trail conditions, cool, with an occasional light rain shower.   Even so, I was happy to see the aid station at the top of the climb, which was stocked with goodies that a bunch of volunteers had carried up that steep trail.  The rain had just soaked them and they were good sports just to be up there taking care of us.  Perhaps I was the lucky one after all to be only carrying up an empty camelback?   But the climb wasn't over, but kept going up and up, through some pine forests, open meadows, and scrub oak.  It was beautiful.  I vowed to come back up here and do some camping soon.

Or maybe I was just trying to get my mind off my painful leg muscles.  I knew there was a long downhill coming and knew I would have to push my legs to the finish.  My time was creeping past 6 hours I wound down the single track following the race markers to the finish.  I had been trying to catch up to as many people as I could on the course.  With less than a mile to go, I saw three guys below me and gave it my best shot.  It was downhill all the way and I blew by them like they were standing still.  It was fun.   Anyway.  Then I finished and had to gasp for air for a couple of minutes.  Totally worth it.

At the Start

Grove Creek waterfall

May 23, 2014

Bell Canyon Hike

The weather has finally turned nice and warm, the snow line is receding, so a hike up into Bell Canyon is possible now.  Of course the hike to lower Bell Reservoir is open most of the year, as it's only a couple hundred feet above the valley.   And it's a nice destination in and of itself, if you want a small hike to a nice place for a picnic or some fishing.   It's maybe 20 minutes from the parking lot to the reservoir so just about anyone can get there via a steep sandy trail.
But we didn't stop there, continuing onward and upward into Bell Canyon.  The trail follows a nice rushing stream, cold from snowmelt in a narrow canyon.  The cliffs gradually close in as the trail climbs steeply up the middle.  It's somewhat like using a stair master with some great scenery...the stairs just keep coming.    Upper Bell Canyon reservoir is almost 4000 feet above the lower reservoir.   I'd like to say we made it there, but it wasn't in the plans.  I guess we got almost halfway up, enough for a good workout but not enough to kill us.  

Regardless, the sun was warm and the trees had that spring green color, so it was a nice day to be out for a walk.  With the snow still hanging on the hills it was beautiful to be up in the Wasatch range.  I suspect that the upper reservoir would still have been shrouded in snow and perhaps even still frozen...it's tucked into the canyon and a long ways up there.  Perhaps I'll make it up there later in the summer when it's broiling down in the valley?

May 19, 2014

The View from 12,000 Feet!

There is quite a good paragliding community here in Utah, helped along by great learning conditions at both the North and South sides of the Point Of The Mountain.   Alongside that, we also have great cross-country opportunities to fly along the front range of the Wasatch Mountains.   When the weather looks good for flying, the word goes out, and people meet up in landing zones to share rides up to launch.   Or in some cases, to send their gear up with someone else and get in a nice hike up mountain on the way to flying.  Without having to lug up a heavy pack!  
We still have spring paragliding conditions here in the Wasatch, with snow on the tops, but on the ground it is warming up and feeling great.   So I gladly sent my gear up ahead of me and tackled the hike up to Inspo.  Inspiration Point is a popular paragliding launch above the Provo valley overlooking Utah Lake.    The trail up is steep, and the shortest route is a little confusing, but I followed a friend up who knew the way and was setting a blistering pace.  We both finished in under 38 minutes, altho he was a good couple of minutes ahead of me by the finish.  It was an unofficial record for our little group, and I took a while to catch my breath before launching my wing.  

Thermal tops can be high here in the west, and when I headed higher than 12,000 feet I was feeling pretty good.  Although I was also feeling pretty cold...my hand warmers in the gloves weren't helping much to keep feeling in my fingers.  It was nice to see lots of snow on the tops...we've gotten some late season snowstorms which will help with moisture levels later this summer.  
After climbing as high as I could stand with the cold temperatures, I headed south as the winds were coming from the northwest.   A few of us were strung out along the range but since it was pretty easy to find lift I wasn't worried about needing help with thermals.   In fact I was so cold I was actually happy to make a valley crossing and lose a little altitude!   With the strong tailwinds I was doing 75 kph...valleys crossings aren't too tough at that speed.  

Unfortunately, after reaching Spanish Fork, the wind was now westerly and in my face...I suppose I could have flown further but didn't feel like it.  I guess no one else did either so six of us landed in the same field.  Even better,  a friend who had sunk out early even came to pick us up.  WOW.   Amazing to get a ride straight back to the car after an XC flight of almost 30 miles!  

May 16, 2014

Gaggle Flying Rules the Roost In Roldanillo

Hopefully this blog will be an article published soon in the US Paragliding Magazine.  If not, well, it's here!  

The Eagles have landed in Colombia during the months of January and February 2014.  Eagle Paragliding Tours, that is, led by US Paragliding Team Coach Rob Sporrer and his wife Marite, out of Santa Barbara, California; along with Brad Gunnuscio out of Utah. They were accompanied by some highly talented guides, including Brian Howell; 2013 USHPA PG Instructor of the Year Jesse Meyer; and US Paragliding Team Pilots Marty Divietti and Matt Beechinor.  This is Eagle Paragliding's 4th year of leading winter tours down to Colombia, and this year the participants and guides really synced up and flew like a convocation of eagles!  The Eagle tour guides were able to give personalized attention to each pilot, flying in small groups and helping individuals to set personal bests and accomplish many flying goals.   All guides were also tandem pilots, and as part of the tour, participants could use tandem flights to accelerate their learning curve.  Often there were two or three tandems a day out flying with the gaggle.

Yep, we're talking about Colombia, South America. It's warm down here while most of the USA is in the deep freeze covered in white stuff. Here, we fly in the mountains. We fly in the flat valleys. We fly when a few raindrops fall, and when the sun shines, and when the clouds dot the landscape like icebergs in the north sea. And mostly, we fly in gaggles. It's safer. We sink out less. We go further, and fly longer, and land together in places where we can pack up and head to the center of the nearest village for a refreshing drink.

From the east facing main launch above the town of Roldanillo (dominant winds in the southern hemisphere are from the east), the mountains flow both north and south up to 3,000 feet above the valley. Here the last vestiges of the great Andes spine begin fade into the sea. XC flights are possible in either direction on most days.  However, the real challenge begins when the valleys heat up.  As the mountains often overdevelop in the afternoon, the safer and smoother place to fly is out over the Valle del Cauca. Pilots must choose when to leave the safety of the house thermal and take their chances soaring over sugar cane fields, grapevines, and other lush green crops. But valley flying isn't as simple as it sounds, and having a gaggle of pilots to spread out to find lift makes sinking out less of a worry. A little bit less, anyway!

The milk run from Roldanillo is about a 30 km square around the valley.  Launch on a grassy slope, and explore the mountains while waiting for the flats to turn on. Then cross the valley to the small town of Zarzal, which the guides like to call a thermal factory! From Zarzal, fly north to the village of La Victoria, and finally back across the valley to the little town La Union, tucked into a curve of the mountains. There is usually possible to land in the soccer stadium to the tune of friendly kids cheering us on.

The drive up to launch is entertaining, too, guided by Chipri in his custom-built yellow bus, beautifully hand painted inside and out by students from a local school. His unique horn is recognized by everyone in town and often blared to announce his passing.  Retrieves in the valley are pretty simple as well (yay!). Main roads form a square around the valley, and jeep driver Flacco hunts down grounded pilots and gets them back to Chipri or to the town square. Pilots then can rehydrate with pitchers of fresh-squeezed juice, or fill up on rotisserie chicken while people-watching on the square.  For those pilots who really decide to send it long, public buses are plentiful and it's usually easy to find connections back to La Union!

During the first week of the Eagle tour this year, there was a big competition going on in Roldanillo; the 2014 Colombia National Championship and FAI Open. This made launch very crowded and the number of wings in the air was staggering to some of the newer pilots. So the Eagle tour participants started adding streamers to their harnesses to be able to find each other in the air. By the middle of the week, the gaggle of flying streamers had become so popular that non-Eagle pilots were asking to use them. Even a few competition pilots, (it was rumored) started flying with us instead of competing!

The people of Colombia are super friendly, too. They are eager to show visitors that Colombia is now a safe, beautiful place to visit, and are happy to have pilots flying around in their skies. Often the first question a local asks is "How do you like our country?" or "How are the people here?", which of course I always answer by saying "La gente son muy amables!" meaning "Everyone is very friendly!"

Out of a month of flying, only 4 days were lost due to rainy weather…that's amazing! Also amazing are some of the flights by Eagle pilots during the tours, including XC distances of 60, 80, and 99 kilometers…including 80k on a tandem. Yep, and the tandem only landed after 80k because the passenger had to (ahem) use the facilities.

There are a lot of places left to explore in Colombia, and the 2015 Eagle tour may include a chance to do some mock competition flying, or even some Vol Biv. But one thing is certain: gaggles rule and next year there will be more Eagles out soaring together in Colombia!

May 12, 2014

Bonneville Shoreline Trail

Utah is an amazing place to live.   I wake up in the morning and see snow on the mountains and blooms on the apple trees in the valley.   But the Salt Lake valley where most of the population now lives, used to be under the water of a big lake, much bigger than the Great Salt Lake remnants which remain today.   Lake Bonneville was truly huge, and the old shoreline can be seen edging along the Wasatch front range and along hillsides all around the valley.    Some sections of this ancient shoreline have now been made into a hiking/biking/horseback riding trail.  

We're still exploring the area and sussing out the local hiking trails, so Jim and I decided to check out a section of the Bonneville Shoreline Trail south of the town of Alpine.  According to the map, the trail clearly runs along the edge of the mountains under the shadow of Mount Timpanogos.   Near where we live, this trail is well signed and easy to find.   Not so much in this area.  We had to do a little route finding by pulling out the topo map and coordinating with the GPS in my phone.   There are multiple trails running along at times so I can't be sure we were actually on the trail the whole way, but we had a nice hike on a beautiful day.  Parts of the trail run through scrub oak, grasslands, and of course behind a few new housing developments.   It even is possible to connect to trails over the Point of the Mountain to the paths behind our house, which gives me ideas for future long hikes….   But be warned, there are no trails signs (yet), so you may have to bring a map or make a few guesses if you decide to follow the BST!

May 9, 2014

Bishops Peak Trail

Well, the weather in Utah this spring hasn't been impressing me with the BTU's at all….it's been cold and rainy more than anything else.  Not that I'm complaining…rain in the desert is always good!  But it was also nice to zip out to central CA for a few days of sunshine and heat.   We were visiting family but found some time to head over to our favorite hike in the area for a great workout.  

Bishops Peak is the tallest of nine Morros that rise above the valley near San Luis Obispo.   The hike is only about 4 miles roundtrip, but with 1000 feet of elevation gain, this rocky summit is anything but flat.  The trail starts by darting into a nice shady oak forest, a chance to stay cool for a few minutes at least.   It then descends past a rock climbing area before cutting the corner into open hillside.  The trail is quite technical, rocky and sandy, making each step one to watch for.   But the payoffs are great views  and hopefully a nice breeze at the top.  The summit is rocky and a great playground for boulder hopping.  
We choose a hot day to do the hike, and in a quest for a hard workout, did the whole loop twice!   The thermometer said 89 degrees when we got back to the car, and it was only the stiff breeze that made it doable.   But the hills were spring green and the sky was blue…a great day to be outdoors.