Grand Day at Arlington by Henry Rebbeck

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July 23rd Arlington….


I moved out to Seattle from the UK in 2013, got married and had 2 kids, so finding time to go gliding has been difficult. Over the last few years I’ve started exploring the Cascades further, but it is tricky to find the right set of circumstances, where free time, weather and a tow pilot align to get a good outing in the mountains.


A couple of factors have helped this year.


  1. I have been using SkySight to keep an eye on the weather. I am so impressed with it. The accuracy and resolution continually amaze me. It has proved to be such an important tool, encouraging me to take the punt on the long tows often needed to get established when its stable over the low lands. The 10$ per month seems expensive over those long winter months, when its not used, but to pick a good day like yesterday, seems like great value.

  2. Ron Clark.


I am heading to the UK during August, so was aware this week is the last week that I could get a good flight in, so had been tracking the weather. Skysight was showing that Monday could be good, with 13k cloudbases to the north-east, and good conditions over much of the Cascades.



Figure 1 Skysight cloudbase overview for Monday 2pm. The colour shows where the cumulus should be and cloudbase. 13.5k to the north east sector looked inviting. The right-hand side is a cross section during the day for where the marker is (near Glacier Peak)


 I called Ron on Friday, and he was keen for a flight, so we made a plan, tried to get some more people out to enjoy the conditions, tracked down a tow pilot, thanks Duane, and got things ready. I had to drop my son off at camp, at the museum of flight in the morning, which delayed may departure so then rushed up to Arlington, threw the wings on and got on line. I think Ron is permanently ready with his glider on line waiting to go. Ron had flown on Sunday, which increased the confidence in the forecast, and I had noticed the cumulus popping as I had approached Arlington so it was clearly going to be a better day.  We started with a dual tow, which is great, as we could both get together at the same point and help each to find the tricky first climb. As it transpired, off tow we immediately stumbled into a good core behind Mount Higgins and got up pretty easily.


Heading into rising terrain, can be tricky. We set off from Higgins just above 8k, a little lower than ideal so flew slowly to conserve height. Crossing the Sauk river was fine, but the good looking cumulus were further to the east over the higher peaks, and the rising ground came to meet us pretty quickly. I was reassured with the two of us together that we would be ok. Ron was able to point out the good fields at Marblemount, so we had plenty of landing options freeing up mental capacity to focus on picking a climb off the peaks. We didn’t quite have the height to get to the good cu’s and scrabbled around on razorback mountain. Ron pushed on, terrain following, found a decent core, from a west grassy south-west facing slope beneath some unnamed peak. I tried to be cautions but didn’t really climb, so followed him in.   He caught a stronger bubble and climbed faster so was way above me.  The climb got us to 9k and we were on our way.


Figure 2 Ron (blue) takes the direct line, while I scrabble around. The south facing grassy slope, is where the good climb is.


After that a straight glide to good cumulus at Eldorado peak, propelled us to base at around 10k, then each subsequent peak along track had a good cumulus with the bases rapidly increasing, until we were roaring under a fantastic sky, with 12k cloudbase. Awesome fun, pulling under the meaty bits of cumulus. Circling not required.



Figure 3 Crossing Highway 20, on the way to Harts Pass. Ron ahead and above.




We crossed highway 20, went right over Harts Pass, (I got to see the Barron’s yurt, and Tamarack Peak where I had spent a few glorious days back country skiing a few years ago) and Canada here we come. The clouds were just fantastic, with big pull ups, and little circling. I was worried Ron’s gel coat might start melting, as he was making the LS3 sing, but here the LS8’s performance advantage started to tell, and gradually I was able to catchup, and overtake. The high cloud base ensured we were always in easy reach of the various land out options (Lost River, Methow Valley)



Figure 4 Looking North above the Harts Pass, with the PCT zig zagging up the hills.


As we approached the end of the high ground, we saw that the Tonasket valley was free from cumulus, and it looked like a long glide to cross further to the east. Our bravado nearly got the better of us, “It’s not a Cascades crossing till you cross the Columbia river”, but we were concerned that it might be tricky to get back, so we decided to get a few more km to the east, then turn round to get back under the good looking clouds.



Figure 5 Heading East towards the Okanagoan River (Tonasket). Cloudbase dropped down quickly as we came off the high ground, before going blue out over the valley.


The plan somewhat unravelled as we went a little too far, fell off the high ground, and struggled to find a climb. Ron pushed to the south, whilst I persisted in a weak climb that enabled me to get over the high ground where it was working better. I got up reasonably quickly, and headed across the Methow valley, while Ron took a bit more time to get established again.


We had talked about heading down to Mount Stuart, and it looked doable.


The forecast had been for less cumulus to the south, and this was spot on. We crossed over the Methow valley and on to the Sawtooth range, climbed there and headed over lake Chelan. It is a stunning sight with the lake running for miles in both directions. Once over the lake, with the safety of the Methow valley behind us and the landout scenarios look a bit more exciting. Stehekin and then later Lake Wenatchee State are the main options.





Figure 6 Heading south west over Lake Chelan. Glacier peak in the top right of the picture.


 I pushed more westerly again over the high peaks where the cu’s looked more developed whilst Ron tried a more direct route.


There are so many ways to approach a cross country flight, I am happier to stay topped up, and keep high. Scraping away from low down is what I would call type 2 fun. Not much fun at the time, but when I look back afterwards I remember it being great fun. Ron is different, he seems to relish every minute of low level work, so it was no surprise, as I crossed over Dirtyface peak (the decent ridge to the north of Lake Wenatchee) at around 11k, to look down and see a tiny dot of a glider, thousands of feet below, scurry round the end of the ridge, run up the sunny face, and pull cleanly into a strong core. Living in the moment.



Figure 7 Google Earth view of Ron's approach (blue line) to Dirtyface peak. Textbook.





Figure 8 Over Dirtyface peak and Lake Wenatchee. Ron is down there somewhere. (sadly, resolution not good enough to pick him out). Lake Wenatchee State airfield at the far end of the lake.


After Wenatchee I was now a bit in front, so pushed on south to the Enchantments and Mount Stuart.





Figure 9 Heading south to Mount Stuart and the Enchantments


Conditions here were still good, so I carried on beyond Mount Stuart to the south, to add a few extra km’s. The aim was to turn round and meet up with Ron again, but I was too tempted by the clouds and went too far, so after I turned, Ron, who turned at Stuart, was now 15km ahead.


The final section of the flight was to get home. Once heading north again, the good cu’s were clearly only on the eastern side of the mountains, so we stayed on the east side and pushed back to Lake Wenatchee. It was getting later, the good cu’s were starting to soften up, and it was blue to the west of Glacier Peak, so we decided to go back around the east side of Glacier Peak and stay under the cu’s. Ron was up ahead, and pushed a bit further north, where the cloudbase was a little lower, I found a climb near Glacier Peak, where I could admire the stunning scenery and watch what looked like steam coming from the rivers whilst climbing up on to a reasonably easy glide home.  Ron had to work a bit harder to get back.





Figure 10 Final Climb near Glacier Peak, before the long glide home.




All in all, a grand day out. A couple of things to note.


  1. The conditions in the mountains are often very different to the conditions in Arlington. I suspect it would have been difficult to soar in the stable conditions near Arlington, yet we were in fantastic conditions over the high ground. Ron’s theory is for it to be good in the mountains, it needs to be stable over the west side.

  2. Flying in the mountains can be intimidating, and needs to be treated with respect, but when the conditions are good, its not as hard as it seems. (when conditions are bad, it’s tough).

  3. There should be plenty more good days this season.

  4. GoPros: I now have a set up with a gopro on the tail. Its taken me a fair while, to get a battery and memory card set up to last an entire flight, which it now does. It takes great shots, and I’m happy to accept the performance downgrade of it hanging in the breeze to get nice pics, but you need to turn it on. I dragged the thing around the sky all day, without it taking a single picture. The photos here were all from a hand-held camera in the cockpit.

  5. OLC points. Although we pretend the points don’t matter, secretly we are trying our hardest to get the most.  I had gone 30km further than Ron down by Mt Stuart, so I thought for once I was in with a chance of overhauling him even with my higher handicap. However, like any contest you need to know the rules.  Speed doesn’t matter.  Ron’s lower performance glider meant he had to go further to the north (an extra 15km) to get to the final cumulus and get the height to get home (at least that’s what he told me) and I gave up 15km at the end, as I raced back to Arlington at 100kts, not realising that the scoring ends when you drop 1000m below start height.  I could have flown back at 60knots, and done an extra 10-15km before dropping below the height. So it ended up with us both with the same distance for the day, but Ron’s lower handicap scoring more points. Probably a fair result.

  6. Thanks to Fred and Kathleen helping get us going and running our wings, and Duane for a great tow.

    We are very lucky to get to experience days like this, in this stunning area.