The Sylmar Dance
Here is a short tale (OK I will try) of a flight in December, 2008. It wasn’t a long flight, only about 1.5 hours, pretty short compared to my normal appetite for about two to three hours up there. I didn’t get particularly high, fly particularly far, exchange glances with majestic Condors, or achieve unusually clear views of downtown LA or the ocean. In fact, the flight was pretty typical, which is why it is well suited to chronicle. That, and the fact that I hadn't had a chance to fly for about a month before and at least a fews weeks afterwards, so sort of a small oasis. Gotta make the flavor last.
The GPS track for the whole flight is shown below. It is colored showing time progressing, starting at launch with red, then to orange, yellow, green, turquoise and landing in blue. Rainbow order. Below I will write about each of the three portions of this flight labeled "A) KAGEL", "B) LANCES", and "C) TUJUNGA" named after the mountain peaks in these vicinities.
Saturday. Andrea was going shopping in Santa Monica and Sunday was allocated to house hunting. So I only had one day and had to make it count. I was planning to mountain bike but the morning bashfully revealed improving conditions: favorable winds, clearer skies, web sites reporting favorable atmospheric lapse rates. I put all my chips on "aviation" and rolled the dice.
I got a ride up Kagel Mountain with some of the local competition pilots - they fly fast and low in contrast to more recreation pilots who fly relatively slow and high. Launch conditions looked good so we scrambled to set up our gliders and get off the ground before conditions deteriorated. All very giddy that it looked like a good day after all.
THE "A) KAGEL" SECTION
Without finding any thermal or ridge lift (rising air) a flight from Kagel will take about 7 minutes to descend the 2000 feet to the Sylmar Flight park landing strip a couple miles out in front of the mountain. But that is not the goal. I was able to catch a mild thermal over the top of Kagel and take it to about 4700’ ft, that is about 1200’ over launch. Wishing to join the other three from our truckload who were far away, I opted to leave the reliability of the Kagel mountain thermals and trade some altitude for a glide down the mountain range toward Lances Peak, the last peak before crossing the Little Tihunga Canyon. See below for the trajectory showing the launch from Kagel Mountain in red, climbing in a thermal then gliding/descending eastward as depicted by the line fading to orange. The green and blue lines are not relevant; they show flying through this area later in the flight.
THE "B) LANCES" SECTION
I continue on this glide finding no lift until I get to Lances Peak which on Google Earth is seen labeled as Limerock Peak. When I arrive at Lances I have descended but still above an altitude that I can comfortably glide back to the Sylmar Flight Park (nearest landing field). I decided to look around a bit, to see if I could climbout in a thermal and then consider moving more Eastward. As shown on the image below, I catch that thermal at the left side of the picture, climb a bit from 3950’ to 4800’ and then decide to cross the canyon area and head to the next series of mountains, the Tujungas.
THE "C) TUJUNGA" SECTION
This part is always exciting. As long as you leave with enough altitude for this destination, depending on your equipment, skills, headwinds and luck, you will be able to make it to the far side of the Tujunga mountains which have a decent landing area. But, you don’t want to land there because then you are miles away from the Sylmar Flight Park, that has your car, your friends and your beer. And would anybody feel inclined to drive all the way out there to retrieve your sorry butt? You must plan on summoning the "eagle within" and finding a tall enough thermal to allow you the return trip. When I arrive at the Tujunga Mountains, I fly alone above ridges and in canyons on the side of this range looking for lift. A plot of the searching and the finding is below.
This plot shows my trajectory from left to right on the yellow line. I search around the middle of the mountain (called "Middle T") where pilots are telling me they found lift, but as shown, I get up a little, but can’t hit the jackpot. I move onward (to the right) and finally find my business class ticket (plot line changing from yellow to green) from 3200’ to 5400’. At this point with 5400’ of altitude and late afternoon approaching I decide to head back toward Kagel mountain with the Sylmar Flight Park nearby. I make it with no problem which is not surprising when leaving Big T at this altitude. Later in the flight I get up to 6000’ on an out-and-return to West Towers Mountain - but gottta stop before this becomes a long story;)