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This year's "Three Stooges U.S. Hang Gliding Tour" visited Jackson Hole by way of Dinosaur Colorado. The tram at the Jackson Hole ski area is being closed down after this summer season and the fate of a replacement is still undecided. As a result we wanted to get a flight in before we would loose the opportunity forever.
|Left to right-
myself, Shawn, Dustin, JB.
Former tours include Moe, Larry,
and Curly in Sandia in 2004, and in 2005
Moe, Larry, and Shemp out in Yosemite.
This year Moe (Shawn), Shemp (JB) and Curly (myself - apparently)
made it to Wyoming. This tour co-starred
Dustin Putt as our trusty driver.
Wednesday, July 26th
|JB's Jeep loaded up.
JB, having the entire summer off, drove out (in a Jeep with 350,000 miles)
and took our equipment. Logistically this was much improved over the last trip
where we built a crate
to ship the gliders. We flew into Salt Lake City on August 26th where JB met us.
|Masha, our host the first night.
When we got to the airport Shawn and I went to pick up the rental car.
In response to my asking what I needed to
do to add Shawn as a driver, the Avis representative asked
what his relationship was to me. Instantly and without missing
a beat Shawn replied, in a matter of fact tone, "life partners,"
as my eyes bugged out. Needless to say we ended up getting Shawn added
to the approved drivers list - without charge.
We spent the evening at a friend's place who recently moved into
the area (A big "Thank You" to Masha and Mike for dealing with us).
I had hoped we would fly in the Salt Lake City area the
next day. Unfortunately, the group decision was to
head off to Dinosaur CO, since we had all flown "Point of the Mountain,"
the local Salt Lake site (which is now overwhelmingly overrun by "jelly fish" (or.
"para-panties," "laundry," ... all Hang Glider slang for "Paragliders" -
see below for Paraglider slang for Hang Gliders :-) ).
across the street
|Dustin at the Hi-Vi
|180 degree view from outside of our room.
Thursday, July 27th
|Dustin and Shawn on launch.
So, first thing in the morning we headed off to Dinosaur Colorado,
the site of the 1996 Hang Gliding Nationals, for some desert air.
After 6 hours into our 4 hour trip (ask Shawn) we arrived at the Hi-Vu
Inn in the thriving metropolis of Dinosaur. The bustling main street showcased
the B&B Restaurant (with a "for sale" sign in the window), a Loaf'N Jug
gas station, a cafe/bar, the Hi-Vu, an Ice scream shop ... and virtually nothing
|The view from launch.
Mike, the owner and proprietor of the Hi-Vu, was also the Hang Gliding
contact for Dinosaur. He hasn't flown the site in years but he's the only
"local" and knows the site better than anyone. He was also credited with
opening the site and getting the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to help
improve the road to launch. Unfortunately the site is not flown much anymore.
When we got there we talked to Mike and then scoped out the landing fields
and the launch. It was late and the conditions weren't right so we decided
to wait until morning for a flight.
|JB Launching Dinosaur
That evening we went to the cafe for dinner and a beer. Choosing the beer was easy, all
you needed to do was to look through the glass front door of the fridge
to and select which of the four brands they had available. Everything from Bud
all the way to Bud lite. If you were in the mood for something with a bit more
of a bite, there was a small three foot long shelf high on one wall (which
I guess made it "top shelf") with assorted bottles
of hard liquor and a sign taped to it that read "Employee's only. No Self Service."
This level of class is hard to find almost anywhere else.
Friday, July 28th
|JB Launching, Shawn watching
|After top landing
|Shawn getting ready to launch
The next day, after JB and I argued politics in the B&B over breakfast,
we went up for our flights. JB launched first and possibly a little too early
for a short extended sled ride to the "snakepit;" the closer, but smaller
of the two landing fields. After we radioed down and made sure he
was OK, I took off. By then it was soarable and I hit a nice thermal not too
far off launch and took it up.
As soon as I got up, I began wondering if I
would be able to top land. The site faces toward the south and is basically
a raised plateau. The area on top is large and flat and easily top landable
in the right conditions. The wind seemed right for a top
landing so I gave it a try. This practically caused Shawn a heart attack. The radio
conversation with JB in the landing field went something like:
as I fly behind launch
Shawn: "What the hell's he doing?"
as I make a few 'S' turns
Shawn: "Jim must be hypoxic!"
Shawn: "this could be trouble!"
Shawn: "I think Jim's gonna die!"
... long pause ....
Shawn: "Nevermind. He just toplanded."
|over the back from 12,000
Shawn launched and I launched again as Dustin went to retrieve JB.
I really regreted not bringing O2 along. Being only a day from sea level, I had to keep looking to leave lift at 12,000
(Shawn topped out at 13,700) feet. I didn't have Oxygen or a radio so I hung around the mountain but I did get a
few pictures from the air (the best one is to the left).
|My Launch Sequence
|The Snakepit landing field
I'm used to flying in really light conditions and I'm never thrilled
when the conditions toss my glider around like an angry infant with a broken toy - which is typical of high desert flying.
Today however, while stronger than I usually fly in at home, the conditions were fairly mild for the desert.
I didn't go weightless (or negative) even once and the thermals were fairly smooth - if you could stay
centered in them (which is a problem when you have to constantly leave them at 12,000). During one cycle of leaving lift
and finding it lower than 1000' over launch. I decided to land on top rather than take
the chance of having to land out in the 104 degree heat in the landing field. Shawn soon followed with
a top landing.
JB came back up and we talked him into launching (captured on the video on
the right). Since he didn't get up and
didn't look like he hit anything very workable, rather than fly again,
Shawn and I decided to pack up on
top and head down to pick him up.
Saturday, July 29th
|The launch at Dinosaur, 180 degree view
Saturday was even hotter than Friday - 106 degrees (or so the
weather forecast was saying). Even way above launch and in
shorts it was hot. Shawn launched first, JB second, and I went
last. Unfortunately it was another sled ride for JB.
From launch to the "snakepit" once again. Alegedly the problem
was a lack of Meatloaf. Supposedly (anyone that's flown with JB can attest)
that playing a large quantity of Meatloaf's "Bat out of Hell" on the
way to launch is a requirement. Today,
buckling under the pressure of Shawn's whining, JB cut his portion
to a minimum, resulting in poor flights and even broken aluminum.
|Left to right - Shemp, Moe, Curly
The forecast for Saturday called for "better" flying conditions,
which made me more nervous about being kicked around. Western
pilots refer to "getting your desert wings;" I prefer not worrying
about being flipped upside down. Today, however, my concern was misplaced.
It was even smoother and the lift didn't go as high. I'm not sure what
I topped out at but it was well below the previous day and I certainly
didn't need the supplemental oxygen I brought with me this time. That's
always the way it works. I seem to get my best altitude gains when I'm
only wearing shorts and a tee shirt.
|JB's glider in the Snakepit LZ
I flew out over the landing fields and the lift was plentiful. I hung out way away from the mountain over the valley for as long as I wanted. I should have brought my camera; I would have the opportunity to get some great pictures of the mountain from way out front.
Hanging out over the desert, I watched Dustin arrive at the landing field to pick up JB. Shawn went out and landed in the Corral (a better landing field than the Snakepit). Though I really didn't want to land yet, I didn't think it would be a good idea to leave them down in the 106-degree desert waiting for me. I cored sink to get down and had a decent landing following a not so decent approach.
Wrapping up our stay in the Dinosaur area, we all went for a swim in the Snake River and after dinner we went out for some "adult entertainment" in Vernal Utah in going to see the new Pirates of the Caribbean (well, it's "adult entertainment" for Utah).
|Swimming in the snake river.
Sunday, July 30th
|Campground in Jackson
Sunday was a travel day as we headed to Jackson Wyoming. At one point on the trip
the road climbed to 8200 feet above sea level at which point I asked JB if he was
happy he finally made it above launch at Dinosaur (OUCH! - Even Shawn was in agony).
|Shawn, and JB
at the Mangey Moose
We arrived at the "Teton Gables Motel" where Shawn and I both had room reservations.
In looking over my room, however, I began to have serious reservations about my reservations -
paying $90 a day for a room with trash on the floor, a broken door lock,
garbage under the bed covers along with a dead maggot didn't seem worth it.
I therefore immediately upgraded my accomodations and joined Dustin and JB
at the campground. It was cleaner with a better location.
Once we were all settled in (and I bought all of my camping equipment for less than
one night in the motel), we went over to the ski area to take a look and have
dinner in the Mangey Moose, where we ate out on the porch.
Monday, July 31st
|Breaking down in the rain
|Bart and Tiki
Our first day in Jackson was supposed to be a day towing with Tiki and Bart,
the proprietors of "Cowboy Up Hang Gliding."
We got set up when the development
started and moved in quickly. Before we flew, JB, watching the weather move in,
decided to break down, and shortly afterward Shawn and I followed his lead. It was a good call;
before we were done the rain started. Instead of flying we went
for lunch in the cafe in Alpine.
||The day's overdevelopment
Tuesday, August 1st
We had breakfast for the last time at the Teton Steakhouse where I ordered coffee
which arrived right before we left. I say "arrived" but it did so, only because I went to get
it myself, which had a lot to do with why it was the last time we ate there.
|Moose in the camp
As a result we were all convinced that any future orders placed with the crew there
would require a special request to hold all bodily fluids, and since none of us
wanted to order a "phlegm free" breakfast in the future, we never went back to the
The rain that started Monday carried over into Tuesday so we decided to celebrate
JB's eighteenth anniversary of his thirty-fifth birthday by going to Yellowstone.
That morning, before we got going, a female Moose and her calf meandered through
our camp site, which turned out to be the best animal sighting we got all day.
|JB and Shawn
||Grand Prismatic Spring
Wednesday, August 2nd
|Left to right
Myself, Shawn (hooked in), JB
|The view from launch
On Wednesday we headed to Idaho to a site called Heise. After about 15 phone
calls to Bart and Tiki we finally got the logistics worked out left a car in
the landing field, and went up on the steep four wheel drive road to launch.
I wasn't feeling that great so Shawn went first and JB second. Shawn got a
little above but didn't find anything he could stick with.
Unfortunately JB didn't do any better.
I figured I'd take my sled ride and break down at the bottom but as the video
below shows, I actually found some lift and got up. It was too short lived
||From JBs glider
|From JBs Glider
Thursday, August 3rd
|Jackson Hole Tram
|Loading the gliders
The reason we came to Wyoming was to fly the tram. And today was the day.
We hooked up with Tom from the Paragliding club who asked if
we had brought along our plumbing (paraglider pilot term for 'hang-glider'.
Others include hangies and my personal favorite, lawn furniture).
Thanks to Chris, the lead tram operator, we were allowed the honor of going
up with the first tram, which left prior to the earliest general public trip.
After greasing the skids with a six of high quality micro-brew, the tram operators
carefully loaded our gliders onto the roof of the tram.
|Unloading at the Jackson Hole Ski Area Launch
|Dustin in the Tetons
Unloading the gliders at 10,000 feet was interesting. It was the first time on the
trip that I really noticed the altitude - or it could have been remnants of the
previous night, I'm not sure which.
|JB set up
In any case, we set up while the paraglider pilots made several round trips
(it's good to be a PG pilot sometimes - I guess :-) ). We weren't planning
on anything more than a sled ride; it was early and the site is "lee side."
It can work really well between 11:30 and 12:30, give or take an hour (on
either or both ends).
|Me and JB setting up
||Shawn setting up
The only issue with launching was the altitude. Sandia was the only place I'd
launched that was higher but it was also steeper. In any case it didn't seem
that bad so I went first (for the first time on the trip I think). Take
a look at the movies below; technically it was probably the best launch
I ever executed. Wings level, nose angle held through run, plenty
|Getting ready to launch
||Shawn getting ready
||JB Getting ready
|Pictures from the air
|From JB's Glider
|From My Glider
|In the LZ
As the flight and the view are indelibly etched into my mind, I remember thinking
I'm glad I managed to get a flight in before it became impossible. It was
very nearly one of the best sleds I've ever taken - it certainly blows away
skiing down the mountain (which I did about 20 years ago). I was really
looking forward to the opportunity to soar above the peak (which I will
need to get back there for at some point).
Since the OD began building in shortly after we got packed up, we opted to celebrate
acheiving the goal of the trip by renting bikes and going for a ride. As if there
was a need to confirm our decision not to fly again we ended up caught in the
thuderstorm accompanied by hail.
Friday, August 4th
|Bart and Tiki, and JB
Since a secondary reason for visiting the Jackson area was towing at
Cowboy Up Hang Gliding,
we headed out there once again. This day was a little better than the last
but once again the OD began moving in early. Each of us got a tow in before
the development began to look ominous for we earth bound east coast cowards.
|Shawn, conducting business.
(notice the development)
Today was JB's day to outfly Shawn and I. Though I'm SURE it was just
that we launched in bad cycles :-) JB managed to get a nice flight out
of it and snap off a bunch of pictures.
|Pictures from JB's flight
Saturday, August 5th
|The view of Wilson
The last flying day we wanted to fly over the Jackson peak again. This time
we didn't want to bother with the logistics of the tram so we decided to
fly Phillips ridge in Wilson,
the home of Vice Presiden Dick Cheney.
It was also the place we received our first hang gliding injury requiring medical attention;
While walking the landing field I stepped on a piece of rusty metal that went though my shoe
and into my foot (requiring a tetanus shot - does that count as a HG injury?).
|Shawn on launch
Well, we went to launch and I dialed various people trying to figure out how much
time I had to get the shot (it had been over 20 years since my last booster). Once I
found that I had 72 hours I was all set - I wouldn't miss a flying day (it's good to
have your priorities straight).
|JB in the LZ
Phillips is another lee-side sight. That means that the launch window is narrow
and the soaring window (if existent) is even narrower. We don't have many (if any) lee-side
sights in the east - it's usually considered suicidal to fly the lee side of a
mountain. In the west, where the conditions are often so strong that the micro-meterology
actually takes control over the macro, it's possible to fly the "back side" of a
mountain - as long as you do it at just the right time.
Well. Even though we were all hoping to soar and get a few pictures
of "Grand Teton" from above, we never managed to get up. Like I said,
lee-side sites can be tempermental; even the trio of PG pilots that
took several stabs at it didn't get up.
Sunday, August 6th
On Sunday we got up in the 4:00 hour and headed to the Jackson airport. My last
flight in Jackson was my sky-taxi home. We were home in a few hours. JB was home
only two or three days later - another few thousand miles on his Jeep.