Day 5 at Montague: Heaped up in the Scott Valley

Another exciting journey over the scenic Scott Valley today!

A tight turn on course over Montague Airport-Yreka Rohrer Field

A tight turn on course over Montague Airport-Yreka Rohrer Field

We’ve made enough trips to the Scott Valley that I feel it deserves some extra elaboration in these pages. Thus:


WHERE: The Scott Valley is the valley immediately to the west of the Shasta Valley—Shasta Valley being home to Montague, Yreka, and our home airport. So, set out west from Yreka and you will eventually reach the Scott Valley. Curiously, the Scott Valley may also be reached by heading north, east, or south.

WHO: The Scott Valley is named after Robert Falcon Scott, who arrived at the landlocked Scott Valley in 1907 after embarking from Tierra del Fuego by sail that year on an expedition to explore the Antarctic.

WHEN: Scientists believe the Scott Valley was formed a few millionths of a second after the Big Bang, shortly after the creation of baryonic matter from quarks and gluons. The Scott Valley may be visited year-round. In fact, you and everyone you know are all in the Scott Valley right now.

Here is our route for the day:

Day 5 routeOnce again, home is where the Montague airport is, and the white spot at bottom right is Mount Shasta, about 30 miles away. For all of my carping about the place, most time was not spent in the Scott Valley but in the mountain ranges to its east, home to most of the turnpoints in our boustrophedonic northsouth MAT.

Nevermind that, though: it’s time for another artsy glider staging video first:

Earlier: As on day 3, the weatherman had bad news—weak thermals with low tops, barely enough to crawl over the mountains to the most ancient and storied Scott Valley. Here, the task committee (the committee that decides what task the gliders will fly each day) considers this development:

I was just in the room for the internet and left soon after

I was just in the room for the internet and left soon after the photo…

Never fear: the Scott Valley will not be denied. The decision was made to give the day a shot. A few of the gliders in the 15-meter class competition were sent up as “sniffers”; when they failed to fall back to earth—when conditions once again were better than predicted—the rest went up after them, including JOY.

The towplane, finally free from hoisting JOY into the air

The towplane, finally free from hoisting JOY into the air

Today was a blue day, meaning there were clear, blue skies: none of the lift-marking cumulus clouds that glider pilots like so well. Either the air was so dry that no clouds would form, or the lift was so weak that it couldn’t raise water vapor high enough to condense and form clouds. (Which was it? Both: they’re basically the same thing.)

In these conditions, glider pilots fall back on a rarer but more reliable lift marker: other gliders:

Four gliders sharing this thermal. Guess which scenic valley appears in the background?

Four gliders sharing this thermal. Guess which scenic valley appears in the background?

This means that gliders tend to bunch up and fly together as long as they can. When the glider out front finds a thermal and starts turning into it, the rest follow suit. Pretty soon, five or more gliders are corkscrewing their way upwards through the same cylinder of sky, clawing for altitude and taking care not to hit each other. This arrangement is called a “gaggle”, and regrettably, it is impossible to film. Either the camera angle is too narrow to show more than one or maybe two gliders, or it is wide enough (as with Google Glass), but the planes look like specks. In real life and despite its name, the well-executed gaggle is a graceful centrifugal dance, swooping and tense, a kinetic spectacle for wide eyes. It is simultaneously competitive and collaborative—a rarity in sports. We might liken it to arm-wrestling your life coach on a merry-go-round. Or perhaps we might not.

Round and round we go, unvideotapeably:

How about the task. Well, JOY wound up treading the heels of a big pack of open class and 15-meter gliders through the first half or so. After that, one turnpoint required us to get to the far western side of the Ottscay Alleyvay, affording this photo en route:

It's the Scott Valley!

It’s the Scott Valley!

We bagged that turnpoint and, after a few moments of indecision, crossed our favorite valley again with the expectation that sunshine on western slopes would mean lift. It did, but weakly, and until we hit a really good thermal right at the end (permitting a strong exit), we had to tiptoe to the remaining turnpoints in this region. JOY came in fifth for the day, clumped tightly with competitors in finish slots 2-7. The first place finisher, Bill Gawthrop (F8), continues to pull ahead.

Today’s task was chosen very well: a demanding, technical challenge posted right at the limits of the day’s weather and the pilots’ abilities. The task committee has been able to walk this line consistently each day so far, which is an achievement in itself.

Bigger tasks for stronger days are coming soon. Four flights remain in this contest.

4 thoughts on “Day 5 at Montague: Heaped up in the Scott Valley

  1. I enjoy your blog on the contest at Montague, I started flying there in the mid ’89’s and became intimately familiar with Scott Valley, both as a competitor and CD. Character building is all I can say for those conditions, hopefully you will have weather that allowed us to fly 400 mile at speeds of 90+. Alturas,, up past Lakeview, Crater lake, Callahan and return, have fun

    Gary Kemp NK

  2. Great blog Tom–wish I’d known about it earlier! I met and flew with Mike at the R2 contest recently. Good luck to you guys! Clay Monroe 24

  3. Day 8 at Montague – Stepleton 34

  4. On Sat. 6/28/2014 saw 3 gliders in the air.
    We came up from Scott Valley and were at Kangaroo Lake.
    Didn’t know this event was going on.
    We were watching thru our binoculars a Bald Eagle and an Osprey flying above the lake, then this big white bird (glider) popped in the view!
    We eventually saw 3 @ one time slightly East of the lake.
    Looked like fun!

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