Wednesday, December 31, 2008
Two winters ago, trekking alone across a blinding expanse of snowy tundra (it was February, when floods of sunlight burst across the southern horizon), I experienced that sensation we all know, the eerie sensation of being watched...as though someone is standing just a little too close behind you. I stopped skiing and scanned around and was frozen in position, nailed to the Earth, by the stare of a large snowy owl just 20 paces away. It was studying me with great care. I haven't stopped thinking about this creature since.
Hoping for fairer winds tomorrow, and running out of time before my 03 Jan flight home!
Cheers & most happy new year To All.
Tuesday, December 30, 2008
As Richard Harrison wrote in 1967, while powered aircraft perfectly describe the mechanics of flight, gliding aviation is its eloquence. Muscling through the sky with an engine is so very different from relying entirely on your reading of the movements of air, each stirring of which--however minute--is relayed down from the wing above to the control lines in your hands.
Even before you inflate the wing (“The paraglider is the only aircraft you have to assemble as you take off,” my instructor joked) you align it square to the breeze, indicated by a flag or, if you can feel the air on your skin, the unmistakable touches of air that moves like liquid.
With your back to the wind you draw on the leading-edge lines and wind flows into the open ports; now the wing pressurizes and spreads horizontally and then you step forward, not wanting it to rise just yet, and let the wing rest again. Final adjustment, a step this way, half a step that way, now you’re set. The wind is directly at your back, the wing is half inflated, resting on the ground; snow, in my case.
When the moment is absolutely right your heart pumps hard and you draw heavily on the leading edge lines, your body and mind are electrified as you focus on the move as you step backwards as the wing leaps up from the ground and then a moment later “BANG” it snaps into position above, it heaves at the sky, it’s trying to pick you up and you use your whole body weight to hold your ground and stabilize the airfoil that now hovers above you as if by sorcery.
Twist, shift, sidestep; you adjust minutely and constantly, with no conscious thought after a while, making sure the wing is stable and remains in the windflow; when the wind shifts around a bit, you match it, move for move.
And when everything is perfect you spin in position, now the wing is behind you as you run for takeoff. You’re doing so much at once; keeping the wing pointed into the windflow, shifting your weight under it as it leans, drawing on a brake to stop a surge and letting off the brake to prevent a stall; you’re watching the wind flag for unexpected whips and rotors, and you’re running hard on your toe-tips as the wing pulls up, trying to lift you into the air. Just a moment more now…down the takeoff slope, one stride then three then you’re airborne, your body swings forward under the wing. You’re flying.
If you can find rising air you can thermal up thousands of feet, following birds doing exactly the same thing. Birds sometimes accompany a wing, flying formation. One of my instructors once watched a spider fly by, at 3,000 feet, floating on a tangle of cobwebs.
Landing is a world in itself, a time of laser-like focus as you set up your approach and commit to landing. Without an engine, there are no second chances, it has to be right first time, every time.
But back to the takeoff run; all I’ve described is what happens when do it all right—but anywhere in the sequence you can make a mistake that collapses the wing. If your takeoff slope is a cliff, and your wing collapses after or on takeoff, you might or might not have the chance to throw your reserve parachute and come safely to the ground.
The best visual description I can recommend is a short clip of French pilot Sandie Cochepain, on YouTube at the link below:
Monday, December 29, 2008
"Today at-23F we spent several hours trying to fly the wing over a small bluff here in Barrow. I managed a short, 3-second flight as well as many inflations and small, low-speed crashes. I'm fine, though, and all the gear is working well...I just need 1-2mph more wind to really get off the snow.
Many thanks to Chiu, who stood filming and waiting in the low temperatures for several hours, and Mark Hoffman who shot these stills. We just keep waiting on the wind to improve. I'm confident that in the next few days I'll get in some better flights. But still, these little efforts have resulted in the first known paralider flights on the North Slope in Winter! Modest flights, on the order of what the Wright brothers first experienced, and that's exactly what I'm here for.
It's easy to fly back at home, where I can go thousands of feet into the air and stay aloft for 10-20 minutes, but the question is, what's it like here? What factors are involved in the cold but dense Arctic Winter air? How do you fly this wonderful invention, the paraglider, in the hardest conditions imaginable? We're finding out! Cheers, Cameron."
Photos below. Click to enlarge. Photos courtesy of Mark Hoffman.
Saturday, December 27, 2008
How to answer call of nature in the cold!
Cam's hair courtesy of 16-hour days of darkness spent in the sleeping bag
Cam checking wind at Iko bay
Chiu with camera at Iko Bay. The hut the lads stayed in is on the right, and another hut is in the distance to the left
Mark Hoffman at KBRW radio station
Inupiat 'high kick' contestant. He actually kicks the ball hanging from the court rim!
Frozen power lines
Friday, December 26, 2008
On 25 December at around 6:20pm AST Cameron said that they decided to leave Iko Bay hut en route back to Barrow. He reported that they were about three miles ESE of their first campsite where they camped on the nights of December 16 and 17.
Cameron said that the light was poor at Iko Bay, and the wind wasn't good, so that's why they decided to leave Iko Bay. He said that they should be at Mark Hoffman's hut within 4-5 hours.
On 26 December at around 12:45am AST I got a message from Cameron. They walked 12 miles today and reached a road where they got a ride back to Barrow. The lads are now safe and sound back at the Polar Bear Theater at BASC, or as Cameron put it the second time in his message: "I repeat, we are now back at the Polar Bear Theater at BASC Station."
There was another 20 seconds or so of communications from Cameron, but the signal was so distorted that I couldn't make heads or tails of it, except for a garbled sounding "Merry Christmas."
Now that the fellows are back at Barrow, we should shortly see some postings of recent photographs, so stay tuned!
Thursday, December 25, 2008
Wednesday, December 24, 2008
When they leave, they'll head to Mark Hoffman's hut, which is positioned near his radio transmitting antenna. On a clear day they can see the flashing light atop Mark's antenna from where they are at the hut on Iko Bay.
Cameron says that they've tried all manner of techniques to get the paraglider up in the air, including Forward zero-wind inflation, Reverse inflation, Hand-towing inflation, and Wing-control launches. None of these have worked because either the wind is too soft, too hard, or blowing in the wrong direction. They plan to try the paraglider some more on the outskirts of Barrow, and possibly near Mark Hoffman's hut.
Click photo below to enlarge. Photo courtesy of Mark Hoffman.
Cameron pulling the mighty Pulkayak:
Tuesday, December 23, 2008
The boys saw two new cracks in the sea ice on Iko Bay today. When they leave Iko Bay on the 27th, they'll do so when there's light in the sky in order to to see these cracks clearly and avoid falling in.
They saw the footprints of an Arctic fox today, and the scat of a large unknown animal.
Cameron described the sky and the horizon as spectacular: They saw an Aurora last night, and even the clouds seem to be of various colors of red, green, and copperish tones. The stars in the sky are also a wonder to behold.
At one point they thought they saw a group of people on snow machines (snow mobiles) coming their way, but it turned out to be a mirage.
Monday, December 22, 2008
He called me from what he described as the foul-smelling interior of his sleeping bag. He said the conditions were pretty much the same as yesterday, although the temperature was a bit colder, minus 12F.
The boys took the paraglider out today for three hours, but Cameron was only lifted one foot in the air for a distance of one foot. He says he's trying various ways to gain elevation, and that he'll keep trying for the next few days. The terrain is so flat on the north slope that there are no hills to run down to help create lift on the wing.
They plan on leaving the hut on 27 December and heading back towards Barrow, but on their way they'll stop at another hut near Mark Hoffman's radio antenna, about 13-14 miles from their present location.
A photo below. Click photo to enlarge. Photo courtesy of Mark Hoffman.
Chiu (L) and Cameron (R):
Sunday, December 21, 2008
Below are some photos. Click to enlarge. Photos courtesy of Mark Hoffman.
Cameron pulling his sled:
Cameron and Chiu before leaving Barrow:
Saturday, December 20, 2008
Some photos below. Click photos to enlarge. Photos courtesy of Mark Hoffman.
Cameron's flying helmet:
Cameron's snow shoes:
Friday, December 19, 2008
They did go out looking on the bluff for a possible place to test out the paraglider tomorrow. The wind was good, but perhaps a little strong. Cameron hopes to test out the wing tomorrow, depending on conditions. The guys also saw two caribou today.
I'm told we'll keep the list of conditions to a minimum, so here's what I've got:
The sky was clear (about 5/8 clear), visibility was good, the temperature is 3 degrees F, and the winds are 3-10 mph.
I've informed Cameron of the weather forecast for Barrow for the next few days. The barometer is rising (this means no storms), with mostly partly cloudy weather through Wednesday.The high temperatures will be around 10 F and the lows around Zero F for the next week. And the winds will be about 10 mph from the SW on Saturday, and 10-15 mph from the SE on Monday. No additional wind forecasts are available.
Below are two links to the weather forecast (and current conditions in Barrow). You may have to click refresh on your browser to update the report:
NOAA National Weather Service: http://forecast.weather.gov/MapClick.php?zoneid=AKZ202
Weather Underground: http://www.wunderground.com/cgi-bin/findweather/getForecast?query=99723
Below are a few more photos of the boys. Click photos to enlarge. Photos courtesy of Mark Hoffman.
Cameron pulling sled (a modified kayak, AKA the Pulkayak):
Chiu pulling his homemade sled:
The Gents' supplies before leaving Barrow:
Thursday, December 18, 2008
A more thorough report on the conditions will be forthcoming tomorrow, but the current weather in Barrow is 27 degrees F with winds at 8 mph.
Their location, based on last year's readings for the Iko Bay hut, is:
Latitude: 71 degrees, 10 minutes, 59 seconds North.
Longitude: 155 degrees, 57 minutes, 51.8 seconds West.
Elevation: 15 feet.
Below are some photos of the gents as they began their departure with their sleds. I'll post some more of these photos in the following days. Photos courtesy of Mark Hoffman. Click photos to enlarge.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Below is some tracking data:
DATE: 16 December 2008
TIME: 23:21 AST
LAT: 71 degrees, 14 minutes, 30.2 seconds North
LONG: 156 degrees, 20 minutes, 07.5 seconds West
ELEV: 3 feet
TEMP: 3 F
PRESS: 1030 mb
WIND VEL: 14 mph
WIND DIR: S
CLOUD: 5/8 cloud cover
VISIB: Over 500 feet
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
"Well it's still a waiting game as some roads are cleared; till then we're still laying in our sleeping bags, eating, reading and getting fat! But it will be worth the wait; since the points of this expedition are (a) to fly the paraglider at Iko Bay, (b) to take film, sound and video recordings of the winterscape, and (c) reconnoiter a site for the 2009-2010 SCUBA dives beneath the sea ice, our objective is to get to Iko Bay as easily as possible, not to makegreat distances on foot pulling our sleds, as we've focused on in other wild places. So, we're taking every opportunity we can to be dropped off as near as Iko Bay as possible; we might get half way there if the roads are well-cleared.
An interesting aside; in the space program a real catastrophe is "LOS", or Loss of Signal, that is losing radio contact with a spacecraft crew. Here my personal LOS crisis would be Loss of Spoon, which I endured in Iceland some winters ago. To prevent this possible calamity I have tied my spoon to my feed pot with a length of string. We exist in crude and primitive ways here.
On a more serious note, the weather is indeed perfect, clear, about ten below zero (which is about 80 degrees below room temperature) which prevents you from overheating while dragging a sled, and I am hopped up and thrilled, anticipating leaning into the harness and getting underway. There are fresh arctic fox tracks in the snow just outside the door. Who knows what we'll see this time out.
Lights in the sky indicate Santa Claus is sending out a number of sleighs, possibly as reconnaissance for the Big Night. A Holly Jolly Christmas and Happy New Year to All! -- Cameron"
Monday, December 15, 2008
Cameron says that putting up a tent in the dark in those kinds of winds is foolishness.
Depending on conditions, they boys aim to head to Iko Bay tomorrow (16 December).
Sunday, December 14, 2008
Cameron and Chiu have all their equipment, fuel, ammo, etc., ready, and they'll be leaving on foot for Iko Bay tomorrow (Monday 15 December). It will probably take two to three days to make it to the hut on Iko Bay, so the lads will be sleeping in tents for one or two nights, and traveling about 6-8 miles a day.
Cameron tested his paraglider today by pulling it above his head in the wind. He reports that it felt good. The weather was unusually warm today: about 20 degrees above F.
Below are some photos from today.
Click photos to enlarge:
Bell 412 Chopper used by Search & Rescue. Pilots can fly these craft in wind gusts up to 60 knots:
A fence by the airstrip. The orange light on the right is not the sun (it doesn't rise above the horizon this time of year). Rather it's a a wind sock illuminated by a lamp to help pilots judge the wind on landing:
Another photo of the helicopter:
Inupiat Heritage Center with bowhead whale skull mounted in front:
Cameron with new ruff sewed onto his hood:
Cameron says that he did his talk on Neanderthals on Saturday. It was a nice audience of 10-12 people. Cameron met with Glenn Sheehan, the Executive Director at BASC, and also met with Nok Acker the Assistant Logistics Coordinator at BASC. Cameron picked up his sled, borrowed ammunition from BASC, and he and Chiu are dialing in their fuel needs, for which they'll be using white gas.
Cameron says that the sea ice is frozen about a half mile out from land, but that normally it would be frozen further out.
The lads are eating the food rations in order to save on food costs, and Cameron reports that the rations are quite tasty.
They hope to head out from Barrow on Monday.
Here's a picture of Nok and Chiu (sled is in foreground).
Click image to enlarge
Friday, December 12, 2008
Cameron explained that they're dialing in their clothing even more, because everything has to be perfect. He says that you can't stop and fix your clothing in the cold if it's not working right. The boys went to a fur shop where some natives gave them some excellent advice. Now Cameron and Chiu are both sewing ruffs onto the hoods of their jackets.
Here are the most recent photos below.
Click to enlarge photos.
The cost of 12 ounces of coffee beans
The cost of a 22 ounce bag of corn chips
Cameron and Chiu eating dinner
A Barrow street at "high noon"
Chiu with large-format camera
Chiu with large-format camera again
Cameron and Chiu will walk to BASC (Barrow Arctic Science Consortium) today to pick up Cameron's sled, which he left there last year. Then they'll bring the sled back to their base. It's a three mile walk each way.
Tomorrow (13 Dec.), Cameron will give a talk on Neanderthals. Then they hope to head out toward Iko Bay on Sunday, or Monday at the latest.
Cameron and Chiu are going through their gear to see if they've forgotten anything. It turns out that Chiu forgot his face mask, but fortunately Cameron has an extra one. Cameron says that he's probably forgotten something himself, and that Chiu will most likely have a backup for him.
So, they're continuing to get prepared, and, as Cameron told me "Everything's pretty good right now."
Cameron sent me an email yesterday (presumably from the local library). He'll be emailing me some photos soon (which I'll post here), and he'll soon provide more specific details on the plan.
Below is an email comment from Cameron:
"Right now we're settling into the 'Polar Bear Theatre', an
interestingly-named and thoroughy run-down and ramshackle structure used by sea-ice scientists when they visit here in the summer. But we have no complaints, we have a shower and a stove, and it's over 50F inside, which is wonderful compared to the -10F outside. The moon is full or near it; this morning I watched it slowly blaze up white as fog rising from the sea ice blew across its disc, then it dimmed and then vanished, swallowed by a low, black, fast-moving cloud. Dramatic scenes. A seal-hunter just went by on a snow machine. Dogs are barking at something somewhere.
Chiu and I are going to head out now to buy supplies; ammunition for the polar-bear deterrent (a gruesome 12-guage that neither of us is interested in having to use), stove fuel, jellybeans (they keep me going on the march)...and a bell. A single bell to be hung on a line we're devising to encircle the camp and act as a polar bear warning. No, I'm not too convinced by this contraption, either. But you do your best and then get skating as they say.
Tomorrow AM it's off to the hangar to get my sled, stored here since my last visit, then spend the day packing. Saturday I'll do a community talk (on Neanderthals and what we know about them that we didn't know even 10 years ago) and Sunday or Monday at latest we're off across the snow and headed for Iko Bay, where all my attention will shift to the exact formation of the bluffs and the wind conditions...if everything is perfect, I'll try to fly the paraglider...and I imagine that if we wait long enought, some time the conditions will actually settle in...OK that's it for now -- off to the trading post. Cheers, Cameron"
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
Initially they'll be preparing for a few days, and perhaps giving some talks and presentations to the community before they head out of Barrow onto the frozen ocean.
In the meantime they'll be staying in quarters (with a wood stove) that look something like this image below.
Some photos should be coming soon via email, but below are older photos of Chiu and of Cameron.
I'll keep you posted as more information comes in.
Monday, December 8, 2008
Barrow, northernmost tip of Alaska--300 miles north of the Arctic Circle; the photo was taken around noon in December 2008, and shows 'nautical twilight," the most light we can expect, and only for a few hours a day.
Forty-eight hours before I get to sleep again, this time on the plane to Barrow. Chiu, coming with me to film first attempts at paraglider aviation on the North Slope in Winter, is also woozy with endless preparations. But it's a familiar exhaustion, an old friend. Soon, I know, cold of the Arctic will revitalize my spirit. Soon I'll be flying an elegant wing over the frozen surface of an ocean.
In that place, as Milton put it in describing the ice cold of Hell,
"The parching air Burns frore,
and cold performs the effect of fire."
Speaking of Milton, my books for the trip -- Milton (Complete poems), a Granta volume of travel writing, Between Earth and Sky (on pioneering efforts in high-altitude ballooning), and the FAA Balloon Flying Handbook. A blank notebook as well, and some writing instruments.
Thanks to Chuck Sullivan for helping with food preparation and packaging! He'll be updating the blog with text, weather reports and images as available, starting on the 10th or 11th of December.
Sunday, December 7, 2008
Daily Tracking Sheet
WIND VEL: Test
WIND DIR: Test
COMMENT: Comments will be here, but since this is a test there are no comments for today except for this test comment.
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
"Rannoch, near Glencoe"
by T S Eliot
Here the crow starves, here the patient stag
Breeds for the rifle. Between the soft moor
and the soft sky, scarcely room
To leap or to soar. Substance crumbles, in the thin air
Moon cold or moon hot. The road winds in
Listlessness of ancient war,
Languor of broken steel,
Clamour of confused wrong, apt
In silence. Memory is strong
Beyond the bone. Pride snapped,
Shadow of pride is long, in the long pass
No concurrence of bone.
Monday, November 24, 2008
Well, I've passed my P2 flight certification, meaning I can fly my paraglider without the presence of an instructor -- that is, alone. Which means I'll be 'street legal', as far as the FAA is concerned, when I go up to Alaska from 10 December to 03 January to try the first paraglidier aviation on the North Shore.
NEWS FLASH: Chiu, my old climbing partner, will be coming along, to shoot video of the project for a TV program in his home country of Taiwan! Hooee what a Relief witha capital R, I don't have to shoot it all myself, like I did in Iceland, for National Geographic. Food is prepped, tickets bought, and last "tweaks" to the plans are coming together! I'm worrying about polar bears again, and enduring -70F windchills. But I'm also remembering the foam of stars; the pulsing aurora; the crash and shatter of snow and ice underfoot; and the feeling of cleanliness that comes of not being advertised-to for nearly a month. That's all worth it!
Thursday, November 6, 2008
My short, experiential description of paraglider flight is now available in Hang Gliding & Paragliding magazine (November 2008), on pages 66-67. Like a lot of my recent articles, this item;
* started as a little meditation I scribbled in my notebook after an experience
* made its way to a blog post
* was refined and polished in my writing group meetings
* was finally sent by me to a publisher
* and was finally picked up for publication.
The text is available as a JPEG I've scanned in; I like the way the editors broke up the words; I think they understood exactly what I was trying to convey. The print version has a picture associated with the text, but I haven't scanned that. The scan of the text is available below.
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
This says it all for me today!
Make way, make way! Back to Wasilla, you, and take your bumper-sticker vocabulary! And back, back to Crawford, you, and spend your days cuttin' brush! Clear out your desk, Darth Vader, get back to the dust devils of Wyoming -- and watch the door doesn't hit your ass on the way out!
Thursday, October 30, 2008
Above, a recent low-res clip of a landing in W. Oregon (if you don't see it, it's because I'm reloading this with a much higher-quality clip than the original). This is the end of a 12-minute flight with a maximum altitude of about 1,800 feet. I come in a little fast, but the landing is safe. At the beginning you can see power lines under me; don't worry, I had an eagle eye on them and knew that I was well above and clearing them. Any lower, however, and I would already have made a hard turn to land in an alternate field, but I was not too concerned about them. On the radio another pilot, not my instructor, pleads for me to turn right, into the wind, at the end...which I was planning on doing before he started worrying.
The important thing: the beauty of unpowered flight...one shot at takeoff, one shot at landing. There's no engine to help out, you have to get it right. This concentrates the mind wonderfully!
Monday, October 20, 2008
Above, a checklist I keep on my left arm during paraglider flights (the image is stiched together from two video frames taken duing a recent flight; I'm at about 800 feet over the desert terrain of Eastern Oregon). The items will change with my experience and the circumstances; for example, in the Arctic, this coming winter, a few items will be added, and many of these removed.
'7-point check'; before takeoff, check both leg straps buckled (1,2), torso buckle (3), both riser carabiners attached and locked (4,5), helmet strap buckled (6) and proper kind of helmet on head (7); to this I've added 'reserve handle' (check I can reach emergency parachute deployment handle and that it is unobstructed), radio (be sure it's on, and on correct channel), and variometer (be sure it's on; this device uses and audio signal to give me information about climb and descent rates).
'No Seat on TO' means to stabilize my flight just after takeoff, rather than worry about comfort and getting straight into the proper, seated position.
'Clear Turns' means to look where I'm going to turn, both to avoid collision with other paragliders and to signal my intention to nearby pilots.
'Fly Actively' means to always be aware of what the wing is doing, and to be 'trimming' it with weight shift and brake control as eneded.
'Let Wing Fly' is, in a way, counter to 'Fly Actively'; it means that while I want to be sensing the wing's actions and what that means about the wind, I don't want to overdo it; if the wing is flying well, let it be.
'T-Approach 45 degrees' refers to my final approach and landing setup.
'PLF Ready' reminds me to be prepared for a Parachute Landing Fall in case I come in too fast. Although a paraglider isn't a parachute, some aspects of landing one have similarities to landing a parachute.
And below, a photo (by Chris Barton), of me flying my ITV "Nunki"; it's an ancient wing (1992) but it flies and for the moment, that's all that matters.
Friday, October 17, 2008
In his quirky, ramshackle, and very human book on the history of gliding aviation (I would call it "A Folk History of Aviation"), Richard Miller wrote that while powered aviation might best describe the technicalities of flight, "gliding is its eloquence."
Above, a unique (hair-raising!) way to launch; take-off of the flying machine of one Mr. Cloyd Artman, who, in the 1930's, built and tested his own gliders in the high deserts of the Pacific Northwest. Surprisingly, he survived these experiments and had a long gliding career.
The book is "Without Visible Means of Support" by Richard Miller (1967).
Monday, October 13, 2008
A photo (by Chris Barton) of a low-flight training session on the Oregon coast. I've 'negated' it to simulate appearance of Winter flights coming up on Alaska's north slope, around mid-December. The dark sky and bright snowy shore / sea ice won't look too different from this image, in which a pilot is 'skimming' the surface. I'm following, flying the wing in the background.
Of darkness, aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupery wrote;
"Night, when words fade and things come alive. When the destructive analysis of day is done, and all that is truly important becomes whole and sound again. When man reassembles his fragmentary self and grows with the calm of a tree."
-- "Night Flight" ("Vol de nuit"), 1931.