Woodrat Mountain Site Guide

Pilot Rick Ray on Top Launch, waiting for a good cycle in March.

Special notes:

The nearest bailout, Hunter LZ is a working cattle ranch and should be treated as such.  Please read LZ rules below and check the RVHPA kiosk on Bishop Creek Road or inside the Ruch Country Store for seasonal updates.   The  LongSword Vineyard LZ is a viable LZ option in appropriate conditions.

The launch at Woodrat Mountain is on public land however the bail out and nearby landing zones of Hunter and LongSword are on private land.  By agreement with the landowners a USHPA and RVHPA club  memberships  are required to land on these fields

All instruction (solo or T-1/T-2/T-3) at Woodrat is conducted only with a local sponsorship, sign off, and a commercial RVHPA membership. Contact Kevin Lee at kevin@thermaltracker.com (541-890-7142). See the Woodrat Mountain Instruction committee (WMIC) page for more details.

The Basics

Woodrat Mountain is a beautiful flying site for hang gliders and paragliders. With great weather, excellent XC opportunities, and regular evening glass-offs, it is the primary RVHPA flying site and has a 38+ year continuous history of free flying.

We would not be able to fly Woodrat without the generosity of local landowners that provide us with landing zones and parking areas. Our continued ability to fly here depends on all pilots adhering to the basic rules of the site and desires of these generous landowners.

Please help preserve this amazing site by reading this site guide, getting a site intro, and by following all rules at the mountain. Always check the RVHPA kiosk in the Bishop Creek Road parking area, the Ruch Country Store Kiosk, or the Site status page on this website for important updates before flying.   Thank you and enjoy Woodrat!

Flight type(s): Thermal, XC, Glass-off
Season: Year-round; best in spring, summer, and early fall.
Pilot proficiency: Top Launch – USHPA P3/H3 required; P2/H2 allowed only with mentor or instructor sign-off. Mid Launch – H2/P2 minimum.
Glider Restrictions: “Speed” or “mini” wings are not permitted to use the Hunter LZ due to concerns on their glide ratio relative to a safe glide from launch to landing.
Membership requirements: Current RVHPA and USHPA memberships required to land at Hunter and LongSword Landing zones.
Site Waiver: None required. USHPA membership waiver applies.
Top Launch: 42.2317, -123.004 (42°13’54” N, 123°0’14” W); Elevation : 3780 ft. (1162 m.); Gravel slope.  Tiedowns for hang gliders are available along the south edge of the launch area.
    Wind direction(s) and speed: W to NE  0-18 mph
Mid Launch: 42.2413, -123.0144 (42°14’28.61″N, 123° 0’51.82″W); Elevation : 2750 ft. (838 m.); Gravel slope.
Wind direction(s) and speed: SW-NW  0-18 mph
Hunter LZ (Hunter Ranch): 42.2471, -123.026 (42°14’49” N, 123°1’33” W); Elevation: 1650 ft. (503 m.); GR: 4.0 from both launches.
Longsword LZ (Longsword Vineyard): 42.2328, -123.0553 (42°13’57.88″N, 123° 3’18.93″W); Elevation: 1460 ft. (445 m.); GR: 6.0 from top launch
Radios & Communication: Local frequency is 151.505 MHz (151.955 reserved for instructional use only).  When 151.505 is busy with other traffic 151.925 is often used as an alternate.
Cell Service: Good on launches but variable in LZs depending on carrier.
Emergencies: dial 911
Access: 2WD accessible via paved and dirt roads.
Airspace & Air Traffic: No airspace restrictions in immediate vicinity. Private plane traffic is not uncommon. Medford airport has class D airspace with a large Class E surface extension to the east.
Weather hazards: Strong valley winds, turbulent inversions, convergence over launch & LZ, concealed S and E winds on launches.
Weather info: Ruch Forecast, Provolt Wx Station, Squaw Peak Wx Station, Longsword LZ Wx Station, Tallowbox Wx Station, RVHPA’s weather links
Waypoints & Google Earth Links: coming soon
More info: ParaglidingEarth, Leonardo
RVHPA Site Contact: Please email woodrat_contact@rvhpa.org or see the RVHPA Google Group to ask a question or arrange a site intro.

 

Rules & Regulations

If it seems like we have a lot of rules at Woodrat, it is because we do—but they are all based on common sense and courtesy. These rules exist so that we can continue to fly at Woodrat and access the privately owned LZs that are essential to flying here. The magnificent sense of freedom we experience flying here comes at the small cost of following these rules. Please follow them and help us maintain the privilege of flying here.

Hunter LZ Rules

If landing at the Hunter LZ, please land in the currently designated field which is generally whichever field does not have cows or horses.  Pack up and leave the field as quickly as possible after landing and exit via the gate closest to the parking area (not the gate near the cattle chute). Do not loiter on the ranch or on Bishop Creek Road.

The Hunter family has allowed us to land on their cattle ranch for over 30 years! More than anything else, it is their amazing generosity allowing access to this essential LZ that allows us to fly at Woodrat Mountain.

Please adhere closely  to the following specific rules:

  • Only current RVHPA members are granted permission to use the Hunter LZ
  • Be sure to land only in the currently designated field (which changes from time to time–be sure to have the latest info).
  • Observe all Woodrat flying site rules & USHPA regulations.
  • No smoking & no alcohol on the LZ.
  • No dogs on the LZ.
  • No littering. Please pick up any litter you see.
  • No kiting, practicing, or instruction in the LZ.
  • PG: Please deflate your wing immediately after landing and carry it to the designated fold-up area. HG: Please immediately after landing carry your glider to the designated fold-up area.
  • Enter and exit the LZ at the access gate in the lower NW corner of the main field.
  • Pack up quickly, leave the field, and do not loiter on the Hunter Ranch, parking area, or Bishop Creek Road.
  • Keep all gates closed and latched at ALL times.
  • No vehicles inside any gated area or in the LZ field.
  • Avoid walking by or lingering at the cattle chute between the main field and the feed lot.
  • No acro above or near the LZ.
  • No powered aircraft within earshot of the LZ.
  • “Speed” or “mini” wings are not permitted to use the Hunter LZ due to concerns on their glide ratio relative to a safe glide from launch to the landing area.

Not following the above rules could result in loss of this landing zone.

Notes:
In the last few years the Hunter LZ has seen unprecedented stress placed on it.  The Hunter LZ is part of a working cattle ranch and we request pilots and guests treat it as such.  When conditions permit pilots are requested to use other landing zones.   LongSword LZ is anoption when pilot skill and weather conditions permit landing at this LZ.  If you are unsure about a rule, ask a RVHPA member or instructor for clarification. Also, please help make sure other pilots are aware of and follow these rules.
Please help make sure other pilots are aware of and follow these rules.

Bishop Creek Road Parking Area Rules

In an effort to reduce stress on the Hunter Ranch LZ and parking area, pilots often meet at the LongSword Vineyard LZ  set car pools up to launch. The Bishop Creek Road parking area near the Hunter LZ is on private property adjacent to a residence and is located along a road that local residents use frequently. The landowner has asked us to adhere to these rules:

  • Parking permitted for current RVHPA members only.
  • Park “head in” to reduce risk of fire from car exhausts.
  • No smoking & no alcohol.
  • No dogs outside vehicles.
  • No littering. Please pick up any litter you see.
  • No loud music or noise.
  • Do not block driveways or Bishop Creek Road at any time and do not set gear on or stand in the road.
  • Walk on the shoulder of the road when going to/from the Hunter LZ.
  • No overnight parking.

If the Hunter LZ/RVHPA parking area is full, do not park elsewhere along Bishop Creek Road. Instead, use one of these two options: 1)  park in the designated pilot parking area at LongSword Vineyard (3/4 mile west of Ruch), or 2) head toward launch and at the first pullout along the BLM road (approximately 1 mile from Bishop Creek Road Parking area).

 LongSword LZ Rules

LongSword is a business operation and we are guests whenever we land here. Please be courteous and considerate, just as you would be while a guest in anyone’s home or business–especially in one that grants you the generous privilege of landing there!

Longsword Vineyard LZ with pilot parking area shown.
LongSword Vineyard LZ with pilot parking area shown. Speed limit 10 mph on dirt road. Click image to enlarge.
  • All pilots landing at LongSword must be current USHPA and RVHPA club members.
  • Strictly enforced speed limit of 10 mph on dirt road – violators may lose landing privileges on the spot if caught speeding!
  • Use caution to avoid running over geese, chickens and sheep which occasionally block the road.
  • Park only in the designated pilot parking area to the west of the tasting room. Do not park in front of tasting room.
  • Be courteous, polite, and do not swear, cuss, or be offensive: LongSword is a business with customers present at all times.
  • Do not take wings or gear onto patio area.
  • Alcoholic beverages may not be brought on to the property due to Oregon LCC regulations. Beer and wine area available in the tasting room.
  • Leave the best patio seating for the vineyard’s wine tasting customers.
  • No smoking.  No Dogs.
  • No littering. Please pick up any litter you see.

 

Keep in mind that we are guests that have been welcomed onto their property while they are running a vineyard and tasting room business. We will continue to be welcomed at LongSword as long as we remain an asset to their operation and not an unfortunate problem they have to deal with.

Fiasco Winery and Almond Brothers bailouts

Fiasco-Almond-bailouts
Fiasco and Almond Brothers field bailouts

When flying towards LongSword LZ and the winds are stronger than expected the Fiasco Winery and the Almond Brothers fields may be used as bailouts.

 

Caution: In windy conditions due to down sloping approach to the Fiasco Winery and potential for rotor from the trees can make this bailout challenging to pilots with low experience.  Club pilots have permission to land in the Almond Brothers field south of Fiasco across the creek is strongly recommended  as a safer option.  Access to highway 238 at the northeast corner of the Almond Brothers  field.

 

 

 

 

Rules of the Road when driving to launch

Of course, all regular state and federal laws apply to driving on the roads at Woodrat Mountain. Due to the number of driving accidents involving pilots and the number of neighbor complaints about pilots’ driving, please drive slowly, alertly, and courteously at all times! Expect oncoming traffic, pedestrians, dogs, goats, and equestrians at all times. Speed limit is 20 mph.  Head-on collisions do happen on Woodrat Mountain!  Drive safely!

Woodrat Mountain & the Hunter LZ in spring with the snowy peaks of the Siskiyou Crest in the background.
Woodrat Mountain & the Hunter LZ in spring with the snowy peaks of the Siskiyou Crest in the background.

Flying Woodrat Mountain

Woodrat Mountain has two launches, a primary LZ, and several other landing areas within a short distance.

Weather & Conditions

Woodrat can be a very reliable flying site and it is possible to fly most summer days. The best conditions have west, northwest, or north winds. The day or two after the passage of a cold front can be especially good. Spring flying conditions vary but include some of the best days of the year at Woodrat. Summer has consistent high pressure conditions. Early to mid fall is consistently good and has waning wind and lift conditions plus interruptions by the first major frontal systems of the cooler season. Winter days often offer sled rides or boaty flights around the mountain but occasionally give up a flights lasting an hour or more, sometimes over snowy forests.

As an inland thermic site, Woodrat’s flying conditions change during the course of any given day. Typically summer conditions are smooth and without much lift in the morning, lift builds mid-morning, light turbulence and thermals begin, and by noon or shortly later strong thermals and wind have developed. Summer and early fall evenings often have smooth, buoyant conditions and glass-offs are not uncommon but are essentially unpredictable. Wise pilots choose the time of day for conditions that match their skills and desires.

With the Pacific Ocean not too far to the west, marine weather often factors into Woodrat’s conditions. This is often expressed as a layer of stable marine-influenced air that caps the heated valley air below–an  inversion.  These inversions are very common on stable summer days and often occur between 4000 and 6000 feet MSL. Expect varying degrees of turbulence at these inversions and cooler air, possibly with different wind speed or direction above the inversion.

Weather Hazards

Woodrat is not safe to fly on strong south or east wind days due to large-scale rotor. The launches are shielded from south winds so study the forecast and consider using a helium balloon as a wind dummy if there is any chance of all but the very lightest east or south winds aloft.

Woodrat is often directly under a convergence zone of colliding Applegate & Rogue Valley winds.  When this happens, winds on launch and in the LZ may alternate between N and W and/or the wind in the Hunter LZ may be opposite of winds on launch. Be especially cautious in these conditions.

Valley winds may increase rapidly on summer afternoons and during pre-frontal conditions, increasing thermic turbulence in the Hunter LZ.

See the weather page for links and more info.

The Launches

Mid Launch

Mid Launch has two launch slopes, one facing southwest and the other facing northwest at about 2750 feet elevation. The southwest launch is a grassy slope with plenty of width and length. It is often used for launching into glass-offs, especially when the wind at Top Launch is too strong. The northwest launch requires laying out on the gravel road surface and performing a flat slope launch toward a steep drop off. The glide ratio from Mid Launch to the LZ at LongSword Vineyard is about 9:1! The Fiasco Winery bailout and Almond Brothers field are about an 8:1 glide from Mid Launch. RVHPA maintains a windsock in a tall fir tree on the southwest launch and numerous wind streamers.

Please park in the large, flat parking area above the launch slopes.

Pilot Brett Kerin preparing for a Top Launch fly by at Woodrat Mountain in early fall. Photo by Scott Harding.
Pilot Brett Kerin preparing for a Top Launch fly by at Woodrat Mountain in early fall. Photo by Scott Harding.
Top Launch

Top Launch has two launch slopes at 3780 feet elevation, one facing west and the other north.  Both launches are covered in gravel. RVHPA maintains a windsock at the top of a tall fir tree between the two launches as well as numerous wind streamers. Tiedowns are available for hang gliders along the south side of the launch area. The glide ratio to the Hunter LZ is about 4:1, with either the LongSword Winery LZ or the Fiasco and Almond Brothers  bailouts being about a 6:1 glide.

The peak of Woodrat Mountain blocks southerly winds from directly hitting launch and may conceal evidence of rotor over the launch area. In fact, south winds may give the appearance of light cycles coming up either the west and/or north launches. Know the forecast winds aloft and be especially wary if there is any significant south component. Some pilots will check winds above launch by releasing a helium balloon on days with potential of south winds.

Landing Zones

 

Hunter LZ

The Hunter LZ is located at the northwestern base of Woodrat Mountain and has been the primary landing zone for over 30 years. The Hunter LZ has seen unprecedented stress due to overuse and a series of unfortunate incidents involving pilots and should be used with the utmost care and respect.

All pilots landing here must be current USHPA and RVHPA members.

Pilot Chris Ammon over the Hunter LZ.
Pilot Chris Ammon over the Hunter LZ.

The Hunter LZ is the only LZ within a 4:1 glide of all launches at Woodrat Mountain, hence its strategic position as an LZ. This property is a working cattle ranch owned by the Hunter family and we need to be aware of the impact that our use of the LZ has on their cattle and livelihood. By all means, land at the Hunter LZ when you need to but, when safe to land elsewhere, please use other landing fields. The LongSword LZ, located just over one mile to the west, is now a frequently used LZ at Woodrat Mountain (see wind warnings).

RVHPA maintains several windsocks in the main field of the Hunter LZ. This may seem redundant but the various windsocks may give valuable information. For example, they may point toward each other when a large thermal is lifting off the center of the field. Or some may point one direction and the others opposite when a convergence line is centered over the LZ. Both these situations are common and require extra diligence for landing in the Hunter LZ. It is often better to fly to Longsword LZ when there are large thermals, convergence, or strong winds at the Hunter LZ. The Longsword Vineyard LZ is often smoother, more uniform, and safer in these conditions.

Please see the rules for using the Hunter LZ.

LongSword LZ  (LongSword Vineyard):

Situated in the main part of the Applegate Valley just west of Ruch at an elevation of 1460 ft. ASL, the  Longsword VineyardLZ often has the smoothest conditions of any landing field near the mountain.  This is often a wise choice of landing places in mid afternoon when other fields can become extraordinarily turbulent. All pilots landing here must be current USHPA and RVHPA club members.

The Longsword Vineyard & Winery LZ on May 30, 2010. Photo by Scott Harding.
The Longsword Vineyard & Winery LZ on May 30, 2010. Photo by Scott Harding.

The Longsword Vineyard LZ is the large flat field just south of the vineyard and east of the tasting room building and is about 10 acres in size. There are windsocks at the northeast corner of the landing field and at the fence line directly west of the center of the landing field.

There is a wine tasting structure and patio in the northwest corner of the landing field. Be aware of the rotor that develops in the lee of the building.

The glide ratio required from Top Launch to the Longsword LZ is about 6:1; from Mid Launch it is a 9:1 glide. Seriously consider whether you and your glider are capable of reaching the Longsword LZ before launching from Mid Launch (or even Top Launch). There is often a headwind between Woodrat and Longsword. A pronounced increase in headwind frequently occurs between Ruch and Longsword, specially in lower altitudes. Factor this in to your decision making as there are few safe places to bail out in the near vicinity of Ruch.

See all the rules for the LongSword LZ.

Fiasco Winery  and Almond Brothers field bailouts

Fiasco-Almond-bailouts
Fiasco and Almond Brothers field bailouts

Fiasco Winery and the Almond Brothers field are located about 1/4 mile to the west of the Ruch Elementary School on Hwy 238 and Forest Creek.  Fiasco has 5 acres of mowed, green turf lawn west of Forest Creek and  the Almond Brothers field has over 30 acres of pasture to the east of Forest Creek. Fiasco has a high, large orange wind sock in a tall Ponderosa pine (and other tell-tails) on the property. The glide ratio from Top Launch to Fiasco Winery and the Almond Brothers field bailouts is 5.7:1, from Mid Launch is GR 7.2:1.  All pilots landing on these fields must be current USHPA and RVHPA members. Landing at Fiasco Winery bailout (west of the creek) requires significant pilot knowledge and experience.  Hang glider landings are not recommended at Fiasco. Pilots wishing to land there should discuss landing approach techniques with an experienced hang pilot before attempting a landing there. Trees restrict the landing field and can generate turbulence with surface winds greater than 5 mph.
Important Note!  When flying out to LongSword  the headwind often increases substantially beginning about halfway there and continuing to increase the farther and lower you get out into the main valley. Take this into account in your planning and decisions.

 

 

Caution: In windy conditions due to down sloping approach at Fiasco Winery and potential for rotor from the trees can make this bailout challenging to pilots with low experience.  Club pilots have permission to land in the Almond Brothers  field south of Fiasco across the creek and is recommended as a safer option.   See photo.  Access to highway 238 at the northeast corner of that field.

 

 

Cross Country

Although most flights at Woodrat remain in the local area, the mountain has excellent cross country potential in every direction and XC flying is popular here. Common destinations for XC flights include Grants Pass (northwest), Applegate Lake (south), LZ Donato (east), Jacksonville, (north), and Applegate (west). There is Class E controlled airspace to north and east that affects XC flying in these directions; please consult a sectional map and know the location of controlled airspace for the MFR international airport.

Social Hour

Flying at Woodrat is often a social experience as much as it is an aviation experience. There are pilots at the mountain nearly every good summer day. RVHPA members often hold impromptu barbeques at LongSword Winery or Mid Launch in the evening,  spend time swimming in the river mid-day, or get together for lunch in Ruch or Jacksonville.

 

Getting to Woodrat Mountain

Woodrat Mountain is located eight miles south of Jacksonville and approximately 10 miles southwest of Medford, Oregon along Highway 238.

The Hunter LZ & Bishop Creek Road Parking Area

From I-5 follow the signs to Jacksonville, then continue on Highway 238 (California St.) for 6.5 miles toward Ruch. Turn left onto Bishop Creek Road (if you reach Ruch, you’ve gone one mile too far). Continue 500 feet on Bishop Creek Road and the parking area will be on your left. Please park only in the designated parking area. If it is full, you can continue up Bishop Creek Road 7/10 of a mile, turn right, and park at the large turnout on BLM land 1/2 mile beyond the 3rd cattle guard.

Longsword Vineyard LZ

From the Bishop Creek Road parking area: follow Highway 238 to the small town of Ruch, about ½ mile west of Bishop Creek Road. Fiasco Winery is on the left about ½ mile west of Ruch. The Longsword Vineyard is on the left about ¾ mile west of Ruch. Please drive 10 mph on the gravel roads at Fiasco Winery and Longsword Vineyard and to help keep dust down by going slower when needed.

Mid Launch

From the Bishop Creek Road parking area, continue up Bishop Creek Road for 7/10 mile and, at the three-way intersection, turn hard right. Cross the cattle guard and continue uphill on the paved road for 1.5 miles. You will see the sign for Woodrat Mid Launch on your left, 2.3 miles from the LZ parking area. Please park in the upper parking area at Mid Launch and not next to the launch slopes.

Top Launch

Woodrat Road Map
Woodrat Mountain road map with route up front side (red) and back side (blue). Click on map for large version.

There are two ways to reach Top Launch and they both take the same amount of time. Driving up the front side gives you access to Mid Launch along the way but entails more miles of dirt road driving. Going up the back side of Woodrat is paved except for the last two miles and is a good alternative for passenger cars. Expect oncoming traffic at all times on either of these routes and please drive slowly. Carpool to reduce traffic and minimize accident potential.

From the Front Side of Woodrat Mountain (more miles of dirt road)

From the main LZ parking area, continue up Bishop Creek Road for 7/10 mile and, at the three-way intersection, turn hard right. Cross the cattle guard and continue uphill on the paved road. Mid Launch will be on the left 2.3 miles from the LZ parking area. Continue to Top Launch on the paved road; before too long it will become a dirt road. Continue along this road (BLM Road 38-3-23.1), staying right at the intersection that is about 3 miles from the LZ parking area. Continue 1.5 more miles and you will reach top launch, 6.8 miles from the main LZ parking area.

From the Back Side of Woodrat Mountain (more miles of paved road)

From the Hunter LZ parking area, go back to Highway 238 and turn right (north). Continue on 238 for about four miles until reaching Cady Road at Jacksonville Hill Summit. Turn right onto Cady Road and continue 1/2 mile and turn left on Sterling Creek Road. Go 4.6 miles on Sterling Creek Road and, near the crest of a long hill, turn right onto Woodrat Mountain Road. Go 3/4 mile and, at the junction of dirt roads, turn left to stay on Woodrat Mountain Road (unsigned). Continue 1.5 miles to reach Top Launch.

Rides up to launch

There is no organized shuttle to launch.  But there are generally enough pilots flying when the weather is good that you can get a ride.  Pilots genrally meet at the LongSword Winery.  Check the RVHPA Google groups site to see who is flying and when they are meeting.  During peak times the “Flying van” may be running which can take up to 10 or more pilots up the hill. The driver generally posts when he is driving.  Please offer to chip in for fuel and wear and tear on the vehicle when getting a ride.  It’s customary to offer $10 for a trip to Upper launch and $5 for a ride to Mid launch.

 

Site History

Please see the history page for photos and stories from the early days at Woodrat, beginning with the first flights in 1978.

Hayden Glatte (red glider) striking out on his record-setting flight on July 29, 2009. Always just a little higher and a little ahead... Photo by Scott Harding.
Hayden Glatte (red glider) striking out on another of his record-setting flights–This one  on July 29, 2009. Always just a little higher and a little ahead… Photo by Scott Harding.

Site Records

The current site record was set by Hayden Glatte on 7/10/2013. He launched  Woodrat and landed 6 hours and 37 minutes later in Bly, Oregon, a straight line distance of 158.4 km.(98.4 miles). Check out the flight on Leonardo.

Details of the record-setting hang glider flight are less clear. Pilot Mark Bennett made a flight to Hilt, California (approx. 25 miles / 40 km) around 1980. This may be the longest distance hang glider flight originating from Woodrat Mountain. Other long flights have gone past Grants Pass, Oregon. Please contact RVHPA if you have information on hang glider site records.

 

Woodrat Contacts

Please email woodrat_contact@rvhpa.org for more info about Woodrat or see the RVHPA Google group site to ask a question or arrange a site intro.

 

Last update:

6/1/2017  Dan Wells

The Whaleback Site Guide

The Basics

Michael Zanger flying at The Whaleback in July 2010

The Whaleback, located just north of Mt. Shasta on the Klamath National Forest, is an out-of-the-way flying site known for excellent evening flying and cross-country potential.

Flight type(s): Thermal, XC, Glass-off
Season: Summer & early fall (when access road is clear of snowpack)
Pilot proficiency: USHPA P3/H3 minimum ; P2/H2 only under appropriate conditions with mentor or instructor present. Flat slope launch (FSL), cliff launch (CL), high altitude (HA), and turbulence (TUR) special skill endorsements are recommended for all pilots.
Membership requirements: This is a USHPA insured site and the USHPA insurer requires a USHPA membership. RVHPA membership is requested but is optional.
Launch: 41.534, -122.153 (41° 32.118’N, 122° 9.156’W); Elev. : 7437 ft. (2267 m.); Flat slope launch on gravel.
Wind direction(s): NW to SSW
Primary LZ: 41.5505, -122.2 (41° 33.030’N, 122° 12.000’W); Elev.: 4480 ft. (1364 m.); GR: 4.8
Radios & Communication: Local frequency is 151.505 MHz; cell service is good on launch but variable in LZ depending on carrier.
Emergencies: Dial 911.
Access: 2WD accessible via US highway, paved and dirt US Forest Service roads (after snowpack has melted).
Airspace & Air Traffic: No airspace restrictions in immediate vicinity; sail plane traffic is common in the area and over launch. Klamath Falls airport and military operation areas along XC routes have airspace restrictions and/or possible military air activity, including fighter jets.
Landing Restrictions: Landing in the Lava Beds National Monument is prohibited and you may be arrested and have gear confiscated. Do not land in crop fields.
Weather hazards: Over development, cloud suck, strong desert conditions, dust devils, thermic LZ, high winds, density altitude.
Weather info: NWS Forecast for LZ, SoarCast, Grass Lake webcam

More info: ParaglidingEarth, Leonardo

RVHPA site contact: email coming soon; you may also post inquiries to RVHPA1@gmail.com or to RVHPA Google groups 

Rules & Regulations

Pilot Rick Ray launching on the first flight taken from the newly completed Whaleback launch, July 27, 2011.
Pilot Rick Ray launching the first flight taken from the newly completed Whaleback launch, July 27, 2011.

The Whaleback launch and primary LZ are both located on public Klamath National Forest lands and all National Forest rules and regulations apply. Smoking outside a vehicle is not permitted during periods of high fire danger (which is essentially the entire flying season here so please don’t smoke outside). A fire permit is required for any campfire or camp stove use in the area year-round.

Please drive slowly and attentively on the way to launch and LZ. Backroad traffic may be heavy during logging operations, firewood cutting season, and in fall during deer hunting season.

Flying The Whaleback

Welcome to The Whaleback flying site. In the interest of preserving this remarkable flying site and to promote safe flying, we have prepared this  guide to assist pilots in getting the most out of their time at The Whaleback. It is no substitute for a thorough site introduction from a knowledgeable pilot. As always, use your own judgment in determining whether it is safe or appropriate for you to fly the site under current conditions. If you are unsure, do not fly.

Conditions

XC flight eastward from The Whaleback, July 2010.

The Whaleback is an inland high altitude, high desert flying site that has changing weather conditions throughout the day and is often very strong and demanding. A typical day begins with calm conditions in the early morning, increasing thermal development and accompanying winds during late morning, and well-developed thermal cycles by noon. Early afternoon brings on even stronger conditions, cumulus cloud development, and shifting wind gradients. Mid afternoon conditions can be very strong and turbulent, even if winds are relatively light on the surface. By late afternoon thermals begin to lose strength and winds usually slow by mid-evening evening, often making for smooth evening flying suitable for pilots of all skill levels. Winds often go catabatic in late evening.

The Whaleback often overdevelops, sometimes forming cumulonimbus clouds fairly early in the day. This tends to happen during periods of hot, stable weather when an upper level cold front has moved into the region and during periods of monsoonal flow. South winds often accompany this weather pattern which may persist for several consecutive days. Keep an eye on the sky and know the detailed forecast before flying when over-development is a possibility. Early clouds and south winds are a warning sign.

Pilot Proficiency

Landing in the improved LZ with The Whaleback rising in the background.
Landing in the improved LZ with The Whaleback rising in the background.

In general, The Whaleback is an intermediate to advanced level site. One of the keys to flying The Whaleback is to match your skills to the time of day with appropriate weather conditions. Novice-rated pilots (P2/H2) should only fly The Whaleback with an experienced mentor who can help evaluate conditions and all novice pilots should avoid mid-day flying altogether. Most often, The Whaleback is suitable for novice pilots only in the early to mid-morning and in the evening after thermals have weakened and winds have backed off. Even with the recent LZ expansion, novice HG pilots may find it on the small side and novice PG pilots may find it a test of

skill to land in a grassy area.

All pilots flying in late morning and noontime are advised to monitor changing conditions as peak heating begins. Conditions suitable for intermediate pilots can quickly strengthen, leaving intermediate pilots flying in advanced conditions. This is a particular concern for landing as the small LZ heats and becomes increasingly thermic and windy. Advanced pilots will often find conditions suited for XC flights in the afternoon but, like all other pilots, need to be aware of evolving conditions. The Whaleback commonly overdevelops during sustained periods of high pressure, monsoonal flow, or post-frontal activity, even more so than surrounding peaks.

Launch & LZ

The new Whaleback launch on its first day of use after construction, July 26, 2011.
The new Whaleback launch on its first day of use after re-construction, July 27, 2011.

The  launch works with NW to SW winds. The launch is a fairly flat slope with a steep drop-off: essentially this is a flat slope  launch and all pilots must have the requisite skills and experience before launching here. All pilots must be able to fly off the top of the launch area without running down the drop-off. The launch is at 7437 ft. (2267 m.) MSL, making this a high altitude launch that is also greatly affected by density altitude (which often exceeds 10,000 ft. [3049 m.] equivalent). Flying on south wind days is not recommended. On these days, consider flying Herd Peak on the other side of Highway 97 from The Whaleback. East winds are over the back and should not be flown.

The primary LZ is visible from launch. Look for the rectangular clearing to the NW between launch and Highway 97. It is a 5:1 glide to the LZ and winds often become stronger as you descend closer to the LZ. Depending on wind direction, a pronounced wind gradient and turbulence may be encountered as the wind rolls off the tall treeline immediately SW of the LZ. Landing in the sagebrush short or long of the LZ is usually uneventful, however a few rocks are hidden amongst the bushes.  All roads on the northeast side of Military Pass Road are closed to driving from August 15 to March 1. If you land out here, you will need to walk out to the Military Pass Road.

Parking is very limited at both the LZ and launch. Please carpool efficiently to launch and tightly park vehicles head-in at the parking area on the left as you arrive at launch. Please do not parallel park because this will restrict other vehicles from being able to park in the limited parking area after you. The parking area holds six vehicles on the launch, even fewer at the landing zone without parking on the shoulder of the road. Do not drive or park by the launch slope or layout area and do not block the roadway at either the launch or landing zone, even temporarily.

Cross Country

The Whaleback is a common launching point for XC flights, most of them heading north or northeast. Unless your route follows Highway 97, you’ll probably be flying over very remote and unforgiving forest, mountain, and lava terrain, much of it without easy (or any) road access or cell service. Detailed knowledge of flying routes, landing areas, and road access is essential to avoid long hikes out and/or an unintended night camping beneath your wing–this point cannot be overstated.

Pilots who regularly fly XC at The Whaleback carry maps, a GPS, a SPOT or other satellite location tracker, extra water, food, spare batteries, a headlamp, and enough clothing in the event they spend the night out before being retrieved. A supplemental oxygen tank is a good idea in July, August, and September as cloudbase is often over 14,000 feet (4300 m) MSL.

Landing in the Lava Beds National Monument is prohibited and pilots may be arrested and have gear confiscated. It is up to pilots to know the monument boundaries and ensure that they are able to fully clear the monument before attempting to fly over it. Do not land in crop fields anywhere along XC routes. Sailplanes and military aircraft are frequently encountered along XC routes and near The Whaleback.

In short, The Whaleback is an advanced XC site and all pilots interested in flying XC here should carefully study maps, planned routes, and alternate routes. First time Whaleback cross country flights should be made with an experienced Whaleback XC pilot. This is not the place to try your first XC flight! All XC pilots and retrieve drivers should have the following paper maps: Klamath National Forest, Modoc Country, and Upper Klamath Basin. The DeLorme California Atlas & Gazetteer is very useful for retrieve but should not be relied upon exclusively. The BLM Lakeview District map is key for those really long flights northeastward.

Other

There are no amenities at The Whaleback. The nearest towns and services to the LZ are Weed (14 miles / 23 km south) and Macdoel (25 miles / 40 km north), both on Highway 97. Gas is also available along I-5 at Grenada and on Route A12 at Big Springs. Arrive at The Whaleback with a full tank and all the other supplies you will need for your visit.  Yreka, Weed, and Mount Shasta have full services, stores, motels, etc. The Deer Mountain Snow Park is on the way to launch and has a pit toilet, picnic tables and pavilion, BBQ pits, and a forested camping area but no water source.

Getting to The Whaleback

Center map
Traffic
Bicycling
Transit

The Whaleback is the first broad peak rising to the north of Mt. Shasta, about 15 miles north of Weed, CA on US Highway 97. The primary LZ is located a little more than ½ mile east of US Highway 97 on Military Pass Road. Look for a small parking area on the northeast (left) side of the road. A short trail leads to the LZ, which is not readily visible from the parking area. To reach launch from the LZ, return to Highway 97, go north two miles and turn east onto Deer Mountain Road (Forest Road 19). Follow this paved forest road past the Deer Mountain Snow Park then turn right onto dirt road 42N24, six miles from Highway 97. After 3.1 miles on 42N24, turn right onto unsigned road 42N24A and go 1.6 miles to the launch area. It takes about 35 minutes to drive from the LZ to launch. The road to launch is blocked by snowpack for much of the year but can usually be reached by late June or early July. It is usually snowed in again by early to mid-November. Every year is a bit different. 4WD trucks may be needed if patches of snow and ice remain, otherwise 2WD cars can reach launch. Parking on launch is extremely limited and space to turnaround is tight. Please carpool efficiently to launch and park tightly head-in in the designated parking area. Do not park by the launch slope or layout area.

Support The Whaleback Flying Site

RVHPA spends considerable effort and money to insure, maintain, and enhance The Whaleback flying site. Please support this work by becoming a member of RVHPA or by making an quick online donation.

Site History

Josh Cohn launching The Whaleback in 1991.

Legend has it that sometime around 1989, local area paraglider pilot Jim Yates flew from Herd Peak to The Whaleback and identified a potential launch site while thermalling higher and higher. The rest is history: pilots have been enjoying amazing flights from The Whaleback for 20 years.

In the early days, pilots launched from a small, carpeted strip surrounded by brush. The carpet can still be seen in the bushes southwest of the new launch. In the mid-90′s, a local club, the Northern California Foot Launched Pilots Association, built the current launch and kept a small LZ cleared below. It was suitable for paragliders but the relatively few hang glider pilots who flew The Whaleback preferred making it a couple extra miles to land in the (then) larger Herd Peak LZ. Between the mid-90’s and 2009, The Whaleback flying site was not regularly maintained. Sagebrush overtook the LZ, shrinking it to the point that it became a deterrent to flying The Whaleback for many pilots. Use of the site slowly declined but a core group of Shasta Valley pilots and a few RVHPA members continued flying there fairly regularly.

In late 2009, the Rogue Valley Hang Gliding & Paragliding Association, the current stewards of The Whaleback flying site, initiated The Whaleback Site Improvement Project with the goal of making The Whaleback a safer, more user-friendly site. With assistance from the Klamath National Forest in October 2009, RVHPA cleared the LZ of brush and enlarged it twenty-fold, making it safer and more accessible for all pilots of all skill levels. We planted native grass two years in a row to help make a grassy oasis amongst sagebrush flats. It will become greener as the grass takes hold.

RVHPA completed Phase 2 of The Whaleback Site Improvement Project in July 2011, expanding the launch to face a 90 degree window, adding a setup area, expanded parking and a vehicle turnaround. Hazard trees around the LZ were removed in August 2011. For more info on this amazing project, please see The Whaleback Site Improvement Project page.

Site Records

Hayden Glatte set the current paraglider site open distance record on July 17, 2018 with a flight ending southwest of Badger Mt. Nevada (143 miles / 230.5 km). Details of the current hang glider site distance record are a bit murkier: a pilot is rumored to have made it to the Klamath Falls area in the 1990’s (approx. 40 miles / 64 km). The site altitude record is 17,999 feet (5486 m) MSL, set by paraglider pilot Brian Kerr in 2004.

Last update:  July 20, 2018  Dan Wells

Herd Peak Site Guide

Herd Peak site guide coming soon…

In the meantime, see ParaglidingEarth or email herdpeak@gmail.com for information on flying Herd Peak.

Both the Herd Peak launch and LZ are on private land. A site intro and waiver are required.

The Basics

Herd Peak is an inland desert site located in the Shasta Valley. It has a long history of free flight and is known for its excellent summer glass-off conditions and XC potential. Both the launch and primary LZ are located on private land with permission granted for USHPA member pilots.

Flight type(s): Thermal, XC, Glass-off
Season: Spring, summer, & fall
Pilot proficiency: USHPA P3/H3; P2/H2 with instructor or mentor sign off. Site intro required for all pilots.
Membership requirements: USHPA membership required; RVHPA membership recommended but not required.
Site Waiver: Required, usually available on launch. We recommend you download and print the waiver. Deposit signed waiver in box on launch.
Launch: 41.6166, – 122.229 (41°36’59” N, 122°13’44” W); Elev. : 5680 ft. (1732 m.); Dirt slope.
Wind direction(s): SW
Primary LZ (Sheep Rock Ranch): 41.5825, -122.2559 (41°34’57.02″ N, 122°15’21.10″ W); Elev. : 3495 ft. (1066 m.); GR: 6.5.
Radios & Communication: Local frequency is 151.505 MHz; cell service is good on launch and in primary LZ with most carriers.
Emergencies: Dial 911
Access: 2WD accessible via US highway and dirt US Forest Service roads.
Airspace & Air Traffic: No airspace restrictions in immediate vicinity; sail plane traffic is common in the area. Klamath Falls airport and military operation areas along XC routes have airspace restrictions and/or possible military air activity, including fighter jets.
Landing Restrictions: Landing out in the Lava Beds National Monument is prohibited without prior notification and permission of the National Park Service.
Weather hazards: Over development, cloud suck, strong desert conditions, dust devils, thermic LZ, high winds, density altitude.
Weather info: NWS Forecast for LZ, SoarCast, Grass Lake webcam
More info: ParaglidingEarth, Leonardo
RVHPA site contact: herdpeak@gmail.com; you may also post inquiries to the RVHPA Yahoo! Group.

Rules & Regulations

Flying Herd Peak

Herd Peak launch, Oct. 11, 2009.
Herd Peak launch, Oct. 11, 2009.

Welcome to the Herd Peak flying site. In the interest of preserving this remarkable flying site and to promote safe flying, we have prepared this  guide to assist pilots in getting the most out of their time at Herd Peak. It is no substitute for a thorough site introduction from a knowledgeable pilot. As always, use your own judgment in determining whether it is safe or appropriate for you to fly the site under current conditions. If you are unsure, do not fly.

Conditions

Pilot Proficiency

Minimum USHPA skill rating for Herd Peak is H3/P3. A H2/P2 pilot may fly only with the approval of a USHPA instructor or mentor.

Launch & LZ

Cross Country

Other

Getting to Herd Peak

Herd Peak LZ, looking back at the mountain and launch. Oct. 11, 2009.
Herd Peak LZ on the Sheep Rock Ranch, looking back at the mountain and launch. Oct. 11, 2009.

Site History

Site Records

Hayden Glatte set the paraglider site record for distance on June 26, 2011 with an 87.8 mile (141.3 km) flight to Alturas, California.