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Local Commercial Pilot
We start our discussion about the dynamics of Rabe’s Ridge with a toast. Hoist a brew in appreciation of Mike Rabe, the early Woodrat hang glider who pioneered much of the early exploration of the ridge above China Gulch. Flying from Woodrat in the early 1980’s, he spent so much time over there that the ridge was named for him. Thanks Mike for your inquisitive and bold exploration! We are all indebted to you.
As Yogi Berra said, “You can observe a lot just by looking.”
Rabe’s Ridge starts across the valley from Woodrat Mountain. I have outlined the ridge proper with a red line. Inside of that bounded area is China Gulch. I have also outlined the ridge just to the West of China Gulch with an orange line. The reason for that lies in the importance of that ridge for understanding some of the dynamics occurring along Rabe’s Ridge and within China Gulch.
The first element in trying to understand the dynamics of Rabe’s Ridge lies in its orientation. It is a catchment basin aligned towards the Southwest. It starts catching the full force of the sun’s heating very early in the morning and continues throughout the day. It is surrounded by higher terrain on three sides and therefore the trapped heat tends to stay within the gulch until it is either released in the form of a thermal or successfully works its way out of the gulch in the form of up slope flow.
Consider the normal West up valley wind flow. Two sections from the MetEd site, Flow Interaction with Topography and Thermally-forced Circulation II: Mountain/Valley Breezes provide help in understanding how valley flow develops during the daytime. It is very important to realize that valley flow starts below ridge top levels but when fully developed, can extend up well above the valley sidewalls sometimes by a thousand feet or more feet. A simple illustration can be found in a loaf of bread. It starts out as a lump of dough that is below the pan height but as it bakes, it expands up and over the sides of the pan. Valley winds are similar. The important thing to realize is that valley winds can have a lower and upper level aspect to them. The lower aspect wind is below the valley rim and follows the contours of the valley as it winds its way towards higher terrain. The upper level valley winds, those above the sidewalls but below the larger regional winds, can skip over some of the bends and twists of the valley’s topography and then reunite with the lower level flows as it progresses towards the higher terrain. Above them are the larger scale winds. Here are a couple of maps to illustrate this.
If we add in the upper level valley flow we get something like this:
This is an attempt to show the complexity of a typical West up valley flow. The lower flow and the slope flow is marked in yellow. The upper valley flow is represented by the large blue arrows. The resulting rotor that occurs as the upper valley flow interacts with the terrain is the light purple sections.
The predominate up valley flow from the West is both compressing the air into the gulch in its lower level form and, more importantly, on a typical West flow day, is spilling over the higher ridge outlined in orange and flowing down and across the lower valley flow in the China Gulch areas as upper level valley flow. This has a number of important considerations when we try to understand what is happening when we fly Rabe’s Ridge.
INTERACTION OF TOPOGRAPHY AND VALLEY FLOW:
The interaction of up valley wind flow and topography turns the China Gulch area into an almost perfect thermal nursery. The importance of the split level valley wind flow, with the upper level flow being temporarily at an angle to the lower flow, is that for all intents and purposes, China Gulch is a lee side catchment basin. This has several important impacts on the relatively stagnant air mass within China Gulch. As air flows downhill there is an incremental increase in heating throughout the gulch. Additionally, the lee side of a ridge or mountain develops a micro-level low pressure system. The net effect of that low pressure is an increase in instability. This translates into a hotter air mass that is being encouraged to rise by the lower pressure differential.
Basically China Gulch becomes a super adiabatic thermal generator. Compared to other surrounding areas it releases thermals more frequently and of a greater relative strength than does more windswept areas or areas with more of a homogenous valley flow. We see the effects of these super adiabatic thermal releases almost all the time while flying Rabe’s Ridge. We usually climb 500 to 1000 feet higher along the ridge than we do elsewhere. This is a direct result of these more potent thermals emerging out of China Gulch.
FLYING RABE’S RIDGE ON A TYPICAL LIGHT WEST VALLEY FLOW DAY:
1. There are NO SAFE landing zones inside of China Gulch! You have to either climb out or leave yourself enough height to return to Hunters or Longswords. There have been a number of broken bones and torn up gliders that have resulted from ignoring this.
2. Don’t get below the ridges! See #1. If you get below the ridges, you run a good chance of encountering the upper level valley flow as it interacts with the terrain. Alternatively, you will be possibly exposing yourself to a super adiabatic thermal close to the ground. It is okay to scream if you ignore this advice and encounter one.
This picture shows most of the known rotor areas that develop on a typical West up valley flow day. The size and the intensity of the rotor areas are directly tied to wind speed. The stronger the velocity, the more intense the rotor is going to be. Basically, avoid flying below ridge level while in China Gulch especially in the Wellington Butte to Rabe’s Peak area and in the Rabe’s Peak to Sugar Loaf area.
3. There is often an amazing amount of bubbly lift and its associated turbulence drifting along Rabe’s Ridge as the two levels of valley flow merge. It often feels like weaker bits and pieces of wandering thermals between the pronounced thermals. I often think of it as the Rabe’s Ridge flak zone. Like some old World War 2 bomber flying through a flak field, my glider shudders and surges as I go questing up towards Rabe’s Peak in search of a coherent climb. Then, boom, there‘s the mothership! My point is, make sure that you are really in a developed thermal before you start turning. Additionally, it is not uncommon to start climbing in a upslope flow thermal along Rabe’s Ridge towards the West and then enter into the upper level valley wind and find yourself being pushed towards the East. Frequently, you have to stair step your way towards Rabe’s Peak. You push forward into the thermal and then as it climbs up into the upper level valley winds, you drift back towards Woodrat or Burnt and then push forwards towards Rabe’s Peak again and catch another thermal further up the ridge and repeat.
4. It is possible to get too much of a good thing. Sometimes the super adiabatic thermals can just be bigger than I am willing to eat or try to drag home. Some days I just need to cut and run. It is like the old Kenny Rogers song “Know when to hold them, know when to fold them, know when to run away”. Fly within your comfort zone and realistically know your own limitations.
5. A fun part of flying Rabe’s Ridge is the fact that the upper monsoonal flow over the whole region during the summer is from the South. It makes it possible for us to frequently climb through both valley layers while thermalling on Rabe’s and climb up into the South flow. Sometimes this makes it possible to fly to Grant’s Pass with a tailwind as long as we are above the valley winds, then fly back to Woodrat at a lower level with a tailwind using the upper level valley flow. Tailwinds in both directions but at different altitudes. Sweet! For non XC pilots, the ability to sometimes climb to 10,000 feet on a good day is its own reward.
6. Rabe’s Ridge on a North wind influenced day is for experienced pilots only. As a North wind develops and makes its influence felt, the lift coming out of China Gulch is driven off of the ridge as the North begins to exert itself. A Northerly wind creates a nasty sheer as the lower level up valley flow clashes with the North. As it swings more, past 330 degrees, the sheer gets very pronounced. In the 2014 Rat Race, we had the most ever reserve tosses within a period of days. A weather comparison looking at Medford airport winds for the period 2008-2014 revealed that one of the primary differences between 2014 and earlier years laid in the high number of days with the wind flow exceeding 320 degrees. Rabe’s Ridge on Northerly days yields significant turbulence and isn’t that enjoyable.
C.D.Whiteman. Mountain Meteorology: Fundamentals and Applications.
Leeside throughing download at: http://www.atmos.albany.edu/student/dthompso/ATM504%20Presentation.ppt
Rick Ray January 31, 2015
RVHPA has four different levels of membership:
* Visiting Pilot Annual Member– $30 online or $35 at the Ruch Store
* Local Pilot Annual Member– $60 online or $65 at the * Ruch Store
* Instructional Tandem Pilot Annual Member – $100 (online only)
* 7 Day Visiting/Special Event Pilot Member – $20 online or at the Ruch Store.
Good for seven consecutive days or duration of an event.
Please see the Join RVHPA page for detailed information on joining or renewing your RVHPA membership. You can join RVHPA in-person at the Ruch Country Store on Hwy. 238 one mile SW of the Hunter LZ that’s at the base of Woodrat Mountain. If you purchase your membership at the store, then you’ll immediately have your site pass. You can also join online. When you join on line your name will immediately appear on the membership web page. If you join online, you can request that we mail you a site pass and helmet sticker.
Where does the membership money go?
Membership funds pay for maintaining windsocks in the greater Woodrat area, annual holiday gifts to every landowner whose field we use as an LZ, grading and improving the launch slope, maintaining the parking areas, maintaining the toilet on launch, installing cattle guards on the road, purchasing grass seed for the main LZ, etc. RVHPA spends thousand of dollars a year to maintain the Woodrat launches and the related LZs in the Applegate Valley. Any excess funds are invested towards our goal of purchasing a bailout landing zone.
How the Membership Requirement Works
Pilots must be current members of RVHPA and USHPA before using any USHPA insured landing zone’s in the area. Joining requires completing a membership form, paying dues, reviewing the site guide, and displaying and or providing the proper membership identification. All RVHPA members must also be current USHPA members. This is very important for liability and site insurance purposes.
RVHPA membership is required to legally land in the primary LZ (aka Hunter LZ), use the parking area along Bishop Creek Road, or land in the “feed lot” field on Bishop Creek Road. Those fields and the parking area are private property. The landowners graciously allow RVHPA members to use them. Non-members who use them are trespassing. Please respect this rule and do not trespass on private property.
RVHPA insures the primary landing zones at Hunters Ranch and at LongSword Vineyard. USHPA and RVHPA membership is required to land at these sites unless you have prior permission from the landowners.
FAQ on the RVHPA Membership Requirement at Woodrat Mountain
How will RVHPA know if I am a member? All new and renewing annual members will have their rating and membership type show up immediately on the membership page after completing their online application. Pilots purchasing their membership at the Ruch Store will be issued a membership card (aka site pass) that identifies them as a current member and their data will be put on the website usually within the next week. RVHPA club members and officers will be politely looking and asking for proof of membership. The flying community and the club will also sometimes check memberships in the LZ.
The launches on Woodrat Mountain are on public land. How can RVHPA require me to join before launching from land that is freely open to all people? RVHPA membership is not required to launch from Woodrat Mountain, but it is required to land in the privately owned LZs surrounding the mountain and to land in Donato’s LZ Donato, 16km (10 miles) to the east. Every pilot who launches at Woodrat is assuming that he or she will land in the Hunter LZ because it is the only LZ within a guaranteed glide of launch. We can fly at Woodrat only because we are welcomed–as RVHPA members–in the only field guaranteed to be within glide of launch. RVHPA membership is also required to use the privately owned parking area on Bishop Creek Road near the LZ.
I’m a tandem instructor from out of the area and I want to fly a commercial tandem flight at Woodrat Mountain. Can I do that? Please see Tandem Instructor information here: http://rvhpa.org/instruction/wmic/
I’m coming for the Applegate Open this year. Do I have to join RVHPA? Yes. If you are from out of the area you may join as a Visiting Pilot, either for one year ($30) or for the event ( $20). Please see our Join RVHPA page. If you arrive at the Applegate Open and have not yet joined RVHPA, you will be able to do so at the Ruch Store or at the RVHPA table during registration.
Can I see a list of RVHPA members? Yes. The club keeps a frequently updated current member list on the RVHPA website.
Do I have to be an RVHPA member to fly at The Whaleback? No, but we’d love it if you joined RVHPA anyway as a way of supporting our ongoing work and improvement of The Whaleback flying site.
Updated December 6, 2017
Update 8/1/11: RVHPA is continuing to raise funds for this project to make further improvements on the new launch. In short, we are raising money to re-contour the NW-facing portion of the launch to provide an option that does not require a flat slope launch. This will make the launch less demanding and more user-friendly. Please donate today if you want to support this work.
The Whaleback is a spectacular flying site adjacent to Mount Shasta in far Northern California. With the stunning backdrop of a snow-clad volcano, it offers a diversity of flying experiences from wonderful evening flights in smooth air to epic XC flights over challenging terrain. The site received more use in 2010 than ever before yet remains uncrowded and still has undiscovered potential.
However, the The Whaleback site is in need of improvements to enhance usability, safety and accessibility. With a major LZ reclamation project recently completed, RVHPA is focusing on making substantial improvements to the launch with Phase 2 of the Whaleback Site Improvement Project. This is especially important given its increasing popularity with pilots of all skill levels. The Whaleback site needs your support — please donate today. And come fly.
Phase 2 of the project will make flying The Whaleback a better, safer experience for all pilots. Once completed, pilots will be able to use a new W/SW-facing launch instead of awkwardly launching cross-wise on a shallow slope. The existing NW launch will be widened and steepened. Wing-friendly gravel will replace the sharp, loose cinders on launch. The hazardous boulders at the base of the NW launch will be removed. Pilots will be able to lay out and pre-flight without blocking launch. Wait times to launch should be much shorter. Even parking and turning around vehicles will be much easier.
Your donation will help create a better, safer flying experience! This is a project for pilots, by pilots. All site improvements rely on the financial support of the flying community. RVHPA will do the heavy lifting and, as the local club, we are contributing significantly to the costs of this work. In addition to RVHPA club funds directed to this project, an RVHPA member has donated $1,000 to kickoff this effort. We need your support too!
Launch Improvements Planned for 2011: We Need Your Support Now!
RVHPA obtained initial approval for the launch improvements from the Klamath National Forest in October 2010. We are now in the critical fundraising stage of the project. The project total is approximately $13,000. Please help make this a reality by donating today.
This project will:
- create a new W/SW-facing launch to face common prevailing winds
- steepen the existing NW launch
- cover the launch with wing-friendly gravel
- expand the set-up area so it doesn’t interfere with launching
- add vehicle parking and a turnaround
- update info signs at the launch and LZ.
We are planning to complete the work as soon as this winter’s snowpack melts so we can enjoy these improvements for the complete 2011 flying season.
Help Improve The Whaleback Today
Please help improve The Whaleback. All contributions are greatly appreciated and will go directly to the project. We welcome donations in any amount (and especially in large amounts 🙂 ).
You can also mail a donation to:
PO Box 1292
Medford, OR 97501
Please make check payable to RVHPA and note the Whaleback Site Improvement Project.
Thank you! Come fly!
A Brief History of The Whaleback’s Site Development
Legend has it that sometime in the late 1980’s, 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 over 20 years.
In the early days, pilots launched from a small, carpeted strip surrounded by brush. In the mid-90′s, a local club, the Northern California Foot Launched Pilots, built the current launch and kept a small LZ cleared below. Over time, the club went defunct and The Whaleback flying site was no longer maintained. Sagebrush overtook the LZ to the point that it became a deterrent to flying The Whaleback for many pilots, especially for novices and for hang glider pilots needing extra landing space. Use of the site slowly declined but never stopped.
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 to create a grassy oasis amongst sagebrush flats.
Not surprisingly, once word got out about the improved LZ and epic flying, pilots flocked to The Whaleback in unprecedented numbers. The 2010 flying season was remarkable: hang glider pilots flew the site for the first time in many years, paraglider pilots broke the 100 mile mark on XC flights, and dozens of pilots from the US and abroad experienced outstanding flying.
The history of site development at The Whaleback is not fully written…please help RVHPA make improvements that will carry us through the next 20 years of amazing flying at The Whaleback.