WORKS BEST: Spring and Fall, NW to N
Spring means March to June, Fall is September to end of October, though it can work through the winter as well. Summer usually finds it fogged out. This site was pioneered by hang gliders over 20 years ago. Paragliders found it in the early 1990's. (I believe Jim Yates pioneered it for PGs). Leon, HG pilot who has flown it for 25 plus years now, calls it the "Twilight Zone" of coastal sites because of the difficulty of hitting the weather right there. You need 3 things to fly this place:
Correct Wind Direction: It has got to be N to NW to work. Anything over 10 degrees E and you are doomed. True West is very rare and transitory. South is over the back, although SW can be launchable from the highest switchback or the 200. East is forget it, the air gets incredibly full of weird rotors.
Appropriate Wind Velocity: This site, because of gentle grade, needs a minimum of 10 to stay up. PG's find 14 to 16 ideal, 18 to 20 possible with experience. Hang gliders like 12 to 14 minimum, 24 about tops. On low or no wind days, it can be fun making laps from the 800 launch to the LZ and back - some paraglider pilots have managed 6 to 8 flights in a day doing this with a driver or taking turns driving.
Visibility: You gotta see the LZ in the beach, and this site can fog up something fierce.
One favorite saying about this site is that you can almost always get 2 out of 3. It can be very frustrating, especially since it is not easy to drive to.
But the good points are:
When it is good, it is very, very good.
It is a very benign site - great for low-time pilots.
Free Campground at LZ. Run by county, nice BLM restrooms and non-potable running water.
Very cool 'landowners' (BLM) who we work well with and visa-versa.
OK bar/restaurant 5 miles away.
The most incredible scenery along the "Lost Coast" you can hope to see.
The chance, in the spring, to fly with and observe Red Tail Hawks doing their mating ritual flights.
Requirements/Regulations/Radios Fly Safely, have a good time.
Mattole is an unregulated site.
Club Frequency (Legal Ham Only Please) 147.415 Mt. Pierce repeater to get out - see "Emergency Contacts" below.
USHGA Frequency: WPRY 420 - 151.925 (Alt 151.625). (Requires PA and/or VA special skill signoff which Penguin can provide (See Communications)
Mattole is a relatively benign site, suitable for ab-inito pilot training. Behind the 800 launch is a walk-up 1200 foot bunny hill that is very suitable for beginner training. The 200 launch is fine for low-time, P and H-1 pilots when the wind direction is OK, because the LZ is truly huge - there is a 1/2 mile of beach 200 yards wide for landing. If this site was 150 miles further south toward the Bay Area, is would be JAMMED with instructors and their students every flyable weekend. This does not mean you can't get in trouble here (see "Cautions" later), but any experienced pilot/instructor can feel very comfortable here working with low-time pilots.
CAUTIONS: When it is NW and soarable, the usual coastal wind gradient is in effect: the higher you get, the stronger it gets, and blowbacks can and have occurred. The entire area behind the 800 up to the top of the 1200 is landable. If you blow far back, drift west to get over the beach or the next bench south - usually no rotors.
A true North - zero degrees plus or minus 10 degrees - is soarable, but if a 10 degree north switches to 20 degrees NE, the wind can wrap around the east end of Moore Hill just across the river - and this can happen rapidly - and the area in front of the 800 gets very sink-y and rotor-y very fast.
In soarable NW, do not get below the 800 launch directly west/southwest - this area is pretty rough and rotor-prone.
In soarable NW, you can slide East as far as the first small pond. At some point you can get into the Moore Hill wind shadow/rotor, which does not provide any warning before whacking your wing a big one. Passing the pond is not advised. Please do not overfly the residence.
How to Get Here It ain't easy. You first need to get to the mouth of the Mattole River. This is part of the "Lost Coast". Check the map on the "Sites" page: From 101 northbound, best bet is to turn off at the Honeydew exit north of Weott. Southbound, turn off at the Ferndale exit, proceed through Ferndale and head south toward Capetown/Petrolia on "Wildcat Road". After a scenic and twisty 20 mile or so drive, take a right (West) two miles South of Petrolia, on the "Lighthouse Road" exit (just South of the last bridge over the Mattole River, and just South of the Hideaway Bar) and head West. Go all the way out to the beach, and you will find the county campground (free) and the LZ - which is basically anywhere on the beach, but mostly just the area immediately west of the campground. Put up a windsock or two, head back East 300 or so yards to where Lighthouse Road heads up the hill South. You will drive up past a cattle guard, and observe a horse/tack shed to your right. Just past that shed as you go uphill, there is a sharp cut-back to the 200 launch. If you continue up the hill past several switchbacks, you will see a road to the left just as you begin to lose sight of the LZ and campground. Take that left for 80 yards, and you reach the 800 launch. There is a sign to park here, and a fence line. Park. The road continues through the fence-line to the 1200 bunny hill. You have to walk up the old road from the sign for the bunny hill. Behind the fence is private land leased by the BLM; we can use it, but don't abuse it. The 800 is the launch of choice. Techno-Nerds: the 800 is at GPS N 40 degrees 17 min.351'; W 124 degrees 21 minutes, 359 feet. See also the big photo overview from the California Coastal Records Project.
No matter what route you take, it is a scenic drive...
Weather It's a long drive to get there, so try to get as much information as you can before you head out.
For general NOAA weather, check the Eureka, CA site. You can also check what is coming in via the GEOS satellite.
If that much looks good, check the buoys. The most critical one used to be Buoy 46030, Blount's (aka Blunt's) Reef buoy off Cape Mendocino. Alas, it is gone now. So check the next best northern buoy at the mouth of the Eel River, Buoy 46022 , which is the critical buoy for Table Bluff, and the next buoy south at Point Arena, Buoy 46014 , which is the critical buoy for Shelter Cove. While you are on a Buoy page, click the link for "Latest Marine Weather Forecast" and check it out, as well.
Emergency Contacts Cell phones - no coverage at the beach, but you can get out from the 800 usually.
Believe it or not, CB Channel 9 is still well covered out here. Hams can try the Mt.Pierce Repeater: 146.760 (-600 offset) 103.5 tone. Next best bet is the Horse Mountain Repeater: 147.00, (-600 offset). If all else fails and you have a business band or bumped 2-meter, try the CDF local frequency: 151.250 - but make sure it is a real emergency...
Petrolia Fire Department: 154.145
Otherwise stick to 147.415 Ham or 151.925 USHGA Business band.
First responders are the Petrolia VFD. Ambulance comes from Fortuna - figure an hour plus. If there are extra people not needed for caretaking, have someone meet the first responders at the road up the hill to the launchs or at the campground, as appropriate.