26 Sep Site Guide – Chalk Bluffs Paragliding – Bishop, CA
Chalk Bluffs out in Bishop, CA doesn’t get much mention when it comes to the epic paragliding that can be found in the Eastern Sierras. As a ridge soaring site, its perhaps not quite as exciting as the long xc flights possible in the Owens Valley, and it also doesn’t see the most consistent flying conditions.
Despite this, Chalk Bluffs remains one of my favorite places to fly in the Bishop area! With the right conditions you can soar this ridge for hours and even get some pretty good altitude. You can launch and land straight from your campsite and fly right over a couple of cool bouldering sites and wave at all the climbers below. It’s really good fun and an awesome way to end a day of outdoor adventures around Bishop.
Like most of the Bishop area, Chalk Bluffs is an unregulated site. In the right conditions, the flying can be pretty mellow, however the site consists of a cliff launch, very rocky, uneven terrain, areas of venturi and turbulence, and plenty of launching and landing obstacles. Because of this I would call it a P3 site, or perhaps P2 if under the guidance of a local pilot or instructor.
Location: Chalk Bluffs is located at the northern end of the Owen’s Valley, just a few miles past Bishop. From the 395 North in town, make a slight right onto the 6. After a short ways, you’ll make a left onto Five Bridges Road, which will eventually become a three way fork. At the fork, continue straight onto Casa Diablo Road, which will take you up and on top of the obvious mesa. There is no official launch site for Chalk Bluffs, but I usually stay on Casa Diablo until it flattens out at the top of the mesa. A short distance past this, will be an unmarked dirt road on the left, which is dotted with campsites and leads all the way out to the edge of the bluff. There is a campsite and large, flat roundabout at the end of this road, which is the best place I have found thus far to launch.
With any luck the site will be empty and you can claim it for yourself for some awesome camping and flying! If not though, I have found that people are generally pretty excited to watch someone paraglide and most likely won’t mind you luanching from their camp site. Otherwise, there are a few other roads that lead out to the edge of the bluff, so take any of these, find an open(ish) space, and get in the air! 🙂
Approach: Depending on where you park or camp, your approach can be non existent, or a short hike through some scrub brush and little boulders. Just be careful to tread lightly and be respectful to the other campers and outdoor enthusiasts that frequent the area.
Launch: A few things to note about launching at Chalk Bluffs. 1.) There is no real clear path for launching. At the roundabout, you can lay your wing out cleanly, but be prepared to kite through rocks and brush to get the edge of the bluff. 2.) As a shortish cliff, a fairly steady and strong wind is required for soaring. This kind of wind can also result in dragging and line snagging, so be on top of your kiting skills. 3.) The Owens Valley has potential for extreme air, high winds, and plenty of turbulence, so even though this is a ridge soaring site, definitely proceed with caution and choose launch times and conditions wisely. I prefer to fly evenings here. 4.) Depending on exact conditions, I’ve noticed at times that there can either be rotor or a wind shadow close to the edge. It helps in either situation to pull your wing up further back and kite towards the edge, rather than pulling up right there. Watch out for losses in pressure or getting plucked as you approach the edge.
Flight: Chalk Bluffs is a ridge soaring site, though if you’re flying earlier in the day, you might get a mix of thermals as well. I would avoid scratching too low here, as the cliff side is very rocky and would definitely not make for a fun accidental landing. Also be aware of rotor behind the ridge and venturi through several narrow canyons that intersect the cliff. While flying here it is also very important to keep a mind to changing conditions, as the Owens Valley can be strong and unpredictable.
Obstacles: As mentioned throughout the post, this site is comprised of boulders, bushes, and a rocky cliff with canyons. If you are unable to top land, there are also barbed wire pasture fences (difficult to see), trees, cows, cars, rock climbers, and a river to watch out for upon landing.
Landing: If you have sufficient height to avoid rotor, top landing is a good option for Chalk Bluffs. Although there are bushes and rocks up top, you can put down on the dirt road, the roundabout, one of the campsites, or one of many “clearish” areas off the road without risking too much line snagging. If you are sinking out, nearly the entire base of the cliff can also suffice for an LZ. Depending on traffic, you can land on the dirt road, in one of the parking lots, in one of several cow pastures, or in a little clearing beside the river. Just be aware of the obstacles listed above, especially the fences as they can be difficult to see.
Final Thoughts: As long as careful consideration is given to the potentially strong conditions and the potentially dangerous terrain, I think Chalk Bluffs is a really fun site and a great way to end an awesome day in Bishop! Please let me know if you have any further questions and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can!
Happy Flying Everybody!