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The Nuthouse Launch in Ojai
  see also the Nuthouse [Overview]

updated 1/2014
by Tom Truax (aka Sundowner ~ SD)

I logged most of my flights through the spring of 1989 but lost track in the 90s, so a stretch of colorful memories with Team Topa is lost to the wind.  When I was teaching paragliding in the later 90s I couldn't justify the time to log everyday flights.  I started writing again in January 2001 after I stopped teaching commercially.   Not certain when the Nuthouse launch was cut, but I think it was sometime around 2000ish.  My first log entry for a flight from the Nuthouse is Saturday, January 20, 2001 http://paraglide.net/log/01/01-20-01_nut_to_carp.htm. By that time, The Nut was an established launch being used by numerous pilots.  The initial clearing work was likely done the prior spring when daylight was long but the ground still loose from winter rain.  It is much easier to dig roots in loose ground.  Once it hardens in the dry months, it becomes much more difficult to pull roots.

Having flown down range from Santa Barbara many times, it was apparent the current Nuthouse launch was a go to spot.  I came in low numerous times over the years and it always worked.  The motivation was an obvious need.  A typical weather cycle is prefrontal, frontal passage with rain, post frontal transitioning to an offshore Santa Anna flow.  There were a lot of robust spring days with good potential to fly downwind to the west from Ojai toward Santa Barbara, but the problem was the Nordhoff Ridge Road would be closed after a rain, sometimes all season when we had a wet winter.  I had it on my to-do list for years and was able to finally budget a day when the weather was right.

It was pre-Google Earth, but I'd spied the likely spot on a number of occasions from both the road and the air.  I'd worked on a lot launches so I had the skill sets needed with a pre-conceived notion of what to expect.  Set out solo from Carpinteria on a weekday, likely before sunrise.  The most difficult part was the first 100 feet up from the road.  There was no trail and it was really steep because the spine was likely sliced by the road cut.  My strategy was to get on the spine and hold the high ground.  Getting on the spine was a challenge carrying full paragliding gear, food, water, and tools, which likely consisted of a pick-ax, rake, and hand saw.  Took an aggressive line the first trip, but later worked a zig-zag trail up the canyon a short way, which was quickly abandoned as we extended the canyon trail several times.

There are several reasons to climb on the spine and not fall off too far to one side, one of which is to avoid getting lost or disoriented.  It was fairly obvious when I got to launch from a topography perspective, but I left my gear and hiked up light another couple hundred feet just to make sure.  Some of the brush is tall, so it can be difficult to know where you are with confidence.

I hadn't done any research on property ownership (easier to beg forgiveness than ask permission?), but Ojai is an environmentally oriented community resistant to development, so I sensed a need to be clandestine and was concerned that my activity may draw attention.  I recollected clearing a hike up launch above La Conchita on the shelf below the lip of the cliff.  On that occasion, a  rancher showed up on the cliff edge above as I was laying out to launch in the newly formed nest.  He was pretty irate and ordered me to stop, but we had some separation and I elected to continue with my setup and punched off before he could get to me.  I had better separation at the Nuthouse, it would be quite difficult for someone to actually hike up to confront me, but visibility was still a concern.

Took about 5 or 6 hours to dig out the initial pull up clearing which was considerably smaller than the little bald spot we have today.  The launch is steep and it cycles in pretty good, so you don't need much room.  I left the down hill edge brush until the end to act as screen from curious eyes below.  What to do with all the brush is a logistical issue.  With the Skyport (we called it the Sandbox during excavation), we ended up with a huge mound in the middle after a week of work.  A few pilots were eager to try out the new launch and showed up to help roll the massive pile down hill over the edge like a big snowball.  I think Jeff Gritsch may have been the first to launch from the Skyport.  The Nuthouse Project was a much smaller scale.  I started in the back and hauled most of the brush up to a discard pile over and down the backside (NW side of the spine), then for the final push I slung the last line of low curtain brush down the front side as far as I could throw.

After lunch and cleanup later in the day I was rushing to get off in a good cycle before the convection faded too much.  I definitely didn't want to hike down (to date, 2014, I've never hiked down), and I only had room for 1 or 2 steps.  After a full day's work, it was sweet be airborne looking down at our new jewel.  I think I got into the mid 5s.  Made the glide across Hwy 33 and worked up to the Back Step (almost to White Ledge), but it was too late in the day to attempt crossing Casitas Pass low.  Turned back eastbound to land in Upper Ojai.  Don't remember how I got back to my truck.

After the initial clearing, other pilots started acceptance testing.  The community enlarged and improved the launch and trail, incrementally over time, but also with several concerted efforts, most of which didn't include my participation.  With the Skyport, we were building infrastructure to address the pending physical impacts of large scale use, striving to transition toward community ownership and maintenance, but animosity and pilot feuding shut down the efforts.  The Nuthouse by contrast was a harmonious project without opposition.  It was heartening to see an entity grow and blossom from a simple seed.  The Nuthouse will never have the high volume traffic of EJs, but it is cherished by pilots who've added their sweat.

Initial contributions to expand the launch clearing from 1 to 3 steps with a little elbow room happened pretty quick, but there has also been recent work to maintain and add polish, mostly led by the Ojai resident pilots.  I'm not clear on the details, so if someone wants to contribute clarification to the discussion we can add to and modify the fuzzy archive.

The trail to launch continues to be the issue with the most potential to enhance our asset.  After the initial straight up assault, we began to extend an up-canyon leg to create switchbacks and reduce the grade to get on the spine.  A year or two after conception, the regular users pooled to pay one of our winter transient pilots, Christian Rossberg, to work a couple of weeks building a switchback up to the spine.  Christian's work made a huge difference in accessibility.  Unfortunately, over time some of trail cut by Christian washed out in heavy rain and usage.  More recently, (2012ish?) Brendan Pegg, Andy Dainsberg and ?? worked to mitigate some of the problem spots.  We aren't going to build an elevator overnight, but there are multiple opportunities for day projects.  Even with improvements, the hike up will continue to be the biggest obstacle, but hopefully I'll still be able to make the climb into my mid 60s (not too far off).

I think Benson Lamb or Bob Hurlbett are the oldest pilots to make the climb.  To the best of my knowledge (2014), Kristy is the only female pilot to fly from the Nuthouse, but other girls have made the hike up without gear including Robin Cushman and Susan Frank.

If you have clarification, corrections, photos, or something to contribute, please post, email, or phone.  :) Sundowner, 2014