The Drone and the Sequoia – Part II

Part I here if you’d like to catch up.

Day 3 – the epic climb attempt

Friday morning I woke up very early and went to the park with a different idea. I took a line-of-sight Falcon 185 quad and tied a thin rope to it. I was able to fly it into the branch right below the Garuda, 75 feet off the ground. It got stuck as well, and after twenty minutes of tugging on the rope I realized that now I had two drones trapped in the tree. I could shake the branch and almost fan the first drone with its leaves. If it had been a ballon instead of a drone it might have moved, but no such luck. Defeated once more, lunch that tasted like failure with a side of bacon.

That afternoon I decided to attempt climbing the goddamn sequoia. I am a decent rock climber, so in theory it should have been another day in the vertical office. My friend Alejandro offered to come give me a belay, so around 3 pm we met in front of the Evil Tree of Cthulhu (as I was calling it by then). We roped up, and I attempted to free climb an overhanging branch. When I was about 15 feet off the deck with my back to the floor, I felt this was not the best idea so I came down. We managed to throw the rope over a branch maybe 20 feet up, and I ascended up with a gri-gri and a prusik knot. I made it to the top of a leaning branch, but the next move freaked me out. I had to grab a thinner vertical branch a few feet above my head and risk a very sketchy fall, so we decided it was best to abort.

Now I had the following in the tree:

  • one FPV drone (the Garuda).
  • one line-of-sight drone (the Falcon 185).
  • two Black Diamond quickdraws and two slings that I’d used to build an anchor.

Clearly things were not moving in the right direction.

Later that evening I went to Target, where I bought a cheap 12-volt pump capable of about 130 psi  to try the next day. I went to bed imagining that the two drones were enduring that wet and cold night together. Keeping each other’s spirits up, not losing hope.

Day 4

The situation was almost comical by now. Rescuing my drones was becoming an obsession. I woke up early and went to the park before breakfast. I decided that I would bring down the tethered drone or cut the rope trying. I pulled like a madman for about an hour, and then those two things happened. The rope got cut at the right spot, and that freed the drone on the other side so it came down.

With the second drone down, I decided to start exploring the tree carefully with another first-person drone. The reason I failed with the first drone, I reasoned, was that I could not see where I was trying to go. Perhaps I could thread the fpv drone like a needle between branches. I successfully managed to go through the tree a few times:

I did not get this drone stuck (minor victory) but I did not manage to thread a rope either because the trailing part would get tangled before I could get to the branch I wanted.

I went home and I rigged an XT60 connector to the electric pump so I could charge it repeatedly with a battery instead of having to walk to my car each time. Back at the park and tried several shots with the cannon, but it was no use. Even though I made the pump go over its limit and overheat, I still could not get the throw weight high enough. By now my wife was very unhappy with my obsession, and the idea of giving up was gaining appeal. This was not to happen though. No drone left behind would be my political slogan (I’d lose but that’s ok).

The next post will conclude this saga. In the meantime, check out my Youtube channel for some intensely interesting flying footage.

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