Monday, August 29, 2011

Social Sledder

The valley was smothered in fog as I looked beyond the cliff edge when I woke up in my tent at Morningside Saturday morning two weeks ago.  I wasn't too upset; it gave me an excuse to sleep a little longer after hiking into Ascutney and drinking a few beers around the camp fire the previous night.  A check of the weather on my phone later didn't motivate either; stable with light winds.

After a leisurely shower, a few rambling conversations with student pilots, a long breakfast with Peter and Rodger at Dusty's, I was finally forced to decide what I wanted to do for the day.  Rodger decided to race home and take his daughter for a flight in an ultralight.  I decided to drive further away from home to West Rutland so I could socialize with the paraglider pilots heading there.  I told Peter and PK I was going for a "social sledder".

As expected a good crowd had gathered on launch.  It was good catching up with everyone as we waited for someone to "dive off" and convince us we were wrong about the day.  Dan was the first to launch and fought a slow, but losing, battle to the LZ below.  The fact he maintained over the LZ for awhile was encouraging.  Keith didn't want to wait and was the second to launch.

A few minutes later, Keith was climbing above launch from far below.  Yahoo!

Launch was busy for the next half-hour as hang glider and paraglider pilots ran off into the air.  Surprisingly, at least to me, everyone was staying up.  My turn came and I ran off into a nice easy climb along, and then over, the ridge to the west.

I had a good time flying with everyone; weaving around, above, below, and between my fellow pilots.  PK and I talked about going XC, but the uninspiring sky and a lack of drivers kept us local.  (Remember, I was counting on a sledder.)  Since we were not going anywhere far, I had to find something challenging to do.  I decided to fly upwind into and beyond the upper bowl across the valley.  (The bowl is beyond the peak behind and to the right of glider in the picture above.)

I followed John in his ATOS but stopped for a rowdy lee-side thermal before pushing on.  The view of peaks to the south was refreshingly unfamiliar.

I played in the surprisingly rough air but still managed to snap a picture of the south facing cliff of the tallest peak and of the view across the valley towards launch before returning to the ridge.

Looking towards launch

I zoomed around the ridge with a "late" crew and made another trip across the valley to verify it was indeed still rowdy over there.  ;-)  PK and I flew awhile with Dan (on his second flight) and George before they headed to the LZ.

Dying thermals gave way to a pleasant wonder-wind which West Rutland is well known for.  Finally there were only three of us in the air, soaking up what the lazy evening was offering.

All three of us left a still-soarable ridge and headed to the LZ satisfied, at least for the day.

I started breaking down while PK snagged a ride to launch with Bo to fetch his truck.  I chatted with Amy, Dan, and George while I packed my glider and then started working on PK's when he didn't return.   He was late getting back down since he helped several pilots launch into soarable air at 7PM!  Hardly a day for a "social sledder".

Flights: 1, Duration: 3:40

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Too Much of a Good Thing

A couple weeks ago, I tossed the camping gear into the Subaru for a weekend of flying in northern New England.  The first stop was Mount Ascutney.  The weather looked good, but not great.  You have to expect that in mid-August.  The regulars Jake, JJ, Peter, PK, Rodger, and Ryan were there as well as Greg, who wanted to check-out the launch on his way home from vacationing in Maine.

The wind was light and clouds anemic as we rigged.  I finally decided to go when the clouds starting filling in and birds started soaring a bit.  JJ decided to go at the same time and launched first despite recommendations from other pilots to "wait awhile".  He slowly floated above launch height much to everyone's surprise and delight.  Soon we were bobbing around enjoying the extremely smooth weak lift.

From right, Peter, Jake, and the next pilot to launch


Although the clouds continued to build and the air was buoyant, everyone except PK wondered at some point if their flight was ending.

Rodger pulled off a nice save while the rest of us continued circling like sharks around the top looking for our ride out.

Rodger is the little white dot in the lower left

I finally found the escape hatch behind launch.  I spun up in a tight little core that PK couldn't sink his teeth into, even though in came in over me.  I climbed to cloud base where I found smooth weak widespread lift.  I could fly just about anywhere I wanted.

I kept flying back upwind waiting for my buddies to climb up and join me before heading south along the Connecticut river.

My buddies are the dots near the lower center of the picture

After 3 or 4 return trips I started "pressuring" PK and others to take off even though they were not as high as me because it was quickly overdeveloping.  PK finally cut loose and we started heading south.

We had a buoyant glide south, but it was apparent that the clouds had overdeveloped and no sun was reaching the ground.  Although we were not sinking much, we couldn't find any climbs.

We both did our best to stay airborne hoping the clouds would dissipate allowing the sun to restart our thermal engine.  I found one pathetic climb south of Claremont NH, but despite our best efforts we very slowly settled onto the airstrip at Morningside.

PK banked up over the airstrip to the left

The rest of the pilots landed at the mountain roughly at the same time we did.  Although I didn't fly far or for very long I will remember this flight for the exceptionally smooth and gentle air.

We shared flying stories over dinner in town and later around the camp fire at Morningside.  I pitched my tent on a rock outcropping near the lower launch and watched the stars twinkle overhead as I wondered what tomorrow would bring.

Flights: 1, Duration: 1:40, Distance, 9.8 miles