Saturday, November 12, 2005

Sledding to the Bottom

My driving-to-flying ratio took a major hit today when Peter J and I drove 5.5 hours for 10 minutes of airtime at West Rutland. It was 19F (-7C) this morning and the high 41F (5C). The late winter sun barely lit the ground and the howling winds of the last week were mysteriously absent.

While we waited on PK in the LZ, the first truck load of pilots called to warn us about the icy rock faces on the road near the top. The ice wasn’t our biggest worry however, as Peter’s Honda Pilot was dragging over every high spot on the road way. We also stopped at the hunter’s cabin to let the transmission cool off. It was there that I learned it was the first day of hunting season. Maybe I should have worn orange today.

Bo was ready to launch when we arrived at the top. He took off and slowly climbed in light ridge lift. All of the sudden it didn’t seem cold and I quickly assembled my glider. One other pilot launched and then a couple of pilots lingered on or around launch. Since no one seemed anxious to launch, I stepped through and walked onto launch. Yep, Bo is still up and I see a bird circling in the bowl. It looks good. Well, it didn’t really “look” good. The visor on my 4Flight helmet kept fogging up like it always does when it is cold. Once I felt a puff of air, I lowered my visor, launched, turned down the ridge, and decided I needed less foggy view of the world. I flew through some light lift but didn’t turn or tuck into the ridge since I was cleaning my visor. I was finally ready to climb out as I entered the bowl but was summarily flushed. I tried the other side of the bowl but only found more sink. I zipped back to the spine, but was now too low for any ridge lift. I found a small thermal that I extracted some time and altitude before heading to the rest area along the highway far below. I found another small climb there and thought I might get back up. I had enough time to notice 3 hunters slowing walking along the slope looking for deer, but not much more. The thermal slowly faded away and I made a last minute dash across the road and landed uphill for a pitifully short flight of 10 minutes. Oh how this sport can make you humble!

Most of the other pilots had similar flights, with Bo and John being the only pilots that got, and then stayed, above the ridge top. Bo landed after an hour with freezing hands. I gave him my barely used hand warmers and we watched the other pilots show off their landing skills and, for one special pilot, their approach skills. ;-)

Some other pilots flew at Brace Mountain a couple hours to the south and captured some video of the day. Notice how weak the sun looks, even in the middle of the afternoon.