Peter stopped by my place, rechecked the forecasts, and then decided to roll. We spent the entire 2 hour drive looking for signs that the wind was blowing the wrong direction and trying to snatch forecast updates whenever we had cellphone coverage. I don't know why we played that silly game; we both knew we were committed to the full drive!
I temporarily forgot about the temperatures until I saw the glistening ice covered trees on the ridge top and the snow frosted Mount Greylock on the opposite side of the valley. I complained a bit. Peter then reminded me I was a New Englander and that I should suck-it-up and embrace the cold. He was right. Come next spring a day above freezing will seem like a summer day at the beach. I put on every piece of clothing I brought, including two coats, and hiked to launch.
Mount Greylock and the green LZ at the base of Ragged Mountain
The wind was stronger than predicted, gusty, and a bit cross; strong and cross enough that we needed to pay attention but not scary. We found a couple spots along the trail to rig our gliders sheltered from the wind. I was comfortable, temperature-wise, once I started moving. However, I knew I couldn't fly with everything I was wearing. So I had to carefully consider the tradeoff between staying warm and breathing in my tight harness! In the end I wore my standard fall/winter gear but doubled up with a spare windbreaker Peter brought along.
We were checking conditions prior to launching when we noticed a black SUV in the bail-out LZ below. We thought it might be Keith, but neither of us had his phone number to let him know about the conditions on launch. A short while later Keith showed up.
Peter was anxious to get going since the short day was passing by, the winds were lighter at the moment, and the small breaks of blue between the clouds were disappearing. He suited up, hooked into his new stead, ambled to launch with Keith and me on his wires, and then took off. He turned right, flew a short distance before "falling" into a hole several wing-spans deep and then immediately popping back up. Yee-haw. I watched for more signs that the air was turbulent, but Peter made it look smooth although strong.
Peter and his new Wills Wing Sport 2
I decided to wait so I could land later when the valley hopefully glassed over. I watched Peter cruise back and forth overhead as I talked with Keith as he setup his glider and dual video cameras. Once Keith was finished it was time to play.
I had trouble squeezing into my harness but managed to get everything zipped up with Keith's help. He helped me walk to launch and then into the air. (Thanks Keith). I turned right and was treated to the same "joy ride" Peter experienced after his launch. The lift was widespread as I easily climbed above launch and started turning in a thermal near the radio towers. I struggled to "prone out" and close the zipper on my harness. The combination of shoes with larger soles and more clothing over my shoulders made the harness too small. I guess its time to loosen the shoulder straps for the winter flying season.
After I wiggled into my harness I enjoyed the colors below. The hills were painted with yellows, oranges, and reds.
Lots of color
Launch is beyond the towers and above the road.
I flew near launch until Keith was safely in the air. I relayed to Peter, who had landed at the mini-golf course because he was cold, that we were both airborne. I flew south along the ridge, but far above it flying cloud to cloud. At several points I turned and flew upwind almost across the valley following cloud lines or cloud streets. I gained altitude on several of the crossings. (I also noted that I was quite comfortable and not at all cold.)
The colors on this little hilltop were radiant.
I watched Keith fly south along the ridge and then cross the valley to land in a hayfield south of the mini-golf course. I flew back to the north beyond launch and played with some migrating hawks. The sun was simultaneously setting and fading behind thick cirrus. Not only did that allow the clouds and thermals to wane, it became darker behind my tinted helmet visor. The fading light and wind meant it was time to head south and land.
I mention the wind speed since I know things get interesting in the valley when its blowing at or above the current speed; especially at The Range, a mini-golf course which sits directly in the wind shadow of a ridge line. Peter also told me that he encountered smooth 1000 fpm (5 m/s) down one the way to the LZ. I positioned myself along the last line of wispy clouds and flew upwind across the valley arriving above the ridge line. Peter reported light northeast winds in the LZ below although the winds at ridge height were strong west northwest. I knew I would be flying directly into the rotor downwind of Ragged Mountain. The glide down was smooth and easy until I was just slightly below the top of Ragged. At that point I was pushed down and around. I made sure I didn't get too far from the LZ. Although the sink and wind direction changes were big, there wasn't any jarring turbulence. I mistakenly thought the sink would cease at a couple hundred feet, but since it didn't I had to use an approach that should have left me on a light crosswind final. I rounded out and kept skimming along the ground faster than I should have been going. Dang. Downwind. I flared too late and/or too weakly and demonstrated how not to land a hang glider. No damage to me or glider; aside from the ego.
Peter and Keith shared a cab back to launch to fetch trucks while I packed up in the fading light. Everyone had enjoyable flights and I know Peter and I enjoyed the warm truck ride home.
Flights: 1, Duration: 1:16