Snow is for sleds

Among the mountain sites in New England, The Trail is often the first one that can be flown in the spring. Although spring is technically still a week away, when the forecast looked favorable, several of us starting talking about trying to fly. Both weekend days looked possible, but for in terms of our schedules, Sunday looked a bit better. As it worked out, other people went to Morningside or “Sore Point”* on Saturday and got reasonable conditions with some soaring occurring.

On Sunday, we headed out early, me travelling with Jeff C., and PK coming down from Vermont. Although the snow had pretty much melted out at my house, in the Berkshires winter had been a little different. The first thing we did was check out the driving range LZ, because we’re supposed to notify the management if we’re flying so that they’ll be prepared if gliders start dropping out of the sky. This is what we found:

The field was littered with driftwood. Apparently the river had flooded at some point and left stuff all over the floodplain. Based on that, and the fact that the rest of the operation was also in disrepair, it was clear that the driving range was not yet open for the season. They were thoughtful enough to leave the windsocks up, though, which would be handy if we happened to land there!

On the way to the bailout LZ to meet PK, we encountered a van with gliders on the roof, and stopped to chat with Mark L. and Al L. They had been up to launch, and decided that conditions were unlikely to pick up early enough for them to be able to fly, so they were leaving. We verified that the windsock in the bailout was OK, then PK arrived and we headed up to launch.

I started hiking gear out to launch while Jeff and PK drove back down to drop Jeff’s car off in the bailout. Here’s a picture for Helen, to show what it was like where I was schlepping equipment, and another of the cliff below launch. You should join us someday!

(Despite the appearances, it was actually quite pleasant weather, reaching 59F/15C.)

The forecast was quite light in terms of wind, maybe picking up late in the afternoon, so we were counting on the sun to heat up the west-facing slope and generate some thermals. That was going to take a while, so we didn’t need to hurry to set up. Here’s the cast of characters: Pilot X, the Mystery Muncher, and the assembled wings.

PK’s dog had fun wandering around the launch area while we set up, and when we were ready and PK brought him back to the car, Jeff asked if I wasnted to go first, or if I’d rather he did. Assessing the anemic breezes, I honestly answered that I’d just as soon he try it first. He was game, so he suited up and was ready to go when PK returned.

It had actually been feeling pretty reasonable for a while, but it backed off before Jeff got on launch, and by the time he was done sorting out some issues with his harness adjustments, it had gotten quite light. We waited for quite a while for something good to blow through, and he offered to let one of us go first if we were impatient. We told him that we didn’t like these pathetic puffs any more than he did, and he could take his time. Finally he felt what seemed like a decent thermal, and launched. He gained altitude right away… but for only a few seconds before sagging into a sled ride down to the bailout. Rats.

Because of the site rules, PK technically had to go last, but I was ready to try next anyway. I didn’t bother with my radio, but just stepped up and waited only a minute or two. The trees below launch started to shake, and it looked to be as good as I figured I was going to get, so I charged off into it. Y’know… to succeed at this game, you need to have at least one of timing, skills, or luck. I brought none of the above. My launch was embarrassing, wings not level, and I went directly into an unintended turn to the right. Whatever luck was allotted to me for the day, I pretty much used up right there. I stayed out of the trees, and wound up in a close pass down the ridge, which resulted in a bit of lift. I encountered a stronger bump, and did a couple of turns, but then fell out and couldn’t find it again. I was above launch on the way back, but after turning at the towers I was below it on my next pass. I waved to the convertibles that beeped at me from the road, and by the time I got to the restaurant, I was low enough that I knew it was time to head for the LZ. No problem, just glide to that field… oops, it’s that field, waaay over there. Shocked Seemed far, but after a few seconds I could see that it was dropping in my field of view, and I’d get there easily. The gravel mound coaxed a couple of weak beeps from my vario, but nothing I could really exploit. A fine approach, and a lame final, probably too slow, and I got bounced around a bit. The landing was… not a disaster. A couple of steps in old ankle-deep snow, but at least I kept the nose off the ground.

Ah well. Snow is for sledding, after all. So Jeff and I packed up while we waited for PK to take his turn at not soaring. He launched just as Jeff was about done, and it was clear pretty quickly that he wasn’t going to fare much better than we had. He hung on for a while, but it was obviously a losing battle. Jeff carried his glider out to the car, and just before he came back, I glanced up, and PK was nowhere to be seen. Uh oh… this was not good. He didn’t appear to be in the trees, but he was no longer anywhere that I could see in the air, either. But I heard an exclamation from behind me — from his vantage point further back, Jeff could see that PK had hooked into something and was climbing, now out of my view behind the trees on the gravel mound. Yeah! Looked like he was heading down the ridge, so we got the rest of the gear to the car and headed up the hill to grab his truck and meet him at the driving range LZ.

On the way down the hill, I spotted PK’s glider, and saw that he was heading back up the ridge to the bailout, so we drove back there to wait for him. After a good long while, he headed in another direction, and we could see that he was going toward the airport, which is the nicest place to land. We drove in that direction, but in the middle of town, I stopped at at fast food place because I had lost sight of him. Craning my neck all around, there wasn’t a trace — until we sighted him back at the ridge again! Okay, back in the cars, up to the bailout, and we arrived just after he landed. 98 minutes in the air, reaching 3600 feet over launch, outstanding! PK had the magic combination of all three, timing, skills and luck.

And soon… soon… Mt. Greylock will be open for flying again…

*”Sore Point” is a code name for a place that may well be the most popular site in New England for paragliders, but which is so incredibly sensitive that hang glider pilots are not even allowed to ask if it’s possible to fly there, and nobody can speak its name.

flights: 1, airtime: 0:09


About cleversky

Hang glider pilot in New England since 2004. Also an avid orienteer, and an embedded systems firmware engineer. And some other outdoor stuff.
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