Greylock, it’s about time

I haven’t been to the high points of many states, which is mildly surprising for a guy like me. Off the top of my head, I’ve been within sight of the high points of CA, OR, WA, AK, CO, CT, and VT, but I’ve visited the high points of only RI and NH. Conspicuously missing from this list is Mt. Greylock, the tallest peak in Massachusetts, where I’ve resided for over 90% of my life. I’ve certainly seen Greylock on a number of occasions, and I’ve even looked down on the summit after having launched a hang glider from across the valley, but I had never stood on top. Greylock is a popular hang gliding site, but the mountain was closed for several years when I was first flying due to renovations, and soon after it reopened last year I went on hiatus from flying. Of course, that doesn’t explain why in all these years I had never hiked up, but that was indeed the situation.

I could try to make a long story short, but the truth is that it’s not a long story. I had a commitment in the morning that required me to get a somewhat late start, despite the fact that Gary T., the local Observer, was of the opinion that it was a day when it would be best to get off the mountain early, before the wind got too cross. I made good time getting there, and arrived to find Pat M. and a few PGs already in the air and Megan K. about to launch. As soon as she did, I got Gary’s attention and found out what I had to do to sign in with the park staff, then grabbed my stuff from the car and joined Jeff C., Pete J., Doug B., Randy B., and John B., all setting up on the lawn in front of the summit monument.

I got hooked in while Doug launched, and got in line behind Pete. After a couple of minutes, Gary came to fetch me, because Pete had decided to step aside and let others “play through”. Gary helped me maneuver my glider through the throngs of spectators. The site is rate H3 with observer not because it’s all that difficult, but because any problems that might occur will be seen by the general public (e.g. a couple of months ago a video popped up on YouTube, shot by a spectator, of a tandem launch at Greylock that wound up in the bushes). I’ve never had anywhere near that many wuffos watching me launch. The wind was cycling pretty much straight in, and I was more intent on getting launched so as to free Gary up than in waiting for something incredibly soarable, so I didn’t dawdle and got into the air.

I lucked into one of the smoothest bits of lift I’ve ever encountered. I felt the wing start rising as soon as I was clear of the hill, and as I turned right and then started making broad passes over launch, I gained steadily, if gradually, and easily got to about 300 feet over the top. I didn’t hold onto it, but I kept finding climbs that would get me back up to a comfortable height, and managed to squeeze off a few pictures.

Pete apparently saw that I was having better luck than the earlier pilots, and joined me right away, followed soon by Jeff. Although Pete managed to find something good and took off (eventually landing at the RC field, I think), Jeff slipped too far below launch and headed for the bailout, and after a little while so did I.

This was a relatively unusual experience for me, landing in a field that I had never seen from the ground (although Gary gave me a good briefing about it). The air was somewhat rambunctious when I was a few hundred feet AGL, but fortunately smoothed out when I was on final, allowing me to pull off a landing that garnered some compliments from a couple of people in the LZ. Gary launched his PG shortly after, and Randy and John finally got into the air and really made it stick, heading XC to the north for 20+ miles.

I was glad to have finally gotten a chance to fly Greylock, and for that matter to have gone to the top of the mountain at all. But… I had gotten there in a car, which is really not my way of doing things; I had had aspirations of climbing it before ever driving up to fly. Since my car was parked at the summit, there was no question in my mind as to what the next step would be. As soon as I was packed up, I got some sketchy directions from people in the LZ and headed off across the field looking for a trailhead. Sure enough, I found a carved wooden sign that said “Superhighway trail to the summit of Mt. Greylock”. Sounded perfect to me! As it turns out, there are two perfectly good hiking trails leading up from that field, but the Superhighway is not one of them. After less than half a mile it degenerated into nothingness, so I just headed straight up through the woods, which got me there, but couldn’t have been the easiest way (too many fallen trees, briars, and mossy cliffs). I’ll know better next time, but for now, I’ve added another site to the list of places I’ve flown, and this year I’ve climbed every hill that I’ve flown, plus one (I haven’t flown Ascutney yet in 2010).

flights: 1, airtime: 0:31

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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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