Sherpa heroes


Flying is my secondary activity, orienteering the primary one, and there have been only a couple of occasions when I’ve managed to do both in the same day. The Sunday after Thanksgiving, there’s a tradition of an orienteering meet in western MA, usually at Mt. Tom, but this year on the other side of the river at Mt. Norwottuck. Six days before, I looked at the forecast, and the extended outlook said that winds looked favorable for flying at Skinner State Park (Mt. Holyoke) that day, which is just a few miles west on the same ridge. Sticking my neck out, I posted on the orienteering forum asking if anyone would be interested in helping me haul my gear up Skinner (the park road is closed for the season). As the weekend drew near, it looked like it could be gusty, or the winds aloft too strong, but the forecast the night before was encouraging enough that I loaded my glider on the car.

After two hours of running around in the woods, I was ready for an additional adventure. One friend had said that he’d help me out, but he wasn’t able to make it to the meet, so I hung around the finish area chatting people up and seeing if they were interested in going for a little hike to get a bit more exercise. Ken (former sailplane pilot) was up for it, and Dean (self-proclaimed acrophobic) was willing to be persuaded. The three of us drove over to the park, and shouldered my gear. Ken initially took the harness bag, with me on the nose of the glider and Dean on the tail, then those two switched partway. I had never been up the trail that leads from the ranger station (only up the road by car, or a different trail on foot), so I wasn’t sure if it would be too gnarly, but it wasn’t bad at all. In fact, if I used my cart to get to the ranger station, I would consider this a doable solo haul.

I set the glider up as expediently as I could, since the late November daylight was slipping away. My friends were surprised that all of the bags packed away in my harness, since they were expecting to have to carry some stuff down, and were also surprised that I didn’t have more warm clothes until they saw what the pod harness looked like.

(photo by Ken Walker, Sr.)

I briefed them on what I wanted them to do as wire crew, got a hang check, and moved onto launch. I was pleased to find the wind doing pretty much exactly what I wanted in terms of strength and direction, and probably waited only about 15 seconds before picking up the wing and charging into the air. I heard whoops from behind me as I hit the lift band and went what apparently looked like straight up. By the time I turned at the Summit House and got back, I was a few hundred feet over.

(photo by Ken Walker, Sr.)

Easy flying, but the sun was already getting low by the time I launched, so I settled for about a half-hour of airtime. At around that time, I saw a couple of cars driving to the LZ and pulling over, and determined that it was Ken and Dean, who had hiked down. The time was about right anyway, so I headed out so that they could watch me land, and Ken captured it on video.

After I got packed up, we had just enough time to catch a bite to eat before the restaurant across the street closed, then went our separate ways. Much appreciation to my pals — I wouldn’t have been able to do it without you!

flights: 1, airtime: 0:34

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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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