Utz – looking good

By the end of November, flying opportunities around here are typically getting kind of thin, and I’ve never managed to fly in December. I took a look at the forecast for the weekend after Thanksgiving, and it was not looking good. I couldn’t see anywhere that I thought would be flyable. I posted a note on our email list to that effect, and Keith said that some people were thinking about going to Utz.


Mt. Utsayantha.

There were a couple of times in the past when I had thoughts of trying that legendary site, but the schedule never worked out. It would mean probably 10 hours in the car, and this time of year, the sun goes down pretty early. I decided it might be worth a try, though, so I emailed Keith and asked him to call me as early as possible in the morning if folks decided to go. My reading of the weather forecast left me skeptical, but Keith said it was looking good.

At 7 AM the phone rang, and I was out the door of my girlfriend’s house a few minutes later, made a very brief stop at my house to grab my glider and gear, and I arrived at the rendezvous point at about 9:45. Keith pulled in right after me — his truck was having trouble, so we loaded his glider on my car and headed west. There was a detour due to a road closure for Hurricane Irene damage, and we drove through Prattsville, where people were spending their holiday weekend continuing to clean up the carnage from when the river nearly swept the town away. Things there were not looking good. We got to the mountain, and headed down to scope out the LZ first. Keith outlined the best approach, and told me stories about things going wrong when trying to land in the wrong direction. The field looked pretty good.

Up top, we found Amy and Dan already setting up on the SW launch. Keith took a look at the numerous streamers that they had set up, and said that it was looking good! We joined them, and did a car shuttle so that we’d have a vehicle down below. Whatever else happened, it was in the mid 50s F even up top, despite the hazy sky, so it was a great day to be outdoors.

Dan’s U2, Amy’s spiffy new U2, my Ultrasport in the back, and Keith’s Sport 2

We had the usual little dance about who should go first, and Keith stepped right up. After all, it was looking quite good. We watched his launch, ready to run for our gliders as soon as he got up… but he barely maintained launch height for a couple of passes, then started losing it. Aw, rats. Why isn’t he soaring? It’s looking good! A few minutes later, he was on the ground, and I said I’d go get him for another try. I drove down and we hurriedly packed up his glider, while he asked why the rest of us weren’t flying, because it looked pretty good. Nope, we weren’t about to chase after somebody who had just sunk out.

Back up top, Amy was about ready to give it a try. Maybe it had just been a little light before — Dan said that it was supposed to get better, and now, we all agreed, it was definitely looking good. Amy waltzed off into the air… and… started sinking… Damn! How can this be happening when it’s looking good?

Dan and Keith, doing their best to look good as they watch Amy fly

The direction was certainly okay, so I resigned myself to taking my sledder like a man. Some wuffos had stopped to watch, and we had a good time answering their questions. Dan was also ready, so I let him go first, so as to observe his superior mad skillz. Unlike Keith and Amy, Dan managed to get established and stay up — that was looking good! No reason to hesitate, I got hangchecked and charged off behind him, and I was also able to get up over ridge height. Dan didn’t hang around too long, he headed down to the LZ to give Amy a ride up for a second shot. Keith launched shortly after that, and this time he was looking good, so we soon had two of us making laps back and forth in the bowl. After getting above launch, it was pretty easy to stay there, although getting high was a different matter — the highest I got was about 350 feet over launch height.

Dan and Amy raced back up and set up her wing in record time. The streamers were still looking good, so she joined us in the air… briefly. Unfortunately, there was a sink cycle just after she launched, and although Keith and I managed to survive it, she got skunked and was on her way to the LZ again. Keith and I cruised around for a little while longer, until there were shadows creeping across the LZ, then he headed down, and a few minutes later, so did I, after about 90 minutes of flying (not bad at all for this time of year!). By the time we got there, the wind in the LZ was completely calm, so landing was easy, just head uphill.

A little dinner, then the long drive home. I’ll be looking to bring some friends from the east to make another trip or two to Utz next year, most likely on a NE day, when we don’t really have many New England sites that would be good choices.

flights: 1, airtime: 1:32


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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