Unfortunately, the yoyo action mentioned in the title wasn’t due to air currents, it was all moderately strenuous hiking.
First, a step back. My previous blog post was a bit terse, because I posted it before the situation had settled. The pilot who launched after me that day got too close to the trees, and after about 15 minutes of flying, he snagged on something (either a treetop or a phone wire) and crashed on the road near launch. He left the scene in an ambulance, and they kept him in the hospital overnight for observation. No broken bones, and I hear he’s doing fine, though I haven’t had a chance to talk to him.
So, three weeks later, we’d had a stretch of very warm weather during the week. Saturday was going to be the coldest day of the week, with temperatures in the mid 30s at best, but the lift forecast was extremely good. That came from a great lapse rate, due to the temperature aloft being colder still — at 6000 feet, it was supposed to be about 5 F. The potential was there for some great altitude gains, provided we dressed warmly. That left the question of where to go. The wind was supposed to be NW, suggesting Skinner, the Trail, or Ellenville. The annual club banquet was that night, and going to Ellenville would mean that we would definitely not be back in time. The Trail was supposed to be very cold, only in the mid 20s on the ground. Skinner was the closest, so after landing we’d have the shortest drive back to the dinner. The problem with that site is that the park isn’t open for the season, so we’d have to drag all of our gear up to launch.
I put out the word that Skinner was what I had in mind, and in the end four other pilots decided to join me. I brought my cart, so we were able to use that to pull the gliders up the road. It was a complicated process, but we got all of the gliders and harnesses up to launch in a little over two hours, in two trips, and we all set up. Initially the wind was rather cross from the right, but as time went on, it straightened out… and unfortunately got lighter. The sky, initially overcast, eventually developed into decent looking cumulus clouds for a while, but it never wound up looking like the lifty kind of day that I had been expecting.
The launch at Skinner is not particularly easy. If it had a ramp, and there was some judicious trimming of the trees in front of launch and on the sides of the slot, I think it would be perfectly fine for H2s, but as it is, it’s challenging, especially if the wind is light or cross. And it showed its teeth today.
The first pilot got ready, and started a few steps back from the brink in order to have enough room for a strong run. When he reached the edge, though, his airspeed wasn’t adequate, and he dropped abruptly. A little too far to the right, he caught a wingtip on a treetop, and got turned back toward the hill. At the moment that he made contact with the treetop, I had hope that he might make it through, but it was not to be, and he wound up hung up in the vegetation. We scrambled down to where he was, relieved to discover that he was uninjured, and only about 8 feet from the ground. He able to get out of his harness and we helped him lower himself to terra firma (well, terra loose and sketchy, at least), then we had to deal with the wing. There were a couple of wires around the main trunk of the tree, but fortunately they were the nose wires, and after getting them unhooked, the glider swung the rest of the way to the ground, where we were able to pack it up. The easiest route from there was to take the bagged glider straight down the hill to the road.
One more trip up, and the rest of us looked at the wind indicators, then looked at our gliders all ready to go, then looked at each other, then at the wind indicators again. It was kind of like a “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me” situation. If it had been earlier in the day and we were faced with those conditions, I suspect that all of us would have stepped up and launched hard into the light breeze for a sledder, rather than carry all of our stuff back down the mountain. But having seen what could happen made the trees out front look more menacing, and nobody wanted to risk being the second pilot in a row to blow launch. So we packed everything up, and lugged it all out. By that time, it was pretty late, and the banquet had already started. I thought things over, decided I was too beat for socializing, and headed home.