Mud season

It is said that Vermont has five seasons: Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, and Mud.
J-J in the air over Hinesburg

Some had thought that Saturday might work at the coast, and had been keeping an eye on the forecast since mid-week. But as the weekend rolled near, it became clear that it would probably start out to cross, and by the time it clocked around to the east, it would be too light, except maybe for a big paraglider. So most of us HGs decided to skip it, and as it turned out, a bunch of PGs showed up and the few who tried launching weren’t able to stay up. I guess Keith never took his hang glider off the car, but he reported that he had some good seafood.

Sunday looked like it might be a bit better. For one thing, it was going to be very warm, around 70 F, although the temperature aloft was also going to be high, so the the thermal forecast wasn’t that great. SW winds pointed to Rutland, or maybe Brace, but Rutland has a sensitive dirt road up the back, and the club has not yet declared it open for the year (driving on it during mud season is apt to undo the extensive road work that has been done over the past few years). Brace is a long hike at any time of year, but access there involves seasonal roads that are still gated. There was chatter about PGs hiking up both sites, but either one would be a big undertaking with a hang glider. However, I had my eye on Hinesburg.  I visited that site last year, and ARt flies it fairly often since he lives nearby. He’s on a hiatus from flying at the moment because of some family medical issues, but he was willing to go to Rutland or Hinesburg to lend a hand hauling gear.

Jeff C had originally been skeptical, but at the last minute he changed his mind, so I drove over to his house and we headed up to Vermont.  We met ARt at the park’n’ride, and he hopped in the car to show us the way. At the last turn, he warned us that things might get a little rough. The road behind the hill is unpaved, and I suspect that most of the people who live there drive high clearance 4WD trucks. (ARt lives on a similar road, and he says that one year he rented a pickup to get him through mud season.) I should have taken pictures on the way up. It wasn’t totally insane, but there were some spots where the road was coming out of frozen mode, and it was liquid a few inches below the surface. There was one ugly looking section where the car stopped moving, so ARt and I hopped out to push so that Jeff could back up and try again in another spot. The car is a VW Golf with snow tires, which does just fine on the highway, but it doesn’t have a lot of clearance. While we were walking around, the road surface did weird things, sometimes acting like a waterbed.

More mud on the hike up. It wasn’t too squishy, but for a lot of the way, it was more like walking in a stream than on a trail. Jeff and I hauled the cart from the front while ARt assisted from the back, and it went pretty easily. The hike in is about a mile, with 500 feet or so of climb. ARt snapped a picture when we took a short break. It doesn’t really capture the essence of the mud (this was higher up where it was drier), but there is a small puddle just ahead that we had to go around.
Heading up the access trail at Hinesburg

The setup area is pretty cushy, although it’s a little strange with regard to wind because the drop is so abrupt. The result is that the setup area is in a big eddy, and the wind often feels like it’s blowing down when you’re setting up your glider, even though it’s coming strongly up the face. It was even warmer than predicted — the thermometer on my vario was claiming that it was about 81 F (although I’m usually pretty skeptical of the readings I get from it). ARt set up some streamers and did some landscape maintenance while Jeff and I put our wings together.
ARt G doing some yard work at Hinesburg

Having the simpler glider (I opted to bring my Falcon because it’s lighter, while Jeff has a Sport 2), I was ready first. It had been blowing straight in since we arrived, with nice velocity, which was a pleasant surprise, since the forecast had looked like it might be on the light side. I couldn’t think of any reason not to launch (other than the normal reasons that most people would come up with about hang gliding being a preposterously dangerous activity), so I climbed into my harness and turned the glider around.
J-J ready to launch at Hinesburg

After an embarrassingly terrible launch, in which I managed to not hit anything, I found enough lift to get up a bit and started making passes. I didn’t go very far to the left, because that gets you up into a canyon, but heading to the right was okay. ARt was gesticulating and pointing at some birds that he was encouraging me to hook up with. I only got a couple of hundred feet above launch, not enough to see very far. Here’s the view to the west:

Ooh, can I see Lake Champlain? No, I don’t think so. The hill in the middle of the picture is probably Mt. Philo, in Charlotte, VT, and the lake is another three miles beyond it. The fields flanking the road in the middle of the picture are the LZs that ARt recommended, but they looked to be an awfully long way off.

Meanwhile, Jeff was almost ready. With the leaves off of the trees, you can see that this really is a cliff launch.
Jeff C set up on Hinesburg launch

Before Jeff hooked in, though, I got a cycle where the wind was more W than SW, and I had to fight a little to stay out of the canyon. The Falcon doesn’t do so well when it comes time to speed up, and when I turned around, I decided that I had lost too much altitude, and it was time to stop fooling around and find a place to land. The main LZs were out of reach, so I headed for some bailout fields that were closer in. The one I had in mind looked like it was probably in reach, but as I flew toward it, it was remaining at a steady angle in my field of view, and that wasn’t good enough for me. I gave up on that and went for the closest bailout, which was a fine field, though with a long hike out through a gravel pit operation, and with a locked gate to get around at the bottom.
LZ above the Hinesburg quarry

Fortunately, I found a back way out of that field that took me down an easy trail to the road, only a five minute hike. Meanwhile, Jeff launched and soared for about an hour.
Jeff C soaring at Hinesburg

Not a lot of airtime for me, but a flight is a flight, and it sure beat sitting indoors somewhere like I’d typically be doing in March.

(Thanks to ARt for about half of the pictures in this post.)

flights: 1, airtime: 0:12


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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One Response to Mud season

  1. kukailimoku says:

    Heh heh heh…good ol’ mud season. I doubt my father’s truck would never recover from a November drive up to that launch years ago! Great stuff, thanks.

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