Reconfiguring the day


Not having flown for most of the summer, I was interested in making the most of Labor Day weekend, so after my brief flight on Saturday, I hoped to get out on Monday as well.  The forecast was tricky to decipher, but I decided to just head out to Greylock and take my chances.  While I was on the road, phone calls came in that revealed that if I pulled over and waited a couple of minutes, I’d have an opportunity to carpool, so I did, and rode out with Pete J and Tom L.  It looked like a ridiculous day to be thinking about flying as we drove through fog, but as we reached the Berkshires, the sky opened up to a blue and sunny day.

We met some friends in the LZ, and some clever coordination allowed seven HG pilots to get up the mountain with two cars.  This was the first time I’d ever gotten to Greylock appropriately early, and it was nice to not have to set up way in the back (it also wasn’t too crowded, only nine HGs and a similar number of PGs).  I was surprised to find a healthy breeze as soon as we arrived — it seemed to be launchable, and perhaps even soarable.  There wasn’t too much waiting; a couple of PGs launched and stayed up, so Tom moved into position and was followed into the air by Al.  My glider was ready, so I took the next spot.  Unfortunately, just as I was ready, I watched all of the wings in the air sinking toward the LZ.  No sense in launching into a cycle like that!  I waited several minutes to see how things would go, and before too long, most of them were climbing again, but the wind on launch was very light.  I figured that a thermal was on its way, and when the breeze picked up, that would be my sign to go.

We suspected that the wind might be somewhat cross from the south, so I turned right off of launch to head upwind.  Everything seemed okay, so I made a pass to the north, and when I turned around, I found out just how cross it was.  Fighting my way back south, I was dropping like a rock.  I knew I had to get to the south side of the summit to get any lift, and I made it, but had lost a couple of hundred feet.  There were some bumps of lift down there, but I was too close to the trees to be able to work them aggressively, so I decided to take a chance on the flatlands and see if there was lift over the bailout LZ like there was last time.  Again, I found some little bumps and tried to work them, but I was barely able to maintain altitude and wasn’t gaining anything.  After a few circles I was losing again, and had to resign myself to setting up for a landing.

There were various levels of fortune to be had in the air, and all of the HG pilots agreed that it wasn’t easy.  But I didn’t even have a chance to zip up my harness, and ended up the short guy for the day again.  I think soaring was doable given the air I launched into, but some days you have to display the appropriate skills to take advantage of it.
However, there’s no sense in feeling sorry for oneself.  At worst, it was a day of hang gliding, and if your biggest complaint is that you didn’t stay in the air very long, then you don’t have much to complain about.  But I decided to take a different approach, and reconfigured the day to not primarily be a hang gliding day at all, but rather a mountain climbing day.  After all, I was at the foot of a fine mountain, wearing sneakers, and I had had the good sense to toss a t-shirt and a pair of shorts into my harness.  I packed up my glider as quickly as I could, then hit the trail to retrieve one of the cars from the summit.

I had climbed Greylock once before, but on bad advice I had taken a trail that fades out, and ended up bushwhacking most of the way.  This time I had consulted a trail map and knew that a better plan was to take the Bellows Pipe Trail to the Thunderbolt Ski Trail. I ran the first, flattish section, then briskly hiked the rest, with one brief stop to chat with a woman on her way up, and another near the top to chat with a vacationing couple from Ottawa who were hiking around the summit. I had my radio with me, and was listening to where pilots were landing. At one point I heard the distinctive beeping of a vario, and looked up to see Tom right above me. I radioed him to look down and waved my arms, and he was able to spot me on the trail. Cool!

I was reasonably pleased with how I did on the hike, a little over 2.5 miles with over 2200 feet of climb, and I made it in a hair over an hour, including the two stops, and without pushing overly hard. This compares with the GoogleMaps estimate of 39 minutes to drive from that LZ to the summit (it’s a long way around!). I stopped by launch for a moment to watch the late-arriving PGs go off, then headed for the parking lot. I could drive one car down, but then we were going to have to drive back up to get the other one. On my way to Pete’s car, though, I bumped into the couple from Ottawa again. I had told them that I was a pilot, and when they asked if I was leaving I said yes, but asked if they’d be interested in doing me a favor. They were about to drive down as well, so I asked if one of them would be willing to drive our other car down. The husband agreed, which was a great help, although it turned out that they were staying at a resort located downwind of the mountain, so they had a long drive around from our LZ!

Not much in the way of flying to show for two days of traveling to the mountains, but rearranging the expectations means that it was actually a fine day of hiking. (And for others, a great weekend in the air.)

flights: 1, airtime: 0:11:27

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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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