Somehow, I had forgotten to check the calendar before heading up to Ascutney, and when I arrived a little ahead of the rest of the gang, I felt like an idiot: it was race day. There are a few days during the year when the road up the mountain is closed for various hillclimb races, and this was the day of the running race (there are also bicycle and automobile races on other weekends). I parked my car and chatted with the rangers, who said that the road would be open at noon, and it would be fine for us to drive up to fly then. I called the other carload of pilots who I knew were on their way, then chilled in the car, watching low clouds go tearing by, revealing turbulence that I didn’t relish flying through.
It wasn’t encouraging when we stepped out of the cars at the summit parking lot, but we decided to at least carry our harnesses out to launch to see how conditions looked there. Tom said that if he was already set up, he’d launch, but cloudbase was low, it looked like the wind was probably pretty strong 1000 feet over launch, and it might be just ridge soaring conditions. In addition, Tom couldn’t stick around (he had an appointment to show his old glider to a prospective buyer over at Morningside), and the only other wire crew candidate we had was Ryan, who had come by bicycle and had only his bike shoes. Rather than take our chances, we decided to just head for Morningside.
A weekend day with nice weather means a good crowd at the training hill. However, it was rather strong and often cross from the north, so the student pilots weren’t flying. Jeff and I were not fazed by the conditions, so we got ATV rides up to the 450 as soon as we were set up, while John headed across the street for a tow, and Tom showed the guy who was interested in his wing the details of setting it up.
And it turned out to be a decent day. Jeff did a bunch of launch and landing practice, it looks like Tom sold his glider, and John specked out after towing up, and we didn’t see much of him until quite a while later when he cam back to land. I had two flights. My first one was in a pretty strong breeze and active air. It would likely have been possible to climb out, but I didn’t feel comfortable turning tightly enough in the narrow thermals so close to the terrain. One of the strongest bumps was about 200 feet directly over the bullseye, which didn’t give me a very comfortable feeling about landing. Since the wind was directly out of the west, I opted to cross the road and land on the mowed strip at the south end of the runway, but on final, I got popped up by a thermal, and went a bit long, landing in the tall grass. My second flight was less rowdy, but there was a paraglider kiting right in the middle of the bullseye, so I crossed the road again to land on the runway. Just as I was about to turn onto final, I saw the tandem glider coming in below me. It had the right of way, so I held back and waited so I could come in behind it. I didn’t really have enough altitude to fly over it and land beyond it, so I shifted over to the tall grass next to the runway and landed there.
Although I hadn’t planned it that way, I wound up practicing my tall-grass landings. This is actually a pretty useful thing, since an XC flight might end that way, and it’s important to be able to do it right. Both of my landings were fine, flaring high enough to avoid having the control bar catch on the vegetation, and then sinking into it. You have to do a no-stepper in those conditions, because running in tall grass isn’t going to work out very well.
I do have to add, I haven’t been to Morningside much in the past couple of years, and the changes under the new management are quite nice. When I first started taking lessons, it was, frankly, a rather sketchy-looking operation that made you wonder, at first impression, whether it was really the kind of place where you wanted to undertake a potentially dangerous activity. These days, the place is looking downright respectable.
flights: 2, airtime: about 8 minutes