It’s not that common for the northeast lift forecast to look like that picture. (If you aren’t familiar with that sort of map, that’s really really good.) I was thinking that the Trail would be a good choice, but when I asked on line, I couldn’t find anybody interested in going. At first it seemed like the Connecticut guys might be flying Talcott, so I thought about joining them, but then it sounded like they were going to Ellenville (and Talcott isn’t a great choice for a thermal day, because it has an altitude ceiling). There was interest in Ellenville among pilots in my area, though, so I arranged to meet Jon A and John G and carpool down with them, and John B and Jeff C would join us a bit later.
We were on an early schedule, and started setting up when there was lots of room. Jon had brought two wings, and decided that his best chance to get in flights on both would be to try the paraglider first. At that point conditions were very light, and the only people flying were PG students taking sledders, so Jon joined them and John drove down to bring him back up.
There was a lot of standing around, because there was virtually no wind. This was what I had been afraid of, all the indications were that there was thermal lift out there, but there was no wind to provide ridge soaring while you looked for a climb, and there were no clouds to indicate where a climb might be. More pilots had arrived, and Dana was the one who finally lost patience and decided to give it a try. He waited a good long while for a cycle to come in, but nobody was pushing. When he did launch, he managed to gradually climb, and it gave the crowd hope. Unfortunately, the next three pilots all sledded. The problem was that it was tricky to launch into a thermal. There were times when we’d see birds circling off to the left, and the wind would be coming from the right, being drawn in to replace the rising air in the thermal. But this meant that when the wind was blowing in, that was just an indication that the thermal was behind us, and to catch a thermal out front, you’d want to launch with a tailwind (but that takes more guts than most pilots care to display).
I had fetched my glider by this point and had moved it up close to launch. John was ready with his paraglider, which was an encouraging sign, as he has a good eye for conditions. JJ was after him, and unlike the previous few pilots, those two managed to stay up, so I took my turn and looked for the beginning of a cycle instead of waiting until the thermal have moved up the hill behind me. That didn’t exactly work out, and after a couple of passes where I was sinking, I just headed for the LZ rather than getting myself in trouble by hanging around scratching. It turned out to be a gamble that worked, as I felt a bump when I was several hundred feet over the field, and turned to exploit it. I had found a consistent thermal, and was able to keep working it, well away from the mountain, until I was more than 1000 feet over launch. I had neglected to fully charge the batteries in my GPS tracker, and it went dead before I launched, which is too bad, because that would have been a cool track to look at. I was up with the pilots who had gone before me and managed to stick, back over the mountain north of launch, but after that one successful gain, I hunted around in vain to find anything that would keep me up there. Eventually I had to roll the dice and hope that I’d find another climb over the LZ, but there was nothing substantial there on my second try, so I set up an approach avoiding the wet spots, had a clean landing, and headed over to the fence to break down.
It was a beautiful day, though, nice and warm, and flying around isn’t the only way to have fun outdoors. After quickly packing up my glider and harness, I took off my shirt, pointed myself to the south, and started my stopwatch. I had climbed the hill to launch once before, back in 2011, but that time I had screwed up the route and went way too far around. This time I had a better idea as to the fastest way up. After going out the trail behind Tony’s house, I took the ATV trail until it stopped climbing, then went uphill through the woods, crossing the big stream in the process. That took me to the upper abandoned road bed, and I went southeast on that until I saw a way up that wasn’t too clogged with mountain laurel. There are places where the terrain gets pretty steep, and I was wearing the ordinary running shoes that I fly with; I would have been better off with proper orienteering shoes (ideally with spikes) in a few spots, but I made it up to Rte. 52 just south of the road launch, and went straight across and up toward the NW launch. I popped out of the bushes below the windsock to see a glider waiting to go and several others in line behind him, and skootched around behind to tag the sign. Total time from Greg’s kiosk to the top was 33:47, which is pretty good, though unfortunately longer than I had spent in the air. I think I’m capable of breaking 30 minutes given good conditions.
Jon had packed up by the time I drove his truck down, and John had landed after a flight of close to two hours that took him to 6000 feet. We didn’t hang around for long, and were able to get home at a respectable hour. This was my shortest flight ever at Ellenville, and the only time I can recall landing because I had just run out of lift, but it certainly wasn’t a sledder. As it turned out, the other sites closer to home where I had considered going worked great (despite the fears that some had that they would be blown out), and if I had known that others were going, I would have saved some driving time. I’m glad that it worked out well for everybody.
flights: 1, airtime: 0:19