Monday was the day when the forecast was for sure, definitely, going to be rained out. Heavy rain all day. That’s what we had been expecting, at least. But although it rained overnight, it was drier in the morning. We started with some talks and seminars, as per plan, but it eventually started looking encouraging, and the weather gurus proclaimed “We will fly today!”. The task committee met on the ramp at about 1:30, and decided on tasks:
C pilots: GALLOWAY
B pilots: GALLOWAY-HENLZ
A pilots: GALLOWAY-HENNW-GALLOWAY-HENLZ
with a launch window from 2 PM to 6 PM. And then the waiting began.
A camera crew from a TV station had showed up and Jamie Shelden and Joe Bostick took a couple of flights so they’d have something to film. No soaring occurred. Mike Barber was on the ramp for a long time, then he backed off, then got on the ramp again, and when we spotted some vultures circling he tried to join them, but the birds moved on and he had to look elsewhere. About the time it looked like he was committed to land, he found a climb that took him up above our horizon, but I got distracted by something and next time I looked he was on the ground. And then there was more waiting.
Finally they started sending off wind technicians, who sank out. And some paragliders launched, and sank out. The valley had a lot of cumulus clouds, but not really where we could reach, and there was a lot of shading. There was virtually no wind on launch, and the flow in the valley seemed to be from the NE (“straight down the ditch”). A few more pilots launched and sledded, and a few seemed to almost do okay, but not for long. One team pushed and did a follow-the-leader off the ramp, out into the valley, and to the LZ. And finally the Critical Mass team decided it was time to go. At this point there was less than an hour left in the launch window.
There were a few pilots ahead of us, but they weren’t hesitating too long. We lined up with Vitaly in front, followed by Max, me, Tom, and Jeff. When my turn came, I stepped up to the red line and assessed what lay in front of me. Most of the wings were on the ground, Max and Vitaly were to my right and maybe? climbing a little, and there were about four pilots to my left who seemed have something more solid. I decided my odds were better with them, so I launched, pulled on full VG, made myself small, and tried to reach the gaggle with as much altitude as possible. I came in immediately underneath them, saw that they were circling to the right, and joined the party. Not a great party, though. I maintained my altitude for two turns, then I was sinking. I was trying to see if I was still centered under the crowd, and noticed that Max and Vitaly had tried to come over and join us, but then had to retreat to the LZ.
Seeing that there wasn’t much space left between me and the ground, I headed for the LZ with full VG. I thought I could probably make it. “Probably” isn’t nearly good enough. I was assessing whether the LZ was rising or falling in my field of view, and it was just staying even, which meant I would probably squeak it in. Although my experience has been that this kind of situation tends to improve as I get closer, I did not want to risk this, so I turned and headed for a harvested hayfield on the far side of East Valley Road. I got to that one with adequate altitude to assess the situation regarding electrical wires, and set up a clean landing across the field, about 250 meters from the road.
I carried my gear to the edge of the field and packed it up, then carried it out to the road, arriving just as Lee got there to pick me up after having retrieved Vitaly and Max from the main LZ. Unfortunately for Tom and Jeff, I was the last one who managed to fly. By the time Tom was able to move up, the light breeze had started to blow over the back, and as they waited, it just got stronger. I heard later that almost everybody ended up in the main LZ, the only exceptions being myself, and Mitch Shipley and Dennis Pagen (both of whom had been above me in the climb), who got above launch and headed down the ridge, reaching about as far as Galloway but not crossing the valley.
flights:1, airtime: 7 minutes