Climb first, soar later


Going back to Tanner-Hiller was probably an option for Saturday, but I wanted to try for some foot-launched mountain flying. The wind was going to be southwest, perfect for West Rutland. I sent an email to the local lists asking if anyone was going.

Silence.

I posted again, noting that: 1) the lift forecast looked pretty decent, 2) the wind direction and strength looked good, 3) winds aloft were going to be essentially zero, 4) lapse rate was supposed to be quite good, 5) there was a glider on the roof of my car, and 6) I wasn’t going to drive 2.5+ hours up there if I was going to be all by myself. (In particular, because my car can’t drive up the road to launch.)

Crickets.

I knew at least one PG pilot was planning to go, but that didn’t do me any good because they don’t have racks on their cars to carry hang gliders. By mid-morning Saturday, not having heard any responses, I was about to take the glider off of my car and go mow the lawn, when I got an email from John B saying that he’d drive up there with me. That was good in terms of making the drive less lonely, but it didn’t solve the problem of how to get to launch, because his car has less ground clearance than mine does. He was confident that there would be other HG pilots there. I guess the problem is that I’m a white-haired old geezer* who isn’t hip to the latest forms of communication, and instead of the email lists all of the cool kids are using SnapLink or Instas’App or TwitFace or something these days.

*My hair is pretty white, but most of the HG pilots in these parts are at least as old as I am.

Anyway, we figured out a place to rendezvous, put both wings on his car, and headed up. Because of the delays, we arrived about an hour later than the typical meeting time, and there was nobody in the parking lot. There were cars there with HG racks, and there were already four PGs in the air, but we didn’t have any luck contacting anybody by phone. It was time for our backup plan: John dropped me off at the gate, and I went up to launch on foot. I call it “running”, but only the first few hundred meters are buoyed by enough optimism to really be done with a running gait; after that, it’s power walking. Still, I don’t think many pilots could keep up with me. When I hike up to retrieve a vehicle, I usually go through the woods to cut off at least one switchback, but I didn’t want to risk missing anybody who might be driving down, so I went up the road the whole way. Just under 35 minutes, not bad considering I was wearing jeans. When I got to the to the ramp and asked if anybody would lend me a truck to get the gliders up, the crowd standing around asked if I had run up the road, and I said yeah. They seemed not overly surprised, having come to expect that sort of thing from me, and Keith graciously offered me his keys. I hopped in , and realized that it had a manual transmission. Now, I’ve been driving stick since 1978, and I’ve never owned a car with an automatic, but the Rutland access road is challenging in any vehicle, and the clutch on this macho truck just added to the fun. I made it down with no problems, and even figured out how to get it back into 2WD to drive around on the roads to pick up John. More fun on the way back up the mountain, when we encountered two vehicles coming down, and I had to back up until I found a spot where I could pull over enough for them to squeeze by.

We set up as quickly as possible, and I moved out to launch behind John C with his PG. He hadn’t been flying lately and wanted to wait for things to be perfect, so he stepped aside and let me through. With all of the delays, even with the expedient preparation, it was about 2:45 PM when I moved onto the ramp. By this point a lot of pilots (some HG and a lot of PG) were already on the ground, and I think I said something to John along the lines of, “this could be pretty brief”, another case where I figured I had only a 50% chance of staying up under the gray sky. But I hit the odds again, and knew things were looking okay as soon as I turned right and started climbing up the ridge.


John launched soon after I did, and for most of the time it was the two of us and one other HG (who turned out to be Joe S). It was one of those back-and-forth-on-the-ridge days, with an occasional chunky bit of lift that would take us a little higher, but the highest I ever got was about 1200 feet over launch. Due to the unusual weather conditions this year, the trees were late leafing out, and I found it interesting that the ones that prefer growing on the northern slopes seemed to have the jump on the ones on the southern slopes.

I could see that other pilots were leaving the parking lot and heading out, and it was the kind of day where you have to think about how long you’re interested in staying in the air, whether you want to scratch the last of the evening lift. When John headed west, I followed, to get a change of scenery even though I knew it would mean the end of the flight. We went about 1/3 of the way to Castleton, then circled around to land. It was late enough that katabatic effects were happening, and I ended up going on final heading northwest.

Two days in a row, and some exercise to boot. Not bad. And I got ice cream on the way home with John.

John B

flights: 1, airtime: 2:28

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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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