A foliage peek

I had been looking at the forecast for Wellfleet for several days, and it had looked like Saturday was a promising day. But as the time grew nearer, a high pressure system got closer and it looked like the wind would be too light. People started chatting about the possibilities for West Rutland, though. This was a little odd, as Wellfleet is a NE site and West Rutland a SW site, and you wouldn’t typically expect the wind direction to be right for both of them on the same day. When the time for the decision arrived, I decided to join the crowd in the mountains, with hopes of viewing the Vermont foliage at peak. As it turned out, Jon A did go to to the beach, and found light conditions that allowed him to get an early flight with his PG.

Tom L was interested in heading to Rutland, so we met and took my car up. Tom had brought his PG, so he hopped in the first truck heading up the mountain, while I looked around for somebody who could carry my HG. Bill G had a rack consisting of just two bars with a ladder for his wing, but it was simple enough to take my ladder with the glider on it and just transfer it to his truck, and Kevin W did likewise, and with the three ladders we headed up the mountain. We were relatively early to arrive, but more kept coming; by my count, there were eventually 20 hang gliders up there, and probably about the same number of paragliders. This brought concerns that it was going to get crowded in the air, but these fears turned out to be unfounded.

We all set up, and PGs started launching, but there wasn’t a lot of enthusiasm among the HG crowd, as, despite the fact that the PGs were soaring, the wind was pretty light for our needs. I had the pleasure of finally meeting Ryan V who had come up from Ellenville; I’ve interacted with him on the internet for years, and I own a glider that used to be his, but we’d never happened to be in the same place at the same time before. He stepped up to be the first to launch with his T2C, with John S and his ATOS close behind him. I noted that this was going to give the rest of us no information about the conditions, because if those two ace pilots could stay up, it was no indication that any of the rest of could.

Ryan immediately got above launch, and soon swung back and buzzed launch at a zillion miles per hour. That was the beginning of the end, though, as he started getting lower and lower. He worked some bits of light lift tenaciously, and almost looked like he might pull off a low save, but ended up in Ducky’s LZ, which, thanks to the extreme drought this year, was completely usable instead of being a big shallow swamp.

Meanwhile, John didn’t fare any better, and we were dismayed to see him headed the same way. My prediction turned out to be wrong, because the fact that those two didn’t stay up was a pretty strong indication that there was no hope for the rest of us. And we continued waiting.

You can’t wait forever, though. Various pilots would either work up the gumption or lose their patience (depending on how you looked at it) and launch into a promising cycle, only to take another sled ride. The PGs who launched in between almost all got right up and soared, and we looked up at them, thinking they might present a traffic concern, but none of the HGs were getting high enough for that to be an issue. Ilya brought us some hope, though. He had done some damage to his Sport 2 at Wellfleet the previous week, so he was flying his tired old Falcon instead, and a single surface seemed like it might be the best bet in these conditions. Sure enough, he came back above launch and was able to hang in there. That was all it took to get a bunch of lemmings to jump off the cliff, myself included.

By the time it was my turn, it wasn’t like the other HGs were all specked out. They were sinking, maybe even Ilya by this point. But you can’t wait forever, and it was already 3 PM, so it was time to take my shot. I picked a less mediocre looking moment, ran down the ramp, and turned left. People had been trying various strategies, but I hadn’t seen anyone go for the approach of hugging the contours of the ridge tightly, so that’s what I tried. If the purpose of the trip was to have a flight over spectatular foliage, then I succeeded completely. The colors as viewed from the ramp had been pretty nice, but when I got around the spine into the bowl, there was an explosion of color, even to these colorblind eyes. I figured I might not be up for long, so I’d better take some pictures while I had the chance. They came out blurry, and the colors on the screen are nothing compared to what I saw in person, but here’s a taste.

After one long pass all the way to the west end of the ridge, I turned back and made my way back to launch, but got there having lost 400 feet of altitude. My method clearly wasn’t working, so I headed out toward the valley to hope for a thermal. It always feels encouraging to leave the mountain, because the terrain drops away and it looks like your altitude is increasing, and that’s a pleasant illusion. The vario beeped a little at the beginning, and then again as I got closer to the highway. I took one shot at catching that bit of lift, but only succeeded in exploiting the sink next to it, and the resulting spiral dive left me concerned that I wouldn’t be able to reach the LZ. I pulled on some VG for good measure and stopped fooling around, arriving at the field safely, but with enough altitude for only a single S-turn before going on final. I inadvertently left the VG on slightly, which may have contributed to the very crisp flare, resulting in a no-step landing and bumping the ground with my keel.

HGs continued to rain down out of the sky for a bit, but conditions did eventually improve, and for the last half-dozen or so, who waited the longest, the air finally agreed to hold them up, and they had sweet soaring flights. And Tom, my traveling companion? He had been among the very first to launch, and he landed a little after I finished packing up my glider, with a 3h45m flight. Awesome!

flights:1, airtime: 0:09


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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