Plenty of places looked like they would work on Independence Day, but I had a hankering for foot-launched mountain flying, so since Ascutney was one of the candidates, I didn’t hesitate to head there. I arrived early enough that some of the rest of the crew were off checking out the LZ, so I scooted up the mountain, dropped off my glider and gear, and drove my car down to get a body ride back up.
Seven of us showed up, and only two, the beasts known as Jeff B and Mike H, carried everything out in one trip. Jake had a driver to help him, Ilya and Crystal did two trips sharing the load, I did two trips, and Kevin started with all of his gear, and then dropped the glider off and did two trips for the rest of the distance. I had expected a much bigger crowd, but the hike wasn’t such a popular idea on a warm day, so we had ample room for setting up (if the space at Ascutney can ever be considered ample). Jake was grumbling about the hike getting difficult (he has knee problems), and I was likewise thinking that it’s getting to be too hard to do solo, so I may look for somebody to share the carrying with next time.
The forecast had been for good lift and light winds, so we were a bit surprised when we got to launch and found it blowing pretty hard. Seemed to me that it might be the result of thermals (there were clouds forming over the summit), but it was pretty persistent. I had picked a spot near the back to set up, so I had some time on my hands, and I noticed that the windsock was there, but it was on the ground, not yet having been set up for the season. I asked Jake if I could provide some assistance in getting it up, and he accepted my offer though he cautioned me that it might be difficult. What’s required is to climb a spruce tree that has a pole lashed to it, then having the windsock on the upper part of the pole handed up, and lifting that upper pole (about eight feet tall) into position, and dropping it onto the lower pole. Sounds simple, right? But if the wind is blowing, you’ve got to fight with the fact that it wants to get blown back, while operating with very little leverage on the lower end, and holding onto the tree with just your legs. Kind of a solo Iwo Jima maneuver while doing a lumberjack pole dance. I managed to lean it forward, then wait for a lull, and let the wind stand the pole up for me while I quickly got the two pieces to match and dropped it into place. It worked on the second try. With all that, it looks small from launch, barely over the tree tops.
The cast of characters:
There were quite a few Fourth of July hikers out, hoping to see the crazy people fly. Jake went first, sort of hopping off of launch in deference to his knee issues. He didn’t climb as well as we were expecting, and when Jeff joined him, he wasn’t able to get a lot of altitude either. Next was Ilya, then Crystal stepped up as the wind turned pretty cross, so she had to wait a while for it to start behaving again. Mike was close to launch, but I was ready, so I went next, but by the time I got my wing up to the platform and straightened out my radio wires, Crystal was already in the LZ. Launch went well, and the next few moments were the highlight of the flight, as I seemed to have picked a good cycle and gained some altitude nicely. I headed up toward the ski area, where I had heard on the radio that the lift was ratty (though at least they were talking about lift up there). I flew through a few bumps on the way, nothing that felt like I could utilize. When that failed to pan out, I headed back hoping to get some lift over Rogers Rock, but I got there below the rock, so that was no good. I hit a nasty pocket of sink when I was fairly low over the trees, and I wasn’t in the mood for that sort of excitement, so I headed out over the fields.
Crystal had landed in Africa, which I knew would be tall weeds. The generally preferred LZ, Kansas, we had been warned was wet, and also was not yet mowed. But Jake had said that the hayfield across the road to the south was available as long as we could stay out of the way of the haying equipment. They had been working on the field through the day, and were largely done baling it, so I flew over there to see what the prospects were. There was, predictably, some lift coming off of it, so I did some circles, hoping to climb back up, but mostly wanting to not land in the field if it was still lifting off. Down to an appropriate altitude, I went on final, and found the air a bit bumpy down at ground level, until the bottom fell out before I was quite ready to flare. The result was a tolerable landing on my butt, and the wheels might have rolled instead of digging in if I’d had a chance to unlock them, but the nose didn’t go over. No harm done. For those of you who have never spent time around farms, a baling operation is a pretty cool thing. The tractor pulls the baling machine along the dried hay rows, it gets bundled up into a bale, which then pops up and out of the baler into the hay wagon, where the workers move it into position.
Mike landed in Kansas not long after, then Jake, and Jeff a while later. Kevin eventually joined Crystal in Africa, and Ilya was still in the air when Ryan arrived to drive us back around the mountain. Nobody got that high, and nobody was able to leave the mountain, though I think the longest flights were around three hours. But at Tanner-Hiller it was reportedly a terrific day, and likewise ten miles from where we were at Morningside, where Max towed up and went 50+ miles XC to Massachusetts.
flights: 1, airtime: 0:15