Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Appalachian Flights

After hiking for over two months, I finally reached the lands of Maryland where I grew up. Maryland also happens to be the center of where I learned to fly. Taking a week off trail gave me the chance to fly three old sites - Daniels, Woodstock, and the Pulpit. I was also introduced to a new (for me) training hill, Klischers.

The flight at Daniels, a favorite site among DC pilots, was very short under light conditions. Woodstock, where I flew two days later, had stronger winds. The trouble at Woodstock is its sketchy launch. In fact, Woodstock may be the single most difficult launch I have ever encountered. A steep slope, a narrow tree chute, rocky terrain, and high trees at the bottom of launch all contribute to the tedious nature of Woodstock's launch. To further complicate matters on the day I was there, the wind was coming in a bit cross. A similar cross wind had given me trouble at Daniels only two days prior and I was not too eager to put my wing in bushes again.

View of Woodstock launch

Walking to launch, I saw Hugh, an early paragliding mentor of mine, and another pilot, Jim - a professional paragliding/hang gliding pilot from New Zealand. Jim elected to launch first. The launch looked a bit tricky even with his skill set.

Jim flying Hugh's old wing
If I remember correctly, Woodstock had been the last site I had flown on the East Coast. After you clear the launch, the ground drops away extremely quickly and you find yourself surrounded by steep mountain ridges covered with trees. The transition to treed chute to breathtaking ridge is rather rapid and unexpected to first time pilots there. At this point, I was just eager to have such a view again.

Checking winds immediately before launching

I took some time waiting for a thermal to come mostly straight up launch rather than at some cross angle. Eventually, I found what I was waiting for and, with a strong inflation, ran down the rocky slope to propel myself airborne. With the slight north cross, I could not maintain altitude in front of launch and sunk to a north facing slope of a minor ridge and maintained altitude for nearly a half hour. As I enjoyed the extremely mellow thermals and light ridge lift, Hugh joined me in the air.

Hugh in foreground, me in background

Hugh did not choose to stay aloft with me and quickly landed. The clouds around and above me were dark and were making me nervous. I started to question why Hugh landed and, following Hugh's lead, I elected to land as well.

View of Woodstock Valley

Several days later, northwest winds drew me to Pennsylvania to fly the Pulpit. Upon reaching the Pulpit and finding winds too strong, Mathew and Karen introduced me to Klichers, a nearby training hill. I performed one quick flight there to find the winds too light and returned to the Pulpit.

View of Klischers launch from LZ

Back at the Pulpit, the winds were becoming ideal in terms of speed, but bad in terms of direction with a strong cross from the north - yet again. Mathew launched his new Delta 2. A few minutes later, my Ellus 2 was also in the air too. The strong north component to the wind on the westward facing ridge greatly reduced the magnitude of the lift. I found the highest I could achieve was only 10s of feet above the trees. Mathew, too, was not getting any higher. With the high probability of rotor of from the significant cross, I determined soaring to be unsafe and pointed my wing to the LZ.

Minimal lift along the ridge

The majority of the landing zone was now a corn field. Not wanting to damage the crop, I was forced to land in a narrow strip of grass running between two fields. However, given my experiences in Hawaii, the narrow landing zone was not a concern and thus ended my flying for a while.

Below is a video comprised of flights from the week.

Now, I turn trailward once again and the sky will have to wait.

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