Blind Squirrel Finds a Nut!

With a forecast for light wind but decent lift I had high hopes of Saturday being a great day to fly Ellenville… despite the North/North-East forecast.  I got up to launch around 11 and Jay-Bird was already set up.  Griffin and Scotty T arrived about the same time, and Griff and I decided to set up.

At this point there were nice cu’s popping, everywhere but near launch.  My suspicion is the cu’s behind launch were coming from the sun hitting Pine Bush, Walker Valley, and the back side of the ridge all morning, while launch and the Ellenville valley remained shaded.  There were also nice cu’s across the valley, and again my theory was that the sun had been hitting over there for longer, causing convection.

Being a North-West facing site, Ellenville is best suited as an evening site because that’s when the sun hits the valley and ridge the best.  But for getting off, up and away on a light-and-variable day we wanted to hit the peak of the day to have the best chance of getting up.  We knew if we DIDN’T get up that meant landing mid-day, not a risk I accept lightly… but that was our plan.

We waited a few hours until clouds were starting to pop over launch, filling in the blue hole.  The general winds seemed to be North/North-West at launch, but North-East (as advertised) in the LZ.  Thermal cycles were coming through and would influence the wind speed/direction.  About 1:00 I was liking what I was seeing and started getting dressed… and talked Griffin into doing the same.  He got ready quicker and was on launch ahead of me.  We were talking strategy and I was sharing what I was looking for in a good cycle to launch.  I feel it’s important to be at-the-ready to take what might be the only great cycle on a day like this, but also to be patient when waiting there.  That’s really hard when you’re hooked in, standing on launch, and it’s blowing in.  Wearing layers and jackets doesn’t help either.

Griff got a decent cycle and took it.  His two-step launch was lame (sorry dude!) but I think he did a great job of scratching and working the light and broken lift he was presented.  He had one bit right in front of launch that he got a few 360’s in, not really gaining or losing much.  That seemed to fizzle out and he headed out into the valley toward the Kelly’s farm hoping to catch “the big valley thermal”- not at all a bad strategy given the general NE wind direction and that we saw clouds signifying lift out there.  He found another something and got a 360 or two but made a smart/safe decision to head toward the LZ and get there high enough to check the streamers and set up a proper approach.  Again, landing mid-day at Ellenville is to be much respected.

I waited on launch for what seemed like forever, and just wasn’t getting the cycle I wanted to see… so I moved away from launch and took my harness and jackets off for a bit.  Greg Lindy was behind me, and he waited on launch a while until it started to blow down, and he too backed off.

Normally blowing down is not something to celebrate… but I was wishfully thinking it was being caused by a giant thermal out in front of launch that was sucking air in to replace the lifting air.  After a while I noticed it was blowing in towards the mountain in the LZ, so I started getting dressed despite blowing down on launch.  Again I was hopeful it was a sign there was a thermal in the vicinity.  I was standing on launch when it started to blow in again very lightly.  I picked the glider up a few times but something just didn’t feel real promising so I put it back down.  It started to blow in a little better, and the trees and bushes below launch were showing some action.  I checked the LZ windsocks and they were still blowing straight at the hill.  This time when I picked the glider up the air felt much liftier, and off I went!

I floundered a little in broken lift in front of the North launch.  It was strong enough to turn tightly in, but I couldn’t get a full 360 without falling out of it.  And it felt like it kept shifting around and wouldn’t stay in one place.  After maybe 4 360’s I lost track of it and opted to head for the trailer thermal.  I pulled VG and tried to find the liftiest line to get me there the highest.  Greg’s big windsock in the LZ was still blowing straight toward the mountain, which is basically pointing at the trailer in the woods.  I had high hopes but low expectations of finding something worthwhile.

But I did!  It had to be about 300 fpm, and just barely big enough to turn in.  I had to bank pretty steeply, and fly as slow as I could without stalling or losing the ability to steer and stay centered.  I latch on to that little thermal and clung to it as it tried to lose me, shifting around or lifting a wing and trying to push me out.  It felt not unlike convergence lift.  As I got higher and higher it got wider, smoother, and faster.  I was reading 7-800 fpm on the averaged for a while, and I climbed to about 6500 ft before the lift lightened up.

The clouds were stellar; perfect flat-bottomed puffies with 5/8ths coverage (right Shaddo?!)

I jumped one cloud over because I could see that one was still building, and it was in the direction I wanted to go (I wanted to fly Greg’s Up the Valley challenge).  That cloud was even better taking me to my highest alt for the day of 7660… and the lift kept going, I could have easily gone higher but then I would have been IN the cloud!

The journey up the valley was an exciting one, pushing upwind with several low saves (two so low that I was preparing to land)… But this is already a long post so I’ll leave the rest of the story to be told over beers at the campfire or something.

Mohonk Mountain House, as seen from the Ellenville end of the ridge

Mohonk Mountain House, as seen from the Kingston end of the ridge

The story ended when I got to Kingston, still a little over 1500 ft, but that wasn’t high enough for me to comfortably make the next LZ I liked… so I decided not to press on.  I happened to be right over the NY State Trooper barracks, which had nice manicured grass and flags to show the direction of what little wind there was.  Plus I just thought it’d be fun to land there.

Google Earth says it’s a total straight-line distance of 26.13 miles from takeoff to touchdown.  I think that might be the farthest Up the Valley Run this year… but I’m not very confident it’ll hold, either.  I’m super happy with the result considering I was pushing upwind (NE) the whole flight… but on the right day I could totally see someone smashing that distance, too.  It’s a great route with LZ’s aplenty!

This is what the valley looks like once you get past Mohonk.  That’s 209 to the right of all these fields.  Each brown field had it’s own little thermal that kept me going, and the Trooper barracks is just to the right of the last brown field.  It gets pretty suburban after that…

And a major THANK YOU to Flyin’ Bryon who came to pick me up, in my own truck no less!  What a guy he is!