On Saturday we
finished the drive up from Atlanta. As we got closer to the exit the
anticipation was building, especially as we got out from underneath
the stratus clouds. The mountains are just beautiful. Luckily trailering
the gliders up highway 55 with the steep hills ending in 15mph winding
curves was not to be the only excitement.
I caught the magic carpet and could get used to this. 1-3knots steady lift, suddenly all the hecticness is left behind, there is just one other glider up here (Kolie). The view is the amazing thing, it looks like you are standing in the biggest snowy field ever. Blue above and white below for infinity.
We kept eyeing the few blue holes below, hoping to not get stuck on top. Cloud base was at 6800MSL, which seems far away as we are steadily climbing 2-3 knots. At 11,400 my glance down through the holes in the cloud deck inspires little confidence, as it seems to be closing in. Out come the spoilers, 60 knot is not as satisfying as 80knots. Right before reaching the top of the deck the hole becomes just a shallow white area. I circle above the clouds, call my position on the radio, and descend the last few seconds through the white. Some experiences in life do not need to be repeated, once is twice too many.
Mondays are often rough, especially when you spend a couple hours in rotor. Chuck's email asked "so have you flown in any rotor?", a better question would be "have you found a way out of rotor?" Paying your dues to the wave system tires you out quickly. Tuesday was a quick shoot-down: a 4800' tow resulted in a 28 minute flight! While Mike gets his diamond, it seems like I was flying with my spoilers open. I felt pretty down, the wave was working but I couldn't contact it. This is all part of the chase.
After being beaten down by rotor flights I'm ready for more than a moment of Sunday's brief elevator ride. To bed early and set the alarm for 5:00am, (hey, it is a long seven minute ride to the airport!). Tim and I are the first ones on "the grid". The tug is off the ground by 7:30am, Shane then returns for Tim. Just West of the ridge we see the needle climb faster than a Supercub can be credited for. Pull the release, turn right, dive to notch the barograph (5480MSL), finish the right turn and point the nose straight into the wind. Flaps in the +6°, trim set, 44knots airspeed, 0.9 knots groundspeed. Hover in this position for 1 hour 40 minutes, the 3-5 knots lift tapers off until the climb stops at 22,506'. I have hardly veered from looking west the whole time. The world looks like a topographic map. Unlike Sunday, the nearest cloud is a thin lennie near 30,000'. The air is silky smooth AND going up. It inspires a lot of confidence in your fiberglass contraption when you can trim it, release the controls, and let it fly itself. It is amazing how minute your control inputs can be. This mechanism is so capable of balance and poise, it makes you wonder why anyone would ever fly it in turbulent air. At 42 knots with the vents closed an eerie silence and peacefulness prevails. Do I even need to mention anything about grins?
I had "pressured" Tim into joining me on this trip, convinced him to spend a week of vacation, purchase a new oxygen system and drag a trailer halfway up the East Coast. A bit of radio chatter confirms that Tim found an area of better lift at the top, he outclimbed me, stopping himself 100' below the 23,000' wave window limit. Suddenly any feelings of guilt are washed away. We did it, Diamond Altitude with hundreds of meters to spare!
Back down below 18,000' Tim and I wander up and down the area, one
excursion West over the plateau confirms that there is an equal mass
of sinking air. After hours of taking it easy bouncing up and down the
wave, I feel like exploring. At home we rarely get above 6,000' and
I usually wait until I am at my highpoint before getting an itch to
go on a cross-country adventure. But now I'm 8,000' BELOW my high point.
14,500 at the gap, I make a radio call but no one wants to join me on
a downwind dash. So be it, to Sky Bryce alone, 25nm downwind with 20nm
upwind back to Grant County airport.
We had several dinners with other pilots with lots of stories. (Of
course the 1-26ers keep you humble, guys like Ron Schwartz say they
won't claim any diamond altitude in WV, since he plans to finish all
his diamonds in NJ in his 1-26). A big thank you goes out to our great
hosts. Especially since Fred's father kept us fed at the FBO every time
we turned around. Skyline Soaring club members did a great job, after
a week of great memories it felt like we were leaving several friends
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