I sure do love Big Walker mountain. Last weekend Jean and I spent some fine days camped on her slopes with old friends from the caver community.
Yesterday I returned to her top with friends from the local flying (hang gliding and paragliding) community. Mama Walker can be a fickle lady to the pilots. Some days she will carelessly swat you down into the LZ with hardly a thought, or, even worse, slap you around above the mountain until you wished you were in the LZ. But she can also lift you to heights that keep you coming back through all her other moods.
Yesterday was my first flight after the hernia surgery, and only second flight of the year. I was willing to be perfectly happy with only a quick "sled ride" to the LZ in calm conditions, just to get reacquainted with flying. Indeed, I took off into conditions that promised that very flight. Instead, Mama Walker wrapped me in her arms, gave me a big old kiss, and sent me up to play for an hour and a half of great evening flying.
I arrived mid-afternoon to several pilots already enjoying mid-day conditions. They were soaring easily, but I could also tell by the switching wind directions in the LZ that the air was a little more exciting than I was hoping for. I took my time setting up and by the time I was nearly ready, several other pilots launched into lighter conditions. None stayed up for very long, but still reported some rowdiness in the LZ, so I decided to wait.
Many times on a late afternoon you can be faced with a dilemma - light conditions that become even lighter as evening approaches, or the onset of a magical "wonder wind" or "magic air". If it turns on, there is easy and smooth soaring as the sun sinks towards the horizon. If it doesn't turn on, then you may have waited only to have to launch in nearly calm conditions. Nobody ever really knows which it will be. But it is quite frustrating to be sitting in the LZ after a quick ride, only to watch your buddies, who launched a few minutes after you did, soaring easily.
WW's typically kick in around 5 or 6pm, so I decided to wait until after 5, although the cycles seemed to be getting weaker. Five passed and no visible change, so I decided to get my sled ride while it was still easy to launch. I waited till the next little cycle came up the slot and launched, only to find myself going up! Soon I was over the ridge in abundant lift.
Most of the flight was 500 to 1000 ft above the ridge top, although in a couple of thermals I topped out over 1400 ft above. If I had one thing to do differently with that flight - it would have been to dress warmer! I normally wear a jacket, but it looked like such a guaranteed sled ride that I didn't want to be too hot. As it turned out I was actually shivering at some of the higher points of the flight, and didn't pursue altitude gains as aggressively as I normally would have. Instead I found myself all too ready to give up on marginal lift to get back to lower and warmer altitudes. wedding wears specially designed for full-figure ladies
Happily, that flight was capped off by a landing that did not embarass me :-) A small group of us stayed the night and were treated to a private concert by our musician/hang glider pilot Wayne Baker. With a full moon only days away, the moon was shining until the early morning hours in more ways than one ;-)
Like I said, I really do love that mountain.