Soaring the SE Ridge to the Susquehanna River

I wish everybody who flies ridge can sometime experience a great SE ridge day at Blairstown. Unlike NW days that pound on in as the front clears with crystal blue skies, the more stable SE flow begins as a murmur, like a pink floyd album. When I first launched at 11:45am, I was perhaps a bit too excited, pulled the release and went straight for the ridge at 1900ft. When I lined myself up with the ridge, instead of feeling that solid cushion of lift, I started to settle down.

Even though our usual indicator of winds, Mount Pocono was calling for 150 at 10 knots, there was almost nothing happening at ridge top. The hard overcast had broken through to tattered cumulus at 2000ft and I was unable to connect with any thermals… so I staggered back to the airport from below ridge top and had to wait some more, having flown probably no more than 6 minutes. By 1pm, the treetops just started to gently dance and it was time to try again. This time, instead of  of immediately flopping onto the ridge, I released in a thermal to see what the winds were doing up to cloudbase. It was rather fascinating… they were 100 degrees at 6 mph at 1900ft and then every turn they shifted over more and more to the South and increased in velocity and by the time I was at cloudbase at 3500ft, it was 185 and 15 mph. This was promising since the ridge could get really cooking if the thermals mixed some of the low wind with the winds aloft and the forecast showed increased wind velocity further SW. I was sort of hoping that someone else was going to test the ridge first after my first flight, but it seemed everyone was waiting on me again to do it. There were a lot of birds today and while thermalling around, I found two bald eagles cored in a thermal. That was a sight to see!

Anyway, after diving down onto it, the ridge was working, but not by much. I did one or two laps and then decided it was time to head out SW at 2pm. What was somewhat unusual was that it seemed that the more solid band of ridge lift was fairly high off the ridge for such a small velocity. I felt like it was necessary to be at 200ft above the treetops for it to work well… below that it was a struggle to get back to there. Anyway, after tiptoeing through the scraggly bits of ridge beyond the Delaware Water Gap, I connected with a little thermal for two turns at the Bangor Offset. It is only a one mile jump around this knob, but it is a pretty hefty transition for a 1-26, especially if there are no thermals, which is typical of most SE days. Furthermore, the landout options at the base of the mountain there are pretty dismal. Today, it was not a factor and I made it around comfortably. However, instead of grounding and pounding down at ridge top after that point, I floated up at 1650-1700ft in order to stay in what I thought was the better band. The ridge just wasn’t all that solid…

After working my down beyond Wind Gap, Lehigh Gap and Snyders, it was time to think about jumping around the Pinnacle, near Hawk Mountain. I had never done this before and this is an especially rare treat on a SE day. Again, with a moist and stable SE flow, there are often no thermals and just smooth ridge. To do the 3.5-4 mile jump around the pinnacle is frankly impossible in a 1-26 without some thermal assistance and fairly daunting in even a high performance glider. However, even under the

mostly overcast I started to feel some bubbles and started probing upwind. Finally I connected with a thermal at the ridge that got up to 2600ft and I started working my way upwind in a little street. And then, hallelujah, I connected with a thermal that got up to 3300ft! After this, it was an easy jump around the pinnacle and I was home free.

At this point, the sky looked fairly bleak ahead… more like a typical SE day. After my moment of celebration, I realized that man, I am probably not going to get a thermal coming back to Blairstown. I came to the conclusion that well, I am probably going to land-out on the jump back and I might as well make the most of it by going as far as I can now on this ridge. This ridge is quite a bit more craggly and has many more offsets and gorges. The wind was not that strong and I was really cautious to not let myself drop below the ridge top. After making it down to Swatara Gap, I called up Muir Tower to see if I can get a transition through their Delta. Muir is air force base at the edge of a restricted area, which is a gunnery range. If they are hot, they often will have us turn around before getting to their airspace. I called them up and requested a transition and they asked me to hold… I found myself a little bubble and started climbing. After several minutes, they granted me a transition! Delighted, I dove on down to the ridge and zipped on through.

After looking at my watch, I was wondering how much farther can I go. I figured that I should turn around at 4pm and the Susquehanna was just starting to get in view. Man, it

would be great to get to the river and turn… and now was the big dilemma that plagued me until I got back around Hawk… how do I balance going faster while not getting flushed off the ridge? I zipped on over to the river, turned around and got another clearance to get through Muir’s airspace. At this point, the ridge was only keeping me up 100ft above at 50mph…. please don’t let me fall off the ridge there! I made it through fine and after a while, I made it back to the pinnacle. I did in fact manage to hit a thermal, but it only got me up to 2200ft. I really wanted to get up to 2500ft, so I continued a bit further along the pinnacle. After rounding the observatory, I hit some solid ridge lift in the bowl, but it only got me up to 2200ft again. This time, I was in a bit better position to jump… and so I went to the lowest part of the ridge near Hawk.

There was no expectation of a thermal at the Pinnacle and the time was ticking as it was 5pm and sunset was only 1.5 hours away. After a nail-biting dash back, I connected at maybe a third below ridge top and one S turn later, I was home-free! The ridge now was very solid and it was time to rock and roll and make distance. I started zipping along at 65-85 mph, mostly around 70mph. That’s *fast* in a 1-26 :). Once I made it beyond Wind Gap, there was a moment of absolute awe: a foehn gap set up behind our ridge and as the sun was setting to the West, it

sneaked into that window and lit up the whole valley with a golden glow. All of the foliage was basked in a beautiful light all the way down the ridge.

After making it back to the local ridge, I had another half hour until sunset. I zipped on to the former location of the cliffhouse, back up to the hang-glider launch and then back to the local ridge, 10 minutes before sunset. I landed 2 minutes before sunset, flying 5.3 hours. What an incredible day! Thanks Dave for towing, Jim for operating, Muir for letting me through and for the supportive folks at Blairstown who *almost* had to retrieve me yesterday.

Find the flight log here.

%d bloggers like this: