James Hayes: my flight the other day, thanks for the tow Jim Matush and the retrieval Lindsay Matush.
Not as far as Marcs, or Graces possibly, but was was awesome none the less, slow going on such a light wind day..thermals were really broken up down low (below 3000/3500ft) but pretty solid after that and far stronger. Required lots of patience which is why it took me so long to climb out of the valley from tow. As the day was light and I wasn't in any rush I tried to climb in any lift I found, then follow the cloud streets that were forming. Just before I landed I was pretty tired, I haven't done much thermal flying lately which'll hopefully change, so I didn't want to fight the turbulence and light scrappy lift I was in just before I landed.. was stoked to land right next to the creek for a nice post flight 'swim' (it was so shallow I was more floundering around) haha.
Also as a side note, I tried using something I remember Dennis Pagen mentioning a while ago regarding thermal triggers. Cloud shadows, as they move across the ground the change in temperature can trigger thermals to pop..I was watching my shadow a lot after pin off and keeping it along the edge of the cloud shadow, it seemed to work as it kept me up.
Also some of my turns in the thermals are quite shitty, a few reasons.. I'm still getting used to this wing (aspen 4), I haven't done a lot of thermalling lately, once high I was trying to capture photos&vids, as well as trying to practice turning to my weak (left) side.
Chris Lee: I attended an SIV clinic with David "Cuervo" Prentice at Lake Jackson in South Florida. Also in the class were fellow Toggle Monkeys Jim and Lindsay Matush. We were limited to three flights each due to weather and some mechanical issues. But we made the most of it. Over my two flights on Saturday, the curriculum included: 9 stalls, 3 spins, 4 asyms and 2 frontals.
Chris Lee: Spent a couple weeks working in S. Florida and had a chance to fly the sand dunes with local pilot Kelton Kenney. It really is as easy as stepping off flat ground and you're airborne! Conditions were perfect for the site, no need for speed bar but strong enough to get two-three times over the height of the sand dunes.
Cloud streets over launch at Neverland on Monday. Photo by Neil Sirrine.
Chris Lee: Fourth flight with the new Triple Seven Queen 2 MS. Perfect forecast on tap at South Florida's world-renown XC tow site, Neverland, near LaBelle. Wind in the mid-teens early, then slacking off late with 3m/s thermal updrafts and cloud base at 3600' and rising.
I launched first and went through lift at 1200' but decided to stay on the line and push upwind so I would have a better chance of staying around launch while waiting for my partner, Kelton Kenney, to get airborne.
We hooked up by the channel and proceeded across the Triangle of Doom with good altitude.
Kelton hit big sink just after the Triangle but dug himself out working a treeline bordering a sunny field. Once he got high again, we mostly stayed at cloudbase skirting the west, sunny, side of the cloud street and jumping from one close cloud to the next.
Near the DeSoto Correctional Institute, I pushed straight through under a big cloud and got hammered, losing half my height to 2000’ before finding some light, maintaining lift in the shade. Kelton stayed at cloudbase and skirted around the sink hole as I tried to hang on. Eventually I transitioned to the sunny side of the cloud where lift got much better just as Kelton went around a horizontal peninsula of the cloud and out into open sky. He found nothing but sink in the blue hole and eventually sank out in an orchard.
I got back to cloud base and continued patiently on, encountering a solar farm just a bit downwind where there was lots of lift with different groups of birds taking a few turns in each thermal before going on glide, transitioning the area with hardly a flap.
Lift areas got wider and smoother, but not as strong, around the fourth hour and it became a balance of circling in light climbs vs pushing further on course. The winds had slacked to single-digits so the only way to make progress was to go on glide.
Cloud streets started dissipating until there was just one line within reach. It was a lifty line so I was able to travel a good distance on it, just stopping for a few turns occasionally. Further west a rain shower was dumping at the end of the cloud street and the last thermal drift was pulling towards the storm so I had to leave it and start looking for an easily accessible road to land by.
Personal best duration of 5:04 hrs and distance of 124.5 km / 77 miles.
The Toggle Monkeys started off the 2018 season with a big fly day after temperatures finally lifted out of single digits. High pressure and cirrus clouds reduced the thermal possibilities but rewarded us with smooth air. Perfect for maidening some new wings and shaking the rust off. We had a full complement of pilots out as well as a couple prospective pilots and a new trainee.
Justin was ground-handling his new-to-him Bright 5. First tow flights were had for Taylor's Iota 2, Lindsay's Sigma 10 and Chris L's Queen 2. Other pilots getting flights included Grace, Chris C., Richard and Jim.
Great way to kick off 2018.
Chris Lee: I traveled to Valle de Bravo in Mexico to join David Prentice's tour for the second time in Dec. 2017. Got 25 hours of airtime in 7 days. Here's a video of some highlights from the flying trip.
Richard McDermott: Dream flight today! Flew from Eagle Cliff (Miles) cemetary to Salt Lick Point today. Beautiful day!
Anna Acock: I have proof you went over the house!
All photos by Nancy Treadgold
Tater Hill: Exactly What I Needed
So you’ve learned the basics, you’re not 100% terrified to bite into a friendly thermal anymore, and you’re sick of flying that same little fly site where lift is an un-crackable code. If you feel like you have more skills to learn, or you feel like you’ve plateaued in some areas, your next step should be Tater Hill. I’m here to give you the push.
I can’t speak to anyone else’s experience, but this Appalachian learning competition upped my confidence in flight exponentially (I attribute half of this newfound confidence to the expert advice and clinics I attended, and the other half to the campground’s post-flying hot-off-the-slab evening moonshine). You know what they say, teachers are all around you.
Since that’s really all you need to hear, and you’ve already decided to attend next year’s event, I’ll just walk you through what to expect from your first day at Tater.
When you arrive at Tater Hill, there will be a small group of pilots hanging around the registration area. They’ll be giving hugs and shaking hands. This is when you’ll start to see the Tater magic. It will be in the form of the same two questions:
Other pilots will ask you and your friends, “Is it your first time here?” and they’ll ask each other, “How many years have you been coming to Tater Hill now?” You’ll hear this dozens of times because these Taterheads are into it. It’s a pilgrimage for them.
Tater pilots who’ve been around for a few years will tell canonized stories about each other, they hold cute little rivalries, they have code names, they remember each other’s routes from years past... They seem to really care about each other. Also: Welcome to the club. You’re in now.
On your first day, you’ll learn quick: If you hear a whip cracking, that’s Bubba, the Tater Dictator. But don’t let the authoritative hat embroidery fool you... Bubba’s here to make your week the best you’ve had all year. When he says you can bench up that dark, scraggly gray wall of convergence clouds like it’s a ridge, take his word for it. He’s been flying tater for 25 years. The man knows his microclimate.
Next year will be the 13th Tater Hill Competition, and at this point, Bubba and his crew have the whole thing dialed in, with all the tools already in the toolbox. From the start, you’ll get a detailed site introduction and recommended landing approaches for the three very accessible, beautifully manicured LZs in the valley. The veteran pilots will gesture up to launch from the LZ, but it won’t do justice to the large green clearing nearly 2,000 feet up.
To get up there, you’ll hitch a ride in one of Bubba’s custom Suburbans-- in the one of most well-coordinated retrieve/rides up the mountain I’ve ever seen (Just wait until you’re scrambling to re-light mid competition. You’ll want to send flowers to your retrieve driver for the promptness and order).
On launch, you can buy sandwiches and cold drinks from the coolest para-kids you’ll ever meet. Or, if you prefer, you can spend your time picking fresh blueberries from the bushes nearby. Most people shuffle around, unpacking their gear, chatting and getting ready. It’s a pleasant way to start the morning.
In Boone during early August, the morning breeze is actually cold (It’s no wonder Lance Armstrong says it’s his favorite place to train). You’ll sip your coffee atop a mountain, wearing your favorite wool socks, overlooking the haze in the blue valley. Then you’ll think of your buddies at home who are undoubtedly sweating in their harnesses-- or if they’re really unlucky, their suits and ties.
The task committee surveys the morning weather and selects the day’s tasks; one for the open class and one for the sport class. Then the energy shifts from mountain morning to excited fly day.
If you’re like me, and you had no idea how that little Flytec on your deck works, you’ll join a small-group breakdown session to learn the ins-and-outs of using your vario in a comp. It’s remarkable, the details they cover. An added bonus: you’ll make friends this way, almost like a team building exercise (but with more beeping).
After you input your route, I strongly recommend you take one of the 10-year-Tater guys aside to get the cheat codes... Ask them to explain how they would approach the route, how long they might wait until going for that next waypoint, where they would find lift in the valley, when they would launch in these conditions, anything. They’ll happily tell you because, like a friend sharing their favorite movie, they want you to see the best parts.
And then, after that: You fly.
The launch has lots of room. Depending on the wind, four or five pilots can set up and launch at once. You’ll quickly notice the launch crew, a few people whose job requires that they get “all up in your junk” to pull on your buckles, straps, and carabiners: a safeguard for competition jitters. They’ll fluff your wing, give you a pretty setup, and even help you pick a cycle if you ask their opinion. Then, go, go, go and you’re out over the blue yonder.
I can see how Tater would be an ideal ridge soaring site for tons of pilots, because of its multiple large faces and nobs. This year, however, we didn’t get much time to play on the ridge. The wind direction wasn’t quite right, but the thermals were fat and happy. With 2,000 feet of ground clearance off launch, there was plenty of time to soak up everything each thermal wanted to teach-- and to take a few elevator rides to the top.
For the competition newbies like myself, the sport class tasks are built around designated LZs, which means you have a phenomenal opportunity to learn XC and competition skills with one less thing on your mind. You can bounce from waypoint to waypoint; And if you have a decent head on your shoulders, you’ll always have glide to a safe LZ, free of powerlines or grouchy landowners (as an aside: the people in Boone are some of the sweetest out there. And they make some killer BBQ.)
While you’re in the air, learning new skills and smashing personal bests, you might look across the thermal and see a skinny glider flying fast in your direction. Look at the wing. Remember this pilot. Tonight, around the campfire, you two will share a cold drink and smile about that moment. And, if you request it, you’ll get one-on-one advice on your thermaling technique, or anything else you’d like to improve. When teachers are all around you, listen up.
Tater Hill lives out a culture of education and mentorship. Which, for a group of paraglider pilots all competing against one another, is totally remarkable-- Especially when you think of all the sweet flying loot they put up for grabs on the final night of awards and acknowledgement.
This year, they filled up an entire picnic pavilion with outdoorsy giveaway-swag. At Tater, the trophy-for-all mentality isn't disingenuous or philanthropic-- It seems like they really just have too much free stuff to give out. It’s clear to see why: People fall in love with Tater. Then, those same lovestruck pilots donate other stuff they love to keep the competition going strong, thereby infatuating another generation of hopeless sky-eyed goobers like myself.
One Boone local sends nearly a hundred chicken sandwiches to the competing pilots every year. This generous chicken-man has the sandwiches delivered to launch by airplane... and then by gravity. (If you’ve never eaten Chick-Fil-A flown in and airdropped onto a fly site, I highly recommend it. There’s got to be some sort of flying super-power involved with that kind of thing, right?)
But Tater isn’t about the free stuff or the amenities-- or the freshwater mountain spring you pass every day up to launch-- It’s about the flying. And the flying is good. For my skill level, there was enough security built-in to feel comfortable biting off more than I typically might.
On days when it threatened to overdevelop, I watched other pilots for my queue to land instead of bailing early. I took more thermals because of the high launch. And when I wanted to try for a destination: I went for it, knowing LZ was always within reach. All of this, combined with genuine encouragement and support from other pilots primed me for a home run-- and I was able to nail a good number of them as far as personal accomplishments go.
For your first visit, Tater won’t be a neck and neck competition-- But it will push you. The Tater Hill Open, as my first comp, pushed me outside of my comfort zone, which had been holding me back from seizing XC flights at my local site. It pushed me to fly faster than I ever have; and to aim for goals I normally wouldn’t. It also pushed me into an amazing community of pilots whose names I’d heard, but never met before. If you’re smart, you’ll let it push you too.
You’ll spend your 10 days at Tater with a group of pilots who aren’t “too good” to talk with the P2s, and who genuinely want to help you fly. They’re pilots who see the value in this place, isolated from everything and consistently flight-worthy. I’m lucky I got pushed into Tater Hill the way I did; And I intend to join in on next year’s campfire stories... a Taterhead like the rest of them. I’ll see you there.
Every year the Tater Hill Competition is held the first weekend of August in Boone, North Carolina. The 2018 dates are July 29- Aug 4, with practice days on July 27-28 and a fun-fly on Aug 5th. Visit www.flytaterhill.com for more info.
High pressure day, low humidity and temperature in the low 80s. Winds were 8-12mph on the ground from the northwest with mostly clear skies with a high cloud layer. Some cumulus clouds were visible in the far distance. We scouted around looking for a tow road that didn't have trees rotoring from the west. We eventually settled on the usual 7 Mile Rd, but a bit further up the road where a pond creates a natural break in the tree line.
Chris Caywood towed and I went up as a wind dummy. He kept a pretty low line tension as the tow was a bit turbulent low down and we expected sharp thermals from the high pressure. I hit a strong piece of lift around 800' AGL but decided to stay on till the next one. That happened around 1200' and I called for an early release. Hooked a turn and basically kept climbing at the same rate as when I was on tow. The thermal was a bit rough for the first 1000' but then it smoothed out and was easy circling to the top.
I carried this initial thermal over Salt Lick Point where a small cumulus cloud was continually forming and dissipating. I made one upwind leg to return to this cloud to top off before setting out on glide. Winds aloft ranged from 12-15mph. With the wind strength, I knew I could be patient and try to top out every climb while still making progress down course. I appeared to hit an inversion layer around 6000' which correlated with the Skew-T plot for the day. The steady climb at 2m/s would suddenly stop and just go to zeros, even as I circled wider to try and reacquire.
Each transitional glide would bring me down below 1200' where I was studying not only ground trigger points but also potential LZs. I was a bit frustrated that I couldn't hit any thermals part way down but instead seemed to only encounter them when I was on the deck. But the ground triggers I picked out seemed to work and I'd eventually find some zeros to work. This bought some time for covering a bit more ground and although the edges were ragged, these bits of lift would coalesce into a steady climb back to the top. The Kaskaskia River was a trigger point for one thermal near Evansville, Ill. My lowest save was along rolling hills when I dropped to 400' but a series of tree lines trapped enough warm air that I maintained until it coalesced on the uphill side of a small river bank.
As I past Chester, Ill. where the river valley switches from the Illinois side to the Missouri side, I got under the edge of a high cloud layer. There was a definite boundary between the open blue skies and this long, continuous cloud line. I stayed under the cloud side and in zeroes at around 5400'. Occasionally I would hit pockets of lift and take a couple circles before going on glide again. This pattern eventually helped me push through the inversion layer where the lift solidified again and I got up to a high of 6400'.
Towards the end of the flight, I had a strange encounter with some balloons. There was a cluster of balloons tied together and encased in a clear plastic bag. I thought I was flying straight downwind, but they were crossing in front of me from left to right. When I first saw them, they were lower than me. I started circling in some light lift, but I was watching these balloons each time I went around. They started doing large, slow circuits around a point in a counter-clockwise direction a hundred yards away. I figured if there was ever a sign of lift, that was it. So I left what I had and flew right through the center of the balloon circle. Nothing but sink. I took a few more wraps convinced something should be there as the balloons continued orbiting now above me. Moral of the story, don't leave lift! I later caught glimpse of the balloons and they had drifted back the way they had come and were even lower, I guess they can get spit out of thermals too.
As I approached the century mark, I started focusing on this arbitrary number more than staying patient and working the light lift. The direction the wind was pushing was towards areas of dense trees with fewer LZs so I had to start picking between ground triggers and LZs. When I figured I had enough glide to reach 100K, I stopped searching and picked a line with multiple LZs. As I made my base turn over a corn field, I could see the localized winds kicking up showing a thermal forming but I had already committed to landing and decided this flight couldn't end any better.
Nick, Chris and Chris' son, Justin, came out for the long retrieve. They were stopped in Sparta for lunch when I landed. Thanks guys!
Max vario 3.8 m/sec
Min vario -3.9 m/sec
Max alt (ASL) 1960 m
Min alt (ASL) 133 m
Takeoff alt (ASL) 133 m
Altitude gain 1827 m
Max speed 72.9 km/h
Mean speed 36.3 km/h
Max Distance 101.5 km / 63.07 mi
We are a group of paragliding pilots based in the St. Louis area.