Tennessee Tree Toppers

Sequatchie Skies
by Dan Shell
April 14-21, 1997

With the dogwoods almost done, prima vera well onto the plateaus, and blue skies and green fields dotted with the psychedelic sails of hang gliders, it must be high springtime in the Sequatchie. In fact, it's shaping up as one of the best seasons of the last few with more than a couple epic flights. Once again, almost every day last week was soarable, but now it appears the pattern's shifted to bring that other common component of spring weather. Rain.

Monday started windy with a left cross. Steve Bellerby got off around 1:00, thermalling out right after launch to between 1200 and 1400 over before getting flushed. Lift was not consistent on the ridge, but sufficient thermals were available to keep a few gaggles off the ground through the afternoon. Fred Pearson and I launched in the pre-wonder gasp, both turning right to scratch down the north face. I was able to work one to about 500 over and stay up for around a half hour before the next flush cycle put us in the field. Jeff Laughrey and Kathy Lee launched just a little later and stayed up in the building wonder 'til almost dark. Kathy recognized the perfect setup in the light N cross and top landed at Cordell's, an easy jog to her house (for her).

Tuesday was no gimme, with a lighter NE veering to E. Nevertheless, Nick Berry found something to hold him up in the gap while notable hot shot pilots went to the ground. Wednesday wondered, but Steve Bellerby had to sink out twice in the prefrontal SW before invocation of the magic. Three's the charm and he finally got over after turning left upwind, of all things. He reported a great time flying with Claire Pagen and Gino the Canadian, boating all over the bouyant gap. Thursday was scary honkin' blown out. Even Tip Rogers said so!

Friday was THE DAY. Cold in the morning with a left cross from the W, Steve Bellerby launched at 9:15 to allow time for a personal duration record. He landed five hours later after 2:00 just as it was really getting good in the heat of the day. Steve Lee launched about 2:30 and immediately cored one out to 4500 over behind launch. He eventually left that lift at 4200 in pursuit of a gaggle he could see deep into the plateau to the south. Working his way south toward the end of the valley, he turned his back on the ridge in the vicinity of Oak Grove to cross Suck Creek Mountain and the Raccoon Mountain pumped storage facility. A thermal at Raccoon Mountain took him to 3500 over and gave him the downwind glide to Lookout Mountain, which he intersected at Covenant College. From there he ran the ridge down to Lookout Mountain Flight Park where he saw Dale McCartney coming in from across the valley at ridge height. Still in radio contact, Steve stayed high and waited there for Dale to find some altitude. When he took something to 2500 over, they proceeded to Cloudland Canyon, but Dale lost most of his gain in the gap crossing and had to run for the Lookout LZ. Steve lost 2000 in the crossing but made it to the front ridge and the next thermal half way to Rising Fawn. Cutting the corner at Rising Fawn with 2000 over, he ran downwind to the back ridge across Johnson's Crook and only spent a grand getting there. After that it was a ridge run to Fort Payne, Alabama, where one last thermal gave him 2500 over and enough altitude to cross a wooded area with nothing clear but railroad tracks and land in a nice, long, narrow field. To make it perfect, his excellent crew consisting of Al Slatten and Kenny Sandifer were waiting to watch him land with refreshment in hand. The witnessed landing was at 5:45, making this a three hour and fifteen minute flight over sixty-five miles through three states. In the east, that's epic!

The forecast calls for breakfast associated with the ECC Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at the firehall, followed by spaghetti dinner Friday night at Henson's. In the weather look for a good chance of precip associated with a slow moving low through Wednesday. Thursday appears most promising with the best chance of some kind of postfrontal attitude, northerly winds, and the stuff we like. If we're lucky we'll get the light N to NE Friday and L&V or southerly with good convection Saturday, but that big lump in the jet stream out west sure looks threatening. See you in the sky!