Tennessee Tree Toppers

Sequatchie Skies
by Dan Shell
June 23, 1997

The summer solstice was Saturday so we're amid the longest days of the year. These are days when pilots potato on the ramp in dread fear of going to the bottom in the mid day heat. For those whose attention, skill, and fortune result in the elusive thermal encounter, the reward may be the cool breeze at cloudbase thousands of feet over the mountain. On very special days cooling with the lowering sun causes the valley to release its store of solar energy in a breath of smoothly rising air we call a wonder wind. It can allow easy floating all over the valley 'til sundown, which may make it difficult to find a place still open for the celebratory dinner after landing and breaking down at dark.

Even with all these delightful elements, however, it seems the most common summer forecast is "southwest and stable." Phil Proctor, Matt Wagner, and a few others went to the Southwest Site Friday to take advantage of just such a day. Phil went to the bottom while Matt and a few others scratched around and stayed up. Mark Furst's friend Bearded Bob reported an utter cessation of lift below ridge level. Max altitude gain was around 600 over, characteristic of SW days.

When we're lucky those SW days are a portent of frontal passage and improving conditions. This week we were very lucky. The forecast map showed a stalled front to our north, winds from SW to W, and a thermal index which flatly denied a climb much above launch. Nevertheless, Sunday was a gift. Phil launched early and disappeared around the corner to the right. Launch lizards in line were very interested in how he was doing and there was an audible moan on the mountain when he reappeared scratching low over the trees out front. He ultimately got up and was at cloudbase all over the place later in the afternoon. Mark Furst wasn't so fortunate, scratching too low to make it back to the primary LZ and landing out a couple of fields south. Jeff Laughrey also went to the field early but caught a ride with Buddy Cutts, relaunched, and skyed. Lift was a smooth 100-200 feet per minute when it could be found, but it wasn't everywhere. I had a low save over the secondary ridge which put me in a gaggle high over launch. As that cycle ended the ridge got crowded and just a little turbulent so I went out front preferring to work smooth lift below launch to ratty, crowded lift above it. With the next cycle I climbed back over launch, rejoined the gaggle, and accompanied them to a dark cloudbase at around 2500 over. When the color of it made us nervous we ran back out front, a regatta of sky sails breaking into sunlight. It included Jeff Laughrey, John Lawton, Steve and Kathy Lee, Phil Proctor, Tom Prouhet, Matt Wagner, and others. Curly Dunn was less nervous, climbing to around 4500 over, about 2000 above cloudbase. Buddy Cutts took advantage of the late afternoon wonder for his second soaring flight while Jeff Laughrey, Ned Stelzel and I continued to take the occasional thermal to a grand over. Chris Smith joined Buddy on the ridge after we landed. The oldest and the newest Henson's pilots had the ridge to themselves.

The forecast calls for light southerly winds Wednesday under partly cloudy skies. Increasing cloudiness through Friday with increasing chance of showers and thunderstorms Thursday and Friday. SW Thursday. SW to W Friday. W to NW with scattered cumulus Saturday. See you in the sky!