Tennessee Tree Toppers

Sequatchie Skies
by Dan Shell
August 11, 1997

In the summer, any breeze blowing into the ramp at all is appreciated. Wind approaching any velocity quickens the pilot's pulse. The sound of leaves shaking in the trees accompanies the klink of aluminum and the rasp of quickly unfolded dacron. Launch demands full attention, but finding lift early needs a little too.

Phil Proctor, Ned Stelzel, and I turned right after launching Monday to work the descending north face, the safe bet on such days. We were maintaining no more than a couple of hundred over when Ned hooked one in the bowl just around the left corner. I joined the thermal below Ned. Phil got in below me and we all went to around 2800 over. John Lawton hastened his preparations and launched to join the thermal but went to the field in the down cycle instead. After topping out, Phil and Ned moved west out into the valley. Seeing they were finding nothing, I returned to the origin of the first thermal and found another. When it failed to develop we began searching and working zero sink in the gap. Ned circled over the overlook while Phil went out over the field and eventually landed. John called my attention to Ned's quickening climb rate so I joined him for a ride to almost 3000 over the SW site.

It looked so good Tuesday there was big XC talk in the setup area. I hoped to fly a while then land in Dunlap for a 6:00 appointment. Gary Thompson had a scary launch and Phil reported rowdy conditions. Steve and Kathy Lee and Ned also launched early enough to get some of the turbulence. Velocity had dropped by the time I launched but I still encountered considerable turbulence low. It wasn't easy to find anything to get above the trash, so blundering into widespread strong lift over the north face was a real relief. I didn't notice what we were climbing toward until Ned flew close enough to shout a warning and point to the sky. We were in light cloud suck ascending to a black bottom. With good sun in a blue hole on the upwind side and good lift on the downwind, I turned south to outrun it. Keeping to the downwind edge, I climbed to 3500 over and drifted past the 127 gap. As Phil reported making Suck Creek I turned back upwind to cross the valley under what was now a cloud street reaching well into the Cumberland Plateau... and stopped!

With the velocity at that altitude any progress on an upwind leg was impossible. There might as well have been a wall in the sky. Turning downwind and moving with the lift simplified staying in it considerably, but I was likely to miss my appointment. John and Steve reported landing at the Marion County Airport as I approached Suck Creek. The last knob before the ridge was visible when Phil announced intentions to land in a field below it near Mineral Springs. Kathy Lee landed a couple of fields north of that. Gary Thompson was still soaring the knob when I came in on final glide, still outrunning the black vacuum. We both landed with Kathy 'cause she'd picked a much better field than Phil. Thanks to Ned on retrieve. He was there before we finished breaking down.

The forecast calls for continued southerly winds in advance of a front which should bring increased chances for precipitation by midweek. Good chance of thunderstorms through Thursday. Clearing Friday with day night temp differential approaching twenty degrees, suggesting good convection. If our luck holds the front will move far enough south to bring us NW winds. Stop by the 127 Sale on the way to the mountain and we'll... See you in the sky!