Tennessee Tree Toppers

Sequatchie Skies
by Dan Shell
August 25, 1997

We were in the dog days of August during the 127 Yard Sale, ahead of a stationary front spinning up low pressure disturbances and drawing warm, moist air from the gulf. Heat and humidity degrade the performance of any wing, which means it's a quick ride to the field on a stable, sticky afternoon. But even August has its days. An unseasonably energetic system moved onto the map last week to sweep away the remnants of the last dead front and return a little kick to the air.

On Monday a low pressure trough dropped south of the front and past us. Ned Stelzel, Charlie Yowell, and I enjoyed the resulting wonder wind. It was the perfect air for swoopin' and divin'. Five hundred over was easy just flying slow, but the lift band was narrow so altitude could be burned pretty quick pretty close.

The front didn't get shoved real good 'til Wednesday. By Thursday it was postfrontal, westerly, and strong. A lot of people flew early enough to report getting to cloudbase around 4000 over launch. Curly Dunn reported working to more than 2000 above cloudbase for a max altitude gain around 6200 over. I launched too late for any of the real high stuff, but with this velocity ridge lift alone went to almost 1000 over. It was sunny and with plenty of daylight left I tried to talk Phil Proctor into going XC with me. He had been in the air for over three hours and meant to be out of it soon. Progress upwind down the valley was slow, but tolerable. Gap crossings weren't high, but comfortable. An hour of mostly pointing brought me to the Suck Creek water tower. Turning around for the easy, downwind, return trip home brought a discovery. It wouldn't be downwind or easy. The wind had switched along the way so it would be at least as hard to get back. The first two gaps were more challenging going north as velocity seemed to increase. In the cross, the southern north face of the 127 gap was working well, but venturiphobia enticed me across the gap before getting to the back. With 400 remaining at the opposite ridge, I turned toward the corner to get hammered in the compression zone. Making no forward but lots of downward progress I turned and ran back across to work the other side. On the second attempt I crossed farther out and barely made it. Nerve racking. By the time I got back to launch just before dark, it was blown out. It was even hard to get to the field.

The wind blew hard straight through the night and into the next day. Friday brought many reports of cloudbase contact around 5000 over. Kenny Sandifer got there as late as 4:30 on his way to Pitts Gap up the ridge. Phil Proctor made it to the fire tower north and Curly Dunn landed about a mile north of the Hwy 111 East Valley Road exit.

Saturday was the third consecutive day with northerly wind. The clean blue sky with beautiful benign cumulus and a cool edge on the air hint at fall's approach. Days like this on a weekend are bound to bring out the heat hibernators with XC in their eyes. As promising as it looked early, though, it wasn't a gimme and several went more or less directly to the field, me included. Just to add injury to insult, I blew out a knee in the process, so thanks to Rick Jacob, Paul Donahue, and Guy Freeman for all their help. While waiting for everyone to do everything for me I listened to reports of several pilots going over the back toward Lookout at the southern end of the valley. Ben DeGaris, Curly Dunn, Jeff Laughrey, Steve Lee, Phil Proctor, and Matt Wagner made it to the Lookout Mountain Flight Park LZ near Trenton, Georgia. Kathy Lee landed on Sand Mountain. Kenny Sandifer landed at Big Daddy's near I-24 and the river. Buddy Cutts and James Anderson got a couple of hours in a sweet wonder before sunset.

It wasn't blowing much Sunday morning and Buddy and James got sled runs early. Tom Bell, Allan Bloodworth, Mark Gibson, and Judy Hildebrand joined a bunch of the aforementioned regulars and skied at around 5500 over. John Lawton reported that it turned on about 3:30 and was soarable until at least 7:00. If an indication off just how good it's been is required, he also reported getting fourteen hours in the last four days.

The forecast calls for a slight chance of a thunderstorm Tuesday night or Wednesday. Otherwise partly cloudy with lows in the upper 60s and highs in the upper 80s. Clearing to mostly sunny with a high in the lower 90s Friday. Good convection with temperature differential in the mid 20s. Wind W Thursday and more northerly by Friday. A repeat of last weekend would be just fine. The knee's immobilized so I won't be there with you, but I'll keep a lookout and maybe... See you in the sky!