The Flight of a Lifetime:
The Crossing of Two Ridges
Launches began at 1:30. We trolled the ridge looking for something, Brian and Steve were finding some stuff to work. At probably 2:00 or 2:15 they found the good one south of the towers. I was low (just slightly above the ridge) but trekked on down to join them. 400-600 fpm up and drifting back under a cloud. How sweet! (Click for map.) Straining my neck to try and find them, I finally see Brian 1-2K over me and heading off to the right, and Steve lower, out in the valley and heading east. The radios weren't of much use -- mine was not working well and Brian and Steve had ptt complications. I made one last attempt to reach them as I watched them fly out of view, not to be seen or heard from again for the rest of the flight.
At this point I had cleared both the Pulpit ridges and was still under the cloud and maybe 3K over (5K msl). Looking around there were some small clouds to the south, clouds about a third to half way across the valley, a cloud to the north. The entire High Rock ridge was clouded over, and there were no clouds past that. I wasn't at all sure that I could reach the clouds out in the valley. The clouds to the right (SE) were more on course than the cloud to the north, but the cloud to the north looked so much healthier, as did all the clouds up that way. I picked the cloud that was the closest and the biggest, even though it was crosswind and not really on course.
I was sinking at 4-500 fpm heading for the cloud over the foothills north of Route 30, until finally I felt the familiar flutter of the wing indicating the nearness of lift. What a relief! A couple minutes and a few thousand feet later I was on easy street at 7K msl drifting SE. (click to update map)
Having never been over the back and high before, it took a while to get my bearings. Being up by Route 30 the terrain was unfamiliar. I couldn't find Lamar Road (there's lots of roads that look like it!) and couldn't even figure out which town was which. I particularly wanted to pinpoint Route 16 to avoid the airspace. I finally figured out that the big town east on route 30 was Chambersburg. It wasn't until I got closer that could see I-81, Route 11, and finally, Route 16.
I crossed I-81 between Chambersburg and Greencastle and caught another thermal there. I flew south around Waynesboro thinking that would put me within a glide of Emma Jane's field. It looked like I would make my goal -- to land in the High Rock lz! I was between 5K and 7K msl on the entire trek across the valley. (It was really easy.) (map)
I was surprised that I wasn't able to see Emma Jane's field. It was even hard to pinpoint High Rock on the ridge. Once I got the towers in view then High Rock was easy to spot. It seemed so far away! I had never been up this far north from High Rock and decided to explore it for a while. I also decided to see how high I could get (not having bothered going to cloudbase). I got to 8K (highest ever) and had enough. Still not to cloudbase. I kept thinking things should look smaller from this altitude, but they didn't.
Somewhere during this time I thought about Brian and Steve and wondered where they were. I looked across the ridge to the east. Hah, that jump would be nothing to them. It would hardly be a blip in their path. For heaven's sake, they're probably in Baltimore by now!
Hmmm, crossing the ridge, now this is something I hadn't considered. What would it take to cross? I was 6K msl and well north of the Camp David prohibited airspace. Hmm, there's even some fields in the gap. That certainly makes it a lot easier. Of course, landing there would be rotor city, but, heh, at least there's fields. Wow, look how close Emmitsburg is!
I trolled around studying the situation for a long time. This was not a task to be taken lightly. There was a huge open area north and west of Emmitsburg that seemed the best place to bail out if need be, and there was a cloud to the north that might provide some additional altitude. On the other side of the ridge the sky was skuzzed over. No cumies or hope of cumies.
The cloud to the north provided some lift, though nothing spectacular. At this point I was north of Route 16. I decided that the best track across from there would be to head from the cloud and split the difference between the open area north and Emmitsburg. After hanging out with that cloud for a while the whole task seemed a little less daunting. I left at 6500-7K msl. (map)
The sink was moderate. Halfway through the crossing I realized I wouldn't need the bailout so changed my course to follow the road. (Pennsylvania Route 16 becomes Route 140 in Maryland.) There were no clouds to chase, and nothing appeared likely to trigger thermals without sunshine. I didn't expect to be in the air much longer, and landing by the road would make things easier.
Well, sure enough, there was another thermal, though it was nothing like the previous ones (good to 4500 msl). And then another (smaller, weaker) one, and I was on my way past Taneytown. (map)
Things started to get pretty congested toward Westminster, the lift was pretty marginal, and I didn't know what the restrictions were around the airport there. I landed west of Baugher's Orchard on Route 140 between Taneytown and Westminster in a field that turned out to be 65% downhill, making tweaking into the remainder a little bit of a challenge(!). 51.5 miles, 2:40, 8K.
A few side notes:
* Lack of preparation was not a key factor in this flight. I dressed warmly, had enough water, had a working vario, etc. The sky gods made it possible without having to be fooled(!).
* Steve, Brian and I had exchanged cell phone and voice mail numbers before launching. (Of course, I thought that I would be the one doing the retrieving!) When I landed I reached Steve who was back at launch having landed 10 miles over the back. Brian made it to the High Rock lz for the first time(!), 28.8 miles. Other pilots were flying at High Rock that afternoon. Kelvin lent Brian his vehicle to come get me, Steve met us at High Rock launch and took Brian and me back to the Pulpit. Got to Baltimore by 10:30. Thanks Kelvin, Brian, and Steve! (And thanks, Matthew, for your offer.)
* I very much appreciated the Tangent on this flight, particularly for speed to fly between thermals. It was nice to know I was maximizing the situation without having to calculate best glide in sink, etc.
* For years I've been driving to High Rock from Baltimore along Route 140, surveying potential landing fields along the way. Ironically, it never occurred to me that I would fly as far as I did! I flew over all my preselected fields at 4,000 feet!
* This was a wonderful flight. I feel very fortunate.--Judy