This story sent by Mike Balk to the CHGPA listserv on 11/10/98. The included photo was taken by Mike has he approached Massanutten Peak at the end of his flight.

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It was my first time to run the ridge. Another of my 'goals' has been accomplished! I would like to try it again on an easier day, but anyway, if you would like to hear my story, read on (it's a full page long).

Disclaimer: Hang gliding can be dangerous, conditions can change. Just because it has been done before does not mean that you will make it.

(Don't worry, nothing bad happened, I just wanted to emphasize what everyone should know.)

Woodstock. WNW @ 10 - 15 mph. Cold, low 40s. Tom launched about an hour ahead of me, and I launched soon after John McAllister. With the west cross we decided it was not worth the extra time and risk (risk of sinking out) heading north, so we immediately went towards the gap. Tom had been working unsuccessfully to cross the gap. We all tried a few times unsuccessfully to cross the gap, but then John went out and made it. Tom & I were following, but had to turn back. Tom & I kept trying. I had been trying to go out, and then over, but I got high closer to the gap so I tried it from there. I was climbing slowly most of the way there, and about the time I was committed I was also starting to sink. Sink big. I got to Short Mt. below the ridge. I kept going hoping that as I got around the corner the ridge lift would kick in. After what seemed like forever, but was probably only a couple hundred yards, I stopped sinking, then slowly started to climb.

Whew! There was definitely some pucker factor there, but I knew I had the bail out field available to me. As I headed south, slowing climbing in ridge lift, I saw a bald eagle about a hundred feet below me. Way cool. I heard that Tom and then Mike C. had also crossed the gap behind me. At the end of Short Mountain (Mount Jackson), we boated around waiting to get enough altitude to make it back to the ridge behind us, and the three or four miles down the ridge to the first landable fields. Mike C. was cold, and went out to land (see his story about what happened to him after he landed.) Talk about trees. If you have never been down there, there are a lot of trees. Up and down the main part of the ridge by launch, there are lots of places to land. Not so down south. Up north, there are many fields bigger and better than the primary field - easy to land out. If you don't think your landing skills are up to par, and you can't place it into a small, restricted, textured!! field, think twice about jumping the gap.

So eventually we got to +2400' (over launch) which is only a thousand over the ridge or so, we jumped back. Stopped once or twice to milk out some meager lift and jumped the New Market Gap. Tom was consistently in front of me (I wanted him there so I could see how he did it), and a few hundred feet above me (I didn't want to be lower than him, and I was praying that the altitude difference wasn't enough to cause me to sink out). Gradually gaining altitude (+20fpm on the averager) we headed to the next gap. I was +1300', maybe 700' over the ridge, and on the other side of the gap, the mountain gained about 1000' in elevation. So when I crossed that gap, I was once again below ridge level, again hoping that the ridge lift was still working. Remember all of the trees I mentioned? Well there were even more down here!

The sun was setting, the winds getting lighter (ridge lift working but barely), a long way out to the fields in the valley, and still 10 miles to go to the end of the ridge. With the deadline of darkness coming, there was no time to work what little thermal lift was left. So onward to the last gap before the South Peak. Once again climbing slowly I reached the last gap.

This last gap was incredible. It was huge and horrible, or a piece of cake, depending upon wind direction. Most of the ridge down south faces slightly more W. The last part of the ridge faces NW again. So if there is too much W in the wind, there won't be much ridge lift, and you would be flying through the venturi for the last mile or so. If you had a few thousand feet, no big deal, but at less than 1000 feet over the ridge it could be a big deal. Luckily Tom was above and in front of me. He was doing fine, so I followed. John told us where he had landed, and he recommended making a wide turn around the Peak to avoid the rotor. Watching Tom play in the rotor, I swung even wider. Ever played in rotor? It can be exciting. We just touched the edge of the rotor, and it stopped about 300' above the ground. I can tell you I would not want to be blown over the back and feel the full brunt of the rotor. The field John was waiting for us in was nice and big, sloping uphill into the wind - what could be better! Landed on my feet (I have witnesses) for a perfect end to a great flight.


Launched1:44 pm
Landed3:30 later
Great circle distance38 miles great circle
(my longest flight to date)
Average speed10.97mph
Max speed54mph
2D trip distance72.80 miles
2D avg speed21mph
Max altitude2,457 over launch
Max lift+429fpm
Max sink-615

Hope you enjoyed the narrative.

Mike Balk