This morning’s wind took its sweet time making up its mind and when finally it did it surged hard in a way that was probably inadvisable to fly for non-experts. Also I was sleeping. Minor detail. The evening’s forecast seemed promising for a northside session but by the time it rolled around the wind was weak and I calibrated my expectations accordingly, anticipating a “sled ride” or two to the bottom and an opportunity to practice spot landing accuracy.
We took a moment at the outset to do a practical review of reserve chute inspection and stowing. I had wanted to this for a while but kept forgetting to ask until I had already strapped into my harness. With wind conditions of the uninspiring kind, this afternoon seemed like a good opportunity. Also my reserve chute was very much on my mind given that on Thursday I had a moment where it might well have proved useful.
After kitting up I declared I would attempt to land on the game trail at the bottom of the hill where I had landed on my first northside flight some time ago. I jumped back once to fully unfurl the wing and then made another go with the A’s to accomplish an effortless reverse inflation and immediately spun forward and started jogging from near the parking lot’s edge to the ledge. There really wasn’t much to it. The wing dumped to the left a few times but on each occasion I ran left to get under it and jammed decisively on my right brake toggle. As I reached the precipice I had to sporadically fight a little bit but not much. In quick order I was off.
Now, mind you, while I did not struggle technically on this launch the experience still proved physically exerting. By the time my feet were whizzing over the ground post-launch I was sucking wind hard which piled onto the cognitive load of the low wind conditions causing events to unfold quickly. I wiggled into my harness while maintaining my initial launch trajectory then banked left to begin tracking the hill. As my breathing normalized I began looking over my right shoulder to begin thinking about the timing of my 180 degree turn toward my landing zone. I suspect I relied overly much on looking at the features immediately to my right and extrapolating based on memory what I needed to do. When I finished rolling through my right turn I realized I had set myself up too high but did not love my options for dealing with it. In hindsight I probably should have taken a more winding track to bleed off altitude. I landed gently and into the wind but about 100 feet long of where I intended and as reward got my lines nicely entangled in some brush. Bleh.
On the ride back to the top I reflected on what I imagined my biggest mistake was, one that I made before I even got started, specifically a failure to survey the landing area pre-launch. I was over-confident in my memory of the layout when I had only flown to such a landing once previously and even then weeks earlier. My poor accuracy was, I think, in large measure the result of poor planning, and that was completely unnecessary.
Upon arriving back at the top I rushed out to the field in hopes of a second launch. I hustled over to the ledge to refresh my site picture and then ran back up to my gear and… decided to call it a night. As I looked at the windsock it would mostly seem workable like the first flight but also sporadically swing to a slightly southerly direction. Visions of a canopy collapse just as my feet came off the ground danced in my head and I decided that spending ten minutes disentangling my wing from brush was the kind of thing I only felt like doing once this evening. They can’t all be as magical as last night but if you pay attention there is always something to learn.