Over the Back


Mon Sep 22, 2008 3:00 am

Overlook Mountain sits at the southeast corner of the Catskill Mountains rising above the Hudson River Valley. It has been flown since the early days of the sport, but to the best of my knowledge no one has flown a hang glider there in a decade or more. I have been pestering the locals the past year or so about all the others sites within a few hours drive. This one was always recalled fondly by anyone who had ever flown it. There was just one problem. The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation had purchased most of the land, and closed the road to the top. Hiking in was the only way to launch now. This would require some sweat equity. A little over two miles in, and 1400 feet up.

I added it to my wish list, and waited. This past Saturday everything came together. Cool autumn air so I would avoid heat exhaustion, and thunderstorms. A gentle southeast wind, clear skies, and all on my day off. I dropped a post to our local list inviting others to join me on my lark. Dave C. and I met up at the base of the mountain in the town of Woodstock(Yes that one). We packed up my car and headed for the trail head. I had a compact kayak carrier, that would fold up and fit in my harness. We lashed our gliders and harnesses to it and began our trek.

After only a hundred yards it became clear that this would not work. While the monstrosity would roll smoothly back and forth, it still required us to drag the it uphill. Between two gliders, harnesses, water, lunch, various electronica, and the carrier itself, we were pulling 200 lbs. We shuffled gear, walked 30 yards, reshuffled, walked a little more, until we split the load in two. Dave took the harnesses and set off for the summit. I got the glider rickshaw. The next two hours were a blur of burning calves, and growing thirst, as my water was in the harness bag with Dave. The main relief was my sudden rockstar status. Every hiker that passed me, stared perplexed at the ungainly contraption, until I uttered the magic words.


Then the trail magic began. I would set my load down for a minute, and while I caught my breath, I answered their questions. Most wuffos on the east coast have never seen a hang glider in person, so they tend to be in awe. You can't help but soak it in and rediscover the initial wonder that drew you to this sport in the first place. Then just as quickly they would continue on up the trail and I would resume my slog, but renewed by the encounter.

Eventually I reached the ruins of the overlook hotel just below the summit. I set my load down just as a hiker headed down the mountain brought me water. Dave had reached the summit, and sent it down with them for me. I sucked back the liter in two swigs, and headed out to find Dave. I was operating on the memory of pilots who had not been here in 10 or 20 years. When I came across a side trail that vaguely matched a recollection, I veered off into the brush. Twenty yards on I came to a clearing in the forest with a steep drop off. I had found one of the launches!

I had also found that some trees had grown up to block it. It would only require a small pair of lopers and about 30 minutes to get it ready to launch, IF I had permission from NYS DEC. With a heavy heart I resumed my hike to the summit and the fire tower.

Where I found Dave walking down to meet me. We broke out the food and ate under the tower. I don't remember what it was, just that it was amazingly good. We then climbed the tower to check out the topography and the true wind direction. Dave had talked with the fire tower stewards and gotten directions to the old cliff launch. My spirits lifted, we set off down the trail to retrieve the gliders and get setup at the cliff. The hikers at the summit were buzzing as we gathered our gear by the cliff. Dave and I began to tune them out as we focused on our preparations. That's when Murphy struck. Dave discovered that one of his base tube bolts had fallen off, and we had no spares.


My heart sank as I looked at Dave. We had no safe Plan B for him. Then Dave did an amazing thing. In an instant, he put it behind him, and focused on helping me get ready to go.

Just back from the cliff is a small area where people camp, that will allow no more than two gliders at a time. Even then you have to thread them through trees to get to the cliff.

As I setup up thermal cycles blew straight in to the cliff and rustled the trees overhead. My breathing slowed as I forced myself to relax, focus on my routines, and ignore the gathering crowd. By the time I was pre-flighted, hang checked and ready to go, dozens of hikers had packed the cliff area.

While moments before, during my hang check the conditions were perfect and straight in, I was greeted with a cross wind as I moved to launch. The wuffos oohed with each step closer to the precipice. I approached with trepidation. This was to be my first cliff launch, and I would only go if ideal conditions resumed. Dave had cliff launched many times before at Talcott mountain. Yet we were practically pioneering a new site. Hazy memories and a decade worth of vegatation growth, made it so. I would launch if everything was just right. I spent the next half hour perched on that cliff, watching the winds hold true at a 90 degree cross. Eventually, I backed off and made the decision to break down. The chance of a cycle before sunset was becoming more and more remote, and I did not want us stuck hiking out in the dark.

The next day, as the memory of the hike receded into a hazy memory, Dave and I agreed that, one day, we would go back.

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PostPosted: Mon Sep 22, 2008 10:14 pm    Post subject:    

Very well written, if a bit anticlimactic. Sorry you did not get to fly, I will look forward to your return and the flight(s). thumbsup popcorn
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PostPosted: Tue Sep 23, 2008 5:19 am    Post subject:    

I was supposed to be on that trip...Yep you guessed it! I wussed out. With the slightest possibility of sneaking off of Ellenville mountain, (one in a million is a chance) I decided to stick it out in E-ville. End result-no heart attack, but no memories of mountains conquered and hard decisions made. Way to go Tom and Dave you guys are fricken ANIMALS!!!
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PostPosted: Tue Sep 23, 2008 5:30 am    Post subject:    

Awesome, even if you did'nt get to fly.

Let me know when I got the skills to join you next time you go up!!!
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PostPosted: Tue Sep 23, 2008 6:35 am    Post subject:    

Oh MANNNN! Talk about coitus interruptus!!! I was on the edge of my desk chair!! You guys are animals!! way to go, and now you've blazed the trail for the next time! Good conservative decision making though. Great photos- what a day!
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PostPosted: Tue Sep 23, 2008 6:43 am    Post subject:    

That must had been the toughest decision not to go. Good for you! Being safe is much better, too bad it was such a long hike. That is the chance you took and you could had been rewarded. Sorry it was not to be.

Next time!

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PostPosted: Tue Sep 23, 2008 8:03 am    Post subject:    

This sounds great, sounds like my kind of place. I wanna join you on some subsequent attempt. How are the LZ prospects?

(Put the control bar in the bag!)
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Joined: 03 Feb 2008
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PostPosted: Tue Sep 23, 2008 1:47 pm    Post subject:    

Wow Tom, you truly are pioneers after so many years have gone by. Can only imagine the anxiety and anticipation you must have felt prior to calling it off. Kudos to you for making the hard but right choices. Next time you decide to go, I'd love to come along (not to fly of course) just to help out.

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PostPosted: Tue Sep 23, 2008 6:33 pm    Post subject:    

What do you mean anticlimactic?

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PostPosted: Wed Sep 24, 2008 6:04 am    Post subject:    

Ah, man! Yeah, I know how Lobido feels. It was a great story and well written and I was looking forward to more about a great first cliff launch and an epic flight. So yeah, it was a bit anticlimactic as stories go but no doubt you made a good choice. You definitely need to get back up there so you can finish this story in proper fashion. thumbsup

Thanks for sharing.
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PostPosted: Wed Sep 24, 2008 9:02 am    Post subject:    

I know (first hand) the desire for ending with a epic flight, but that a story for another day. This one was a tragedy. Wink
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PostPosted: Thu Sep 25, 2008 6:20 pm    Post subject:    

Incredible story! I've recently gone on a few hikes thinking Oooh... I could launch here, or there... maybe land over there..

Definately takes some serious presence of mind to work that hard and still decide to break down and slog everything back down the hill, but it'll make it even better once you do get to fly there!

Thanks for sharing!
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