Day 8 at Montague

Finishing on the ninth day… this happened:

And once we landed, this happened:

My notes from the morning’s weather briefing:

    More moist atmosphere
    Minor s.w. trough approaching coast
    Primes mid-level moisture and instability
    Might cause 5PM TS w/ 41K' tops
    Convergence will be further south

    115 to 130 thermal heights @ Shasta med lake
    Similar str. to yesterday.

So, on the bright side: plenty of strong lift. When the atmosphere is unstable, it means two things: masses of buoyant air will be found below the altitudes where they “want” to float, and there’s nothing (like a temperature inversion… or a roof) to stop them from making the climb. Ride them up in your glider: whee! Fun day!

Better yet, turns out there’s moisture in the air today, so in contrast with the “blue days” we’ve seen during the contest, today the rising air will lift water that builds clouds. So the lift is marked—no more guessing where to go to stay in the sky.

On the not-so-bright side: there’s lots of instability, and lots of moisture. The clouds turn into thunderstorms. We were told to expect a storm in the Shasta Valley around 5 PM: the Weather Service said so, the models said so, and contest weatherman Walt Rogers said so too.

The task committee decided to send us eastward: lift was forecast to be good, and we’d only have to face the bad weather on the way back home.

Staged for launchJOY is the first in line to launch today, so we are sent on a “sniffer” mission to verify that the sky can indeed hold gliders in the air. No worries today—getting up is easy.

The task sends us on a quick sprint down the Marbles, on the western side of the Scott Valley.

Mountains near Wright turnpointWhat had been a strenuous trek in heat and poverty days ago felt like coasting down a freeway today. Bouncing off of a turnpoint buried in the Scott Valley’s southwest corner, we made the long crossing over the Shasta Valley at speed, stretching for a band of thick cumulus build-up on the shoulders of its namesake peak:

More delights were in store. The convergence mentioned in my weather notes had set up a cloud street (a line of cumulus clouds) almost directly on course to the next turnpoint. All of them seemed to be sucking up air with great alacrity, burgeoning in their adolescence. High times. JOY raced along with RV and YO, diving through rising air, climbing without circling.

At last the clouds ended, but the lift did not. We pressed ahead over a landscape of dry sinks and brush fires:

Out into the blue 20140702_145403_438It turned out that although we had chosen a decent line of lift during this part of the task, YO had chosen an excellent one: a path more centered on the active region of the convergence. While YO flew high and fast, JOY had to slow down to sidestep to YO’s line for the final glide back to Montague. The hazy air under overdeveloped cumulus congestus—the adolescents had gorged themselves into a tottering middle age—did not inspire confidence during the transition.

But once we had completed the switch, it was back on the highway again. We neared the Shasta Valley and began to pick out shafts of rain and—whoa there!—occasional lightning. Distant, and yes, right on schedule, but still unsettling.

Showers near ShastaShowers in the Shasta ValleyWe hustled ourselves back onto the ground. Whereupon, grapeshot drops of rain and chickpea-sized hail. See videos at top.


JOY is in third place by a single point. Tomorrow is the last day—we will need to work hard to achieve a spot on the podium.

One thought on “Day 8 at Montague

  1. Day 9 at Montague – Stepleton 34

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.