Sequatchie Badge & Record Camp


ROUTES OF INTEREST

The first Sequatchie mission is the obvious one: follow the east side of the valley north to Hinch Mountain VOR and back.  To do this in ridge lift, you’ll need the right wind:  Ideal would be something like 15 to 20 knots from 310 degrees, but winds within 30 or even 40 degrees of this (if sufficiently strong and steady) should work fine.  For the first half of this trip the ridge behaves itself, but around Dunlap it starts to become more broken and meandering, requiring more attention of a glider pilot. 

You’ll particularly notice this on days when the wind direction isn’t ideal: as you enter a gully (like the one that contains the Pikeville switchback) one side is favored by the wind and offers enhanced lift, while the other is suppressed.  If the wind angle is sufficiently oblique, one side may have no lift at all, or even sink.  You can deal with this by gaining extra height in the wind-favored sections. Pilots who pay close attention to the wind and its trends do a better job of anticipating its effects and thus tend to stay in the air longer and make faster progress.

You can extend your ridge flight north of the Hinch Mountain VOR: a short upwind jump takes you to Brady Mountain, a good ridge (though with dubious landability) for another 5 miles or so.  Beyond that, things get tough, but it is possible to cross I-40 near the town of Crab Orchard and fly a short section of Big Rock Mountain. Ridge flying in this area is definitely not recommended for most pilots.

If you’re lucky enough to have a fair-weather day with east to southeast winds (such days are rare), the west ridge becomes attractive.  It’s a bit trickier than the east ridge: to pass areas north of Whitwell and near Dunlap, some thermal help is usually required, and the northernmost section is probably too low for full comfort unless the wind is rock solid.  So this is a choice best suited to pilots with a decent level of ridge experience.

Ridge lift is great, but not essential.  On some days the wind strength isn’t enough for reliable ridge soaring, and pilots who insist on trying to use this may find themselves struggling, or on the ground.  But even a weak wind blowing onto a ridge can significantly enhance and concentrate thermal lift, making a thermal flight along the wind-favored high ground the right strategy. There have probably been about as many trips to the VOR in thermals as in ridge lift.

After you’ve flown up and down the valley a few times, you may want to venture further afield.  Lookout Mountain, south of Chattanooga, is one obvious choice.  But the long jump there from the Sequatchie Valley, with its limited landing options, means this transition should not be undertaken lightly.  Once on Lookout Mountain you’ll find it a well-shaped, high and scenic ridge (but take careful note of airspace issues at its north end, discussed in Appendix C, below).  About 20 miles from the north end you encounter the Rising Fawn gap, which, because it’s a downwind transition, is easily passed when headed south.

Beyond that gap the ridge retains a good shape, but both its height and the landing options at its base decline, and an upwind ridge rises to about the same height.  Past Fort Payne, you are into “experts only” territory – there had best be not the slightest doubt that the wind is a solid 20+ knots and sure to stay that way.  Provided your nerves stand it, you can continue another 30 miles or so, almost to Gadsden AL.  The grim landability is relieved by an airstrip at one point – but on a 350’ ridge, it doesn’t stay within reach for long. 

You were probably sensible and turned around north of Fort Payne.  Back at the Rising Fawn gap you have an into-wind transition of 3 miles, but that requires only a modest thermal climb.  Once back on the northern part of Lookout Mountain the real work begins: your return to the Sequatchie Valley involves an upwind transition of something like 12 miles over terrain that offers plenty of trees and water, but limited landability.  Fortunately, lift streets are common here; the idea is to find a good climb off the ridge, then head upwind along one.  Cumulus clouds are a big help, but lift streeting is normal even on blue days. During upwind transitions, it’s important to retain the option of a safe glide back to the ridge behind you – so you must watch your progress and know when you are reaching the point of no return: don’t pass this until you are sure your upwind goal is in reach.

A promising route that has received limited attention is the extension of the valley south into Alabama.  Here the eastern ridge retains a good shape and height, but has more downright gaps that require thermal help (the largest of which is the first one: from Inman Point across Nickajack Lake), and the wide & wet Tennessee River at its base.  Landability is generally good provided the river-bottom fields are acceptably dry (which is by no means always the case in early Spring).  The furthest practical point for ridge pilots is probably the ridge just south of the small town of Langston, about 45 miles from Marion County Airport.

If you are an adventurous pilot with some experience of mountain flying, a route of interest on a good thermal day is to head northwest to the high ground near Monteagle and Sewanee.  This looks as if it could be formidable, but, for a pilot with the discipline to safely constrain his route, is made much less so by the good agricultural fields along the route of I-24. Having reached the area of Sewanee you are in touch with lots of friendly landing terrain; you can work thermals off high ground that extends southwest toward Huntsville AL and north toward McMinville TN.  The easy route home is often to return to Sewanee and follow I-24 back toward the Sequatchie Valley.

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Sarah Arnold,
Feb 11, 2020, 7:12 PM
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Sarah Arnold,
Feb 11, 2020, 7:12 PM
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Sarah Arnold,
Feb 11, 2020, 7:13 PM
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Sarah Arnold,
Feb 11, 2020, 7:13 PM
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Sarah Arnold,
Feb 11, 2020, 7:14 PM