Have you ever wondered what it would be like to see northern Greenville County from high above, like the birds that hover over us? Adventure-seekers who hang glide off Glassy Mountain don’t have to wonder. They actually do it.
Glassy Mountain — which rises to about 2,700 feet — serves as the home base and launching point for the official South Carolina Hang Gliding Association.
Here, skilled hang gliding pilots soar and rise over the hills of Greenville and Pickens Counties and see this stunning landscape in ways that are hard to imagine from our perspective below.
“We fly relatively slow and have a full, wide-open view to our front, sides, and below,” says Steve Tedstone, one of the leaders of the South Carolina Hang Gliding Association. “For the most part, hang gliding is a floating experience with a panoramic view like no other.”
The South Carolina Hang Gliding Association has been active for nearly 40 years, hosting frequent launches from Glassy Mountain in Landrum on pleasant South Carolina days. From their launch point on the peak, pilots take off towards the south, where they depend on warm air rising from the ground for lift.
It might surprise those outside of hang gliding, but strong winds are not that welcome for hang gliders. The power of these flights comes from the subtle interaction of rising warm air meeting the cooler air higher up.
Spring and autumn are the best seasons here in the Upstate for flying, and volatile summer is the worst time.
Flights can last as little as 15 minutes and as long as an hour. Even two hours can happen, depending on the hang glider’s skill level, general conditions, and just the luck of the day.
Glassy Mountain is rated for H-3 level hang gliders or above, meaning it is of a medium difficulty level for this sport. Any visiting flyers must be current with their U.S. Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association (USHPA) membership; sign waivers; bring a working reserve parachute; and be accompanied by a local, experienced pilot.
So how does Steve describe what it’s like to pilot up there?
“The air is like the ocean. It can be super smooth or incredibly rough,” says Steve. “On a rough, white-knuckle day, lots of turbulence, flying can be quite terrifying and landing even worse. On a good, smooth day, it is a euphorian experience that you want to experience again and again.”
The hang gliding site at Glassy primarily serves pilots from South Carolina and northeast Georgia. While there are technically better sites for pilots at places like Lookout Mountain, near Chattanooga, or in several places in Virginia, soaring over our South Carolina foothills has its own rewards.
“Springtime is best: warm air on launch, but very cold if you manage to climb 5,000 feet over the mountaintop, which can happen on a good spring day if you are a skillful pilot. Trees are lush green, hundreds of dogwoods are blooming, and bright grey rock cliffs glisten in the sunlight,” says Steve. “The view is quite beautiful, especially if you gain enough altitude to look down on the Greenville watershed.”
If you meet the South Carolina Hang Gliding Associations’ requirements, you too can soar over the closed-off forest of our watershed, see the trees and hills from above like a soaring hawk, and experience the thrill of the sport from this unique South Carolina location.
And even if you’re not a pilot, and you just happen to see one of these gliders soaring above as you drive along northern Greenville’s backroads, then know that someone is having the thrill of a lifetime, a dream in the air.
“Hang gliding is a dream come true. Almost everyone dreams of floating around in the air as a child. When flying a hang glider, this becomes a reality,” says Steve.
To learn more, visit the South Carolina Hang Gliding Association’s website.
Writer: Jason Greer
Editor: Celeste Hawkins
Photography: South Carolina Hang Gliding Association