Friday, April 30, 2010

Roll on May....

I've been in St Andre for most of April (I spent a few days in Scotland last weekend) and the flying has been pretty poor. Only 4 flights and 3 skunks. There were plenty of other days when I could have flown by going up the hill early or late, but I didn't.

Of course, bad flying conditions don't always mean bad weather; almost all the days have been sunny, at least part of the day. So I've had some nice hikes and last night I had my first bike ride here. And my stay in Scotland reminded me that a bad day in the South of France isn't quite the same as a bad day (or even a normal day) in Scotland.

I guess it's a bad sign when your skunks are more interesting than your flights... Each skunk, others flew, though not everyone who did so enjoyed it! Two of the skunks were border line cases - only the third one seemed a 'no brainer', but then 60+ pilots flew in a comp!

The next few days don't look much better, but hopefully things will improve before I head back to the States.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Smart Choice!

As usual, I was awoken by the church bells at 7.00. Instead of going back to sleep I got up this morning to look at the sky. After the previous evening's thunder-storms, all the hills were covered in clouds, but directly overhead the sky was blue. I got up, had a quick breakfast, worked for a couple of hours and started checking the forecasts. Still pretty good, but today had been downgraded to a 3 out of 4 day by a local club. The clouds had burned off the hills, it looked good.

I walked up the hill, wanting to get up early. Just as I arrived on launch, a student launched and had a smooth sled ride down to the LZ; none of that nasty lift stuff to disturb his flight. Hmm, that wasn't part of the plan! There were 5 other pilots on launch, 3 of whom were hoping to go XC. As usual, there were big clouds to the S (caused by the sea breeze from the Med), up to the North it was blue.

Things slowly strengthened. The two non-XC pilots launched, but it was still too early and they headed to the LZ. The first little cummies appeared to the N and shortly after we launched. I spent 5 minutes around launch height before I found a nice thermal (my first of the year) and pretty much rode it for a vertical mile. It was very cold up there (I need to get some good electrically heated gloves!).

I had an evening meeting, and didn't really want an epic retrieve situation. So I had more or less decided to try a triangle (though I was tempted to keep heading North). Surrounded by magnificent views, I thermaled over Cheval Blanc with 3 vultures before heading W to Tartonne. I had hiked there 8 days earlier, and it was interesting to look at my hike from the air. I had hoped to fly back to St Andre along a ridge to the West, but failed to get established on it and ended up landing at Lambruisse. I hiked for about 1 hour before a local took me back to St Andre.


Pics -
Tracklog -

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Smart Choice?

Paragliding is full of decisions. Generally, you've got to make them pretty quickly and with safety in mind - gliders don't come with an Undo button. Today was a different type of decision; a half-decent forecast for today or a better one for tomorrow? A local club's website gave today a 2 out of 4 and tomorrow a 4 out of 4. It would probably have been an easier decision if I had been doing more flying, but conditions have been very poor for the last 2 - 3 weeks. In the end, I worked today with the intention of flying tomorrow.

Today's forecast showed an early afternoon 'window' before showers or storms arrived. The clouds built slowly all afternoon and I didn't see any wings in the air after noon - looking at some wind data I suspect it was too strong to launch. Every 30 minutes or so I would stand out on my terrace and try to work out if I'd made the right choice.

Around 5.30 I stopped working and went for a short hike. It was a very pleasant evening stroll, with huge clouds in every direction and on occasional clap of thunder from the higher hills . I'm now typing after dark and the thunder and lightning show has started. I really hope they finish quickly - I'm hoping for decent flying tomorrow!

More pics of clouds ->

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Showery Hike

Today's forecast wasn't terrible for flying; there was a chance of decent flying for an hour or so before the weather degenerated into showers. But that was the most optimistic reading of the forecasts, so I decided to go for a hike instead. There still is a lot of snow around, so I chose a relatively low hike between 900m - 1400m, to the S of St Andre.

The sky was very blue at the start, but big clouds built quickly before overdeveloping horizontally. There were a lot of showers around but they mostly missed me and I stayed pretty much dry except for a little shower near the end.

Much of the countryside is used as high pasture during the summer months; but right now the sheep are still down below and things are very quite. One of the villages, Blaron, seemed completely deserted - I'm sure it will get a lot more active in the summer.

The hike formed a loop, with some very strange huge statues near the start; you can see some pictures here -> and learn more about the statues here ->

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Lunch Time Flight

The weather has been unsettled and unseasonably cold for the last few days. I managed a hike on Sunday just before some bad weather arrived (see Since then, it has been cold and we've even had snow.

Today was sunny but cold, with a promising flying forecast, but with a threat of showers or storms this afternoon. I had a late afternoon meeting, but wanted a flight so headed up the hill in the late morning. The walk was very pleasant, with increasing amounts of snow, until near the top of the hill. At this point, there is much less shade; so the snow had melted, transforming the ground into super sticky clay. By the time I reached launch, my boots must have weighed 5 kilos each.

It was cold at the top and some big clouds were approaching fast from the south, growing as they did so. I launched quickly and thermaled a few hundred feet over. Cloudbase was maybe 800 ft above launch and the average climb rate was around 800 ft per minute. So as soon as you got in a decent thermal you found yourself rocketing up towards the base of a monster cloud. The clouds just seemed to be growing too quickly and they were too low to easily avoid, so after around 15 minutes I headed out towards the LZ, packed up and headed back for a late lunch.

I kept an eye on the sky through the afternoon and it never overdeveloped. In fact, the clouds seemed to reach their maximum when I was in the air (around 1.00 pm) and by mid afternoon were looking much less threatening.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Hike and Hike

Today's forecast looked excellent ("bonnes ascendances thermiques") and, after a week of so-so conditions, I was keen to get a decent flight. There is an A league FFVL competition at St Andre this weekend and I thought that getting a ride up might be difficult so I decided to walk up. I went over my gear carefully, cutting anything I could from my load before heading off. The walk up turned out to be very pleasant - although the slope is very steep, the path zigzags up nicely.

When I arrived at the top, it was obviously stronger than forecast - or maybe I just need to get better at reading the forecast! Anyway, the meteo wind was strong and more from the N than forecast and it was combining with the anabatic wind. It didn't really seem flyable but, just as I arrived, the window was opened and everyone started launching.

There were a lot of helpers available to hold wings down and generally help the pilots. There were only around 60 pilots and the launch is very wide. But I only recall seeing one launch that didn't involve the pilot getting 'yanked' and some of the launches were scary. It's not just that the winds were strong, but there were some rocket thermals just in front of launch; about as difficult conditions as I've seen people launch in. When everyone was in the air, you could almost hear a collective sigh of relief on launch.

I relaxed in the sun, watching the pilots fly the course line. There were a few small collapses and a couple of pilots decided to land (after going up for a long time in big-ears...). But generally everyone coped well with the conditions. It never calmed down, so after a couple of hours I shouldered my back-pack and walked down by a different route.

St Andre has reputation for getting strong in the early afternoon - maybe I need to get better at getting up the hill earlier. Anyway, it was a nice day's hiking - but I'd have enjoyed it a lot more with a lighter pack!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Evening Flight at St Andre

After a weekend of rainy, unsettled weather the blue sky returned here in St Andre-les-Alpes. I watched quite a few flights during the day, but it seemed too windy and unsettled to fly during the day. No-one was staying up for any length of time and (as best I could see) only bumpy sled rides were on offer.

Come the evening, I headed over to Aerogliss (the local school) and rode the shuttle up the hill. The winter has been hard here, and the road up to launch is like a trench in the snow. When we arrived, pilots were soaring a few hundred feet above launch, but they were 'on the way down'. It only took me a few minutes to get ready, but by then most pilots were around launch height.

Although the flying was pretty straightforward, the scenery more than made up for it. The snowy peaks caught the last of the sun as the valleys fell into shadow.

After 20 minutes of soaring, getting only 150 ft over launch, lift was diminishing and I followed a armada of wings to the LZ. I arrived high and found some convergence (the LZ is at the meeting of 3 valley systems) and boated around for 10 minutes. Everyone else had landed, it was getting dark, so I spiraled down to join them. As I got lower, things got a little bumpier, but no big deal.

All in all, a very pleasant, relaxing evening...

A few pics -