Saturday, October 23, 2010

Hiking, Pretty Sheep, Wood and Chilies

Saturday dawned cold with low cloud - just what was forecast. But surprisingly things cleared up and it would have been flyable but cold. I decided a hike was a better option and headed for the mountains above Beauvezer. At the end of the 19th century the locals made a sensational path in the cliffs to reach the high pastures and the trees. Once through a narrow gorge, the hike is mostly in the forest; at high altitude here most of the trees are mélèzes; a conifer that changes color in the fall and loses its needles. With the blue sky, occasional patches of snow and fall colors it was very pleasant.

On the drive back to St Andre, I headed to a shepherd's gathering. There were various contests involving animals and humans, and lots of things to buy. I bought a whole bunch of chilies for 40 centimes (I paid a euro, telling the lady her prices were too low) and I bought a whole bunch of firewood for the approaching winter for 10 euros.

Some pics

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Frozen Finger Flying

Thursday looked like the best day to fly in the week. The basic forecast was SW low down, switching to NW around 2000m, and that turned out to be reasonably accurate. It seemed like a S launch day, which makes for a shorter hike. From the S launch, I could see around 10 people waiting over on the W launch. Conditions seemed great on the S launch - so I didn't see any reason to join them.

A quick lunch, then I launched and had no trouble at all getting high. In fact, it might have been better to get acclimatized first - right away my hands were very cold. Cold fingers in winter is normally a pest, but isn't terribly worrying because you're in smooth ridge lift (so it isn't that essential to feel the wing). So far, it hasn't been like that in St Andre; by anyone's standards conditions were active (6.5 m/s or 1300 ft / min up) and I was a little concerned I wasn't feeling the wing very well.

I headed N, pilots started launching on the W side and slowly joined me. Top of lift was around 2300m where the temperature was just above freezing. The sky was blue but XC potential was good. But my fingers were just too cold. I flew back to St Andre and landed after a little more than an hours flying. I need to order a pair of electric gloves!

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Lost Dog Hike

After a decent week's work, you always want to fly Saturday. Today would have been flyable, but there were some 'issues' with the forecasts (high winds aloft, deterioration in the afternoon). It seemed better to hike and take in the fall colors.

I headed to a little hamlet to the SE of St Andre called Ubraye. Exploring new areas is fun in its own right, but it also lets you look at the XC issues (how many LZs are there in this valley?).

This is the hunting season. It's easy to assume paragliding is dangerous and hiking is safe; but at this time of year that may be inaccurate. I've lunched in restaurants with hunters many times in France; they don't go easy on the wine (who does) and you can't help but feel that afternoon hiking has its risks. But today, all I heard were some distant shots going off.

There is another, more civilized, form of hunting at this time of year. I met four guys with baskets filled with mushrooms. I don't know what is edible and what is certain death, but what they carried looked really good. Prime mushroom gathering spots are closely guarded secrets in this part of France; 'foreigners' are taken along only if they wear a blindfold.

Early on in my hike, I was joined by two dogs - I suspect they had been spooked by shotguns going off. They 'followed' me, but stayed ahead all the time - waiting at intersections of trails. Then one got lost when they were excited by something - maybe a boar or some other animal. The other stayed with me throughout the hike - my cell phone wasn't working and I couldn't phone the number of the dog's collar.

Back in Ubraye, I talked to the first person I met. He didn't know the dog but he turned out to be the Maire (mayor); we went to the Mairie, he phoned the number. There was no reply but he left a message and was happy to look after the dog until the owner came to collect it. I left him with the details of where the other dog got lost. The mayor said dogs often got lost at this time of year (alarmed by the shotguns) and almost always got home. Here's hoping...

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Feisty Fall Flying

We've reached the middle of October and the flying remains very good. Normally at this time of year staying up is the issue, but that hasn't been a problem yet. On Thursday I sneaked in a lunchtime flight and conditions (while not summer time scale) were remarkably strong - 6 m/s up (1200 ft per minute in old money). If I hadn't had a late afternoon meeting, I'd have tried to go further, but to keep things simple I flew a little tour, landing back in St Andre.

Of course, it's not the same as summertime flying. The hike up is a lot cooler / more pleasant, launch is quieter, generally you launch a little later and cloud-base is lower (2500m on Thursday). And it's colder - I had cold fingers throughout my flight (almost a perennial problem for me) but a 2hr XC at mid-Oct isn't bad!

Unfortunately, I didn't manage my electronic equipment very well - helmet cam left at home, GPS filled up after an hours flying - so I've shown by SPOT track-log!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Tete De L'Estrop

Saturday would have been flyable but it didn't look great, so I decided to go for a hike in the high mountains near Allos. I haven't climbed the Tete de l'Estrop - just under 3000m - and winter will put a stop to such things shortly, so that seemed like a good target.

The start of the hike was disappointing. Construction for some new ski-lifts has left a high valley more like a building site than anything very natural. Ski resorts look cute when they are covered in snow but the development process is much less attractive (though the engineering is impressive).

Once I cleared the construction area, I had a lot of rocky terrain to cross to get to the summit. It looked as though a 'straight-line' approach would work, but the terrain has a very pronounced 'grain' with lots of hidden cliffs. Route finding wasn't terribly easy. Much of the hike involved walking over rocks from chair size to truck size. Occasionally, a rock would move in a spooky fashion that got me thinking of the hiker that amputated his arm.

Clouds were moving in as I reached the summit and I didn't stay long. Much of the descent was in the clouds - a GPS makes navigation so much easier in these circumstances (I'd probably have turned round without one). 

The shepherds are slowly moving their now fattened herds back down from the mountains back to the plains. Most of the herds are back in the valleys and will be making their way along the roads for the next few weeks.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Fall Arrives

I've been pretty busy with work and had a trip back to Scotland to visit my family, but I've been back in St Andre for the last week. The flying season is obviously winding down but most days remain perfectly flyable. All my flights have been  easily soarable and I'm sure short XCs would have been possible, but I've avoided any retrieve hassles and stayed local.

I've had a few flights and some short hikes and bike rides. The real delight is the early fall colors and weather - blue skies, warm sun, cool air and gorgeous trees.