Monday, April 25, 2011

Hiking at Cloudbase

Unstable weather prevailed over the Easter weekend (and is predicted next week too) in the Southern Alps - thanks to a depression near Tunisia. Good weather in the morning, clouds by noon and the risk of big storms by mid-afternoon. Not my cup of tea for flying…

I had a nice hike today along mountains I've flown over before. Clouds were forming and reforming all the time and the view was constantly changing. Almost all of my hike was along ridges, but I had escape options if lightning became a problem. In the end, there was about 60 seconds of light hail but nothing worse. 

I got back to St Andre in the early evening to find people clearing up after a big storm in the afternoon. These things can be a little random, which is why I went hiking in the first place... 

Friday, April 22, 2011

First Long Hike this Year

Partly because flying conditions have been so good, I've done less hiking than I would have liked this year. Today, I managed a nice, long hike and expect to sleep very well. It's a route I've flown several times - the Crete des Serres to Chamatte and back - but today was the first time I walked it. The winds aloft were very strong and translated into gusty conditions at ridge height - a bad day to be in the air, but a great one for hiking. After nearly 9 hours of hiking, I got home in time to attend some meetings with my colleagues.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

So-so weekend flying

The flying conditions this weekend weren't great in St Andre - windy, with overdevelopment forecast for both days. I flew both days, but not for terribly long - there was plenty of time for an evening hike both days. Today was slightly better with a more favorable wind direction. Fortunately, the overdevelopment was horizontal both days, with no afternoon storms.

I made a big effort to get up early to launch on both days, but I was still later than I should have been. I don't think I missed any big flights as a result (everyone seemed to land pretty quickly) but I had tougher launches than I'd have liked. 

I managed a little loop today; tricky flying with strong winds and a low cloudbase. I was a bit lazy and had my first collapse in 20 months. I headed low over the back of a ridge and underestimated the effects of the strong wind. A good wake-up call…

As ever, my wing behaved impeccably. All intermediate wings today are very good, but mine has proved an exceptionally reliable companion. Even in washing machine conditions, it keeps flying and on the very rare occasions when it collapses, it recovers without any panic.

Monday, April 11, 2011


I've been very happy not to look at a flying forecast for the last couple of days. Normally at the end of the winter, you're just desperate to fly - but I've had plenty of decent flights over the last few weeks. 

Good flying needs good conditions. But without my electrically heated gloves I wouldn't have had a fraction of my flying hours this year. Even on the coldest day, they give 2 hours of flying. I've always struggled with cold fingers and (at least until the batteries run out) they have solved the problem.

It's not often technology really solves a problem!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

One Thermal Flight

Today's forecast was excellent for flying - except the wind was 180 degrees from the wrong direction. Ever curious, I wanted to give it a try. After a long wait on launch with the wind over the back, I got off in a tiny puff, turned left and climbed 2300m in a single thermal. Easily the highest I've been in St Andre… 

I decided to use the unusual wind direction and head towards Digne or Le Brusquet. Everything went well until just before crossing the Montagne de Coupe. I thought I had it easily on glide, but the valley winds on the Bleone knew better. In the alps, valley winds overcome meteo winds almost every time. Just as I was due to pop over the last ridge, my ground-speed plummeted, sink and turbulence were everywhere and I was looking for a safe place to land.

I think (maybe apart from a couple of hike and flies in the winter) this is the first time this year where I didn't chose to land. Sometimes the choice has been reluctant (cold fingers, a meeting to attend, to simplify retrieves) but today the choice wasn't mine.

Pics and tracklog.

Friday, April 8, 2011

The Glass Ceiling

I was a little late heading up the hill today and was worried things would blow out before I could safely launch. I was relieved (well, sort of) when I got up to launch and found benign conditions and around 10 pilots waiting. A few earlier launchers had sunk out and it was surprisingly gentle, with a strong inversion around 2000m easily visible.

In the air, things were fine but a little slow. Just over an hour into the flight I arrived low at Les Serres, below the inversion. I turned and turned; I could easily stay up but was continually bouncing my head against the glass ceiling. Les Serres is a fairly rounded peak, and the thermals didn't seem strong enough to get through the inversion. After 20 minutes of this, I found a strong core and it took me up. Things became colder, the sky was bluer and all of a sudden I was 1000m higher.

Decision time! I had Allos on glide - but I'd flown there twice in the last two weeks. Past Allos to Barcellonette? I would be too late to get a bus back home. Back to St Andre? Why not! 

So that's what I did. Above St Andre, the wind up the Verdon was really strong (I had long periods where my ground speed was below 10K). I arrived just above ridge height on the Crete des Serres, but the wind was almost 90 degrees cross and strong. I was worried that conditions could pick up further and decided landing was the sensible approach.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

3 out of 3 for April

Spring has arrived and is just gorgeous in St Andre. The locals say the weather is 'a month in advance'. I've already gone my first bike ride of the year and had a few nice flights. 

Today looked like a marginal day for flying and I debated going for a hike instead. But I was curious to see how reality matched the forecasts. The forecasts were dead right, with a solid inversion at around 2100m. It was pretty windy so I just flew locally, doing a lot more ridge soaring than is normally necessary at St Andre. It also allowed me to check out one of my favorite local hikes, the Crete des Serres - it is almost free of snow.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Another Boring Flight to Allos

I had a really nice flight today, over the mountains to Allos. Allos is a bit of a dead end - you can fly further, but then the retrieve gets really awkward, because the Col d'Allos is closed (and will be for another 6 weeks, until the snow melts). So I was a wimp and landed at Allos, happy with my day.

While I'd like to tell you how difficult the flying was, that would be an exaggeration. Within 5 minutes of taking off I had 500m of terrain clearance, and I kept at least that until I landed 1hr 35 minutes later. Take-off was busy (the first time this year I've seen a lot of pilots). The cycles were pretty strong, and a few struggled with the launch conditions, but everyone made it into the air safely.

Pics and tracklog

Friday, April 1, 2011

A SE Wind in St Andre?

A late afternoon meeting on Friday combined poorly with an excellent forecast. I could still fly, but not for terribly long. After a warm hike up, I watched around 10 wings struggling to get away - the wind was much stronger than predicted. Once they started going up, I joined them. 

After a few minutes below launch height I caught a nice thermal. This is the first time I've flown St Andre when the wind was from the SE. Almost all of the useful terrain faces the W, and (combined with my need to get back for my meeting) I wasn't sure what to do. In the end I flew over some smaller, rounded ridges out to the W of the normal flight plans. At one point I got high enough to consider heading for Digne but I had to rule that out for retrieve purposes. Rather than trying to fight the wind back to St Andre, I decided to land near the main road and got a lift straight back to my meeting.

Amazing how different the flying can be when the wind comes from a strange direction!