Sunday, November 27, 2011

Hike and Fly Season is Open

Defining a hike and fly is a little tricky for me. I hike up to launch for almost every flight, but today was my first "hike and fly" of the season. Normally, I fly, and hiking is just how I reach launch. Today I hiked with an efficient descent system in my backpack. My equipment and clothing was chosen for hiking, not flying.

The weather the last week or so has been beautiful in St Andre - sunny, dry, clear and very stable. Very warm in the sun and freezing in the shade. There has often been an inversion at launch height - no lift there - but bumpy, hard to exploit, lift lower down. Great weather for hiking, not really that good for flying. The pattern continued today and I made good use of it by hiking the Crete des Serres and flying back to St Andre.

The hike was lovely; once you climb up to the ridge you have wonderful 360 views. But, like many hike and fly sites here, launch is tricky. Not quite a cliff launch (the snow makes it one in winter) but almost. You have to find a spot to inflate your wing that isn't in the rotor and then kite it to the edge. The wind was strong and I kited my speed wing for 2 or 3 minutes before committing to the flight. On the ridge top, the wind was straight in, but once in the air it was very cross and not easily soarable. I didn't insist and instead enjoyed the flight out.

Almost 3 hours hiking for 10 minutes flying, but that's not the right way to look at it. A great hike and an enjoyable descent! A few pics.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

My Favorite Hike

I have a favorite hike around St Andre and I did it today for the 4th time - and the first time by myself. It is the Tour de Courradour, a sort of triangular tour around a highish (nearly 2200m) mountain surrounded by higher ones. It's not too long (the guidebooks quote 4 or 5 hours) or strenuous and a reasonable 'stretch' for visitors not really into hiking. It also works well in the heat of the summer, because a lot of it is in the shade.

The variation I do actually visits the summit; the views are sensational and it's a wonderful spot for lunch - sitting on flat grass at the edge of a precipice, with wonderful views in all directions. The bigger peaks were in the clouds today, but it was as special a place as ever.

A few pics.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Late Fall Hiking

It's a wonderful time of year in St Andre. This is the quietest time of year, before the skiing brings the tourists back. Most of the shops in the village close for a couple of weeks in November. The weather has been lovely - cold, sunny and clear. A little chilly for flying, but lovely for hiking or hike and flies. I took a couple of highish altitude hikes over the weekend, knowing that the snow will be arriving soon and making such things a lot harder. 

Pics from Saturday and Sunday

Friday, November 11, 2011

St Andre Scratchfest

The 11th of November is Armistice Day in France and a public holiday. St Andre is one of the few flyable places at this time of year, so eager pilots come from all over. It was a S launch day (always a bit trickier at St Andre) and, after my hike up, I was surprised to find only a handful of pilots there. Half a dozen wings were in the air - roughly at launch height - and there were many wings in the LZ.

As I got ready, more and more pilots arrived and suddenly launch was quite crowded. I launched and was immediately followed by several pilots. After 5 minutes I found a decent thermal and got 300m over launch. Things seemed very comfortable but I decided to wait for cloudbase to rise a little before going XC. 

But the weather didn't cooperate. The day was clouding over, and the thermals didn't last that long. As the lift diminished, more and more pilots took to the air. I soon found myself scratching in a tricky mix of ridge lift and thermals with an awful lot of pilots. To add to the problems, someone in St Andre was burning vegetation and - with the low winter sun sometimes poking through the clouds - visibility was poor. 

I'm the blue wing top right (Stephane from the LZ)
I flew pretty conservatively, avoiding the worst of the crowds, until the skies cleared out a bit. At that point, there were really no thermals to speak off. Weak ridge lift was the only game in town - a pleasant change at St Andre! I'm almost at the top of the weight range on my new wing, so I was please to see that it performed well in these conditions. 

After nearly 2 hours I headed to the LZ and joined a lot of happy pilots. Someone counted over 60 wings in the air when traffic was at its worst. I talked to a pilot from St Hilaire; his club couldn't find accommodation in St Andre and they were staying in a Gite in a neighboring village. 

A few pics - all taken before I got into the heavy traffic!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Deluge in St Andre

The weather has been very dry for a long time in St Andre, but everything changed at the start of November.  Sandwiched between a couple of French holidays on the 1st and 11th of November, a week of very wet weather was forecast.

It has been very wet, with plenty of storms and winds. The lightning has played havoc with church clock and bells; they seem to get it fixed each day only for it to fail again overnight. The big concern in the area is flooding; so far the Verdon has stayed within its banks. There are still a couple of days of rain to go, but hopefully we are over the worst.