Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Hike and Fly season is open

December is normally the best month in a very short 'hike and fly' season at St Andre. Stable air and a relative lack of solar warming provide smooth (if sinky) flying conditions - lightweight gear seems safe. 

It doesn't feel like paragliding to me - it's more like an adventurous hike up a snowy mountain where you don't quite know how you're going to get down. You can fail to get to launch because of the amount of snow - never mind, it's a nice day out. You can get to launch and find the wind is too strong or from the wrong direction - well, eat your lunch, enjoy the view and follow your tracks back down the hill. Worst of all, deep snow and light winds could conspire to prevent you from launching, leaving you to pack up and hike down in the dark. 

Forecasts don't seem as useful in winter. You can have light winds inside the boundary layer, protected by the stability. 100m higher up, you're out of the boundary layer and the wind can be too strong. When you're in tree-less Scotland, you can position yourself at the right height and launch. Here, you're normally in a forest (for terrain and avalanche safety reasons) and don't have that option.

It's also a pretty solitary activity. If you see any tracks, they're normally an animal's; if they're human, they might be yours of 2 weeks ago. Launch will be deserted and you're clearly making your own decisions (which is always the case with paragliding). 

Today was the first flyable day for a week (because of strong mistral winds) and might also be the last for another week. A lovely hike, followed by a quick flight - my vario beeped twice, once on take off, and again in the LZ. It's hard to explain why it's so satisfying, so I won't try. A few pics. 

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Courchons Loop

A big dump of snow yesterday meant that only low level hikes were sensible today (because of the avalanche risk). Snow shoes, hiking gear or XC skis? With hind-sight I think the skis would have been the best choice, but I took the snow shoes. It was a little deep for walking but not quite deep enough for snow shoes to be that helpful - so I got good practice putting them on and taking them off!  I did a loop up via Courchons and Moriez. Towards the end of the hike I went through a site where - during the week - foresters are cutting trees and making a right old mess. Looks as though they've had a bit of a parking problem….

A handful of other pics can be seen here.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Windy Winter Hiking

Arriving in Vergons 

A week of mistral weather is predicted and today was the first day. Cold, snowy, sunny and beautiful - a hike was called for. Actually, with the windtalkers showing 80 Km/h gusts on the summits, a low-level hike was called for. A big loop S, to Vergons, then back along the Lac de Castellane to St Andre gave me a pretty full day. As the day went on, the inversion weakened and more of the meteo wind reached ground level - I was glad to find a sheltered, sunny spot for my lunch. Up high, you could see snow being blown over the ridges, where it would be forming windslab on the southern faces.

Saturday, November 17, 2012


Light winds, sunny and stable - hike and fly or just hike? I wanted a long day out, so I decided on a hike in the higher mountains, so I jumped in my car and headed N. Oops, there was more snow in evidence than I'd expected - I seem to make this mistake at the same time every year. Since I'd left my boots and snow-shoes behind, I choose a hike that avoided the worst of the snow. 

From Colmars I climbed the Autapie (2400+ m). A nice lunch on the summit (with mostly dry feet) with wonderful views in every direction. A long descent took me back to the car at dusk - great! Must try and remember about this snow stuff next year…

Sunday, October 28, 2012

First snow

The view from my balcony in the morning

The clocks changed during the night and I woke up to several inches of snow - winter arriving right on schedule. Too windy to fly, too cold to cycle, not enough snow to ski or snow shoe - so that left hiking. I had a lazy morning - enjoying my extra hour in bed - before going for a bracing hike in the Thorame valley in the afternoon. The wind and sun had dealt with much of the snow by then, but there was still plenty in shaded, sheltered spots. 

And, of course, I got back to my car just as it was getting dark…

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Early Fall in St Andre

Early fall is my favorite time of year in St Andre - after the busy summer, the locals are relaxed and happy. The days are still warm but it's clear that winter is just round the corner. The shepherds are bringing their sheep down from the peaks - I'm sure they are glad to be going home. The brown fields of summer have become green again and the trees are slowly changing color. 

The hiking is wonderful at this time of year. I've been away a lot, so today was my first long hike of the fall. It was a lovely tour in the Coyer / Corradour, visiting one peak but, after a steep initial climb, mostly level. A little overcast at the start, but mostly sunny in the afternoon. A long day, and I got back to the car just before dark, tired but happy. A few pics.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Hiking in the Bauges

I'm in the Chambery / Annecy region for a few days break and had a nice hike today. My girlfriend took the train into Lyon for the day and I headed into the Bauges (a mountain range in the northern pre-Alps). 

Up here, the mountain ranges - the Bauges, the Chartreuse, the Vercors are a bit like castles, surrounded by moat like valleys. Climb up the steep castle walls, and inside there are relatively flat fields and forests, dominated by isolated peaks. During the second world war, their natural defenses made them strong points of the resistance; unfortunately, they were also the scene of terrible reprisals just after D-day.

I climbed one of the highest peaks in the Bauges and throughly enjoyed my hike and the contrast to the southern alps. Greener and softer scenery, cows instead of sheep, fall is further advanced, a bit more chocolate boxy. The last 200m was very steep grass (I wouldn't have liked to slip) and, at the summit, I had a wonderful view of Mount Blanc, a little further east.

More pics here and also some of Chambery and Annecy - two very cute towns.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

The Europeans

There are flying comps - paragliding or hang-gliding - every year in St Andre. This year it's the turn of the European Paragliding Championships for the first two weeks of September. 

I've been worried that the poor flying season would continue into the competition and, so far, I'm afraid it has. The first three days were cancelled; the weather wasn't terrible and there was flying to be had, but not enough time to safely run a task. Things looked similar today, but fortunately they managed to get a task in. I was working and went to make myself a cup of tea, when I looked out my window and saw about 60 gliders all coming into goal. I'm glad they've got started, and I hope the weather improves for them. I'm afraid I forgot to take some pics!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The end of a hot, dry spell

I've been busy, had guests and been away for much of this summer etc - so not much flying. It has been very hot and hasn't rained or 2 or 3 months - I've never seen it so dry and brown here.

The 15th of August is a big French holiday and the start of a week long 'fete' at St Andre, with live music until late every night. This coincided with some especially hot weather. Normally, that's not really a problem here - no matter how hot the days are, the nights are always cool or even cold. But, every night I had a choice. Open the window and have cool air but lots of noise. Or close the window, and sweat in the silence. Don't sleep because of noise or heat - your choice! Then, of course, if you want some exercise, you really want to get up early and have a bike ride or hike. But that isn't so attractive if you didn't sleep well!

I'd seen today's forecast at least 5 days earlier, where a cool mistral was due to replace all the heat, and I've been looking forward to it and was relieved when the forecasts turned out to be accurate. The transition was very sudden, with a cold front arriving yesterday evening accompanied by a storm (10 minutes after I watered the plants on my balcony). Sunshine resumed in the morning but it was much cooler. 

I headed to the mountains for a day long hike. All the streams were dry and the grass was still brown, but there was plenty of evidence of the previous evening's rain. It was actually cold (not just cool) and I was put off climbing an extra mountain by the incessant wind. Lovely, like a swim in the lake at the end of a hot day. All of a sudden, it feels like the summer is winding down. I'm looking forward to the fall!

Some pics.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Three Cols

Etienne (my son) was over for a stay at the start of August and we did a bunch of tough bike rides, the hardest of which was the Three Cols. You can read more about it here, but the name describes it pretty well. It's a triangle, starting in Barcelonnette and going over 3 cols, each with 1100m or so of climbing. Only 120Km, but none of it is flat.

We started early, planning to do at least the first climb in the cool of the morning. There were feed-stations on the ride, so we didn't have to carry too much food. Wonderful scenery, but as the day went on fatigue and heat seemed to obscure the view. Etienne and Ray went ahead on the last climb and I struggled on by myself.

The ride ended with a argument in a car park. A driver crushed Etienne's back wheel as we were putting the bikes back in the car. The "French" view was that it was unreasonable to expect a driver to see something that doesn't move on the ground. After 15 minutes of animated debate, sanity kicked in and a satisfactory conclusion was reached.

More pics.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Jet Stream Blues

The Jet Stream seems to have been parked over the S of France for the last 3 and a bit months. Although I've had plenty of hour-long practice flights, nasty winds have severely limited XC flying. The European Championships will be held here in Sept, and I certainly hope things improve by then. 

Today, winds gusting to 55 K/h were predicted and I decided a long bike ride was in order - even if the winds would make things tough, they would keep them cool. It was a lovely ride, climbing for the first 25K, then a wonderful 33K descent with a tailwind, a brutal short climb in the noon sun and then a fight home into the howling wind over some cols. Just over 100K, but it felt a lot longer than that. The highlight was passing through Entrevaux, a fortified town defending the ancient frontier between France and Italy. I've included a pic taken today, but it really is worth a google.

I will have (non-flying) visitors for the next 4 weeks, so inevitably the flying forecasts have improved, starting tomorrow...

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Sunday Bike Ride

The paragliding conditions over the last few weeks have done wonders for my cycling. Sunday was too windy for flying, so I decided to get a decent bike ride up to the Col d'Allos. The Col is just over 50Km away from St Andre, and it is uphill all the way, about 1400m of elevation gain. 

The route starts of barely rising and gets gradually steeper all the way, with the last 5 or 6 Kms being the hardest. It was a lovely ride; starting with blue skies and sun, with the Mistral keeping things cool on the long climb. The first part of the ride passes by Colmars and Allos, both lovely villages, before the bare slopes of the final climb. I finished on the summit under gray skies. A quick snack, a pic, layer up for the descent and I was racing the approaching rain home; I got caught about 15Km from home, but it wasn't terribly heavy.

Wind stopped play...

Flying conditions in St Andre continue to be poor, with a combination of wind and afternoon storms. There are little flights to be had but I don't like playing chicken as clouds start towering into the sky. Apart from 'staying current' with a fishbowl flight every week or so, I've found other things to do. But at last Saturday's forecast was tempting; potentially quite good, but with a high chance of strong winds in the afternoon.

I made sure I got up the hill early, worried it could blow out. The early clouds showed a strong west wind aloft. In the air by noon, I headed N and joined 3 other wings and a sail-plane on Cheval Blanc, all trying to get enough height to head to the Dormilliouse. No-one got high enough over the summit except the sail-plane (who, of course, doesn't need to get very high) and everyone headed back after maybe 30 minutes trying as the wind was getting stronger and the thermals bumpier.

I choose to head back to St Andre via Le Grand Cordoeil. I haven't done a Cheval Blanc to Grand Cordoeil transition before and was surprised at the amount of sink I encountered. I wasn't worried because I 'always' get up on Cordoeil. This time, it wasn't quite so easy, because the wind was blowing about 25K out of the west, making things very bumpy. Eventually, I got over Cordoeil, and had a relatively easy transition back to La Mure, but I decided it was just too windy to land in the Verdon valley.

Given the wind strength, the sensible thing was to land in the super-wide, friendly Thorame valley - so that's what I did. I got a lift straight-away from a local and was home just in time to watch the tennis. 

Log and pics.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Stormy Weather

After a wonderful March and a windy April, May has been stormy and unstable. I'm sure my memory is faulty, but every day seems to have followed the pattern of
  • blue sky in the morning, with clouds clinging to the hillsides
  • clouds burning off the hillsides by 9 or 10
  • tall cumulus start building between 10 and 12
  • an afternoon or early evening storm, highly variable in both scale and timing
  • rain stopping in the evening or overnight

I've managed some 'goldfish bowl' flying on a few of the days, but I can't say they've been much fun. Most flights have been a matter of staying out off the clouds and making sure you land before things go crazy. The forecasts don't seem to be very good at distinguishing the 'big early storm' days from the somewhat more manageable days. Sometimes, the afternoon looks threatening for hours before the grumbling turns into rain. And sometimes things degrade very quickly, with lots of rain, hail, thunder, lightening and wind. The critical observation is how early the tall cumulus clouds start to form. 

The previous day's rain hangs around, increasing humidity and generally making hiking less fun. I've been doing quite a bit of cycling because the roads dry more quickly than the paths. The rivers are rather full and milky with sediment. The rain affects many things; paths are damaged, cell phones don't work and drains get blocked. The church clock was restored to working order more quickly than cell phones!

There are a few signs that the weather will improve over the next few days and it can't come too soon for me. Some pics.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

A Very Windy April

After a summery March with plenty of flying, bad weather has kept me grounded in St Andre for all of April (though I did sneak a flight in a visit to the States). April has just been very, very windy. The jetstream has been over France for the last 10 days or so, giving strong, gusty winds. Flying is out, cycling has rarely been feasible and even hiking can be challenging.

April has also brought some cold weather and much needed rain (after a very dry winter). All of this looks very spring-like and scenic, with green fields in the valleys and snow back on the mountains. Some days look great for XC, until you look at the shadows of puffy clouds racing across the landscape.

Normally, I don't mind at all missing a day or two's flying due to bad weather - there are plenty of other things to do and it doesn't last long. But this has gone on far too long. There's a weather system that will move through in the next 2 or 3 days and it might just be flyable after that. Fingers crossed...

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Walking the Dog

I took advantage of my time in the States to walk with my dog, Cleo. We walked in Forest Park (sometimes described as the biggest urban park in the world). It's always a nice place to walk and is especially popular in the heat of the summer, when the trees bring welcome shade. 

Cleo will be 10 this summer and I was a bit worried she would get tired, but we had a nice 4 hour hike and she was still full of energy at the end. Some more cute dog pics.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Going Coastal

I'm on a business trip back to the US of A. Saturday's forecast wasn't stellar, but it looked good enough for some coastal soaring at Cape Look Out. I haven't flown the coast for at least a couple of years and it's a complete contrast to the flying I normally do. Add in CLO's stunning scenery and I was keen for a day at the beach, despite only having old, incomplete gear.

I wasn't the only one with that idea and found myself with 25 other pilots, para-waiting for strong enough conditions. When it eventually became soarable, I found myself at the end of a long queue of wings. CLO's launch is tiny and a little tricky, so it was a long wait. By the time I was in the air, conditions were pretty weak and just staying up was the name of the game. 

It was busy as pilots scratched for lift - and I was unimpressed by a few pilots' lack of knowledge on ridge rules - but eventually enough pilots sunk out to make things easier. I mowed up and down the same bit of ridge, slowing gaining height. The most I got was 100m over launch and then there was a long, slow, flush cycle. I resisted as long as I could and found myself the only pilot in the air until the cycle did for me too.

I didn't have a watch but I reckon I was in the air for a couple of hours, mowing the same bit of ridge. The flying might have been so-so, but the scenery and chance to see my old flying mates more than made up for it. Hope it isn't two years before I fly the coast again!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Being Taunted

When conditions are good at St Andre - especially at this time of year - you often see more sail-planes in the air than paragliders. They certainly eat up the sky and can operate in a much wider range of conditions than paragliders. I've looked on enviously more than once, but this weekend they seemed to be taunting me.

Saturday's forecast looked a little too windy for pleasant flying, but with a great lapse rate. Epic, but too epic for paragliders, at least as I like to fly them. I had a hike in the high mountains - taking advantage of the lack of snow - and thoroughly enjoyed myself. I must have seen at least 15 sailplanes (no paragliders) and they just made it look so easy. Arrive at ridge height, a couple of circles, then onto the next one. All of this in intimidating terrain where I always want a little more height before every transition.

Today was flyable, but not very good. I worked, planning to fly tomorrow. But I sneaked a lunch-time bike ride. I saw a number of paragliders in the air, but just around launch - I didn't see anyone go XC. But I did see around 10 sailplanes over the higher mountains.

Hmmm - I wonder how much they cost?

Thursday, March 29, 2012

A Flying Day Off

A large percentage of my flights are 'playing hookey' flights, where I sneak away and fly for a couple of hours at lunch time before getting back to work. It's an efficient use of time but when conditions are good, it can be a little frustrating.

So I've decided to save 10 days of vacation for flying on days with really good forecasts; that way, I can concentrate on the flying and forget about logistics. Today's forecasts were good but not stellar and didn't quite fit my 'flying day off' profile. But I've been away for a bit, I will be traveling in April, the forecast for the weekend is so-so and I couldn't resist it.

Things looked good in the air, and I headed north to Cheval Blanc, a big rounded mountain that tends to just get in the way rather than give decent lift. There's a good spot to gain altitude a few km before the summit, but then there is a decision to make. Head N to the rounded summit and continue N to Carton, or head E away from the Bleone valley system. I had tempting clouds leading E but choose the route over Cheval Blanc - go figure. 

The next few kms were very sinky and I arrived at the summit of Cheval Blanc too low to warrant continuing. Back S, build altitude, but no nice clouds to the E now - so do I try N again, or settle for some local flying? I settled for flying locally and visited some of the rounder, seldom flown peaks out to the W.

Late in the day I headed to the Crete des Serres; I thought I had plenty of altitude but encountered tons of sink at the start of the transition. No big deal, I climbed easily back to ridge height. I could have flown a bit longer, but I'd been in the air for nearly four hours and decided that was enough for today.Time to land!

Easier said than done. The valley winds in the Verdon go S to N during the day; the valley winds in the Asse tend to spill over from the W. The resulting convergence gives lift (good!) and turbulence (not so good!). The result is that the 'standard' LZ at St Andre is best avoided on many days, but today the whole of the valley from St Andre to La Mure was best avoided! It was very lifty and very turbulent.

I considered flying to Moriez or Thorame (both in different valleys) to land and that would have been the sensible choice. But I was a bit lazy. I'd find a little island of sink or weak lift, spiral, my sink alarm would sound and I'd be happy. But a few seconds later, still with lots of Gs, my vario would tell me I was going up again! But eventually I landed at La Mure, happy with my 'flying day off'.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Slow Boat to Allos

I've been very busy all week and missed out on some decent flying days. Today conditions were predicted to be good and I decided I deserved a reward for all the hard work. But, true to form I got stuck with work, and it was just after 11 when I set off to hike up the hill. So, when a couple of pilots offered me a lift at the bottom, I gratefully accepted.

On the drive up, the pilots asked me my plans and I said it looked like a good day to fly to Allos; winds pretty consistently out of the SW quarter at all levels. We arrived at launch well before noon to find 10 pilots getting ready. I was pleased to be there so early (we haven't change time yet in France, so it really was early) and was a little slow and complacent. 

Suddenly the cycles were strong and everyone had launched. I put my rosetted wing onto launch, pulled out the tips and it was seized by a cycle before I could even walk down the hill and get some tension in the lines. Damn, had I screwed up and let it overdevelop? I carefully sorted it all out in the lee and didn't bother pulling the tips out the second time. I launched without problem, relieved I hadn't lost the day, but everyone else had moved on and I was flying alone.

Heading N, I got stuck at L'Allier (or the antennae). I could have taken a chance and headed away low, but I didn't want to risk sinking out in an inconvenient place. Staying up near terrain was easy, but building height for transitions was hard; typical high-pressure, blue thermal days. I knew if I was patient, things would gradually improve. I was stuck for an hour there before I got through the inversion and could move on. 

A little bit later I arrived just at ridge height on Chamatte. Again, staying up was easy, but building enough height to warrant moving on was tricky. I tried to sneak away a little low, but a bunch of sink made me scuttle back. After a full hour, I had the altitude and could move on. From then on, it was a piece of cake. Allos is the last easy landing place in a valley, I'd been flying for 3.5 hours (it normally takes 2 hours to fly there) and it was time to get back to work. 

As I was setting up to land the bus to St Andre went past. No problem, it turned out; my thumb and three generous drivers took me home. Not a bad start to the weekend! Tracklog and pics.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Day Trip to Gréolières

I'm spoiled for flying and have become embarrassingly lazy about it. If I cut out hike and flies, all my flights last year except one were from St Andre. I've pretty much stopped driving to go and fly; instead I just hike up the hill and fly. If conditions aren't good locally, I do something else rather than drive to a different site. 

I've become a one site pilot, and that's a pity because there are a lot of really good sites nearby. Today, the meteo wind was NE; maybe the anabatic and valley winds would have overcome it at St Andre but I wasn't sure. Instead I joined a whole bunch of Nice pilots at Greolieres - a whole hour away in the car. 

Greolieres is an interesting and (in a different way to St Andre) somewhat intimidating place to fly. It's on the S side of a big W-E ridge, in a steep sided valley (more like a rocky gorge) leading to Nice and the Med. The general meteo wind is N, and launch is a long way below ridge top, so you're often flying in the lee, using a mixture of thermals and the anabatic 'breeze' to stay up. The LZ is at the school in Greolieres, which is little village perched roughly half-way up the slope. The normal launch is only 200m above the LZ, so margins are tight and you can't afford to screw around at the start of your flight. 

In light conditions you have to soar near the slope and wait for a thermal to get some terrain clearance. Things were relatively straightforward today; once you got a 100 meters above launch, thermals were pretty much sufficient to stay up and you could preserve decent terrain clearance. I played it safe and flew for just over an hour in some very spring like thermals - bumpy and small. I stayed below the top of the ridge and - apart for the first few minutes - generally left lots of terrain clearance. I don't think any of the local pilots went anywhere; a few flew above the top of the ridge and a few landed right after launching.  

The LZ was very relaxed, with pilots and their families picnicking in the sun. The local pilots agreed conditions were pretty spicy. After enjoying the atmosphere, the weather and my lunch, I packed up and went on a short tour of the village - very scenic.

Tracklog and some pics. Really, I need to get out more! 

Saturday, March 10, 2012


When I flew last Wednesday I knew I had a cold coming on, but I felt fine during the hike up the hill and the flight. It turned out to be the flu and the next 48 hours weren't very pleasant. By Friday evening I was feeling reasonable again, but knew I wasn't in any condition to fly on Saturday (I actually tested my motor-coordination skills on my GT5 racing game, and they were shot to hell - quite an eye opener).

So come Saturday I headed to Manosque,  a lovely little town with a fortified center I've been wanting to visit. St Andre is more on the alpine side of the departement (les Alpes de Haute Provence) while Manosque is more provencal. Spring weather, gorgeous buildings, very busy (especially for the start of March) and a lovely market. I spent some gift vouchers in a bookstore and had a huge lunch before heading home.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

An Inconvenient Forecast

I've got a cold, my cleaner will be kicking me out my house at 10 am, I've got tons of work and I have solid afternoon meetings from 3.00pm. And then there's a great forecast for flying… Couldn't this happen some other day?

I couldn't ignore it and worked out I should be able to fly for an hour and make my meetings. Conditions were very, very good; as always, when it's good at this time of year, it was also bloody cold. Given my time constraints, I couldn't go anywhere and reluctantly headed to La Mure to land at the appointed hour. Low down, I got some nice lift; it was so gentle and pleasant, I couldn't resist turning in it and climbing back up 200m or so, wasting another 10 minutes or so.

Back in "the real world" I've done my meetings, my cold seems much worse thanks to my day out but I'm glad I didn't ignore the great forecast. I just hope I can ditch the cold for the weekend. The tracklog.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Ability Half Life

One of the nice things about a flying a paraglider is that you don't lose a lot of form in a lay-off. That's not the case in a skill sport like tennis or a fitness one like cycling, or one that's a combination of the two like rock-climbing. If you stop any of these sports for 6 weeks, it's a big effort to get back to previous performance levels. Fortunately with paragliding the loss of ability is smaller and it really only takes one decent flight to recover previous levels.

Although I've kept flying through the winter, I think I've had only one thermic flight this year. A lot of hike and flies but only one 'proper' flight. That's getting to the point when I'm aware of the danger of being 'rusty'. 

So I was very glad to fly for nearly a couple of hours today. Typical spicy early spring conditions. There weren't many pilots in the air - maybe 10 - and one pilot - Frode - had a nice flight while a few sunk out early. I was happy to be somewhere between these extremes. I had a couple of lowish moments, but managed to scrape back up. I landed back at St Andre as showers were falling just to the north and my glove batteries gave out. Great practice, just what the doctor ordered!

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The End of the Big Freeze

The huge dump of snow we had 4 weeks ago has almost gone. Throughout that period the weather has has been very cold (-23C one night, or -9F) and although the days have been sunny, the (untrodden) snow has stayed soft and powdery until a couple of days ago.

There's been plenty of opportunity for outdoor activities - snow shoeing, XC & downhill skiing, a couple of hike and flies. It's been hard work - one hike took almost 3 times as long as normal. It's also interesting because the snow keeps a record of all the passers by. The only human tracks I've seen on the higher peaks have been mine; I guess not everyone is crazy. Today I saw my snow-shoe tracks of 3 weeks ago. Strangely, they were higher than the rest of the snow, because the compressed snow has melted more slowly.

While it's been lovely, I've had enough of it. Roll on the spring and some proper flying! Fortunately, the last few days have been warmer and spring is obviously just round the corner. I had my first bike ride of the year yesterday and over dressed for it. Today was warm and spring like and I saw my first crocus. Hopefully some decent XCs are just round the corner!

Sunday, February 5, 2012

XC skis not skies

The lovely winter weather continued today and I went cross country skiing in the Thorame valley. Nothing special - just skiing along a hiking / mountain bike trail - but very scenic with all the snow. The forecast seemed to allow flying but not an XC but there were little clouds over many of the "standard" thermal triggers. As ever in the snow, there were lots of animal tracks including what seemed (to me) some 3 legged animals. A few pics.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Snow Shoes Up, Wing Down

The very cold weather has continued, with overnight temperatures around -15C and below freezing all day. The big dump of snow we had at the start of the week is still fluffy white powder. Saturday morning was cold, sunny and clear - what to do?

Success is never sure for a hike and fly in the snow. The hike can be quite a challenge in itself and there's no guarantee you'll be able to launch in deep snow. The winds are also more fickle than in summer, with stronger winds above the boundary layer and less anabatic wind to overcome an inconvenient meteo wind direction. Added to that, Aeroweb's flying forecast mentioned the possibility of turbulence. Despite all that, I couldn't resist a snow shoe hike and fly on Chalvet; if flying wasn't possible, I'd just hike down!

With lightweight gear, I normally get to the west launch in 90 minutes. Today, it took very nearly 4 hours! The snow was lovely but very deep and, even with snow shoes, it was very hard work. I was the first person on the mountain since the snow fall; the only tracks I saw all day were animal tracks. Brushing a tree could result in snow pouring down the back of your neck. Some trees were like spring loaded traps; you'd brush them, the show would fall off and they'd jump up and whack you.

Eventually I got to the W launch and got my gear ready and stamped out a runway. There was a little breeze so I knew I could inflate my speedwing, but could I run fast enough to get airborne? If I couldn't, I would struggle to get back down before dark. Fortunately I managed to scrape into the air.

The LZ was a completely featureless huge white field. As I set up on final, I realized I had no way of telling my altitude. I was wondering how high I was when I realized I was on the ground. Not the most elegant landing!

My speedwing is drying in the spare bedroom and today was a lot of hiking for very little flying, but a very memorable day! A few pics

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Snow and Sun

The last 3 or 4 days have been cloudy, gray and snowy - a monochrome existance. Today was blue, sunny, clear and lovely with tons of soft powdery snow. I didn't have a lot of time and had to spend part of it digging my car out the snow. But I had a nice hike on snowshoes up a little hill beside St Andre. A popular stroll and picnic spot was transformed into a challenging hike. 

Everyone I saw today was all smiles - it's hard to be grumpy when everything is so beautiful…. Some pics.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Snow - At Last...

The weather has been good for so long here I've forgotten the last time the sky wasn't blue. But the long run of sunny, clear, cold and somewhat windy weather ended this weekend. For the first time this winter, it snowed in St Andre.

It was a gray and miserable all weekend, with snow falling gently almost all the time. I had a couple of monochromatic hikes, trail breaking in the snow. The forecast for the rest of the week is a bit more interesting - more snow and colder, clearer weather during the week. Maybe some nice skiing or snowshoeing or even a snowy hike and fly?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Lazy Sunday Afternoon

Today's flying forecast looked very similar to yesterday's and - while I enjoyed yesterday's flight - a repeat didn't exactly turn me on. I had a lazy little hike in relatively flat countryside in the warm afternoon sun. I tried not to, but I couldn't help noticing some interesting little clouds over some of the peaks...

A few pics

Saturday, January 14, 2012

First Decent Flight of 2012

I've had a couple of hike and flies this year, but Saturday's forecast was the first that was good enough for me to take my "normal" gear up to launch. Last year at this time, snow had blocked the road up to launch and flying was a very solitary experience. Today was hardly busy, but there were around 10 so pilots up on the launch throughout the afternoon.

Conditions seemed promising, if very cold, as I got ready with 4 other pilots on the W launch. When conditions are at all good here, you launch and go up. But in the very dead of winter you often get a reality check; promising conditions can be deceptive.  I launched at the back end of the other pilots and struggled about 50 meters below launch in small, rowdy thermals. I went from slowly losing height, to maintaining, to slowly creeping above launch height - and then it was easy. The other pilots weren't so lucky and had sunk out almost immediately; we probably should have waited another 20 minutes before launching.  

Conditions slowly improved - the thermals got bigger and less sharp-edged - and I got nearly 600m above launch. It was very cold and I didn't want any retrieve hassles, so I didn't do anything very adventurous. More pilots arrived - including the early launchers coming back for a second flight - and everyone enjoyed the good conditions. I landed just short of 2 hours as the batteries in my gloves gave up. Hardly epic flying, but lovely views and not too bad for 2 weeks into the year.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Snow Shoeing Weekend

The weather continues to be dry, sunny and clear. It's wonderful, but I would like a bit more snow! I bought snow-shoes just before Xmas and have been waiting for a chance to use them. Since the snow hasn't come to St Andre, I decided to go to the snow. So I drove my little car into the bigger mountains just to the North and had a couple of nice hikes over the weekend.

It was a lot of fun. A bit slower than XC or randonee skiing (or even walking in the summer), but easier and with less messing around with gear. I was impressed how easy it was to tackle relatively steep slopes. I really enjoyed myself and I'm looking forward to doing more. The snowshoes should also make some higher hike and flies possible. 

PS Can we have some snow please? Preferably delivered overnight!