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.