Saturday, December 14, 2013

Hiking in the Freezer

The sunny part of the hike!
I had a longish hike today, basically a big loop around Chalvet and the Allier. The first 3 hours or so were in the nice, open valley out to the west through Moriez, Hyges and Lambruisse. It was warm and sunny and I hiked in shirt sleeves. Over lunch I admired vultures flying along the ridge in the stable, weak conditions.

But then it was into a valley that is always cold, even on a hot summer day. The valley never gets the sun in winter and it was just like stepping into a freezer. I put on all my layers and was still cold, despite walking back to St Andre as quickly as I could. Some pics.

Friday, December 13, 2013

My Cunning Plan

St Andre
When it's thermic at St Andre, you normally launch and go straight up. It's easy to believe this is because you're flying really well, but stable conditions in winter provide a reality check. This December has been sunny, dry and stable and, despite several hike and flies, there has been a distinct lack of circling and beeping.

Today I hatched a cunning plan to break this trend. I matched my biggest wing to my lightest gear so I was well under the weight range. I launched into a slight breeze but, while I did manage a few circles and get a few beeps, the air was still too stable. Every little bubble of lift died out almost right away, and any altitude gained was lost by the time I found the next bubble. At one point, I was joined by a vulture and I thought he might help me out. But when he started flapping his wings I knew I'd be back on the ground soon...

Monday, November 25, 2013

Greolieres Visit

Looking NW towards St Andre
I'm afraid I do almost all my flying at St Andre and seldom take a wing elsewhere. But, in the depths of winter, the snow and the cold can get to me and I drive down to Greolieres for a day's flying. It's quite a transition - winter to spring, mountains to the Med, snow to sun, boots to trainers and a more social flying experience.

Looking N over the Cheiron to bigger hills
After a few gray days here, a good forecast drew me down today. In fact, I got carried away by the sun and didn't dress up quite enough. Up on the Cheiron, I was cold. I did the standard 'out and back' to Coursegoules but by then needed to warm up. I got low again and soared just above launch before landing after 2 hours.

Very spicy flying conditions for late November!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Winter Flying Forecasts

The flying forecasts here seem break down in the winter. I'm sure there are people who can explain exactly what is going on, but WYSINWYG (what you see is NOT what you get) becomes the rule. I've lost count of the times 50+ Kph winds were predicted, I went on a hike and it's been essentially calm at ridge height. In winter I'm generally looking for a nice safe hike and fly, yet some forecasts try to apply summer criteria ('conditions inexploitables') to acceptable conditions. Other forecasts come to farcical conclusions, like the top of lift being 500m above launch 4 hours after sunset.

Anyway, despite the forecasts, I had a typical winter hike and fly off Chalvet today. A lot of hiking for not very much flying, with a distinct absence of vario beeping.

Monday, November 11, 2013

First Snow

Yesterday was windy and wet and I hid indoors all day. This morning there was a light dusting of snow on the peaks, sun and a cold, strong wind aloft. I kept low and had a long hike around the Thorame valley and enjoyed the fall colors. 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Fall Colors

I was hoping for a hike and fly this weekend, but the winds aloft haven't cooperated. I settled for a lovely hike today in the Corradour and Coyer. I set off a little later than I intended and had to rush to get back down just before dark. Fall is very scenic here!

Some pics.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Gray November Flying

Looking back at launch
Toussaint (all saints' day) is a holiday in France, together with the 11th of Nov. St Andre gets a lot of visitors for these holidays from pilots hoping to extend their flying season. But today the weather didn't really cooperate - flyable but, with very little sun and a low inversion, maybe not soarable. Launch was crowded but without much action - vultures were seen flapping and almost all launchers sunk without trace.

But it clearly wasn't going to 'turn on' and seemed as likely to get worse as improve, so I launched and enjoyed an unusual flight for St Andre. Very marginal lift, mostly ridge soaring and lots of traffic around launch (pilots that sunk out came back up for second or third flights). A few thermals took me to a maximum of 200 m over launch, and I also had to work my way up from 150 m below launch more than once. Lift was scarce enough that you had to concentrate to stay up. I managed to mow up and down the ridge to the Antenae to avoid the traffic. From around 3.00 the lift weakened and things got a little quieter; I concentrated on staying up and landed just shy of 4.00, after a little more than 2 hours in the air.

The contrast to the normal flying here was a nice change and it was about as good as you could hope for from such an unpromising gray day...

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Montagne de l'Aup

Strong winds aloft all heading to Tours
Despite the lateness in the season, the flying has been pretty good lately. Today naively looked to continue the trend with moderate winds and a reasonable ceiling.

But a more careful examination of the forecasts consistently showed very strong winds just above the top of lift. It seemed a better day for a hike, so I headed up the Montagne de l'Aup, immediately SW of St Andre. I've hiked it a couple of times before, but I also fancy it for other purposes - a snowshoe ascent, a little ski-tour and maybe even a hike and fly. So I spent some time investigating its hike and fly potential but I couldn't find a credible launch to the south (see the pics) and while it would work to the north, the glide back to St Andre looks very marginal. 
Launch to the south looks tricky

The sheep are down and the shepherds cabin is closed up for the winter. Lots of wave clouds in the sky. Fall is my favorite time for hiking here - cool temperature and lovely colors - and I got home feeling nicely tired.

Some pics.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013


Flying to Barreme doesn't look sensible right now
Yesterday, I got home from a lunch time bike ride just as the heavens opened. The rain continued into the evening and all that moisture has to go somewhere. So I wasn't surprised when I got up this morning and all the peaks were in the clouds. But the forecast wasn't bad for October, it would surely clear and I was due a day off from work, so I decided to fly.

It looks OK now!
I had a damp hike up to launch through the clouds. Cloud-base gradually rose to above launch but there were a lot of threatening clouds in the sky. They weren't near launch though - there, all the clouds looked puffy and reassuring, if a little low (about 200m above launch). So I joined a bunch of pilots playing around launch and it was really quite fun. The big clouds stayed away and it never felt threatening - I don't think I've flown for as long and stayed to near launch in St Andre. Base lifted a little as the day went on (I got to just over 2000m at the Antenae, higher than cloudbase) but not enough to tempt me to try an XC.

Friday, September 20, 2013

The Red Nova Club does Allos

Gliding onto Chamatte - I'll
arrive just above ridge height

Things were very slow on launch and Nigel asked about my flight plan. I said I hadn't flown to Allos this year and fancied rectifying that. Nigel said that he and Dieter had the same plan. 

I took off pretty late - quite a while after Nigel and Dieter - and it was slow going. On days like this, the traffic calms down quickly once you leave launch. I milked all the help I could from other pilots - especially vultures! - but by half distance I was flying by myself. 

Nigel and 3 Red Novas
I stuck with it, the top of lift slowly raised and in the end I arrived over Allos with a ridiculous amount of ground clearance. Far below, I saw a pilot land in the standard LZ. I spiraled down and found Dieter and Nigel - red Factor 2 and red Mentor 2 - waiting for me as I landed with my red Mentor 3. 

Flight plans don't always pan out like they did today! 

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Oregon Tourists

Dan with the South Launch in the background

Dan and Mary-Beth have been visiting from Oregon. Since Dan retired a couple of years ago they've become paragliding tourists, spending the Northern winter in Australia, and clocking up tons of flying hours in both hemispheres. They're doing a 1 month European swing and came here after a great trip to Annecy.

It was interesting for me - how do you explain flying St Andre? It's not a very accessible site and I remember my first flights here felt very exploratory.

Conditions weren't great but they weren't bad either (better than this season in general, but worse than a typical start to Sept). Dan had a bunch of flights but work commitments limited my flying with him. I think we had 6 flights together, including my first evening flight of the year. His last flight here was probably his best. Despite an unpromising forecast and lowish ceiling, we flew a nice little loop out to the west and landed together at La Mure.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Mercantour Hike

Mistral conditions are great for hiking but bad for flying, so I headed to the Mercantour national park for some high altitude hiking. A seven hour hike - no mountain tops, but three high (2600m) passes - left me nicely pooped at the end of the day. The scenery was stunning (though my camera died after a couple of hours, so you'll have to believe me). Wildlife was pretty much limited to lots of plump marmots, waddling into their dens as I approached - they look ready for their hibernation!

I must admit I spent a lot of the hike looking at flying possibilities heading towards Italy and they did look pretty promising. But afterwards I did some checking. The rumors that the park rules now allow XC flying turned out to be incorrect. Despite some minor changes, you have to be have 1000m terrain clearance over the national park and that essentially rules out almost all flights towards Italy from St Andre. Bummer.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Le Chateau de Seisset

I had a morning big ride today that passed through Clumanc. Clumanc is a commune but isn't really a village, it's more a collection of several hamlets, farms and isolated buildings. One of those buildings is the Chateau de Seisset (there is also a Ferme de Seisset) . It's an impressive building but more like a bastide than a chateau and it only seems to be occupied for a few weeks in the summer.

The amusing thing is that someone has decided the whole idea of chateaux isn't republican enough ("we didn't fight a revolution to have castles..."). So this someone puts up sticky tape to hide the "Chateau de" from the signpost put up by the commune. Every now and again it gets removed but a few days later, it's back again. 

Friday, August 30, 2013

British Open

Almost every year, there's a paragliding competition at St Andre. Last year, it was the Europeans and this year it was a week of the British Open (the other week was in Portugal, earlier in the summer). Apart from an early morning hike and fly to test new gear, I didn't fly during the comp, but I took my girlfriend up to watch the pilots launch one day.

Conditions for the week weren't too bad but early afternoon overdevelopment limited the flying. As a result, only 3 tasks were scored in 7 days but the competitors I talked to were pretty happy with their 3 tasks. Hopefully, they'll be back next week.

Friday, August 23, 2013

British Open Practice Day

Cheval Blanc, big clouds
over the Dormillouse

The British Open starts in St Andre tomorrow so launch was busy with pilots hoping for a practice day. As I headed N, I saw a big gaggle ahead and below me, stuck on the Meunier. Great, I thought, lots of thermal markers!

As I headed towards them, they started rising in a thermal. I thought I would get in above everyone, but underestimated the thermal. I was messing around taking pics and by the time I realized I needed full-bar, it was too late. They escaped just before I arrived, the thermal was gone and I was stuck on the Meunier with half a dozen other frustrated pilots.

Sommet de la Sapee
So it took me some time to reach Cheval Blanc. I tried for some time to get high enough to warrant pressing on to the Dormillouse. But it didn't look like a sure thing, I was flying by myself and I didn't really fancy an epic retrieve (it's an easy place to wimp out!). So I flew back to St Andre by a nice little loop - Sommet de la Sapee, Mouchon and Maurel. I could easily have kept flying but I'd had my 'fix' and landed after an entertaining 4 hour flight.
Over Maurel, with the Coyer beyond

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Close Enough Encounter with a Patou

My son has been with me for the last week - he's a worker now and learning the real meaning of vacation. We've done a bunch of cycling, but today was a long hiking day up Coste Longue. 

The summit is at the end of a long ridge and we discovered a big herd of sheep between us and it. Sheep in the mountains come with patous, huge dogs that protect the herd against wolves. 

We ducked down the other side of the ridge and popped back up near the summit. From 2 kms away, a patou broke from the herd and started following us. He seemed to be going slowly but he still caught us up very quickly. He stopped around 250m away and lay down on the path just as we reached the summit. 

We had a nervous lunch on the summit and decided to take another route down!

Monday, August 5, 2013

A hot dry spell

A student gets ready; in
the background the approaching
valley wind can be seen on the lake

The last few days have been pretty hot and I've been out in the sun a lot (flying, cycling, hiking and, worst of all, some parawaiting). I felt pretty bushed this morning and I normally don't fly when I feel tired or not very keen. Maybe my brain has been fried, but I decided flying at least isn't physically very tiring and I'd be cooler 'up there' rather than 'down here'. 

Dressed in minimal layers, I flew for nearly 3 hours, not going any further than Tartonne, and getting back to St Andre via a little transition I hadn't done before. I headed to La Mure to land (it's a safer LZ) and dropped in to see Ray. He was headed for a swim but served me a beer before dropping me off at my house first - what service!

It's due to cool down in a couple of days. In the meantime I'm looking forward to working in the cool indoors tomorrow!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

The Cloud from Hell

The cloud is at least 20 Km away and
conditions are almost soarable as
the tandem pilots get ready

Today's forecasts varied but all seemed to show XCs as possible but probably unspectacular. Up on launch everything seemed fine with cycles slowly building. But far out to the NW was a strange wall of cloud with some embedded cumuli. It wasn't like anything I'd seen before - it looked more like a front than a cloud - and I was a bit wary.

After a while, people started launching and were getting above launch easily. Just as I was ready to go, I noticed a big flush cycle. I waited a couple of minutes, and the wind dropped and then, a couple of minutes later, started coming over the back. The cloud was now nearer and was reversing the wind direction - it still looked strange but not threatening in a cu-nim way. A whole group of pilots were stranded on launch.

The cloud is causing a flush cycle and will
soon reverse the wind flow
After about 45 minutes of this the cloud passed over and the wind slowly started coming up the hill again. 5 minutes later it was clearly blown out. Launch conditions after 1 pm are typically strong and the added cloud suck put things over the top.

Frustrating but also interesting...

Friday, August 2, 2013

South Winds

Trying to cross the Bleone valley
In summer afternoons you almost always use the W launch at St Andre. But today the meteo wind was SSE - an unusual direction here - and the S launch was the place to start from. With a tail wind, it took hardly any time to get to Cheval Blanc, but I failed to pick up a thermal there and struggled down low for 15 minutes before finally getting up again. 

What next? I decided to try the Montagne de Coupe, a sharp ridge out to the west. It went well initially, but I got lower than I was comfortable with in a 'limited LZ' zone. So I decided to fly on towards Le Brusquet and then hopefully towards Sisteron. I knew crossing the Bleone valley would be tricky, and so it proved. I ended up landing at La Javie after a very entertaining 2+ hour flight. 

Looking back at Cheval Blanc (top left)
and the Montagne de Coupe 
A lift back to Digne, a refreshing high carbohydrate recovery drink and the tourist train back to St Andre completed the day.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

An Unusual Tandem

I got back from a trip to the States this weekend and went for a flight today. The flight was pretty routine, pleasant but nothing to write home (or online) about. The highpoint of the day happened on launch. It was a dog telling its owner it wanted to fly now. As soon as the dog had his harness on, he could barely contain himself - super excited, trembling and yelping. At one point the pilot pointed out to his friend that 'my dog has more hours than you this year' and his friend had to agree (this year has been pretty dire, the dog is lucky). I talked to the pilot's partner and she told me the dog had been flying at 3 months - even in dog years, that's pretty young!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Storms or Overdevelopment?

We're into summer and my flying routine has changed. It's too hot to enjoyably hike up to launch with an aircraft on my back, so I'm taking the shuttle or riding up with locals. This changes my flying days' workout to an early morning run when it's still relatively cool.

Unfortunately the forecasts this weekend were for afternoon overdevelopment with a substantial risk (depending on the forecast you choose) of storms. Over three days, I flew the first two. Both days, I immediately headed out to the west of St Andre where the lower mountains and a wide valley reduce the risk of storms. Both flights involved a lot of cloud monitoring and avoidance; as the afternoons went on that became harder and I landed just short of 3 hours on both flights rather than risk any drama. 

On Sunday the forecasts more clearly showed storms and I took a bike ride. The clouds didn't actually build as quickly as they did the previous two days. But by the time I got back to St Andre they clouds were growing very tall. The storm broke very suddenly 30 minutes later, with hail, winds and lots of rain. I'm glad I wasn't on my bike, never mind in the air.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

Well Equipped…

Gliding down the S ridge of Maurel
 back to St Andre

Two helmets, two sunglasses, 3 pairs of gloves, 2 balaclavas, 2 varios. I wasn't short of equipment for today's flight. All in all, it was a little embarrassing. 

Last weekend I landed with some local pilots as overdevelopment threatened. There was quite a lot of socializing as we packed up and as I went to close my pack, I realized my helmet - complete with vario, gloves etc  - was missing. Searching and inquiries were all in vain. 

So today I arrived at launch with a bicycle helmet and replacement gear. As I prepared my wing, a lump transformed into my old helmet. Somehow, I had wrapped my helmet up in my wing! I packed the spare stuff in my harness and had a nice flight (the standard triangle back to St Andre over Cordoeil). 

From now on, I'll pack my gear away before starting on the beer…

Monday, June 10, 2013

Barre des Dourbes

Hike or fly? The forecasts indicated marginally strong winds and so-so conditions but it seemed safely flyable. Normally, I'd have done something else, but this year has been poor enough that it's hard to turn down flying opportunities. Just before hiking up to launch I checked the winds on launch. 15K gusting to 25K (or 10-16 mph in old money). Hmm, ok for noon, but a bit spicy for 9.00…

So I did a hike I've been looking forward to for some time, along the Barre des Dourbes (aka Montagne de Coupe). It's a high, isolated ridge that isn't used by sheep in the summer. This means lots of vegetation, including alpine flowers and shrubbery. It gets very few hikers (it's flown more often than it is hiked) and there's a big drop on one side, so it was pretty slow going.  

The wind wasn't terribly strong on the ridge, so it may well have been flyable but I didn't see any paragliders in the air. Towards the end of the ridge walk, 7 sail planes flew about 100m over me and headed straight to Digne and then home to Chateau Arnoux - none of this turning in lift nonsense, their performance is amazing.

Right at the end of the hike, I could see my car. As I neared it, the sound of flowing water got louder and louder. I turned a corner and there was a substantial river I'd never seen before. I'd hiked this trail before but it must have been at the end of the summer. Wet feet or extend my hike by 4Km? Wet feet!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Puy de Rent

Saturday's forecast was a little windy, a little cloudy and a little thundery, so a hike seemed a better choice than trying to fly or even a bike ride. I had a long hike, climbing the 2000m Puy de Rent, then layered up for a chilly ridge walk. Right as I reached my car, the first drops of rain started. Launch was visible almost all day, so I couldn't help checking if I'd made the right decision. There were some very early flights, but no-one was in the air after 11.00, so I think I made the best use of the day. 

Friday, June 7, 2013

Early overdevelopment

There's not much point complaining about flying conditions, but… We've gone straight from a 'Mistral' (strong N winds aloft) to an 'over-development' (midday thunderstorms) weather pattern. I arrived at launch before 11.00 on Friday morning, hoping for an hour or so of airtime before having to land, and was immediately greeted by a rumble of thunder. A lot of pilots looked at each other, surprised just how early things were starting, wondering what to do. The occasional rumbles continued; it didn't look ready to storm but who knows for sure? One or two pilots packed up, most - including me - launched and flew quickly to the LZ. There a found a group of pilots packing up, disappointed the day's flying had finished well before noon but relieved to have at least flown. I was safely home watching the tennis when the rain started.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Maybe, finally, the winter is over...

Looking NE

The winter has been long and hard in St Andre. It's really only in the last week that we seem to have clearly left it behind. Leaves and blossom are appearing, the grass is green and the rivers are torrents of melting snow. 

Normally, I would have flown 40+ hours by this point of the year - but not this year. I've managed to fly the last 3 days and that's taken my hours to around 15 for the year. 

Finally crossing the Mouchon and heading back to launch
Today's flight was supposed to be pretty short (partly because of the risk of storms), so I flew a little triangle out to the west. I got stuck on the last mountain (the Mouchon) on the way back to St Andre. By the time I got over it, clouds were building and the air was pretty rough. I landed and by the time I packed up, big, slow, lazy raindrops were falling, but it never went beyond that.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Being Relaxed

This area of France has a reputation of being relaxed. The locals aren't terribly 'deadline focused' and most planning involves the dreaded word 'normalement' (which means 'in principle' rather than 'normally'). 'Doucement le matin, pas trop vite le soir' is how the rest of France characterizes things (slowly in the morning, not too fast in the evening). 

Usually, it is charming. Sometimes it can be a little frustrating. Occasionally, it can be almost bizarre. Twice this year local commerces couldn't be bothered - despite prompting - actually preparing a bill, so I found myself walking around with thousands (yes, thousands) of Euros worth of unpaid goods before I was finally given the opportunity of paying for them.

I've just started on a 3 day work week and aim to make myself as relaxed as the locals…

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Waiting for spring...

The winter has been pretty long in St Andre, and although I've managed a few flights, I'm well behind on my 'normal flying hours' for this time of year. While tomorrow looks promising, today was too gray / humid / windy to attempt aviation. So I had yet another day of winter activities, a long snowshoe hike up the Pic de Chamatte.

It felt more like a hill-walking day in Scotland - completely overcast and windy. But cloud-base was about 100m above the summit - in Scotland it would have been in the clouds! Horribly sugary snow on the way up and even worse on the way down (though safe from an avalanche perspective). Hopefully, that's the last time I'll be using my snow-shoes this side of summer…

A few B&W pics.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

The Luberon

On the way back from Barcelona, my daughter and I spent a couple of days hiking in the Luberon. It's not very far from where I live, but it's different - more Provence and less Alps. Warmer as well, with no snow! 

It's an area made famous by Peter Mayle (via A Year in Provence) and the countryside is very cute. It all seems a bit gentrified, with hardly any run down buildings. A bit like the Cotswolds, but with better food and weather!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Barcelona Visit

My daughter and I spent a very enjoyable few days in Barcelona. After the snow in St Andre, it was very nice to stroll around in shirt sleeves and admire palm trees. Wonderful architecture, good weather, a big city with a beach and very welcoming locals! Maybe because the local language (Catalan) isn't spoken anywhere else, the locals spoke really good English and enjoyed doing so. Highly recommended! A few pics.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible...

After a few non-flying days (wet and windy) the weekend might just be flyable so I started checking the forecasts tonight. One of the sites is undergoing maintenance and had a rather nice way of saying so...

Saturday, March 2, 2013

The Start of the End of Winter - I hope!

February has been very cold but mostly clear and sunny. All very scenic, but I've been getting fed up with all the snow and ice - winter has been dragging on. The last couple of days have been a little warmer and today was positively spring-like. Even better, spring-like with a decent flying forecast at the weekend!

I considered flying locally but I wasn't sure if the road to the top was clear of snow. I would walk up anyway, but if the road was blocked I'd be flying by myself and that feels pretty lonely in winter. So I headed to Greolieres, where I met a bunch of Nice based pilots and also Frode, a Norwegian I've flown with a couple of times.

Greolieres is a very special site; you can read more about it here. It's a hard site to get away from (because of airspace restrictions), and most flights are rather relaxed affairs and mine was no exception. I flew E along the main ridge, with lots of lift and wonderful views (snowy mountains to the L, the Med to the R). On one side of the ridge it's almost springtime, and warm air is coming up the Loup valley from the Med; on the other, skiers are waving at you and there's a cold meteo wind from the N.  After almost 90 minutes I landed for lunch before catching the last flight of the day - 30 minutes ground skimming in much lighter conditions.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Getting cold feet

Although you get good flying in the winter in St Andre, it's a bit of an acquired taste. You've got to overcome the snow to get to launch, fly by yourself over daunting terrain (no-one else is crazy enough to do it) and - of course - endure the cold. Apart from that, it's a barrel of laughs…

The forecast was for some good flying this weekend and I haven't had much air-time recently, so I decided to brave the elements on Saturday. I tried to avoid the worst of the snow by going up the west side of the mountain (from Moriez) but there was still plenty of it. I arrived at launch with damp feet, had a chilly lunch and launched into a stiff breeze. 

There was lift everywhere and initially it was quite pleasant to boat around. I headed N to the Allier, but my feet got cold, and at around 2000m I lost interest in getting higher. I came back to land at Moriez and, as I lost altitude, my feet got warmer. By the time I decided to stay up for a little longer, I was well below launch height over the valley, but it was easy to get back to launch. I found if I stayed around launch height, my feet were ok and the flying was quite pleasant. So I boated around for a while - spending more time looking for sink than lift - before landing after about 1 hour 30 minutes.

If I have got Google+ to do what Picasa used to do, there should be pics here

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Lazy January Thermals

Today's forecast wasn't great but, when the first soarable day of the year falls on a Saturday, some flying is in order. I could have flown at St Andre, but flying here in winter is a pretty lonely activity (the road is blocked by snow, so only lunatics that walk up get to fly). So instead I headed to Greolieres, where I expected to see a bunch of Nice based pilots.

Something seemed to be wrong with my logic. Conditions seemed good if a little weak but I arrived at a spookily deserted launch. What does everyone else know that I don't? I'm re-evaluating my flying gear, and was flying with an old wing and harness, so I did some kiting to get used to it again. Shortly afterwards pilots started arriving, and I took to the air.

It was pretty easy to stay up, but it took a long time to build any altitude. I slowly got higher as more and more pilots launched. I eventually got level with the summit ridge (around 600m above launch) but, just as I was hoping for a mini-XC, conditions started weakening, and there was a long, slow flush cycle. The skies slowly emptied and the LZ filled up.

I managed to stay in the air long enough for the cycle to pass but I never got back to the same height. After about 1.5 hours I was too cold to pretend it was fun so I landed. I enjoyed flying with my old gear, especially with a non-pod harness (much simpler and more direct, if a little chillier). All in all, a nice relaxed start to the flying year.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Springlike conditions - well, almost

We seem to be caught in a period of dry, sunny weather. No snow or rain for the last 2 weeks, and none predicted for the next two weeks. There is still lots of snow on the mountains, especially where it is shady and sheltered. 

It's more like spring or even summer, but with one important difference - the air is super-stable right now. Even at 4 o'clock, you can see the inversion trapping the smoke in the valley. Down in the valleys, there is almost no wind; even on the summits, it is almost calm (even when you can see lenticular clouds higher up).

Soon, of course, this will change and thermals will work their magic. I can't wait...

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Summer Snow-shoeing…

The holiday period at St Andre has been warm, sunny, dry and stable. Unusually for this time of year, I've only managed one hike and fly - a couple of days before Xmas - but I've done plenty of hiking. I got back yesterday from a week away and decided to go snow-shoeing today.

As I drove up the Verdon, the temperature in the valley hovered around zero. As soon as I left the valley, the temperature soared - talk about an inversion. I parked the car in 14C (57F) and headed up my mountain (the Pic du Courradour) in shirt sleeves. Sticky, wet snow made for slow going (or that's my excuse), but the views more than made up for it. A long day but a lovely one. 

Some pics