Sunday, September 15, 2013

Greetings from Madrid

It's 2am and I'm in a Hilton near the Madrid airport.  Just watched Bama beat Texas A&M via internet and I'm too pumped to sleep.  My flight home departs in 5 hours so I'm trying to wind down my posting a few last thoughts on the week.

Here's my final observations:

St. Andre is a FANTASTIC flying destination.  Easy logistics, nice flying site and plenty of options for XC routes. - Mark and Elena are fantastic hosts and have a beautiful property.  I highly recommend contacting them for any accommodation needs if you are planning a vacation to St. Andre (flying or not).  They have several single rooms and 3 different gites (apartments) for rent as well as grills, fire pits, a media room with big screen TV, and Mark will likely want to host a dinner a night or two.  Take him up on it, he's a fantastic chef.  Just refrain form taking him up on the second bottle of Lemoncello.

Nigel C
Nigel & Carol Cooper are great friends we made in St. Andre.  Nigel can hook you up with lifts to launch, flying advice or advice on other outdoor activities.  He is a dedicated climber and cyclist and knows all the good local flying spots.  He also manages some rental properties too, should Fly St Andre be booked. They also own the smartest dog in the world, Merlin.

We all had a great week and I can't wait to come back next year.  Jeff and I intend to try some vol biv next year!

I leave you with some final pics:

Fly St. Andre from the air.
Another view of Fly St. Andre

Can't beat your own personal LZ

Merlin the Wonder Dog

Jackie & Werner - Jackie happy he survived another round of acro

Friday, September 13, 2013

Last Flying Day of the Trip

Someone partied too much last night.
Our last day for flying and it was beautiful.  I woke up feeling a bit nauseous, likely the results of the previous nights partying.

Condition were great and we all launched around noon.  There was plenty of lift but after about 45 minutes my nauesa was getting worse so I bailed and headed back to the farmhouse LZ.  I landed, promptly puked and felt 1000% better.  I spent the rest of the afternoon sorting gear and packing.

Everyone had great flights and landed back at the farmhouse.  Later in the afternoon Jeff and Werner wanted a last sled ride so that Werner could test out the LM5 some more.  Since I had already packed up my gear for travel, I ran the shuttle up the hill for everyone.

Werner testing the LM5
Werner put the LM5 thru its paces over the LZ, stalling, spinning and slinging the glider all over the sky.  Once all had landed we headed into town for pizza and beers.

I'm headed out early in the morning to make a noon flight to Madrid where I will overnight before heading back to the states.  Jeff and Werner are planning on getting up early for "one more sled ride".  Jeff wants to say he flew everyday of the trip, even the departure day.

Celebrating a great week with beers & pizza!

This has been one of our best trips to the Alps so far.  Even though we had some weather challenges, we did manage to fly everyday for 8 days in a row.  Something we have never accomplished before.

Off to bed then 2 days of dealing with airports.  At least I have an upgrade on the ride back across the pond.

Nice landing
Steve being Steve

Outlaw PG pilot?  1%er?

XC for All!

Nigel's Taxi Service (Nigel in the middle)
Today's forecast looked good.  Still the lingering Mistral, with strong NW winds but the early look at the forecast encouraged us.

We caught a ride up the hill with Nigel, and he decided to fly with us today!

After mucking about on launch for a couple hours, we almost waiting too late to launch. There are 3 groups of visiting pilots here (Swiss, British & Spanish) and that makes for a crowded launch - we waited until most of them had launched before we setup. The cycles were coming up the hill very strong and frequent.

I hucked first and my launch was not very good.  I drifted left and almost stepped on Jeff's glider.  Once in the air, I discovered I had my right brake looped thru my rear riser.  That explained the lack of control authority to the right.  I made a couple passes in front of launch to gain some altitude before headed north on the ridge.  My first attempt to make the transition to the antenna's did not go well.  I wrongly assumed that the white rocks in the lee of the antenna's would be working and I would find a lee side thermal that wasn't being blown by the prevailing NW wind.  I was wrong.

Climbing up at the Antennas
I was sinking, fast.  About this time I heard Nigel on the radio saying that he was leaving for Lambrusse Ridge - talk about getting up and away from the hill fast!

After sinking below the height of the ridge, I turned a south and scratched for a saving thermal.  I found some lift and got back to ridge height.  Then I figured I'm make another go for it, but instead of hugging the ridge line in the lead of the point, I pushed over the valley and made beeline for the point.  I snagged a nice thermal over the valley and rode it as it drifted up the hill on the lea side.  Then I transitioned around to the front and got the usual elevator ride at the point just north of the antenna's.
Cote Lounge to the left, Cheval Blanc ahead.

Once I was bout 1000 feet over the point, I made the jump to Lambruisse ridge on about 1/2 speed bar.  The Swift 2 glides really well at half bar.  I made the transition only losing about 1100 feet and arrived about 150 feet below the ridge line.  I quickly worked my way back up and then headed to the north point of Lambruisse, the jumping off point for the transition to Cheval Blanc.

The lift here was strong, but the NW wind was too.  There were probably 20 other gliders working the lift over this peak, but at least we were all spread out.  As I climbed higher it got rougher as I was in the lee of Cheval Blanc.  I made one attempt to push into the wind to the NW but it it was obvious that I would not make it Cheval Blanc.    After a few minutes of getting knocked around, I spotted Jeff and called out to him on the radio that we should make a run for it.  Remembering what Nigel had told us, the Cote Lounge would be the best route given the strong NW winds.

Track to Cote Lounge
Little did I know that Jeff radio was not working, but it didn't matter, right after I made that call he headed off to the east toward Cote Lounge.  He was about 300 feet higher than me at the time, but He also headed straight east and then made a turn toward Cote.  Since he was on a better glider, I figured I should use all the altitude I had and I made a beeline for the Cote.  The issue with this approach was I was going to be flying thru the lee of the strong thermal I was just leaving.  It was a wild ride.  I got tossed around and had 2 collapses but once I got clear of the turbulence I had lost very little altitude and would make the crossing easily.

I followed Jeff toward the west side of the Cote and when we arrived I had about 200ft of altitude on him.  We scratched around for a while, waiting on a decent thermal that would get us to above the ridge.  I wandered a bit too far up the west side valley and when I started to head back, it looked like the headwinds were going to have me trapped.  I was sinking and getting ready to side hill land when I saw 2 hawks circling behind be to the right out of the corner of my eye.  I quickly turned to follow them and joined in their thermal.

Once I climbed up a bit, I pushed back out south toward Thorame-Bass and then hooked into an awesome climb.  Just as I was entering the thermal Nigel appeared and we shared the ride as we climbed up to cloud base.  Jeff saw us and got the tail end of the thermal too.  At cloud base, we proceeded along the top of the ridge to the north.  Over the peak of Cote Louge it got hairy.  Jeff described it as "being in the washing machine"  Both Nigel and I got rocked and took several collapses and Jeff went parachutal at one point.

Left or Right?

One we passed this turbulence, we had a decision to make - turn left and try to get in front of Cheval Blanc, gain some altitude and then push north, or continue on the same line, working the ridges and peaks in front of us.  I called to Nigel for advice on the radio but he didn't answer.  I was out in front now I made the decision to continue on the current line.  There were 2 peaks ahead with a col in the middle.  The East peak was in the sun and very rocky so I figured it should be working, so I stayed east.  Jeff followed.  Bad move.
Crossing the Col

There was nothing working on that face.  Nothing.   I was too low to make a move to the peak on the west side I had passed up, so my choices were limited.  Either side hill land to the right, land in the col or head thru col and see what I could find in the valley beyond.  I looked back and Jeff was setting up to land in the col.  At think point my competitiveness got the best of me.  We had been trahs-talking all week about XC comp points and I figured my once chance to beat Jeff in points for a day was to push thru the col into an unknown valley.

Into the unknown valley

As I crossed the col, there were few landing options but I was getting a bit of zero sink on the south side of the valley so I pushed forward, trying to fly out of the west end of the valley.  I passed over little village and figured I could land there if necessary.  Once I got over the village I determined that the headwinds would not let me clear the mouth of the valley.  The village that look like a good LZ was ripe with power and telephone lines so I headed back up the valley to a small meadow I spotted earlier.

An uneventful landing later and I had broken the 30lm mark.   Jeff relaunched from the col and landed at the bottom of the valley to the south and Nigel, who took the left route made it one valley north of me.  I packed up and hiked out for 2.5 hours, finally meeting Nigel in the village at the mouth of the valley I landed it - Prads-Haute-Bleone. As luck would have it, the bar was CLOSED!  We rested by the fountain in the town square for a retrieve.  Steve had done another "Tour de Chavlet" and landed back at the farmhouse, so he loaded the car with chip and beer and made retrieve run.

Those cold beers on the way back were killer.  Thanks again Steve.  We picked up Jeff on the way home.  Jackie & Werner, flying tandem again had made it up on Chevel Blanc and then turned back and landed near Thorame-Bass.  They hitched back to the house just in time for a fantastic dinner that Marc and Elena prepared.  After desert we polished off 2 bottles of Lemoncello before saying goodnight to Mark and Elena.. (I think it was more "good nyeshish").

You can see all our tracks at this XC Comp link.

Or watch a Doarama of my track.

Hiking to Launch

Jackie got this shot of Jeff's sled ride after he relaunched.
Steve with Chevel Blanc in the background

Chavalet Launch

Jeff on the LM5

The Man, The Myth, The Legend - Werner Messerschmidt

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Neddles? Where?

The forecast today looked good - still have some strong winds from the NW, but we were excited about the possibilities.  We got up early and did a sledder this morning.  Jeff and Werner got some good shots as it was smooth and we were all able to fly together.  We did a quick pack-n-turn and grabbed a ride back up the hill from Nigel to be ready for the cycles to start around 11am.
Strong cycles were going up launch and take-offs were difficult, but once in the air there was abundant lift, but very strong NW winds.  We were all able to make it North to the antenna's but could not push further upwind.  I got high, and headed back toward launch.  Once I made it to the end of the ridge I caught a nice thermal and rode it up to over 6500 feet.  At this point I had been flying for about 50 minutes and was absolutely freezing, so I decided to head back to Marks.

In a descending glide over the town, I started to warm up.  I arrived over Marks with over 2000 feet of altitude so I headed to the ridge to the SE, that leads to the Crete de Chamatte.  I arrived about half way up the hill and after about 15 minute of the most intense, low-level, tree kicking scratching I've ever done, I as at the height of the ridge.

I happened to see Jeff coming back from the South.  He had made the same transition and soared the length of the ridge to the Chamatte peak.  There was plenty of lift along the ridge but it was a mix of the NW wind and thermals and was quite rowdy.  I started getting cold again and tired of fighting the turbulence.  With the gite in site, and knowing there was cold beer in the fridge, I made a couple passes along the ridge and then set out for home.

Jeff and I arrived over the house about the same time and the entire valley was full of lift.  We were actually coordinating radio calls of where to find sync so we could get down.  We both landed at the same time and were met by Mark in the LZ.  Steve showed up a bit later, having crossed the valley at the Antenna's and made a nice triangle taking the 'Tour de Chavalet".

Werner and Jackie had flown tandem that day.  They had side hill landed near where I was scratching.  I was right over them but never saw them.  Werner insisted on hiking up the ridge and relaunching, which took them 2 hours of bushwhacking.  They relaunched and joined us at the house just in time to make a run into town for pizza and beers.

During the hike, Werner had tromped thru some sort of bush with small thorns, which collected all over his clothes.  Some of them worked with way past his pant line and down his butt-crack - thus he named his new launch accordingly on XContest!

To celebrate the day, Steve and I cooked a big meal - mushroom soup, steaks, sausages & potatoes.  And of course beer.  We even splurged and got some fancy Belgium ales.

Not a bad day and a nice 24km flight for me, although Steve ruled the day with the most XC points.

Here's a Doarama of my track.

And the XContest tracks for Jeff, Steve and I.  

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Jeff & Werner go XC!

The mistral continues.  We got up early and did a sledder this morning before the winds picked up but the forecast for noon today is 35km/h at launch.  Jeff and Werner got some good shots as it was smooth and we were all able to fly together.

Steve and I elected to stay at the apartment and catch up on some work and do some video & photo editing.  Jeff, Werner & Jackie headed back to St. Vincent.

Around 2pm we got a txt from Jackie - St Vincent was working and Jeff and Werner had made an impromptu decision to try and fly back to St. Andre.  We pulled up Jeff's SPOT tracker and his location on Friend Finder and watched as they scooted over 40km south toward St. Andre.

They were on the front side of the range and could never get high enough to make the transition at Chevel Blanc.

The both landed safely by the main road at La Javie and Jackie picked them up.  The tracks are in the photo to the right.  Jeff's is Red and Werner's is Green.  Here is the link to the XContest Airbuddies tracks.

One other note - just thinking this flight would be a local ridge soaring flight, Jeff elected to fly his LM5.  Instead, Werner took off south and Jeff followed him.  This was the first time he flew it in really rough, thermic conditions and he said it handled great.  I don't think we will see his Alpina out of the bag anymore this week!

Edit: - Here's Jeff's video of the flight.

Paragliding St Vincent to La Javie from Jeff Thompson on Vimeo.

Monday, September 09, 2013

St. Vincent les Forts

The day started off cold and cloudy with lots of fog and misting rain.  We hiked up the hill to visit Nigel & Carol (and Merlin) this morning and discuss XC routes.  Nigel & Carol are another couple of expat Brits that live in St. Andre.  Nigel is a pilot to and gives us rides up the hill each day for a fiver.

We we arrived we, another pilot, Dieter, that Werner & Jackie know was already there discussing potential routes and the weather.  Carol served tea and we all had a time visit.

The mistral conditions of Sunday continued on Monday.  It was howling at St. Andre.  Werner
suggested we drive 1.5 hours north to St. Vincent les Forts.  This site is a low ridge soaring site at the north tip of the famous Dormulouse run.  We had hoped to see St. Vincent this trip, but by air, not car.

Werner figured that the lower takeoff, and the fact that it was shielded from the winds by the bigger mountains to the NW near Veynes.  Sounded better than sitting around watching the trees blow over, so we piled in the car and headed north.

I drove this time, I didn't want to arrive green again.  Once we pulled into the parking lot my jaw dropped.  The scenery was insane.  This was the most beautiful view from a takeoff I have ever seen.  The blue of the lake, the hue of the lavender fields on the opposite hillsides and those mountains in the distance were breath taking.  Click on the pic to the left for a larger, more stunning image.

The winds were light so we dug in and started parawaiting on the carpeted launch.  Soon cars started pulling to the lot and before you know it there were at least 100 pilot waiting on launch.  Every so often someone would dare to huck, and immediately sink out.  It was very, very light.  Jackie decided to take a turn and soon Werner was on his way down the hill to pick her up.

After a while, Jeff and I decided to huck. We both had extended sledders, working some slight lift on the north end of the hill.  Even for a sled run, it was an amazing flight just because of the view.  Of course my GoPro was malfunctioning so no video!

Right as we were finishing packing up, Steve pulled up to give us a ride back to lauch. As we were coming up the hill, Jackie launched again and we pulled over so Jeff could get some good shots of her in the air.  Werner took a short flight and was able to top-land, but it never really turned on.  After more parawaiting we decided to bag it and head back.  More meat on the grill and beers for dinner.  Another good day!

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Hike and Fly

We awoke Tuesday to a forecast of a Mistral wind.  A Mistral is a local phenomena to southern France & Provence.  It is a strong, cold dry wind from the NW, that is caused when there is a high over the Bay of Biscay and a low over the Gulf of Genoa in the Med.  The wind funnels down the long, thinning Rhone river valley that acts as a venturi.  Top speeds of up to 90KM have been recorded.

Given the conditions, we were looking for lower elevation sites that would be shaded from the strong winds.  Luckily Werner knows the area well and suggested we hit Greoliers, about hour to the south.  Greoliers is a hike up site and is south facing and usually a good ridge soaring site as the sea breeze from the Med moves north.

After an hour of Werner's best Michael Schumacher driving thru the mountains we made it, but I was a bit green from the ride.  The hike up wasn't that bad, unless you are a fat, out of shape Alabama redneck.  There was a gentle breeze at launch and our hopes of soars were decreasing.  We had a good time fooling around, taking pics and enjoying the outdoors.  Finally, Jackie and I launched and took the inevitable sled ride down.  Just as I was landing I felt a bubble of lift but it was too little too late.  But at least I flew!

Jeff was coming in behind be and was a bit smarter.  The LZ is actually on a terrance before dropping away to another 700 or feet to the valley floor.  Jeff got over the lip of the terrance as was able to work some light lift before he landed.  Werner did his usual Cuv imitation and caught a thermal and benched up the upper rider where he had stronger winds.  Steve worked his way more east and was staying up, but starching.  Wasn't long before both of them joined us in the LZ.

We loaded up and headed back to St. Andre.  Upon arrival we didn't see any gliders in the air (not expecting to either) but decided to head up to the west launch to see if the wind was going to lay down enough for an evening sledder.  When we got there it was blowing straight in at around 12mph - perfect to soar the ridge.  We all launched and had the entire ridge to ourselves in butter smooth air.  It start to shut down after about an hour and we all headed for Mark's LZ.

Earlier we had grabbed some steaks so the evening meal was tossed on the grill and cold beers were enjoyed by all.

Here's a brief video of the evening soaring session.

La Chavet Soaring from Rob Reynolds on Vimeo.