Friday, September 13, 2013

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

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