Thursday, December 19, 2013

Escaping Winter, at Least for an Afternoon

I know I promised my next post would be on paragliding rucksacks and the selection process for a new one to use on vol biv trips, but....

The weather this week has been beautiful.  Yesterday afternoon it was 58 degrees and not a cloud in the sky.  I headed to the Bessemer airport and pulled in just as Mark was launching.  I quickly setup and launched as right after I took off, Curtis arrived.

I flew for about 20 minutes then landed so I could force Curtis to fly the demo Geo 4.  I snagged his pig of a wing before he could object, thus leaving him with no option but to try the sleek new Ozone.   We both took off and buzzed around a bit.  I landed after about 25 minutes and started packing up my motor.  Curtis flew for close to an hour.

I gotta tell ya, I sure have been spoiled flying Ozone gliders the past 8 years.  His glider is supposed to be on the better launching motor wings but it was a chore to launch.  It's heavy, hard to launch, the risers are huge and the controls clunky.  I think Curtis enjoyed the Geo 4 also.

I will try to finish the bag post tonight and get it up tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

My Current Paragliding Kit

My vol biv flying kit is just my regular flying kit.  I made a conscience effort to drop weight from my kit 2 year ago, which was just 1 year after making a consensus effort to drop weight from my fat ass.

It wasn't cheap, but since I lost 40 lbs I needed new gear anyway.  So I invested in the best, light weight gear on the market at the time.  The results were a flying kit that weighs less than 20 lbs.  My previous kit weighted in at 36lbs. 

My flying kit consists of a paraglider, harness, reserve parachute, helmet & flight instruments, along with a rucksack to carry it all.

My current setup includes:

  • Paraglider:  Ozone Swift 2, size Small - 4.3kg
  • Harness:  Advance Lightness, size Medium - 2.3kg
  • Reserve: Nervures Plum, size Medium - 1.15kg
  • Helmet:  Smith Vantage snow helmet - size Large, 500g
  • Rucksack:  Advance Lightpack - 600g
  • Instruments:  Flymaster Nav - 220g
All total -9kg or 19.8lbs.  Its a nice, light setup that is also highly functional.  I could compromise on both the glider and the harness for a lighter solution but that would mean giving up both performance and comfort.

The Ozone Swift 2 is an EN B glider and is top of the line for EN B's in gliding performance.  It also performs well when accelerated.  Performance at speed is important when flying in alpine settings where valley winds and long crossings are plentiful.  I love this glider.
Every time I am tempted to move back to flying a higher rated wing, I think back those times when I was in some absolutely shitty air and the Swift keep its shit together.  You can't underestimate the comfort factor of your glider and am I very, very comfortable on this wing.

The Advance Lightness is the lightest pod harness on the market at the moment.  Having a pod means better performance due to decreased drag but also increased comfort as it shields your lower body from the cold.  The Lightness is a hammock style harness, meaning it has no seat board.  It takes some getting used to as weight shifting requires different hip input and it allows lots of feedback from the glider; but once I was dialed in on it, I love it!  The other area of compromise is back protection - while it has back protection, it is not certified, since certified back protection requires 14cm of padding while the Lightness only has 10cm.   Since it doesn't have a seat board, its easier to land in a legs down postion or to setup for a good PLF if needed, so I feel the compromise is worth it.  I have also grown to love the front mounted reserve.  Its easy to access, provides a good spot for mounting the vario, and I can easily check it before flight.  Note to the fashion aware - the default color is a nasty, bright orange.  I hate Orange.  It's a high yellow content orange, so a quick dip in some denium blue RITE dye, and it's now a lovely forest green.

The Nervure Plum reserve is the same reserve as the Sup-Air extralight.  Nevures OEM's them from SupAir.  I went with the Nevures because my price on them is significantly cheaper than the equvielnt Supair.

I carry 2 varios, a Flymaster NAV which has integrated GPS for navigation and airspace alerts, and a Flyte Park Pico audio vario that is very sensitive.  I use this for sound only.

Purpose built paragliding helmets are expensive.  I've owned several and while they are certified, the modern ski/snow helmet offers much better protection and lighter weight.  I used to prefer a full face helmet but I'm grown to like the openness and increased visibility of the Smith Vantage.  I also like that it has vents that I can easily open and close in flight to help regulate airflow and temperature.
It weighs in at just over a pound and I'm always looking for a lighter option - just haven't found it yet. 

My rucksack is the Advance Lightpack that came with the lightness.  It too got the RITE dye treatment.  Its specified at 75 liters but I don't really think its that big.  I do like that it has lycra side panels that stretch.  I have no problems stuffing all my regular gear into it but using it for a longer vol biv trip will be challenging.

That leads me to the next blog's topic - Rucksacks.  Finding the right balance of durability, volume & weight has been a challenge.  Next post I will delve into our research in this area.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Vol Biv Anyone?

Lately, Jeff and I have been absolutely obsessed with planning a couple vol bivy trips.  Given all the work we have put it, I figure it makes sense to document our preparation here.

Vol What?

Vol bivouac, or "vol biv"for short, originates from the French and translates to "fly camping".  The objective is fly a paraglider cross country as far as possible carrying all the gear you need to camp upon landing.  Get up the next day and do it again.  It's the ultimate, self-supported paragliding, hiking, & mountain climbing adventure.

Vol biv has always been at the fringe of the sport of paragliding.  Early pioneers have made some fantastic journeys- crossing the Alp, the Himalayas, and even the Karakoram in Pakistan.  New advancements in both paragliding and camping equipment have opened up the sport and bigger journeys are now possible.  The latest paragliding gear is lighter and more efficient.  You can fly farther and when you have to hike and climb, the weight is half as much as paragliding kits from even 5 years ago.  Advances in the ultralight backpacking industry also help to reduce weight and complexity of a vol biv kit.

Jeff and I have been researching gear, techniques and routes for almost a year now.  Subsequent posts will document all the research to date.  We have a shakedown trip planned for later this winter on the West coast, then Jeff is jumping in the deep end with a solo trip to New Zealand in February. 

Jeff is blogging about his NZ route research here.

I'll leave you with some links to vol biv stories and expeditions on the net.

Nic Neynen's  "Share My Joys" blog and Youtube videos have been a big inspiration to us.

The Sierra Safari was an expedition up the Sierra's and is documented in "500 Miles to Nowhere."

A nice trip across the Pyrenees. 

Sati & Melody's trip across the Alps.

Winter Flying.. well, not really.

The harsh reality of winter is upon us here in Central Alabama.  Fall stretched until mid November, but after my last brief flight on November 11th, the cold and rain arrived.  4 straight weeks of it.  After a month of not flying, I was going stir crazy. 

Last Thursday I had an hour break between conference calls and managed to sneak out to Bessemer for a quick 17 minute flight in the cold.  Curtis and Mark joined me.  Curtis flew off around the local area as I was landing and Mark expertly piloted his lawn chair while sucking down Bud Lites.

I have managed to get a total of 4 flights and just over 1.4 hours on the Geo 4 demo wing.  I think its a great beginner to high intermediate wing.  I need to write a comprehensive review, but the short story is = good wing for motor and free flight.  Easy to launch and land, killer glide and very stable.  I've got a couple more folks that want to demo it then I'll be putting it up for sale soon at an attractive price.

It's Tuesday as I wright this, and after another weekend of cold and rain, we have had 2 days of awesome weather.  And I'm stuck in the office working.    Looks like this weekend will be a repeat of the last 4.