Thursday, April 29, 2010

A day flying with Tom Payne.

We were flying together today from the Grand Montets glacier in Chamonix, attempting a British Record Triangle distance.  Here is the story...

I launched after Tom and was a glide behind, which would have been close enough to still work together, but I made a mistake early in the flight by taking the high ground on the Aravis from Pt Percee heading south. I underestimated the southerly wind and found myself stuck in a snow filled hanging valley, I had no option but to turn and run back the way I'd come, getting flushed back down to the Quatre Tete. After climbing here again I was now quite a way behind Tom and set off down the Aravis. Whilst Tom was reporting back difficult broken lift and battling along low, I connected with a better cycle and found myself soaring along the cliffs, straight-lining through 2-3m/s thermals. By Dent de Cons I was back to only a glide behind Tom, and despite having good conditions all the way down to the southerly turnpoint I flew a little cautiously for the next 20km or so, not wanting to get low and be stuck by the valley wind adding to the meteo wind.

The tables turned as we flew through the Bauges, with Tom having classic conditions, whilst I had to work hard for a mediocre climb at the Dent D'Arclusaz. The clouds that look epic in Tom's picture above were spreading out by the time I arrived, so again it was slow-ish, but I had a pretty similar experience to Tom across Lake Annecy and past Parmelan. At the second turn point I ended up having to glide out to it low, and came back to Sur Cou below the summit. This works well normally but I scratched around for 10mins before being pinged out in a 4.5m/s climb right over the summit.

It was here, 110km into the flight, cranked over in this thermal, still close to the terrain that my left brake line snapped. Luckily I was turning right at the time and crazy as it sounds to write it, I figured it was safer to stay in the middle of this mighty thermal than to try to roll out of it with no brake line. I topped out at the cloud at 2600m and announced to Tom that I was going to glide out into the still air over the Bonneville valley and land. I have no idea why I changed my mind and turned towards Chamonix, but I found with the outer line coming off the B riser (which is basically th C tip line on the Peak) I could turn the glider gently to the left if needed.

The next part was slow for me and with the whole valley at Grand bornand in shade under spreadout cloud. There was no way I could get up to Pte Percee as Tom had done, so I glided N along the Aravis and took a climb much further along back to cloudbase before crossing the Sallanches valley. The west face of the Varan was working but I was giving the terrain a wide birth with the lack of control of the wing and the turbulence from the valley wind, still, I got back to 2200m, enough to glide over to the peak Tom had climbed on before he nipped over into the Chamonix valley at 1900. I managed to find a climb to 2200m here, but importantly there was none of the restitution lift behind that had taken Tom back to 3000m. I crossed onto the West facing end of the Brevent ridge, the sun was bang on it and 4 sailplanes were circling nicely under a cloud above, but I was too low and only managed a few hundred metres in a weak climb whilst being blown along the valley. I crossed onto the sunny side but it was too late, nothing was working and even the valley wind was dying. I couldn't go further either as I was going to run out of landing options and I was still aware I needed a biggish field to put my wing down in given I only had one brake line!

So I was back in Chamonix, but no final turnpoint, nevertheless still a very enjoyable 165km triangle in an embarrasingly slow 8hr 30mins flying.