I was flying with Annecy based Belgian pilot with Damien De Baenst yesterday from Montgirod. We had a plan. It was optimistic. It was a 200km FAI triangle.
At launch it was clear the conditions were not as good as we’d expected, base was low and climbs were slow. I was first to base at around 2600m, which doesn’t sound that low, but in the big mountains this felt pretty low! Damien soon joined me and we were not even sure we’d make it out of the valley given the col we had to cross to the north. We worked our way cautiously through, climbing in a weak climb behind the col before crossing the valley behind.
Things really didn’t look good from there on, the base was only around 2400m and significantly below the summits. Our route north would be made doubly difficult by the lack of height because as well as the short range from each climb we’d now have to fly around all the mountains rather than over the tops! As we approached the next ridge Damien was climbing up from lower down as I flew over him to join a stronger climb over the spine, it quickly turned into a surprisingly good 3m/s climb (it was still very early). What’s more it did not stop or create a cloud. As an XC pilot I am always trying to understand the aerology, modeling it my head and modifying the model when I experience something I don’t expect. This didn’t fit in with anything that seemed to make sense, I looked around for clues but I could not see why we were continuing to climb, now well above base. It must have been some kind of convergence, but I still don’t understand why there was no cloud. Finally we ‘topped out’ (at least the climb slowed and finally stopped) at about 3000m. The route suddenly now looked amazing, flying over the first peak and over the top of some small cumulus far below the scene was breathtaking. Still, in front lay a much larger cumulus, perhaps 3km E to W and 1 km N to S and several hundred meters in altitude, with base around 2400m. I was a bit nervous approaching this mighty cumulus but realised I did have the height to clear the top of it, just. Damien was level with me now but about 1km to my right, he skimmed through the E side of the cloud whilst I went right over the top nearer the W side. We were giggling like school children over the radio – this was breathtaking stuff!
Unfortunately the fun was soon over as I approached the next cloud at base before topping up underneath and crossing to Mt Bisane. The flight went downhill from there as now we were out of the big mountains the conditions became much weaker. We both became stuck in multiple places. We ended up modifying our plans and shortening the course to nearer to 100km than the 200km planned. We pushed round but base was much lower in the pre-Alps and finally flying back into the big mountains was not possible. The base came down even further at the end of the day to only about 2000m with quite a bit of wind around, making any attempt to get back to Aime both unsafe and unlikely to be successful. So finally we both landed out near Albertville. A long and hard day flying for only approx 100km of distance, but the moments flying over the clouds made everything worthwhile. What an experience!