Monday, July 4, 2011

Chamonix again

Time is literally flying past and the X-Alps seems to be almost upon us.  Scarily it is now less than 2 weeks away and I just spent my last training weekend (let me write that again - last training weekend!) in Chamonix.

Arriving at Plaine Joux landing on Saturday morning, I walked up to the Plaine Joux take off (there was a French A-league comp going on there).  I took off but it was still very early on this stable day, so I flew down the east (leeside) face of the Prarion, mainly to see what the options for getting over the col at Les Houches were like and to check out the take off on the Prairon itself.  As the wind was blowing down the col (more or less as expected) I landed on the piste and walked up and over the top to fly again.  By now conditions were better and other gliders had flown across from Plaine Joux.  I flew around for a while before gliding over to Mont Joli.  I didn't really need to land here, but figured it was all good practise so I put it down in a tight little space and walked up to another take off just in time to join the comp task heading south.  Not for long though, as they pushed out east to a turnpoint and I continued south before crossing over Megeve towards the Aravis.  The wind was quite strong from the West and it was well into the afternoon so the sun was onto the west faces by now as well.  I wanted to have a go at crossing the Aravis from this side, a tough call with the lowish base in the lee and the shade but I fancied the challenge.  About 200m from the point I'd picked to cross the ridge and still at least 200m above it, I realised I wasn't going to make it - I hit the downwash from the rotor, I was literally being flushed from the sky and barely going forwards, so I did the only sensible thing and turned and ran back into the Passy valley.  I arrived too low to get back up on the otherside, so landed, walked to my van, filled up my drinks, grabbed some food and set off walking up to Paine Joux a second time.  This time I got to enjoy a lovely bouyant evening flight with Tom Payne, proud owner of a crispy new R11.  Boy that thing is fast. So, by close of play, I could count 4 flights and over 4 hours of walking up mountains for my labours!

After food and a bit of XC planning it was already late, so a good nights sleep in the camper van in Chamonix, followed by an early morning run up to Argentiere and back and I was ready for another day in the air.  This time conditions were supposed to be better.  On launch at Plan Praz it still looked a bit stable but, launching at 11am, Tom and I managed to climb through the inversion and head across to Plaine Joux.  Many other people were there in Chamonix, including fellow X-Alps competitor Clement Latour flying tandem with his girlfriend.  Along the cliffs at the back of Plaine Joux, Tom and I soon joined up with none other than Phiphi Barnier (X-Alps team FRA2) who'd walked to, and launched from, the Varan launch.  All three of us were stuck under the inversion, and after a bit of a battle, Tom decided to rejoin the competion by top landing at Plaine Joux (the day was not as good as we'd hoped for XC).  Phiphi and I eventually climbed out but went in opposite directions.

Crossing to the Quatre Tetes and the North end of the Aravis should have been fine, but it was still very inverted.  I came in low on the shallow grassy slopes and, skimming across the ground a few metres up, I disturbed a bushy tailed fox that went bounding off in front of me before diving down a fox hole.  It turned out I was just a little bit too low to get up from here, so after losing a little too much height scratching around, I landed and walked up a few hundred metres to where it was working and launched again.  It was working here but still painfully, painfully slow.  It took me an hour to climb out to 2800m above Point Percee, with its tiny summit crammed with a handful of happy climbers.

I thought things would improve now but my flight south down the Aravis was unbelievably slow, as each climb was weak and broken. It seemed to take an age to get to the Charvin, and looking at my instruments I saw it was already 4pm (how long had it taken!?!).  Passing L'Etale on my way back north it was as though someone had just switched on the thermals.  Crossing the col I took a great 3.5m/s climb to 3000m, pushed north, topped up to 3200m, crossed to the Varan, climbed again in a screaming climb to over 3000m and pushed back to Chamonix landing from there.  What had taken me most of the day on the way out took me two and half climbs and about 40mins to get back!

A good weekends training, but I was tired and wanted to be home, so jumped in the van and sped back to Geneva.

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