Thursday, April 25, 2013

A very long day

Flying again.  3 days earlier the forecast had looked fantastic, and the emails bouncing around about which epic triangle we should attempt came thick and fast.  As the day approached, the forecast didn't look quite so amazing.  Suddenly everyone had questions, but we were committed now.  A veritable army of us were trying to coordinate getting to a launch above Ugine with as few cars as possible.  The faff factor was quite high. 

Launch seemed to filled with all the great and good - exceptional pilots from across the northern French alps.  I launched first.  Perhaps it was impatience, but it was clearly working and it was almost 11am.  Clement Latour was close behind me.  Interesting how the two X-Alpers chose to be first in the air!

Conditions were weak on launch, but we were soon up and noticed the first unexpected challenge - a really quite strong SE wind.  On we pressed, heading south on the classic route, however I soon made an error and got very low after crossing from the Col de Tamie after pushing on too fast and not stopping to 'top up' my height.  I lost precious time and Tom and Ulli who were leading the pack got away from me.  After that things got better and I blasted down to the south end of the Bauges.

Heading South - Dent D'Arclusaz behind.

We had planned to cross to the Chartreuse, but the base looked low and it looked very murky down there so we turned north instead at the Pic de Sauge.  We were moving well now and I found myself in a small gaggle with two French pilots, but I wasn't sure who they were.  We arrived together in a roaring 4.5m/s thermal with two sailplanes, coring tighter than them we soon outclimbed them, but the thermal was huge and there was plenty of space for all of us.  Suddently the day felt great.  Another 5m/s climb over Colombier and I was beginning to think it was a 'go anywhere day' after all. 

Perhaps I was overconfident, but I took a direct line to the Roc des Boeufs, ignoring a good cloud off to my east.  I arrived at Roc Des Boeufs with only just enough height and had to climb as my two friends from earlier passed me to my east.  My route was ok though, cloud base was lower than over Colombier, but I reached it in the middle of the ridge and pushed straight for Mt Veyrier.  A brave or a stupid choice, still not sure.  I wanted to try the direct line thinking that it would be faster, but Veyrier was windy and there were no good climbs so I limped over the back and struggled to Parmelan.  Hmmm, should have gone via Dents de Lanfon after all.

It didn't get better, in fact it got much worse.  Everything was shaded out now at Parmelan and I had no choice but to take a weak climb.  Impatient and still a long way from base I pushed on as there was sun on the next hill.  With a westerly wind now at this level, I found myself with a choice as I approached the next spine - cliffs in the sun or the windward side.  I chose the cliffs.  Doh! third error of the day. Suddenly in rotor and seemingly pinned by the wind I had no choice but to dive into the back of a horrid bowl (see the funny little horsehoe in the tracklog) in order to get back out.  It took for ever because, once again, it clouded over and shaded everything out.  Back up to hill top height, but still a long way from base, I pushed on again.  Sur Cou was in the sun and a gorgeous cumulus above it was being fast approached by two paragliders climbing.  As I arrived the vario started singing, it increased nicely, just as one would expect, but everything above me spread out once again, the hill went into shade and I was left working weak bubbles to try to get back up.  I could have screamed - this was getting very annoying.

I did finally get up at Sur Cou and pushed on to Pointe D'Andy (not sure how to spell that one).  This time finally, the sun and the mountain played ball and the spine I aimed for triggered a beautiful climb up to cloud base.  Phew.

Next I jumped across to Le Mole.  Funnily enough the wind was NW here so, approaching from the south was a bit uncomfortable, but I was soon established in a thermal and climbing back to base over the summit.

I looked at my options - I didn't want to go back the way I came, instead I wanted to try a new route.  I contemplated making the short glide over Mieussy to the hill behind but time wasn't on my side so instead I glided past the north of Cluses to join the after work soaring pilots launching and soaring the hill in the valley wind behind Cluses.  I arrived at the top and took a surprisingly broken climb.  I had no need to be high here - staying low suited me as the valley wind helped me on my way back south towards Sallanches. So onwards I headed past the chalets at Les Carroz.

Being low in the valley is all very well but at a certain point I was going to run out of valley.  Finding an into wind spur I climbed up and thermalled away from the top.  It was weak but the day was slowing down and I needed to be high for the next part. So I stuck with it. It seemed to take me forever to climb the almost 2000m I needed, finally arriving at base at 3100m just next to the Pic de Varan.  A horribly sinky glide took me towards Megeve with only a couple of weak scraggy clouds left to aim for.  As the shadows lengthened another weak climb took me up to almost 3300m.  I took every meter I could as I thought this was my last climb and it was an awfully long glide back to Ugine.

The 'will I, won't I' game occupied me as I glided along, but it looked good as I came over Crest Voland, a village perched on a shoulder above the Gorge De Bargy.  At least, one minute it looked good, the next I was in strong sink and not even sure I'd clear the plateau.  Worse, the gorge beyond was all in shade so I could not tell if there were any landing options if I pushed over the edge.  The last building had a clearing next to it, and I took my feet out of my pod ready to land there.  Suddenly the air felt better, the sink went and I was being pulled forward.  I tucked my feet away, cleared the trees and flew out over the gorge.  I was expecting lift here as the valley wind must be hitting this face.  After gaining a bit of height I decided to soar around the west face still lit up in the late afternoon sun.  I set off in that direction but strong sink sent me scuttling back to my small area of lift.  Only 7km away from my finish in Ugine, I thought the day was done and this one may just have beaten me.  Then all of sudden, along came that magical think - a thermal just when you need it!  I took it higher than I needed to do but it meant I did not have to push into wind through the gorge now, just glide over the last hill, arriving level with the take off I'd launched from some 8 and a half hours earlier.
Back over Ugine - note the evening shadow in the valley below

I landed, badly, next to Tom and Ulli.  Exhausted but happy.  Only a 159km flat triangle to show for my marathon time in the air, but it was after all only a 'good' day and not an 'epic' one!

Track log is here:

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