Monday, September 9, 2013

Entrevernes & Unintended Figure 8s - 30 Aug

Besides Marlens, there is another east-facing launch. Entrevernes is a "commune" between the ridges of Roc des Boeufs and the lower Taillefer. The Entrevernes Launch faces directly toward Doussard LZ, yet there is another, much closer LZ at the foot of the launch. Some flight guides indicate it is for advanced pilots only; probably due to the launch site's short length and steep, committing  drop. No carpet here, my friend! There were other pilots there when we arrived, none of whom were locals. Hmmm. We all made it off without any difficulty and found enough thermal action to stay aloft, but nothing more. Everyone else pushed out to Doussard LZ for their landings, which is where we had a car parked to aid in the retrieve of the one left at launch. I knew that there would be an easy retrieve if I landed near the lake on the route to the car, so I went along the Taillefer ridge to the north end, where I ridge soared for 15 minutes over yet another launch site. Laura & Jeannine rode by on a bike ride and called up to me on their radio. Don picked me up as he drove down the hill in Nick's sporty automatic Mercedes Benz. We were going to have another two-fly day!

The next launch would be from Montmin, leaving just enough time at Doussard to eat a sausage, have a drink and catch the shuttle. And Montmin is perhaps the grandest paragliding launch from which I have ever flown, or even seen. I suppose the launch at Woodrat could compare in size, but without its entirety covered with carpet or terrain that towers above, it could hardly be termed "grand".

The shuttle to this launch is entirely worth the 6€ fee, leaving from the large Doussard LZ parking lot. The only misgiving might be the wait if the shuttle is mistimed. Driving your own vehicle leaves you well below launch, so the 20-minute hike and the return to fetch your car make the shuttle a no-brainer.

All the pilots on this trip were here for this shuttle. When we got to the top, the crowd was sparse. Luckily, we caught it between tandem cycles. Everyone soon became lost in their own per-launch preparations. I remember getting everything prepped off to the side and I did something a little differently this day. I jammed the speed bar into the seat of the harness after connecting it to the wing so it wouldn't drag along the ground when I carried the kit to the launch spot. When I clipped in, I managed to thread the harness straps through the speed bar and never caught the mistake in my preflight check.

The lift was really strong over Montmin.  When I got into my pod after launch, I soon discovered my issue. After some adjusting, I managed to get about 1/4 bar deflection, but with a tourniquet action on my right quad. This just wasn't going to work. It was pretty much "elevator up" without a turn for a 1000 feet. With turns, I followed Mad Dog up to nearly 7000 ft over Lanfonnet, and he was ecstatic. I explained my issue and mentioned a landing at Talloires. He suggested I fix it in the smooth air over the lake, as we set off to Roc des Boeufs. It seemed like a reasonable idea. It was super clean air. I unclipped each leg strap and the chest strap (one at a time) to free the speed bar. I still don't know how I could have mucked that up so badly, but I had it free now. It was a bit unnerving to be unhooked (even partially) 4000 ft over the lake. After correcting course back to the Rocs approach, I was back in the game.

Scrappy, Nick and Ike were all on the  "Rock of Beef" with me, and of course Mad Dog, who was deep and high and pushing across to Doussard (or so we thought). The meandering line I took across the lake while fixing my straps put me far enough behind him that there was no hope of catching up. But I could still chase. Side note: As it turned out, MD went straight across the lake to Montmin where he benched up for his next assault.

With a good thermal in the back of the ridge, I made a bid for Montagne du Charbon, a peak just south of Doussard. I got there with enough altitude to take a line to the back and explore for lift. With none found, I switched back to the north to land at Doussard LZ. Ike was setting up to land as well, since we had two cars there and needed to get them back to Talloires. When I was overhead, I realized that I had enough altitude to try and connect to the mountainside on the east bank that leads back up to Montmin.  I thought I would just try it, but leave myself enough altitude to double back to the LZ if I couldn't. Well, I made it, and got zoomed right back up to 7000 ft. Ike saw that coming. Now I'm thinking about landing close to home at Talloires and drinking beer.

Just then, I heard Mad Dog on the radio. He is over The Parmelan and heading toward Annecy town. Parmelan? Where was that? It took a few minutes, but realized it was where the girls had gone for a hike earlier last week, and it was way up there, off my scope and not even on my "study list" of terrain. Well, why not go there myself? I tanked up over the Dents de Lanfon and pointed it to what looked like a good line. Along the way, I programmed the approach into my GPS and realized I was going for the wrong point. I corrected to the left (away from the rock feature's lee & rotor), and settled in for the long glide. Then I began to hit that inevitable sink that lives in the valleys and completely destroys the good feeling you have when you think you have the glide ratio to make a big transition.  Finally, after craning my neck for viable landing options, I connected with lift at the foot of the approach. But I was below the tree line and below the "make" altitude that MD selected for this point. It worked anyway, and I began to climb steadily along the most dramatic, expansive cliff walls I've ever flown. The only company I had were a dozen soaring birds and MD ahead on the radio, now headed for Semnoz. I believe Jeannine was already running chase, but it didn't sound like Semnoz was working too well this late in the day.

I was now high and upwind and connected easily to Mt Verier. MD's fate on the west side of the lake made it an easy decision to stay on the east bank. There was good lift here that put me still higher over Talloires. I thought about drinking beer again, but then remembered the other car at Doussard. I looked straight down and called Tommy on the radio (enjoying beer at the hobbit garden at Les Granges), and he said, "Yes, the car is still there." and "If you could get it, we would really appreciate it". So, I took a contour line flight path that took me back to Doussard LZ for an unintended 38-mile figure eight and drove myself home. Unfortunately, Ike drove the pimped out Benz, so I was stuck driving the compact that Tommy was renting. Mad Dog did much the same on his flight, only with a grander scheme and intention, and a retrieve from his lovely wife Jeannine. It was late when he returned, and I believe he went straight home for dinner and bed. It was a good flight on his last day.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

A Quick Crossing & Beers - 29 Aug

The day was socked in for the entire morning and the beginning of the afternoon. Eventually it cleared and so we let the heat build for a few hours. At 4pm, we launched Planfait. It was beginning to get a bit routine with the drive up, the prep, the obligatory pee off to the side and the launch. The thermal over launch tends to be fairly dependable, and it allows a feed to the back to the Dents, which allows for a lake crossing. We did all this. And the crossing was beginning to get routine as well. We boated around on the Rocs de Boeuf ridge and with the first good thermal in the back, MD peeled off to Doussard and I followed. I was beginning to accept the fact that there was no horrible rotor in the lee of this ridge. It was too light for that. And although there may be some sink, a good thermal will keep you well clear. The air over the back here with these light winds is nothing to be afraid of. Over Doussard, the sky was emptying with tandems everywhere pouring out of the sky from the Montmin launch. We took our place in the approach pattern, landed as close to the edge as we dared, packed and waited for the girls to fetch us while downing beers and eating fries. Another day in paradise!

Marlens - 28 Aug

I first learned of Patrick Berod when he visited Oahu in October 2011. On this trip to France, Mad Dog made contact with him. We were interested in the local morning sites after seeing gliders high above Dents de Lanfon and Lanfonnet even before anyone had the chance to launch at Planfait or Montmin (both afternoon sites). Patrick recommended Marlens Launch and it's LZ below, and he planned a tandem there the next morning.

Don, MD & Jeannine set off in one car and Laura, Elizabeth (Laura's cousin) & I were playing catch-up about 15 minutes behind. I threw the GPS coordinates in the TomTom and we got there after Patrick was off, just before Mad Dog pulled his wing up and just as Don was pulling his wing out. There were north valley winds. The thermals were a bit broken up and didn't go very high.

The three of us began exploring the area around launch while Patrick flew his tandem below. After 30 minutes of maintaining, we got a small boost and went right, toward the west. We were trying to get around the corner and get north, back to the lake. I followed MD into the confluence ahead and was drilled into the ground with 800-1000 fpm down. In other words, we went from XC on the brain to feet on the grass in two minutes. I don't think I've ever had that level of decent with a full wing over my head before. We landed along the road that went home and the girls hadn't left yet, so we packed up and waited. Don doubled back and eventually landed at Marlens LZ after Patrick. With a new site and a lesson learned, we returned to Talloires to have lunch and to wait for the local launch to turn on.

Meanwhile, Nick & Mika had arrived and it was time to get Nick a flight. We rode up to Planfait together around 4pm, prepped to fly and Nick disappeared. I saw his wing, but didn't see him. I finally stepped on to the turf and waited some more, this time for a decent cycle in the very light conditions. I had a feeling it wasn't the best day for Planfait. I planned to get off the hill and get away from it. In the end, I had to do a forward launch and flew for 8 minutes and 34 seconds. Nick called me on the radio just after I landed. I didn't know this, but someone put a wing in a tree below launch, and Nick was kind enough to assist in the extraction. His flight was much like mine - short. We finished as we often did; over beers & wine at our wine growers "commune" of Les Granges.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Hops Across the Lake - 26 Aug

We had a very welcomed visit for the day from our wayward acro monkey, Nova! He dropped in on his way back from the AcroJam in Austria. It was good to see him and we were very pleased to have a flight together. It was a north-wind day with good lift, but not much penetration. We all took off from Planfait with no one really planning to go anywhere. The girls went for a hike that began above launch. Mad Dog had other ideas about "staying local", and set off across the lake in short order. Some of us chased him. I cannot remember where everyone went or ended up except for Nova, who had his acro wing and stayed close to launch and Mad Dog who pulled me across the lake twice. The ridge of Roc des Boeuf finally began to make sense to me. In the end, MD landed at Doussard LZ. Just after he peeled right to end his flight, I hooked a decent thermal very close to the Rocs de Beouf approach and used the altitude to push upwind back to Talloires LZ. It was slow going and there was big sink, but I managed to make it. At times, I wasn't sure.... I was thrilled to join MD in a double loop. Don and Tommy were at the LZ already. We all drank many beers and wine that night. The rest is a blur.

Anticipation at Sapenay - 25 Aug

French Aloha!
The day was filled with anticipation. Sylvain reserved a 4-place, fixed-wing aircraft. He was going to fly with Scrappy in the right seat after providing a tandem and refusing payment. The back seats went to Yolie and Don. (On a previous day, Sylvain flew with Serena in a two-place aircraft.) But the most anticipation went to Mad Dog, who  was due to receive his new Peak 3. Following these big doses of happiness, Sylvain/Aurelia/Alexia were receiving nine monkeys at their beautiful country home for lunch. Oh, and if it was flyable, we would try out the Sapaney launch, a short drive down the road from where we were visiting. And to heighten the anticipation, we had the most interesting drive to our hosts' home along winding roads the proportions of driveways, up through the beautiful French countryside.

After a warm welcome, a delicious lunch and a tour of a Sylvain's very cool "hangar/garage", filled with all sorts of very cool toys and tools, we set off to the trademark blue tarp launch at Sapaney. Conditions were good. Mad Dog was off first, wasting no time to try out his new wing. Next was Don, me, Scrappy & Tommy. Laura's cousin Elizabeth even got in on the action by flying tandem with Sylvain after a slot opened up. Thanks, Sylvain! After boating around the ridge and exploring the more reliable thermals (over the PG & HG launches), we ended with the long glide to the established LZ. Mad Dog made a very memorable first landing on his Peak 3, throwing all his pride to the wind to make us all laugh. It was a selfless act, accomplished solely for the amusement of his fellow monkeys. Scrappy, you need to post that video!

Afterward, we all piled into Sylvain's Range Rover, stacking all the wings on his safari roof rack and made the top-heavy, short drive to the northern end of Lac du Bourget where we found a great little restaurant called "O Lac!". It was on the water, adjacent to the harbor and in the shadow of the local castle. The owners are friends of our hosts and the meal was amazingly good! Thank you for the French aloha!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

La Clusaz - 23 Aug

In keeping with Don & Yolie's "fly by the seat of the pants" travel style, they arrived at Annecy without any reservations. Normally it works. But this year, they unknowingly arrived at Annecy on a French holiday weekend (Assumption of Mary). The nearest accommodation was in La Clusaz, a wonderful little ski town about 25 minutes NE of the lake. This is where Don, Yolie, Tommy, Serena & Scrappy spent their first week.

Don was torn. Mad Dog & I were near the lake, and he and the others drove to fly with us each day. But he was leaving a great flying site each time he did. From where they were staying, you could walk to the ski lift and ride up to a great, wide-open launch and land a short walk away from home as well. And many were taking to the skies there, showing it to be good. Finally, Don was determined to fly here on his last day at this apartment. And Mad Dog & I were determined to fly from where we were to join them.

Months before this trip, I studied the area around Annecy with the focus to the North. This was the route Mad Dog took on his big flight to Chamonix the year prior. He flew from Annecy to Chamonix just a few days after 60+ pilots top landed Mont Blanc. It was a great week that year and we had big hopes for a repeat on our trip. 

MD and I set off from the local site, Planfait. Conditions looked good and I soon found myself 6000+ ft over Dents de Lanfon. "Where should I go?", I asked. MD basically told me to just "go", and that he will head toward Thones Approach when he gets up to the perch. So, I took a bee line for the closely studied point and the ridge beyond. There was a nice thermal along the way that put me back up to 6k+ at the half-way point, so there was plenty of altitude to work the ridge when i got there. The goal was to get to the back to Le Suet, where a massive house thermal is reputed to live. That's essentially where MD went to the moon and secured a route to Chamonix the prior year. Unfortunately, we were both denied. The wind that day split the ridge at the approach and there was sink on either side below ridge height. I cut a line 90 degrees to the SE to make a bid for something on the other side of the valley. I didn't get much further than the valley floor, let alone the other side's slope. MD followed along the contour line, got a taunt with few turns in short-lived lift and made it further to the town of St. Jean de Sixt. 

I hitched two rides from my landing to La Clusaz, but MD just needed one from his end point. From the ski town, we caught the two chairlifts up to launch. MD flew another, more impressive flight along the Aravis mountain range. He was sold  and LOVED the flying from this launch!I launched shortly after, since I was 10 minutes behind. A compression knot on some brake lines kept my next flight to a minimum, having to fight my way down through the abundant lift to land. Don was waiting for me, Tommy soon landed as well and we soon started downing beers. MD was last to finish, bouncing off of a half-dozen peaks along the range before we broke from Scrappy's "white room" tale and scooped him up at the LZ.

All had good flights at La Clusaz, climbing up to cloud base (and beyond) in really strong, widespread lift. There may have been some regret for the days spent driving from there to Annecy in the week they were there. It stands as an excellent flying site.

Side note: On this day, Alex out-flew us all from Kahana with an envious flight that spanned from Kualoa to Sacred Fall.

Soaring with Sparrows - 22 Aug

Launching from Planfait again, an inversion capped our climbs to 4,500 ft. Without the required 6,000 ft. over Dents de Lanfon , we weren't going anywhere.  Mad Dog, Don and I had extended flights (3+00) working two thermals that produced consistent, reliable lift; over launch and over the medieval castle of Menthon-St.Bernard. It was an excellent opportunity to refine thermalling skills. 

Three hours in two thermals gives you quite a bit of time to discover things you wouldn't normally pick up on while flying XC. I reminded myself that the upwind portion is the strongest portion of the rising air mass. It also has a friendlier transition into and out of the lift. It's almost feathery where the downwind side tends to give you a bump-and-drop as you leave it, which gets more prominent with more strength. 

The light wind gave the thermals a nice drift that forced us to focus on centering over a moving air mass, as opposed to a ground reference. But the drift wasn't always as consistent as one might imagine.  They actually meandered, and I know this because a little bird told me.

While flying in the upwind portion of the castle thermal, I spotted a flock of loosely organized sparrows above me. I imagined that these where the same birds that fly their aerobatic maneuvers over the grassy fields at sunset behind Mad Dog & Jeannine's hamlet. I've shared thermals with them over Rabbit Is. on Oahu as well. I suspect they were feeding; in pursuit of insects pushed upward in the lifting air. Or maybe they were just trying to climb up to the rocky cliff face of the Dents, like us. Either way, they were with me in this thermal, and they were showing me things. These little guys are extremely maneuverable, but don't appear to have much of a glide ratio. Their glide is so poor, I was able to match them with mine! I picked one out above me and followed him. Instead of looking down as I normally do, I was looking up. It was different. I could see every move of my wing and with it, I think I could see where the thermal was going. The sparrow made five or six turns with the same radius as I think I would have if he weren't there. I held him close, just in front of my inside leading edge. Then, I saw him twitch a little left, a little right and he went straight for five or six seconds in a direction I didn't expect. I followed and the beeps continued. Then he entered another turn, this time in the other direction. I followed, free to do as I pleased with no other gliders near me. Steady beeps all the way up to 5,000 ft. I'm not sure I could follow a thermal that way without a guide bird, but I might try looking up more instead of staring down, as I'm prone to do. And in doing so, I may find another one of my new favorite thermal buddies.