Volbiv Talk for LLSC

•February 27, 2021 • Leave a Comment

Mike Jardine invited me to do a talk about my volbiv adventures for 24th February LLSC Club “Meeting” – well thanks to Covid and Zoom I didn’t have to travel up to Scotland (more’s the pity), so here it is… sit back and get inspired! All the links mentioned in the talk are in the accompanying show notes below…

Flyskyhy Zoom Demo

•February 12, 2021 • 1 Comment

I’ve been using Flyskyhy as my primary flight instrument since 2013, and my only flight instrument (along with various XCTracers) since 2015, and it keeps on getting better… Five years have passed since I did my previous video walkthrough, so here’s the recording from the Zoom demo I did yesterday evening as part of the Avon HG & PG Club’s Lockdown Lecture series. I probably forgot one or two things so please leave any questions in the comments…

The Inaugural Gumball Transalps Rally!

•December 19, 2020 • Leave a Comment

Having had an amazing volbiv adventure with four friends in July 2019, flying from Saint André-les-Alpes in the south of France to Andermatt in Switzerland, I was keen to encourage more pilots to give volbiv a go in a supportive group environment, and so the idea of the Gumball Transalps Rally was hatched. It wasn’t going to be a race, and people could do it however they wanted – purist (ie. no hitch-hiking or chairlifts), or more relaxed (me!) – but the intention would be to try to stick together, at least for the first couple of days. We’d cover the same ground as last year – St André north to Chamonix and beyond, and see how far we could get.

We started making plans in the new year, and had lots of interest, and then along came the small matter of Covid-19 which threw everyone’s plans into disarray. Even after European countries emerged from lockdown the trip was still hanging in the balance because of quarantine requirements when arriving in a foreign country, and when returning home. Come the summer though, France had a voluntary quarantine in place, and by mid-June, even with the UK’s requirement to self-isolate for two weeks upon return, I decided to bite the bullet and buy a one-way flight to Nice for Sunday 19th July. That’s all it needed, someone to commit, and then others followed – the inaugural Gumball Transalps Rally was ON!! 


All the gear, hopefully some idea!

Last minute purchases were made, kit was meticulously weighed and packed, and despite doubts about the forecast for the first few days, eight intrepid Gumballers met up on the evening of Sunday 19th July at a pizzeria in St André – after all, who knew when we’d get our next square (or round) meal, or when we’d all be together again?! 


L to R – Nigel, Tim, Chris, Tony, Feite, Rhys, Ian, Steve

Nigel drove us all up to takeoff area on Le Chalvet where we pitched our tents under the most amazing night sky, with Comet Neowise clearly visible to the NW. Pretty soon we hit the sack, silently praying that the northerly wind wouldn’t be as strong as forecast…

The weather gods clearly heard our prayers and by midday we were all airborne and on our way northwards enjoying great flying conditions. 


Crossing the Lac de Serre-Ponçon with the Ecrins in the distance

Six of us flew about 100kms, landing in pairs at Col du Palastre, Les Richards, and Orcières – not a bad start to the trip! Well, apart from Steve who was in Briançon Hospital after unfortunately breaking his collarbone in a heavy landing, and Tony who’d bombed in the boonies at the southern end of the Dormillouse close to the Tête de l’Estrop.

Day 1 tracklog – here & here and animation


Dawn on day 2 at the Col du Palastre

I camped with Rhys at the Col du Palastre (2200m), and the following day we enjoyed great flying conditions again – Chris and I made it past Albertville making about 140kms, but I was about an hour ahead of him and sadly we didn’t meet up for another three days. The rest of the team was scattered between Montlambert and St Vincent les Forts! I hitched to Doussard and enjoyed a few beers in the LZ bar, before pitching my tent in the same spot as last year, just a short walk away.


Into the wild! Flying along the Chaîne de Belledonne


Landing in Ugine after six hours in the saddle

Day 2 tracklog and animation

Day 3 was a non-flying day for us all so we used the time to get into position for Thursday’s good forecast – after a swim, and coffee with friends in their campervan, I headed up to La Sambuy where I had a fun evening with a dozen French and Belgium pilots on a volbiv course. Chris hiked to his chalet in St Gervais, much of the time in very heavy rain. Rhys, Feite and latecomer Zsolt rendezvoused at Montlambert, whilst Nigel returned home to Saint André. Tony and Ian met up at St Vincent to fly together for a few days.


Wonderful views from La Sambuy

Day 4 (Thursday) was the day to make it into Switzerland – I had a fantastic three hour 95km flight past Chamonix, landing in the Martigny valley near Saxon. The forecast was grim for tomorrow so I played the family card and caught a train to Verbier where I stayed two nights in my sister-in-law’s family’s apartment!


Cruising north along the Aravis Expressway!


Nice and high as I pass the Lac d’Émosson


The Martigny valley – not where I’d hoped to land!

Chris’s flight from Plaine Joux was going well until he got low on the slopes below Lac d’Émosson – he ended up having a very sketchy landing just below Finhaut but fortunately was only shaken, not stirred! Rhys, Feite and Zsolt made it to Passy from Montlambert but the NW wind had picked up by then which made the conditions too unpleasant to continue into the Chamonix valley.

Day 4 tracklog and animation

Chris finally made it to Verbier on Friday – he’d left his wallet and passport in his cousin’s car back at St Gervais, so had to spend a second night there on Thursday!

So it’s now Saturday morning (day 6) and Chris and I were on the main takeoff above Verbier having opted to hike up there rather than take the gondola! “Why?” I hear you ask… well, apart from a 200m vertical walk up to the Col de Sambuy on Thursday morning I’d not covered any ground on foot, so this seemed the perfect time! I’m not sure Chris agreed though!! Rhys, Feite and Zsolt were at the Plaine Joux takeoff, with Rhys hoping today was his day to make it into Switzerland. Feite and Zsolt had to leave the Gumball Rally and were going to fly locally.

Chris and I met a couple of Swiss pilots who suggested that a flight to Bellinzona could be a good goal for the day, and with strong winds forecast in the northern alps for a few days this seemed like a good plan. I plotted the route in Flyskyhy – a mere 190kms! Oh well, never say never and all that!!


Climbing out above the takeoff at Verbier


Cranking it up on the cliffs above Sion

What followed was eight mind-blowing hours flying over stunning landscapes – it had everything – huge cliffs, 3000m peaks, glaciers, high passes, lakes and big valleys. 


The Aletsch Glacier above Fiesch


Cruising over the 2480m Nufenenpass into the Airolo valley


Heading along the Airolo valley


Getting close now – it’s 6pm and Bellinzona is only 25kms away!


Made it! 7hrs44 and 190kms later

I landed in goal at 1936 and it took me quite a few minutes to gather my thoughts and start packing up. But what to do now? I didn’t think the forecast was looking that good for tomorrow, and I could have killed for a beer or two, but I didn’t really fancy walking into the town centre with all my kit, and then out again to find somewhere to camp. In the end I passed on the beer and went searching for a spot to pitch the tent by the river. This is a problem when in urban areas – up on a mountain top it’s simple, pitch the tent, chill, and enjoy the views, but finding somewhere discrete to camp in towns is tricky. In the end I found a good spot in the park that runs alongside the river, so I ate some food and pitched the tent as dusk fell, then enjoyed a few small swigs of whisky from the mini-bar (two plastic miniature bottles that I always carry with me!) before hitting the sack.

Day 6 tracklog and animation

As for the others, well, Chris had a great flight, landing about 50kms back up the valley, but Rhys didn’t make it into Switzerland, and with strong winds forecast for a few days he decided to call it a day there.

Sunday (day 7) dawned pretty cloudy and I had the madcap idea to hike 20kms up to the 2000m Passo San Jorio on the flanks of Monte Marmontana (2316m), and then try to fly from there to the north end of Lake Como. Fortunately, after about 30 minutes of walking I realised the sun was coming out, and that perhaps hiking wasn’t the best of plans! I turned round and walked to the gondola station at Monte Carasso, where it was a quick ride up to the beautiful hillside hamlet of Mornera (1350m), and from there just a short walk to the take off high above Bellinzona.


Waiting for things to start happening…

Luckily for me a local pilot turned up and was happy to act as wind dummy – I took off ten minutes later at 1140 and pretty quickly worked my way up to 2600m and decided that the time was right to head SE across the valley. I got stuck for about 30 minutes at the top of the valley I’d been planning to hike up to before I found a climb, but once back up at 2600m I was on my way eastwards… 


Approaching Lake Como with an eagle for company


Soaring Monte Foffricio, looking back at where I’d flown from

Apart from getting low after crossing Lake Como it was pretty much plain sailing all the way and I landed with a pretty big smile on my face after flying just over 100kms – it certainly beat walking!


Coming in to land after 4.5 hours in the air. Monte Padrio is the peak centre-left

It was about an hour’s walk up to Monte Padrio (2152m) and what a great spot it was too – beautiful views in every direction with just the tinkling of bells from the nearby goats providing a musical accompaniment to a beautiful sunset…


Camping at Monte Padrio – a perfect spot…

Day 7 tracklog and animation

The trouble with camping above a S/SE’ly facing morning takeoff is that any clouds take a LONG time to clear the hill, leaving you shivering whilst you know there’s sunshine all around! This was the case on Monday morning, still, at least I had the goats (and a confused sheep with the longest ears in the world) for company! They weren’t at all interested in me until I got my bright orange down quilt out to warm myself up under – then I couldn’t get rid of them!


‘Dumbo’, the elephant-eared sheep!

By this stage in the trip (a week in) I was starting to think about where I might end up, and also examining options for flying home sometime during the week. I was flexible on dates, but I quite liked the idea of trying to meet up with fellow Advance Team member, Mike Sicco, who lives in Gemona del Fruili, so I plotted a vague route via Trento, Feltre, then on to Gemona. 

Meteo-parapente was forecasting strong winds in the Trento valley later in the afternoon, so I knew a long flight was going to be tricky, so I was pretty happy with a 3 hour 66km flight, landing at the northern end of the mountains known as the Dolomiti di Brenta. It was a fun flight, passing old WW1 fortifications, the ski resort of Passo Tonale, and I had a wonderful ten minutes’ cloud-surfing before reaching the end of the valley and deciding to land high to avoid the wind in the Trento valley.


WWI fortifications


You can’t beat a few moments of serene cloud-surfing – such good fun!


Coming in to land high

Despite it being a cracking flight, I was a bit disappointed landing so early in the day especially as there was no sign of the forecast strong winds, and in hindsight I think I made a bad decision by focussing on getting across Trento and onwards to Feltre, rather than heading north into less stable conditions.


Red – my intended route, Green – with hindsight!

Anyway, we live and learn, and of course I wasn’t thinking about this as I enjoyed a four mile hike to find a suitable camping spot with good takeoff options for the next day… On the way I passed signs warning about bears, but all I saw were a few semi-wild horses!

Day 8 tracklog and animation


What a view to wake up to!

Tuesday (day 9) dawned another glorious day, but the inversion was clearly visible. After de-camping up I hiked for about an hour up to the top of Monte Peller (2320m), a great spot with takeoffs in every direction. My goal was to try to get past Trento to Levico Terme, but with the stability it was clear it was going to be difficult. I took off just before 11 o’clock and glided over to the SE’ly facing cliffs where I found a weak climb which was just enough to get me across the next ridge in front.


Photobombed by a bee whilst waiting for the inversion to rise (a bit) on Monte Peller

The next four hours proved to be the most challenging, technical, and yet fun flying of the trip – I spent so much time scratching up close and personal to rock faces, including spending an hour on one particular section just to climb 300m!


Pareidolia” (I had to Google it!)

But there were some spectacular views en route – this cliff beneath Cima Sophia blew me away (fortunately not literally!)


The almost vertical cliff beneath Cima Sophia (2360m) near the resort of Molveno

I ended up landing in quite a breeze on the edge of the village of Monte Terlago – I managed to hitch a lift most of the way to Trento on the back of a motorbike – it turned out he was a fellow paraglider pilot! So despite flying 41kms over the course of 4.5hrs I’d actually only made 27kms in the right direction! Still, it was a case of smiles not miles, and it was definitely a flight to remember…


Monte Terlago


Matteo the motorcyclist!

I had just enough time to down a beer and sandwich before the bus to Trento arrived, then a half hour wait at the main bus station before the Levico Terme bus left – I arrived there at 1830 in time for a really refreshing swim in the lake. Afterwards I treated myself to a cinque formaggi pizza – OMG, was it ever good! 

But by now it was almost 9 o’clock and I still had to find somewhere to camp for the night – in the end I walked a little way up the hill towards the takeoff and found a quiet spot in the garden of an old house that was being renovated…!


It turned out to be a pretty good spot…

Day 9 tracklog and animation

The next day (day 10) I was up at dawn, and on my way up the hill not long afterwards. I’d planned to walk some of the way to the takeoff (1500m) and hitch the rest, but I ended up hiking all the way, some 870m vertical, which took three knackering hours! And there was absolutely no shade on takeoff either… A couple of local pilots took off at midday and showed that it wasn’t working – thanks guys! Then 45 mins later it seemed better – birds were climbing out – and so I took off at 1300, and struggled, and struggled, and struggled some more! I ended up losing 600m before I found a succession of weak climbs as I headed east around the hill. 


What an epic struggle!

It took me an hour to get back to takeoff height, then another 20 minutes before I found a climb which topped out at 2200m – wahoo, I was on my way at last!


Up, up and away (at last)!

It was plain sailing for the next 20kms, but the trouble was that the 2200m cloudbase was down to 1600m by this stage, and it just wasn’t high enough to let me progress further towards Feltre, which was only 15kms away. Instead I turned 90deg to the south and landed near Primolano, but not before I’d had a couple of decent sized collapses as I tried to push SE along the valley that eventually leads down to Bassano del Grappa.


Hmm, I don’t think the wing’s meant to be down there…


Ok, enough’s enough – I landed in the big green field in the centre of the pic

After a lovely cooling swim in the river I realised that this was probably a good place to call it a day. Over the last ten days I’d had an absolute blast, flying 800kms in eight flights, flying over some spectacular terrain, and meeting some lovely people, but the heat and insects were getting to me, plus the forecast was stable for the next couple of days… I was also missing Lisa, and I can’t deny that the thought of a comfy bed was in my mind too!! What clinched it was knowing that there was a flight home from Venice at 10 o’clock the following morning – if I could get there in time!


I’m loving these bars right next door to bus stops!

I walked to Primolano, and just had time for a quick beer before catching a bus to Bassano. I got on Facebook to ask if anyone I knew had a bed I could doss in for the night, and it didn’t take long to get one sorted! Thanks to Simon Fulford for putting me in touch with a local tandem pilot, Roberto Pivi, who put me up for the night, and arranged for an early taxi to the station the next morning, where I caught a train to Venice.

Day 10 tracklog and animation

Little did I know that as I was enjoying a delicious final meal at the Jardin Relais Hotel (by the main Bassano LZ), 180kms to the west, Chris was enjoying a final night on a mountain above Bergamo, where he was flying home from the next day as well. Earlier he’d hitched up to a takeoff above Lecco, then flown the 20kms across Lake Como and landed high.


Chris finishing his trip in style!

He bumped into two Swiss volbivvers who were also camping there, and he had a fitting final night before a glide down to a railway station the next morning… Nice one Chris, I like your style!!  

So there we have it, what an epic trip, from Nice to Venice! Yes, we got separated a bit too early, and the last days were tough, but I had learned a huge amount and really enjoyed flying into new areas of the Alps. Roll on 2021 and a bigger and better Gumball Transalps Rally! Maybe see you on it?


My route from Nice to Venice

To find out more about the Gumball Transalps Rally 2021 join the UK Vol Biv Pilots Facebook group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/UKVolBiv) and the Gumball Transalps Rally Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/gumballtransalpsrally).

XC Planning club Zoom talk

•December 15, 2020 • Leave a Comment

Here’s a recording of my Zoom talk on which I presented on 26th November.

You can download a pdf version of the notes from the link below:

2019 – a year in review…

•January 7, 2020 • Leave a Comment

Flyingwise, I’ve had a blast in 2019 – approx 85 hours of coastal soaring, xc, volbiv and hike & fly have made it a truly fun and adventurous year. You’ll notice that I’ve not mentioned comps – that’s because this year, for the first time in years, I didn’t participate in any of the British foreign comps. This was a conscious decision following the sad death of Innes Powell in the British Open in Krushevo last year. I’d flown with him in the North South Cup earlier in the year, and again at the British All-Comers Open in Feltre in June, and the news of his death hit me hard, making me question what I wanted to get out of my flying.

The answer was fun, and adventure, and for the first time since I started xc flying way back in the dim and distant past, I decided not to enter the National XC League. And what a revelation that turned out to be! No longer frustrated by missing a good xc day, or not making goal, or even touching down briefly during a 65km triangle flight in the Lake District, my flying seemed to improve as those pressures and constraints evaporated away.

EDIT: 8th Jan 2020 – I can’t believe I forgot my Jurassic volbiv !!!!

Now, February isn’t the normal time for volbiv flying, especially not in the UK, but that’s how my year of adventure kicked off, with a volbiv along part of Dorset’s Jurassic Coast. Ok, the flying didn’t go quite as planned, but what the heck, it was great fun!

My first notable xc of the year was a wonderful three hour flight from Claunie on 31st March over some of Scotland’s wildest terrain – see my video here:

Then two weeks later on 12th April I had an amazing four hour flight from the Malverns to Aberystwyth, almost all of it on my own. Landing on the beach only a few yards from a really nice ice cream shop was definitely a bonus 😂.

A month later I was in in the Lake District for this year’s North South Cup – what an brilliant weekend’s flying it was too…! On Saturday we flew from Clough Head, with a goal at Skipton, 100kms away. I landed about 15kms short after a spectacular three hour flight out of the Lake District and into the Yorkshire Dales – take a look at the video here:

Sunday was, if anything, an even better day – the North had already won the comp so we all went up to Jenkin Hill to fly whatever sized triangle took your fancy. I opted for a 65kms route, taking in Great Gable to the south west and Red Screes to the south east. 4.5 hours later I made it back to Keswick, with just a small unintentional landing low down on the slopes of Blease Fell as I was trying to soar up it! I took off a minute later from the same spot, soared up, and was on my way again… ah, the joys of not doing the League this year!!

A week later, on 21st May, I flew my longest UK flight of the year, 166kms from Leckhampton to Littlehampton – it got easier as the day went on, but I nearly bombed before Cirencester – thankfully Lady Luck was on my side and I got back up and established nice and high over Ciren. I’ve just finished the video – check it out below…

A few days later on 25th May I was in Crickhowell for the two day Dragon Hike & Fly race. Ali Andrews set a challenging 50km course starting from near Pen y Fan, and ending up back in Crickhowell. Guess what? I won it!! A few of us finished it on the first day – just as well as the weather was rather unpleasant on Sunday morning!

June was a barren month flyingwise, but in on 3rd July I had a very enjoyable 50km flight from the Blorenge, past the Brecon Beacons landing near Dan yr Ogof show caves – it was one of those fun “low and slow” ridge-hopping flights that I really enjoy.

This was one of my last flights on my Omega X-Alps 2, because my new X-Alps 3 arrived just in time for my volbiv trip to France. I had an hour’s shakedown flight at Westbury on 27th July before flying to Nice for the start of the trip the next day! And what a trip that was… together with Richard Chambers, Marcin Minkiewicz and Steve Wagner, we flew to Annecy where Steve left us, then on into Switzerland, with me making it to Andermatt – approx 500kms flying in six flights. The highlight was the 175km flight from La Sambuy to Fiesch, but they were all memorable in their own way. Watch the whole series of films here:

I had three nights on my own up in the mountains during the trip – they were really special, and it’s experiences like these that really encapsulate why I love volbiv flying so much…

Then it was back home for three weeks before I headed out to France again for a three day volbiv from Annecy to near Interlaken to arrive in time for the Advance X-Alps celebration party on 4th September. This was such a fun little trip – I dossed down in Bristol Airport the night before the flight, and whilst there I bumped into some pilots heading out to Annecy, so that was my lift to Planfait take-off sorted!

I took off at 1415 and had a wonderful 80km flight well into Switzerland, where I lucked out with my choice of landing field – right next to an empty B&B whose owners let me stay in the garden and use the facilities!

IMG_3064

The following day, despite an iffy forecast, turned out pretty nicely and I had a fun 45km flight which took me to within spitting distance of my goal near Speiz. Unfortunately the accommodation that night wasn’t quite up to scratch although it was warm and kept me dry from the rain that night…

After two days’ flying my luck ran out and day three involved a 20 mile walk to Speiz – no pain no gain, eh?! Luckily though, the day of the party was sunny, though with a low cloudbase after all the rain, but we all flew down from the mountain hut after a good hike up, and enjoyed a wonderful evening at a superb farm restaurant looking down on Lake Thun…

IMG_3182

Check out my videos from the trip here…

Now back in the UK, a few days later (8th Sept) on a very light wind day when the hotshots were doing big triangles from the winch, I rocked up to Westbury hoping to make the most of probably one of the last good days of the year. I set a 55ish km triangle but it took ages to finally climb out in the virtually nil-wind conditions so I contented myself with a really fun 38km out and return flight to Bath and back. I’m working on the video of this flight right now, but here are some screenshots to keep you going in the meantime…

Edit 11/02/2020 – here’s the video!

With the season on its way out I had a couple of lovely days on the north Devon coast at the end of October and early November – here’s a video from the second of these flights, at Trentishoe Cliffs… So beautiful…

A month or so later, on Monday 2nd December, my friend Nick Somerville and I decided to have a crack at the South East Wales club’s Three Peaks Challenge. Starting and finishing in Abergavenny, you must take photos of yourselves at the trig points on top of the Blorenge, the Skirrid, and the Sugar Loaf. You can do the course in whatever order you think best, the rules are that you must carry your flying kit at all times (glider, harness, reserve, helmet), and that it must be done in the off-season – ie. 1st Nov to 1st March…

Well, I can tell you that it was bloody knackering, but also good fun and very satisfying (when finished!). We did it in 6 hours 8 minutes beating Ali and Aaron’s previous record, flying about 5 miles and walking 15. We climbed 4,500′ in total, but unfortunately the wind at the final mountain, Sugar Loaf, was blowing over the back so we had to walk down – aggh! Seb Nichols also completed it earlier on the same day, by a different route, and beat us by a couple of minutes, though unfortunately he doesn’t have the complete track log to prove it – ah well… If we’d have been able to fly down from the Sugar Loaf we’d have smashed it, prob sub 5 hours, so we’re keeping our eyes out for the perfect forecast!

Here’s a short video of our exploits…!

Rounding the year off were a couple of trips to Ringstead on the Dorset coast in December, the first at the beginning go the month, the second right at the end…

The second flight turned out to be a one way trip to St Alban’s Head, some 23kms from takeoff – I followed Grant on his Enzo 3 past Houns-tout Cliff over Chapman’s Pool onto St Alban’s Head but the wind wasn’t west enough so we ended up landing at the bottom where Grant, let’s just say, had a pretty grim job of extracting himself and his glider from a massive Hawthorne thicket… nuff said!

About three hours later we made it to the Square & Compass Inn in Worth Matravers where James Allen very kindly retrieved us. I think Grant spent the next day (or two perhaps) untangling his lines…!

So… what a year, here’s to 2020 being even better if that’s even possible!

Jurassic Winter Vol Biv

•May 23, 2019 • 1 Comment

Yes, that’s right – a vol biv in the UK, in winter 😂

12th-13th February 2019

The forecast for the next few days was generally from the south – SSW’ly backing SE’ly over three days – and desperate for a bit of adventure, I came up with a pretty madcap plan to take off from Eype, near West Bay, on Dorset’s Jurassic coast, then fly and hike as far as I could to the west, perhaps even getting as far as Exmouth in Devon, as much of the coast is flyable in the right conditions. Of course it didn’t end up going according to my vague plan, but I had a lot of fun all the same. Here’s how it went down…

The master plan!

I have all my vol biv kit pretty much in a state of readiness at home, bar a few items of food and drink, and so it didn’t take long to get ready and be on my way. I arrived on the hill at about midday and was able to launch pretty much straight-away, however the wind was on the light side and crossing the gap towards Golden Cap looked like a one-way ticket to the beach, so I top landed after an hour, and then spent a frustrating hour waiting for more wind. But a few minutes after I got back to take-off after a trip to the beach the wind suddenly picked up, so I wasted no time to seize the moment. I took off pretty much vertically then it was a case of full bar for most of the entire 10km flight. Cloud base was low, only about 850′ asl, but that gave me enough height to cross the gap at Charmouth, however the wind was too SW’ly at this point and I wasn’t able to connect with the crumbling muddy cliffs and get closer to Lyme Regis. Landing on the beach was no problem, however the flinty pebbles on the beach made packing up difficult as my thin lines continually got snagged on them.

And so begins the 9 mile hike!

Interesting company 😉

It was now 1545 and I started walking the mile or so along the beach to Lyme Regis, and from there the eight miles along the coast path to Seaton. Because of the time of year the state of the woodland footpath was pretty trecherous – ie. very muddy and slippery!

Really? I seriously hope not!!

By dusk at about 1800 I’d been walking for 2hrs 15mins and was probably only just over half way. Out came the head torch and I spent the next hour walking through pitch black woods with just the hooting of owls and the occasional reflected eyes of deers for company.

The limit of my world!

An hour later I was out of the woods and getting close to Seaton, and finally just before 1930 I found a great spot to pitch up for the night right by the mouth of the river Axe.

Sorted!

By about 2100, now fully fuelled and watered (well coffeed and whiskied), I was ready to get my head down, sleeping under my glider.

The essentials!

All things considered I slept reasonably well, given my aching knees and the breeze buffeting the tent (from outside 😂), however my puffy bleary eyes might have told a different story!

Room with a view

Sunrise

Tasty!

After a hearty breakfast consisting of Greg Hamerton’s homeland favourite, Pro-Nutra, I decamped and headed westwards towards Beer Head, a mere three miles away. Work issues meant I had to briefly stop at a cafe in Seaton to use their wifi, but once sorted I enjoyed a very pleasant walk along the coast past the lovely village of Beer, to Beer Head where I arrived at 1030.

Made it to Beer Head!

I was met there by local pilot John Wreford, and we ummed and arred about the wind strength. It was the perfect direction, however it was hoofing up the cliff face, and even if I could have got the glider up further up the take-off field, I’m not sure I could have controlled going from 0m/s into the equivalent of at least a 10m/s thermal in just a couple of seconds, all the time only a few feet off the ground. I’m quite sure that had I been able to take off I would have had an easy cruise down to Sidmouth, but sometimes discretion has to be the better part of valour, and that time was now.

So, what to do now? I could hang around and hope that the wind would drop, or I could accept John’s kind offer of a lift back to my campervan at West Bay where there was a better chance of flying given the lower takeoff.

Just what the doctor ordered 😃

I chose the latter, and arriving back at West Bay dropped my vol biv kit off in the van before heading to a cafe for a coffee and sandwich, then walked round the harbour to the lower takeoff. The wind seemed perfect and a short while later I was up and away, and spent a very enjoyable three hours enjoying the smooth soaring getting up to 1200′ asl at times.

Making the most of the decent lift!

Soaring the cliffs to the east of West Bay

I landed on the beach just before sunset – the end of a most enjoyable, and a little bit adventurous, couple of days…

Time for a swift one with John

A final glimpse of the sunset before heading home

So remember folk, vol bivs needn’t just be a summer alpine activity! Get out there and have fun!

Watch the video of my trip here:

Crossing the Heart of Wales

•April 23, 2019 • 2 Comments

Friday 12th April 2019

Having been unable to get out to play the day before (I had to content myself with flying vicariously via xcrt.aero), so I was keen to make the most of a pretty good forecast for Friday and lift-sharing plans were duly made, and James, Tom and I arrived at the “Kettle Sings” takeoff on the Malvern Hills at 1130 where we joined a good crowd of hopefuls already setting up. Rupert Firkins was first off showing us that it was working nicely…

I took off at 1155 and headed northwards up the ridge because there was more sun on the ground, however no one else followed me despite me almost immediately finding a climb that took me to 3,200′.

Good height, but all in my own

However rather than setting off on my own I hesitated and pushed forward again hoping to connect with another cloud, which never happened. Meanwhile people were starting to get high over Kettle Sings, so after a bit more dicking around I decided to head back there. Inevitably about twenty pilots all climbed out in two large gaggles before I had a chance to join them, and I spent the next 15-20 minutes trying, together with a few other pilots who missed the party, to get high again! Although it was frustrating to have missed that climb, I knew that that there was no point getting stressed about it as another climb WOULD come along before too long.

And sure enough it did and by 1245 I was up at 3600′, on my own, and on my way, trying to chase down the gaggle that had left 20 minutes earlier.

A climb at last!!

The first 38kms consisted of four long glides, each some 8-10kms, getting down to below 2000′ each time, the last time down to just 1500′ (1000’agl) before finding a climb – not exactly relaxing, but it was what it was, and I managed to stay up.

Classic climb and glide conditions

Base was rising all the time, and my fifth climb, above Weobley, took me to almost 4400′, and from there the hills of mid-Wales were in spitting distance.

Uncomfortably low before I found a climb

I was joined by Joe Dart here and as we circled together he shouted across “Where are you heading to?”. “Machynlleth or Aberystwyth” I yelled back (Joe didn’t have his radio switched on!). “The coast!!” he replied – fine by me and I duly fiddled around in Flyskyhy as I changed my route from Machynlleth to Aberystwyth.

Company for a while

Distracted by this nav I lost a bit of height compared to Joe, but by the time we were past Old Radnor and approaching Llandrindod Wells our roles had reversed and now Joe was pretty low having been tricked into chasing what he thought was a nice building cloud… This was the last I saw of him, but I later found out he’d managed to scrape up and into Llandrindod Wells.

Lovely conditions now

By now I was fast approaching the Elan Valley reservoirs (not that I knew that’s what they were at the time) and I could see a gaggle of five gliders only a couple of kms in front of me just to the north east of Elan Village. They were spread out and not very high, and no doubt uncertain about crossing the reservoir and into the boonies without a lot of height. I found a weak climb which tempted them back into wind to join me in, however it really wasn’t anything to write home about so before they reached me I altered course 90deg to the left to fly above the ridge by the Elan Valley Visitor Centre and dam. I’d only flown about 500m when I found a corker of a climb which took me straight up to 4900′. I’d flown 88kms at this point and could see that I had about 20kms of complete boonies to fly over before the first sign of civilisation – what the hell, I thought, I’ve got lightweight kit, the worse that can happen is that I have a long walk out, so I went for it.

Crossing the boonies

A climb 8 kms later, wingtip to wingtip with a red kite for much of it, blasted me up to 5000′ for the first time, and I noticed that I’d flown 100kms – the first of the year, wahoo!! The climb carried on and a brief trip to the white room took me up to 5500′, so an ice cream on the beach at Aberystwyth, now less than 25kms away, was looking like a distinct possibility, especially with some good clouds marking the way ahead.

Aberystwyth here I come!

I think I could have glided in from there but I played it safe by topping up under a couple of clouds and with the whole vista of Cardigan Bay opening up to me and glinting in the sunshine, I arrived over Aberystwyth with 3500′ to spare!

Wahooo!!

No spirals or big wingovers for me this time, I was just content to enjoy the amazing views as I slowly descended over the sea. I’d had a Telegram message from a friend advising that the best ice cream was to be found at Don Gelato, right by the pier, so that was my LZ decied then!

Such a pretty town!

Wary of the possibility of rotor from the sea-front buildings I checked the wind strength as I descended – about 12-15 km/h – which I figured wouldn’t be enough to cause any problems. It was a bit bumpy at roof top height, but nothing to be worried about, and I touched down smoothly at 1612, 4:17 hrs after taking off, (3:35 hrs after leaving the hill making it quite a speedy 35 km/h average speed).

Imminent touchdown

I knew the train I had to catch was at 1730, so I had plenty of time to chat to people whilst packing up, then wander to Don Gelato’s for that ice cream, then find a coffee, and some cans of cider and crisps and a sandwich for the 5hr+ train journey back home!

The ice cream selfie has become a tradition 😂

I was joined at Aberystwyth Station by Ben Friedland, who’d managed to make it by the skin of his teeth having flagged down a bus from where he’d landed 20kms to the east of Aberystwyth, and then Tom Cole joined us at Machynlleth having made it to his goal there. It was a long but fun trip home – all three of us are going to remember our flights for a long time!

Good company on the five hour journey home

Tracklog here: https://www.xcontest.org/world/en/flights/detail:timpent/12.4.2019/10:54

3D animation here: https://ayvri.com/scene/pmkev43g5x/cjuk4sgcp000l3d5e9ye3qqud

Video here:

Volbiv 2018 – A Grand Tour of the Ecrins

•September 4, 2018 • 3 Comments

I’d been talking the talk but not walking the walk for quite a long time before this summer’s volbiv trip to France, and if “shopping the shops” was also a phrase, then I’d being doing that too, buying all sorts of stuff over the internet – from Amazon and eBay of course, but also from Chinese sites like AliExpress, BangGood and Wish, which had some useful kit at really good prices, including my 750g pyramid tent for £60, which worked out really well. But more about kit later…

I’d been hatching a scheme whereby I’d try to be away for the whole of July, doing the volbiv in the first week, then driving from Annecy / Chamonix through Switzerland and Italy for the next two weeks, before ending up in Feltre for the new format “British All-Comers’ Comp” in the last week of July. Only thing was I had to a) try and find a way of making it work with my work, and b) try and find a way of making it work with Lisa!

Slide1

The former was relatively simple, just don’t tell my clients I’m going to be away for a whole month! I’m fortunate with my work in that it’s all computer based so as long as I have a decent mobile data signal I can work from anywhere. So I let them know I’d be away on hols for the first and last weeks, but not the middle two, where I’d be mixing work, sight-seeing and flying as best I could.

Convincing Lisa that she’d like to be part of this plan was harder, after all, she’d be the one driving the campervan the 800 odd miles all the way from home in Bath to wherever we’d end up rendezvousing after my volbiv on her own, something I don’t think many other-halves would be that keen on doing! Then of course she had to clear things with her clients too (she’s a self-employed graphic designer), and sort things out at home (ie. cats and dog – fortunately my son and his girlfriend were back from uni and living at home for the summer, so they were able to help there), but anyway, I must have done something right because she agreed, on the proviso that she could fly home from Treviso if she got too bored during the comp in Feltre! So, the trip was on, no more talking the talk, it was time to walk the walk!

I spent the last Saturday working out how to pack everything into my Lightness 2 harness and Lightpack 2 rucksack – amazingly it all went in, including the espresso pot!

IMG_4884

All packed up (with somewhere to go!)

 

Sunday 1st July – Bath to Nice to Col de Bleyne to Orcières

After leaving home in Bath at 4am I was on takeoff at Col de Bleyne near Nice at 1230, then airborne 40 minutes later. I landed almost 6 hours and 125kms later above Orcières, having met my volbiv partner-in-crime, Nigel, en-route (he’d taken off from St-André-les-Alpes). What a fantastic start to our adventure!

Tracklog – https://www.xcontest.org/world/en/flights/detail:timpent/1.7.2018/11:09
Doarama – http://doarama.com/view/2389427

 

Monday 2nd July – Orcières to Massif du Taillefer

After a good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast of Pro Nutro banana flavoured gruel we walked for about 15 minutes to find a good take off spot. After a bit of parawaiting we were off, the plan being to fly the northern leg of the big 300km triangle that the French aces fly around the Ecrins. Of course like all plans, they change, and we ended up flying north towards Grenoble rather than east, but boy was it ever spectacular! We chose to land after 60kms at a place called Massif du Taillefer – a beautiful high plateau dotted with lakes and tarns… a perfect spot for a bivvy 🙂

Tracklog – https://www.xcontest.org/world/en/flights/detail:timpent/2.7.2018/10:53
Doarama – http://doarama.com/view/2394763

 

Tuesday 3rd July – Massif du Taillefer to Briançon

We awoke to a beautiful morning after the rain of the evening before, and after a swim and breakfast we packed up and hiked about an hour to find a suitable takeoff near the Refuge du Taillefer. The plan was to fly to Col d’Izoard, or maybe further, but conditions became a little worrying as we approached Briançon, so we opted to land there and hitch the rest of the way.

I make no apologies for the number of “wahoos” in the film, but I will apologise in advance for a couple of profanities 🙂 In my defence I will say that this flight moved me close to tears at one point, so intense were the emotions I experienced. I hope this film captures the raw beauty of the mountains and clouds, and that you get to experience, in some small way, what I felt during the flight.

Tracklog – https://www.xcontest.org/world/en/flights/detail:timpent/3.07.2018/10:42
Doarama – http://doarama.com/view/2403879

 

Wednesday 4th July – Col d’Izoard to St André-les-Alpes

We awoke to a beautiful morning at the Col d’Izoard, and after breakfast we went in search of water. The nearest option was the Refuge de Napoleon, a few hundred metres down the road to the north, where in addition to water, we topped up on calories too :-). Well, it would have been rude not to!

Our plan for the day was to fly back to St André-les-Alpes as Nigel (who lives there) had to be home by the evening. After a sketchy take off on a steep slope, during which I failed to notice that the footplate of my pod was inside-out, I eventually climbed out and my six hour adventure began…

Tracklog – https://www.xcontest.org/world/en/flights/detail:timpent/4.07.2018/09:41
Doarama – http://doarama.com/view/2410505

 

Thursday 5th July – St André-les-Alpes to Puy Aillaud

After a good night’s sleep in a proper bed I said my goodbyes to Nigel and Karol, and made my up to the St André takeoff, la Chalvet, by navette. Arriving at the top I discovered my water bladder had leaked all its water out, so I sent it back down in the navette with instructions for it to be filled and returned on the next navette, which duly happened, ninety minutes later… aghhhh, such a schoolboy error – always keep your water with you, not with your glider! This obviously cost me ninety minutes, which meant that by the time I took off it was already overdeveloping to the north, meaning my plan of flying to Puy Aillaud, 100kms to the north, wasn’t going to happen. However, in retrospect, it’s funny how the day worked out…

Tracklog – https://www.xcontest.org/world/en/flights/detail:timpent/5.07.2018/10:34
Doarama – http://doarama.com/view/2431934

 

Friday 6th July – Puy Aillaud to Serre Chevalier

After positioning myself perfectly for a leisurely morning and easy walk to take off (50 metres), the strong northerly wind put paid to any ideas of aviation, and so, with a free day ahead of me, I opted for a 23km hike from Puy Aillaud to Serre Chevalier. Google Maps suggested it would take just a bit under six hours – in the event it took nearer eight. It’s probably just as well Google “lied” as I don’t think I’d have attempted it had I known the truth 🙂

Doarama – https://ayvri.com/scene/pmkev43g5x/xko6x21nk4

 

Saturday 7th July -Col du Lautaret to Lac d’Aiguebelette

FINAL DAY! I was unsure about taking off from the nearby Col du Galibier, so I decided to hitch from Col du Lautaret to Alpe d’Huez, where I knew there was a high takeoff. Two hitches later I was there, and one chairlift and one short hike later I was up at 2,800m and ready for the final stage of my volbiv adventure, hoping flying to Annecy where Lisa and I had planned to meet. Unfortunately low cloudbase further north, and a strong valley wind put paid to that plan, but I still had a lovely 2hr / 43km flight, landing in the big valley south of Albertville. Three hitches later (did I say I love hitching in France – I never had to wait for more than five minutes for a ride!) I made it to Lac d’Aiguebelette (near Chambery) where Lisa had found a great spot by the lake… And so ended a fabulous week’s adventure – 458kms flying, 23kms of serious hiking on day 6, 11 hitchhikes, and too many amazing memories to count!

Tracklog – https://www.xcontest.org/world/en/flights/detail:timpent/7.7.2018/09:45
Doarama – http://doarama.com/view/2439576

 

Kit List

Electronics:

Flying:

Camping:

Food:

  • Pro Nutra maize protein cereal
  • Sainsbury’s Mexican rice
  • Lidl’s pasta & mushroom meals
  • Glengoyne Cask Strength Whisky (essential!)

Basically I was a cheapskate and should have bought some nicer expedition meals!

Google Sheets kit listhttps://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1UFX_2WcF-veRY6AHSlbYLCw3tmg1b71bPrRibLDHLaQ/edit?usp=sharing

Things I forgot:

  • mozzie repellant
  • cigarette lighter
  • more treats (sweets etc)
  • cup-a-soup – good to mix with dried pasta

Things I brought but needn’t have:

  • nothing

Total volbiv kit weight – approx 8-9kg
Total pack weight incl water – approx 22-23kg

 

Resources

Facebook “UK Volbiv pilots” group
https://www.facebook.com/groups/UKVolBiv/

Greg Hamerton / Flybubble guide: https://flybubble.com/blog/how-to-volbiv-beginners-guide

Weather on the go

meteoblue
Météo-France
MeteoSwiss
meteo-parapente.com

Parting thoughts

The trip was a fantastic success, however I think that was partly because we were flexible in our goal. We set out to fly north to Annecy or Chamonix, or further, however the weather in the northern Alps wasn’t as good as further south, so we decided to turn it into a more local tour, ending up back in St André-les-Alpes at the end of day 4. That then gave me three more days to hitch, hike, and fly north on my own to meet Lisa, and that worked well too. It’s definitely fun having company, and for sure joint decision-making is reassuring, but I did enjoy the three days on my own too.

We chose July for the trip, because after I’d done some research using flight data on xcontest.org, I’d realised that June was too unstable (ie. some excellent days, but lots of unflyable days), and July was when it became more reliable. August would have been good too, but it didn’t fit in with other things quite as well.

This was my first multi-day volbiv, and I’ll certainly be doing another trip again next year – I don’t know where yet, or when, or who (if anyone) I’ll be doing it with, but I know I’ll have a lot of fun planning it over the winter.

Just do it!

PS. The rest of the trip was a great success too – I had some memorable flights in Switzerland, and did well in the comp at Feltre – but that’s for another blog post.

Wales all the way!

•April 13, 2018 • Leave a Comment

So, I’ve been out on three or four good days this year, and it’s been Wales that has delivered every time… Maybe I’m just being drawn to the bigger hills which offer an opportunity for a good hike up, or maybe it’s just where RASP is indicating the best conditions, but whatever, I’ve had a lot of fun!

First was a short but fun XC from Merthyr on 17th February, then a month later on 13th March I was back at Merthyr again and had a cracking 85km flight to near Tewkesbury:

Roll on another two weeks to Sunday 25th March, and Hundred House was the starting point for a great adventure across the Brecon Beacons to the coast at Porthcawl. The highlights were soaring Pen-y-Fan before climbing out and getting to 7,850′ farther on!

2018_0325_142751_040

Climbing out from Pen-y-Fan

2018_0325_153945_047

7,850! Wahoo!!

2018_0325_161611_058

You don’t see this view of Porthcawl every day 🙂

Check out the video here:

Finally (for now), Thursday 5th April (and no, I haven’t seen the sun since then, it’s been such a crap week or more) involved a decent hike up Magic Mountain (now an official SEW site), a spot of parawaiting, then a 40km flight in first blue then later hazy conditions, landing at Fforest Fields campsite (aka Hundred House).

Screen Shot 2018-04-13 at 11.10.15

A beautiful morning for a hike!

This was my first flight on my new(ish) Omega X-Alps 2, and if this was anything to go on, I’m going to have some great adventures on it!

2018_0405_142134_077

Cranking it up with Paul Jiggins to the north of Talgarth

Despite landing at just after 3pm I didn’t get home until about 11.30pm – my buddy Mike Humphries went “missing” for four hours so we had a bit of fun and games trying to track him down. Long story short, unbeknown to me we’d been flying together (he’d changed his helmet recently meaning that I didn’t recognise him in the air) and after I’d landed he went on to fly another 10kms, landing just past Llandrindod Wells. All well and good, but his phone had completely died (yes, not just battery problems), and so he was out of contact until he borrowed a stranger’s phone and eventually got hold of me at 8pm, by which time I was well over half way home (in his car)! He had no prospect of getting back home that evening by train, so I turned around, crossed the Severn for the second time that day, and eventually met him in Crickhowell… Ah well, all’s well that ends well, and in actual fact we all learned something that day, which I’ve summarised here.

IMG_4220

Friends Reunited 🙂

So… where will the next adventure be? Can Wales deliver for a fifth time? We shall see!

How to not go missing!

•April 13, 2018 • 1 Comment

2018_0325_142751_040

On Thursday 5th April we had a pilot “missing” for four hours in mid Wales after an XC flight from Magic Mountain. Fortunately it all ended well (no injuries, no drama, just no comms and a late retrieve), but it has raised some good learning points which we can all benefit from:

1) As soon as is sensibly possible let people know that you’ve landed safely, preferably by using a Telegram retrieve group and xcrt.aero, but if that’s not possible then let someone in your car share or close flying buddies group know where you are and what your intentions are. It is YOUR responsibility to do this at the earliest opportunity.

2) Make sure you have the numbers of half a dozen flying buddies printed out and in your wallet so that in the event of complete phone failure (as happened yesterday) you can get the message out that you’re ok. Don’t be shy in asking to borrow a stranger’s phone to check-in ASAP. Alternatively carry a spare phone with you.

3) Ensure that people know what kit you’re flying with and how to recognise you in the air. Part of yesterday’s problem was that the pilot in question had recently changed helmet from an orange one to a blue one, meaning that even though I was flying with him for much of the flight, I didn’t recognise him! Telegram has a “Bio” feature, so use that to put a brief (70 chars max) description of your wing, helmet and harness. DO THAT NOW! (Thanks to Viv Fouracre for that suggestion). At the very least, make sure that the pilots in your car share group can all recognise each other in the air.

4) Consider using a livetracking service – Livetrack24, AirWhere, Flymaster Live, SPOT, inReach etc

5) And last but not least, whilst driving to the hill, have a chat about possible retrieve plans – who picks up the car, will they drive to collect people, what happens if we get to goal etc. Obviously things will change, but it’s good to have discussed the options beforehand.

These are super-simple action points which will put your mates’ minds at rest, and prevent unnecessary emergency service call-outs. PLEASE TAKE ACTION NOW!