A Mountain Masterclass

Back in February my old friend Marcus King tipped a few of us in the Avon Club off about Gavin McClurg’s Mountain Masterclass in the Lake District in April, and a couple of us booked up straight away. Gavin has always been a bit of a hero of mine through his films and amazing flights in the US, and whatever the weather on the weekend I thought it would be great to meet him in person and get some pearls of wisdom from him.

Lisa and I and our brown lab Monty drove up on Thursday night after the viewing of Gavin’s “North of Known” film in Bristol, and after a few hours kip in the van at Teebay Services we met up with my old buddy Steve Etherington at Jocky’s Flight Park. we made plans and headed off to Swinside where Steve and I had a lovely flight back to Keswick under 8/8 skies. Lisa met us where we landed and we headed to the Chalet Tearooms at Portinscale for a delicious lunch.

Soaring Swinside before heading down to Buttermere

The sun was starting to make an appearance so Lisa dropped Steve and me off at Ullock and before too long we were soaring the upper slopes of Skiddaw trying to keep out of the cloud. A thermal just past Keswick got us onto Clough Head and then it was a beautiful cruise down past Helvellyn to Ambleside in lovely conditions. I first attempted that run years ago during a BP Cup or LCC when Jocky set a task form Jenkin down to Ambleside and I landed a couple of kms short of goal, so it was great to finally nail it!

Looking south along the Helvellyn ridge

Saturday dawned clear and bright and by 9am we’d all RV’d at the Flight Park and made our introductions and met Gavin who was rocking a great T-shirt-tucked-into-pants look (he’s obviously spent too much time on his own in Alaska 😄). In turn we went round the table saying what we wanted to get out of the day – the group (14-15?) covered a wide range of experiences, from two years to my twenty six, and the common theme was info on vol biv flying and kit, but also just a general desire to keep learning.

Big Guns Gav and his pants 🙂

We spent an hour or so at the Flight Park during which Gavin talked though his X-Alps kit, and gave us hints and tips for vol biv and mountain flying. We set a task for the day – Dale Head, Helvellyn, Skiddaw and back to the Flight Park – then set off for Honnister Pass in a convoy. The walk up went on, and on, and on! Just when you thought you were there you reached another brow and nope, there was definitely more to go! But eventually we all reached a suitable take off point at 2400′, and we started launching at 1330.

Local pilot Rob Welford shows us the lie of the land

Pretty soon we were started climbing out – I think we were above the inversion and there were some strong climbs up to almost 4000′, however once we got low after the first glide it was tough work soaring the slopes to the east of Rosthwaite with the SSW wind blowing more along the slopes than up them! Some of the group landed in Rosthwaite, four of us flopped over into the next valley to the east, myself included, and only Lawrie Noctor managed to get to Skiddaw, though not via Helvellyn – that turned out to be a bit too ambitious! Meanwhile Gavin and Leon Newcombe were making their way on foot and air towards Keswick, and by the time the four of us were picked up by Lisa south of Keswick after an hour’s walk, Gavin had just dropped a pin in Telegram just to the south of the A66 so we were able to squeeze him in then drive up the newly tarmacced road up to the Skiddaw/Jenkin car park.

The views round here aren’t too shabby

The walk up to a suitable take-off was like a Sunday afternoon stroll compared to Dale Head, and before long we were all enjoying afternoon beautiful soaring conditions on the slopes of Skiddaw. Gavin had encouraged us to practice too landing and a few of us took him up on his offer, touching down briefly and then taking off again. Gavin had earlier told us that too landing is one of the key vol biv skills so it was good to get two or three landings in.

Adrian How soaring Skiddaw

During one of Gavin’s landings I noticed him have a bit of a mare with his wing, and I then spotted him disconnecting the harness to try to sort out the lines. It was quite breezy so I dropped in to assist. A mere hour or so later we were finally off!! I added to the problem because it took ten minutes or so to sort my lines out too – I was convinced I had twists in my lines so I was “somersaulting” my harness through the lines only to discover I was making it worse, doh! Then, when I did finally take off, I failed to check that my lines were the correct way for me to do my normal turn to the left and took off with a twist, so had a short “flight” before being dumped onto the ground!! That was a real wake up call for me – how on earth did I miss that? The answer is that I think I was probably dehydrated after all the hiking, as thinking back on it, I definitely hadn’t drunk enough water through the day. Interesting… Meanwhile Cross Country mag editor Ed Ewing had been filming the whole procedings from a lofty vantage point! Oh well…

Top landing with Gav – it would have been a beautiful spot for a bivvy

Anyway, after all the faffing we pretty much headed straight out to The Flight Park where, at 1915, we touched down after an excellent day’s adventure. We had a debrief over some beers and all agreed it had been a really fun and useful day.

The next day another group was booked in for the Masterclass, but whilst some of Saturday’s group headed to Blease Fell for some flying before the wind picked up, the other group headed somewhere else for their day – I don’t know where, and I don’t know how they got on, but I assume they survived and had an equally enjoyable day as we had had.

Yours truly soaring the lower slopes of Blease Fell

As to my overall thoughts on the Masterclass – it was always going to be a tall order meeting everyone’s expectations on a course like this, and personally I don’t think I particularly benefitted from it (except accidentally learning about the effects of dehydration on one’s concentration!), but having said that, it was great meeting and supporting Gavin in his X-Alps bid (and supporting the Cloudbase Foundation too), making new friends, and above all having three fantastic days’ flying in the beautiful Lake District!

Monty eyeing up our picnic before we headed back south

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