Cross country flying – a state of mind

Jenni landing out after her first XC
Your first XC doesn’t have to be epic – just cut the apron strongs and go on a glide! This is a very happy Jenni looking back the 8km to take-off after her first ever XC

When we’re talking about XC flying, we find the mental stuff often gets the better of people and that people share the same questions and fears.

This summer we ran an introduction to XC course in Annecy for a small group of pilots who wanted to do their first XCs and learn enough so they could go on to progress on their own after the course. We talked a lot about the mental side of XC flying. This is every bit as important as the practical flying skills if you want to fly XC.

Here are some of the common issues and a few of the tactics we use when we’re flying XC that might help…

1) What if there’s nowhere to land?

Why would you put yourself somewhere with nowhere to land? XC isn’t just about joining up ridges and thermals, it’s also about flying from one landing field to another. When we’re flying, we’re always looking at landing options and making sure we’ve got a selection of friendly-looking fields in easy reach. Never leave one landing field behind until you’ve got another one within reach!

2) What if I bomb out?

Get used to it – you will bomb out!

There are lots of ways indications for whether you’ll make a glide – other pilots, you instruments, estimating the angle with your feet, etc. But you’ve got to put it to the test in the end and risk being wrong.

If you never bomb out, you’re probably not pushing yourself. Don’t be afraid to fail – you will make mistakes and you WILL bomb out. That’s one of the ways you learn (and often where the real adventure begins!).

3) Sometimes I get scared in the air…

Everyone does! Fear can be healthy – firstly work out if it’s rational or irrational. Having something to take your mind off it will help when irrational fear strikes. Chewing gum, singing songs, thinking about your shopping list, having something to eat or drink all help.

As I turn in a beautiful thermal, I see another glider heading over to join me
As I turn in a beautiful thermal, I see another glider heading over to join me

4) I don’t know where to go!

Pimp off others! Other pilots give you some of the biggest clues about what the air’s doing. If you’re not using them to maximise your climb, glide and distance, you’re missing out. BUT don’t follow them until you know they’re going somewhere good (not to work or to pick their kids up from school)!

5) It wasn’t really working over there…

Pilots often lose patience if they have to wait a while for the next thermal or when banging their heads against an inversion. They give up and wander off even if they don’t have anywhere better in mind and end up bombing out. They are often rewarded by getting to watch the other pilots they were scratching with then climb up and carry on while they’re packing their wing!

Be patient and don’t give up! Sometime’s it just takes perseverance to hang on until the next thermal cycle or fight your way through an inversion. As long as you’ve got a safe landing in glide, keep fighting!

6) I get tired and distracted after a while

Don’t forget the creature comforts. Have food and water easily available and go for a wee before you launch. Get your harness set up nicely and get familiar with your instruments in a stress free environment. Being uncomfortable in the air is distracting and will have you thinking too much about your landing field.

Happy pilots in goal after a challenging sunset task!
Happy pilots in goal after a challenging sunset task!

7) I started going for the next ridge, but changed my mind…

Make a decision and stick with it! Don’t just bimble around – you’ll either never leave the ridge or just keep changing your mind until you find yourself on the ground. Use all the information available, choose a (safe) route and follow it through. Then you can ask yourself: “Was it the right decision?” You’ll never know and learn if you keep changing your mind.

Friday 13th

Since I wrote yesterday, the forecast has got worse and worse every time we’ve looked. Now we have more than 30km winds at the summit. Even lower down on the Dome de Gouter it’s similar.

Sam and Jam setting off
Sam and Jam setting off in the dawn light this morning

We’re not going to be able to fly from the summit of Mont Blanc. We’re not going to be able to fly from the Dome de Gouter and we’re not even going to be able to fly from the lower point of the Refuge de Gouter.

So late last night, we had to make a very tough decision. And at 7am this morning, Sam and Jam left without us to climb Mont Blanc.

We’ll be setting off with Irwyn tomorrow morning to meet them at the Refuge de Tete Rousse. If we can, we’ll fly down from the Glacier de Tete Rousse at 3150m.

It’s a disappointment. But it’s the best the weather will allow. This is paragliding and this time, the mountain says: “No!”.

Déjà vu

You can’t fly from the summit of Mont Blanc in a westerly wind. It’s a well known fact.

Groundhandling the Geo ii
Thanks Ozone! Getting to know the Geo ii again 😀

But that’s exactly what Irwyn and I ended up doing last time we went up there. The forecast wasn’t straight westerly, but when we got to the summit, the wind was coming directly up the arête. We waited until the sunshine brought the wind up the southerly face and we were able to take off.

The last forecast showed the weather improving enough to make the attempt at the summit look sensible. But while the wind is dropping, it’s also turning westerly again. But this time, it’s unlikely we’ll be waiting around for the sun to do its work – while the temperatures are increasing, we’re still looking a frosty  -13C at 5,000m.

But it’s the best opportunity on the horizon, so we’re taking it and just in case the wind does exactly as forecast (for once), we’ll be checking out the terrain on the way up for a nice launchable westerly facing slope!

ITV Awak 2
Irwyn having a play with the ITV Awak 2 tandem

The last couple of days have been filled with preparing our kit – a job which seems to expand to fill all available time! I’m delighted that Ozone have agreed to sponsor me again with a wing. The Geo II behaved perfectly last time – just as well as the first chance I had to inflate the wing was on the summit. This time I’ve had plenty of chance to play with it on the ground and it’s just as I remember. It inflates beautifully in any wind strength, feels solid overhead even in gusty conditions and is nice and responsive on the brakes, so I’m confident that however challenging the climbing side of the adventure might be, the flying side should be trouble free.

ITV Parapentes in Doussard have been incredibly supportive with the loan of two lightweight tandem wings. Graham will be flying the new Skyman tandem and Irwyn will be flying the ITV Awak 2. At 5.8kg and 6.4kg respectively, either wing represents a considerable weight saving compared to a normal tandem wing, so will make a huge difference to Jam and Sam’s chances of making the summit. First impressions of both wings are good… now we’re off to put them through their paces and give the boys some last minute take-off practice over Lake Annecy!

Sam’s first flight

Graham and Sam sailing past the Aguille de Midi at dawn
Sam’s first tandem! Graham and Sam sailing past the Aguille de Midi at dawn

Meet Sam Forman and Jam Jones. A year ago they were sat in a pub in Vauxhall coming up with ideas for an adventure. This week, we met them for the first time in Chamonix to begin our training to help them fly from the summit of Mont Blanc in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support and the Alzheimer’s Society.

Sam has cycled from London to Chamonix, where he rendezvoused with Jam ready to climb Mont Blanc and fly from the 4810m summit. They haven’t let the fact that they’d never done any mountaineering or paragliding before put them off!

Jam's first tandem flight with Graham at Passy
Jam’s first tandem flight with Graham at Passy

Some people may see that as foolhardy. But the fact that they’ve got this far just goes to show what a can-do attitude can achieve. They’ve both been training for this for months, so are both incredibly fit. But as we discovered for ourselves recently, getting properly mountain fit is almost impossible in the UK. There‘s nowhere you can climb 1,000m in one go! And there’s definitely nowhere to get acclimatised to being at altitude – without that, just breathing at 4,800m will be challenging, even before you factor in the physical and mental exertion!

Dan Shane and Irwyn on the summit of Mont Blanc
Dan, Shane and Irwyn on the summit of Mont Blanc getting ready to fly

Within 2 days of Sam’s arrival a window of opportunity appeared for the summit seemingly out of the blue. From our perspective, this was almost the worst possible timing! Along with Sam, we had to sit by and watch our friends set off for the summit without us. Dan and Shane had been in Chamonix for weeks training and getting used to high altitude. Irwyn had joined them on many of their training expeditions and couldn’t resist it as a training opportunity for the forthcoming flight with Sam and Jam. Whereas we had just arrived from the UK.

Preparing for a dawn flight from the Aguille de Midi
Preparing for a dawn flight from the Aguille de Midi

But we made the most of the weather window anyway – Sam certainly didn’t get much chance to rest from his 1,000km bike ride! We headed up to the Aguille de Midi with Dan, Shane and Irwyn, put Sam on a rope between the two of us and headed down the arête then across the ice to the Cosmiques refuge. That arête was my first walk in crampons two years ago – and despite the experiences I’ve had since, it still scares me! So I can imagine how Sam felt – legs still quivering from his time on the bike.

Looking from the hut at the route to the summit, I was glad not to be going. We could still see the scars of the serac fall which had killed 4 people less than two weeks earlier. I’d seen photos of ice walls on the route which were certainly beyond my level of technical climbing skills. The guys set off for the summit at 2am the following morning. We got up at 5am and headed out into the dawn glow. At the bottom of the Aguille de Midi arête, Sam had his final briefing for his first tandem flight. Climbing kit and ropes in the harness meant it wasn’t the most comfortable flight ever, but there really can’t be many people who can say their first ever flight on a paraglider was off the Aguille de Midi at dawn – the first wing above Chamonix that day.

Landing field beers
Cheers Dan – the first of our gang to launch from the summit

While I was flying down soon after, I saw the first gliders launch from the summit. On landing, we all headed back to base to pick up Jam, just arrived from the UK, then back to the landing field with cold beer to meet Dan, Shane and Irwyn as they landed.

Since then, we’ve been doing something every day – getting up as high as we can, hiking, flying, drilling the boys on basic mountaineering and paragliding. Now we’re waiting for another weather window. Last year, there was only one day where it was possible to fly from the summit. Dan and Shane, who were here then, missed that opportunity because they weren’t yet acclimatised. Jam and Sam have worked incredibly hard to get this far, so we’re hoping the same won’t happen this year. But really all we can do it wait and hope and keep ourselves as fit as possible in the hope that our turn comes next week!

Sam is posting updates of their adventure at http://mtblanc2013.blogspot.co.uk – they’ve got some great pictures and details about how you can sponsor them.

Aerobics at 3800m

Star jumps at 3,800m
Star jumps at 3,800m
Star jumps at 3,800m
Star jumps at 3,800m

 

 

 

Yesterday we were doing star jumps at 3,800m. Two days ago, we were at sea level.

There was definitely a grin on our faces on Sunday as we arrived in our playground for the next two weeks. We had a great time back in Sussex. Both of us love teaching paragliding, and it was surprisingly difficult to drag ourselves away from the Fly Sussex gang when the weather forecast there was looking so good. But being back to the Alps is really no hardship 😉

We eased ourselves in yesterday with a cable car ride up to the Aguille de Midi at 3,800m. We’re both fit, so our priority is acclimatisation. Doing training circuits up there, we could certainly tell that the air was thinner than we were used to!

As we were panting for breath, we worked out that from when we’d boarded the ferry, we’d climbed an average of 100m per hour for 38 hours! Hopefully the change in altitude should be just what we need to get ourselves ready – in a few days we hope to be climbing to the summit of Mont Blanc!

For now we need to call on all our reserves for the hardest part of the game – waiting! Tomorrow looks flyable from the summit, so our friends who have been here training for the last few weeks are going to be heading up there. Obviously we’re not ready – we only got here from the UK! But sitting by and watching others head off for the summit isn’t easy! But we’ll set off with them today and go with them as far as we can. We’ll make the most of it as a training opportunity so when (hopefully) our opportunity comes next week, we’re ready to go…

Good luck guys – we’ll be in the landing field when you get there with cold beer!

Chabre Open – reminiscing

Looking over the back from Chabre
Looking over the back from Chabre

The Ozone Chabre Open finished weeks ago now! The results are in and most people have left Laragne either back home or onto their next adventure. In all we got four full tasks in, from three different launches with many happy pilots in goal every day. It really felt like a fun comp where every pilot could learn something in a supportive environment with just enough friendly competitiveness to keep things interesting. Unfortunately, registration for next year doesn’t start for another 7 months or so, but if I could sign up now, I would!

I’m not going to do a write-up of the fourth and final task – the time has passed. But I’d already written this one, so it may be a bit late, but here goes…

Day 3 was another beautiful looking day, forecast similar to the day before. Initially it looked good for a task to Gap, some 50km to the north east.  But cloud development in that direction meant that the task was revised to Aspres again, this time via Beaumont and the Sailplane Ridge.

As often happens in the mountains, despite the similar forecast, it was a totally different day! The ridge was scratchy and even seasoned locals like Rachael Evans of Allez-Up had to work hard in dribbly thermals before finally getting something that went up to cloudbase.

For me, I let my short attention span get the better of me for the first time in the comp. Frustration at having to scrabble on the ridge, sometimes with quite selfish pilots, led me to make a couple of bad decisions, eventually taking a weak climb too low over the back meaning I couldn’t get back for the first turnpoint on the ridge.

I headed for Orpiere as the realisation sank in – no points for today – for myself or for my team, and probably an afternoon sat miserably at camping waiting for everyone to come back with their happy tales. I had chosen my landing field, planned my approach and was almost getting my feet down to land when I connected with a climb at the bottom of ridge. This gave me some thinking time and I decided that if I’d scuppered the task anyway, I may as well do something interesting. I wondered if it would actually be possible to push back from Orpiere to the Chabre ridge and get the turnpoint…

When the sky looked friendly over Beaumont
When the sky looked friendly over Beaumont

So, while I was hearing on the radio talk about the clouds and wind over Beaumont, I was thermalling up high over Orpiere. As the radio reports moved on to clouds over the Sailplane Ridge, I was pushing slowly and patiently forwards trying different routes back to the ridge, still only 1km or so south of the Orpiere ridge. By the time I finally clipped the first turnpoint, Jockey was on the radio warning pilots coming in to land at goal that the field was thermic.

I managed to reach the next turnpoint at Beaumont then pushed out to land, as the wind around there and Serres was now too strong for me to carry on safely.

Distance-wise, it may not have been an epic flight (16km of the task route). But for me, I was delighted! Losing concentration and giving up too easily is one of my biggest weaknesses in XC flying. For this flight, I had to call on all my determination and concentration so that I didn’t just give up. I tried something, risked failing, learnt a lot and achieved something genuinely difficult. What a day!

Chabre Open day 2

After three pretty epic days with masses of flying, I think the whole comp is pretty relieved to have a day off today.

On Monday, the forecast was for a pretty much perfect Chabre day – light southerly winds and high cloud base. Our lovely task committee came up with an interesting task to get us to Aspres – a 50km route via a point on the Chabre ridge about 5km to the west, Orpiere to the north, then east to the far end of “the volcano”.

For me, the most challenging part of the race was the start – an hour on the ridge before we could enter the start cylinder. This is fairly usual for competitions, but I wasn’t prepared for it – all I could think about was my  hungry belly and having to wait until 2.15pm when we’d be off on glide and I’d be able to faff around and get at my lunch!

Finally, 2.15 arrived and off we went! Hands off, lunch out, eaten and time to focus back on the race! I clipped the first turn point at Orpiere in what felt like a good position. I pushed on to the volcano looking for lift to top up on the way, but didn’t find anything. Having just missed goal the day before, my strategy was to fly conservatively and get as much height as I could. So when I reached the volcano, I took my time to look around for another climb, rather than pushing on for the turnpoint.

After finding nothing workable on the corner of the volcano, I saw Chris White climbing on the tandem further back. As I went to join him, he pushed out, and I scrabbled around not able to connect with anything there either! Seeing pilots struggling on the front ridge, I was beginning to worry a little. There was obviously no point going back the way I’d come, so I carried on along the rising ground, keeping an eye on my escape route over the back of the volcano. But when I reached the high point, I was rewarded with a strong climb all the way to cloudbase at about 2800m!

It felt like I was a long way behind by now though.  I was flying on my own watching pilots heading off towards goal as I bumbled along under the cloud in the other direction to get the turnpoint. I’d planned to take the same cloud street back towards the goal, but drifted slightly off course and lost a bit of height on the way. But one ratty climb halfway put my glide to goal at about 2:1. Here being conservative paid off – otherwise the wicked sink and a slight confusion with my instruments could have left me scrabbling over Aspres town struggling to get up to get the final turnpoint.

I was delighted to get to goal, along with about 70 other pilots! Lots of smiles all round! I was the 4th girl in, behind Susie Burt, Foram Pandya and Christelle Tabarle, currently first place for the girls. You can see all the results at www.flylaragne.com

The main lesson for me was, like before, stay focused. There were several times in the flight I had to give myself a stern talking to. Being hungry at the start had made the landing field look very inviting and I was almost lured into ending my flight early! I was also tempted on more than one occasion to leave a climb before base and race on. But I kept my focus and it paid off in the end. I was relatively late into goal – 46th overall. But I got there! And in comps, there’s no point being quick if you don’t actually make goal…

Sorry – no pictures today. I was too busy flying!