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!

Chabre open day 1

OK, I’m a day behind with posting now. That’s the problem when it’s flyable – so busy!

Sunday’s challenge was a 40km elapsed time task. With a fair bit of north wind still around after the Mistral yesterday, we were flying from Bergies near Sederon. This in itself was a plus for me – I’ve flown around Laragne a fair bit, but this is one site I hadn’t flown!

DSCF7496

Catching the first thermal is known as a challenge and several good pilots were quickly in the landing field. Those who were lucky enough to get up and away enjoyed smooth strong climbs up to base at around 2300m.

It was a fairly straightforward task – two turnpoints and goal back in Laragne. A massive proportion of the pilots were downed by an into-wind leg on the final glide into the landing field. But with nearly 40 pilots in goal and lots of happy faces, it really was a great day.

Highlights for me were flying (and getting away from) a new site, bobbling along under a cloud street for several km and and seeing one of my best mates get into goal for the very first time!

As for the results (sorry I only really paid attention to the girls’ results, so apologies to those who were looking for a more objective report)…

IMAG0352Of the 16 girls in the competition, five got to goal (a slightly higher ratio than the blokes). Massive congrautations to Catherine Castle, Karlien Engelen and Ella Pyrah for popping their goal cherry! Particularly well done to Karlien who won the day flying her first ever comp task (and thanks for marking a
few thermals for me)!

As for me, at the end of the first task, I was 5th out of the girls and a fairly respectable 36th overall. I was one of a mass of pilots landing about 1km short of goal. If only Jockey’s transmission warning of a low level north wind had come two minutes sooner!

I learned some good lessons from the day. Most important, it’s that you have to keep working all the way to the end! Don’t assume you’re going to make it into goal until you’re actually there as you never know what’s going to present itself! So next time, I’m going to try and look at goal as just a waypoint on a longer flight, aiming to fly high over the top of it… And who know where I’ll end up?!

EDIT – OK, so we’ve already flown the second task before I got chance to post this, but no sneak previews, otherwise this will never get posted!

Full circle

Heading up for the night flight over Lugano
Heading up for the night flight over Lugano

There was something very fitting about ending the summer in Lugano flying with the guys from Jemm – the very place that Becky and I started our adventure in June. Driving over the mountain passes on the Swiss Italian border – still some of the most spectacular I’d seen in the past four months – reminded me of our excitement at the new adventure.

In the last few months, I’ve had adventures I’d never dreamt of, made huge progress on my flying, met some amazing people and generally had the most fantastic time. But as I left Lugano, I realised that a switch had flicked in my mind. It was the end of the summer’s adventure. It was time to stop.

Cormet de Roseland
Changing seasons – flying in the first snow on Cormet de Roseland

So, back to Annecy, where the autumn rain falling was falling and the leaves where changing, to plot my next move. Which is how I now find myself back in England, (via a final fly in Gourdon and Laragne), back in London, straight into a similar job, almost as if nothing has changed…

But things aren’t quite the same, and thoughts of mountains and flying are never far away… So many possibilities, so many places to see! But I don’t need to turn them into plans yet. Not today, anyway…

Home sweet home
Back to London – home sweet home (for a while at least)

Best flight ever!

Posted by Jenni

From take-off at Chabre
From take-off at Chabre

I really wasn’t feeling good about my flying today. My head was all over the place on the way up to take off at Chabre in Laragne and my first flight was a flop. I got a few decent climbs, but wasn’t happy with them and eventually pushed out front to try and find something that I could stick with. I found the landing field!

Getting back to take-off, I nearly got straight back in the car to leave without even walking up to take-off. But then thought I’d at least go up for a look.

Dressed in shorts for a quick top to bottom, I overcame my nerves and negativity and launched. Oh yeah – this is why I do this flying thing! As I started to climb with just one other wing in the air, things started to fall into place. Still nervous of the enormous (no, gargantuan) cliff behind takeoff, I kept well forward of the ridge until I suddenly found myself in a beautiful strong, smooth, wide climb that held me securely enough to drift over the back.

Looking back at the cliff, I was stunned. It had looked huge from the ground, but nothing like as intimidating as it did from the air. Going off behind it was a huge deal for me and left me feeling awed. And I was still climbing! When eventually the climb ran out (yup, I lost it), I knew there was no going back. I radioed back to Becky simply saying: “I’ve gone!” and set off on a glide across the back of the ridge, generally aiming for the campsite. I knew I should be using the speed bar as I went in search of the next climb, but I was so stunned to just be there that I contented myself with a sinky glide.

Catching another climb or two on the way, I realised this was now a *proper* cross country flight – not some one thermal wonder or something that someone else had mapped out for me.

As I reached the valley, I knew I’d need to find another climb to get back to the campsite, so headed for the volcano on the other side of the valley. Nothing! And so I looked at landing options and turned out over the road.

Blip, goes the vario as I approach my landing field. And then it goes beep. And then it does it again! So I turn, and it does it again! Watching the pilot I’d followed over the back packing his glider away in a nearby field, I was continually surprised when my vario failed to stop beeping as I turned in a slow climb that gradually strengthened and drifted me back across the volcano. I stuck with it for what felt like ages, climbing and climbing and climbing. I almost lost it once or twice, but then widened my turn until I found myself climbing again.

By now, I’d completely disregarded any thoughts of flying back to the campsite, as the climb had taken me in completely the opposite direction – a much more interesting landscape of lakes and ridges as opposed to the town. As I left that climb, I headed back for a nearby ridge, with the vario springing to life as I approached.

I started looking for the bathing lake at Serres – free entry to pilots who land there after an XC! But I was getting tired, stunned at the flight I’d had so far, and didn’t have my swimming costume (why is *this* the day I choose not to wear my bikini under my flying stuff?). So when the climb I was in got stronger at the top of the rigde, I decided my concentration wasn’t enough for it and headed for the road.

Looking back to take-off
Looking back to take-off from my landing field (grinning)

Torn between two possible thermal triggers, I ended up gliding straight between them, round a knoll and in to land right next to the road just a couple of kilometres short of Serres. I was chuckling as I landed and grinning from ear to ear as I packed away.

The whole flight was topped off by getting a lift with the first car that passed – a girl still buzzing from her first tandem flight at the weekend – who went out of her way to drop me all the way back to the campsite, where Becky handed me beer, and a nice Frenchman gave us fresh cherries 🙂

Thanks to Marianne and the guys at Allez-up for getting us up the mountain (twice) and the tips on take-off – wouldn’t have done it without you!