25 August 2008

One more day

Sunday had one more excellent day at Gréolières, in fact it turned out to be the best flying day of this trip. After doing some chores in the morning I launched slightly later than usual at around 11:30. By this time there were already some nice little clouds and at least one glider was high up the mountain. The light southerly meteo wind combined with the normal south-east valley wind to create big strong thermals so I quickly reached the summit of the Cheiron. The cloudbase was a bit low still, but I set out towards Coursegoules. At times it seemed better to head out in front of the mountain as the cloudbase was a bit higher there. Just before Coursegoules I turned back as the clouds were a bit too low there. I then tried several times to fly south towards Gourdon, every time getting a bit higher over Cipieres and a bit closer to Gourdon. The cloudbase was rising but the headwind was increasing too. Nevertheless on my last try I could probably have crossed the last ridge before the Gourdon plateau (see track); I was quite much closer than a week ago (cf. track). But as this was my last day I returned to Gréolières (picture) and landed after almost 3 hours of intensive flying to pack up, clean up, and head out to the airport. When I drove out of the village at 17:30 there were still several gliders sky high!

For maximum contrast with this excellent week at the Mediterranean the airline offered a rye-bread hamburger with potato salad which set up my stomach, and at Helsinki-Vantaa airport it rained with a cold northerly breeze to boot. Surely made me longing for the next trip!

23 August 2008

A tricky trip completed!

Friday we went again to Lachens to attempt the flight from there to Gréolières. This time the wind was a bit more south-west, there were a bit more clouds and the base was a bit higher. Most importantly the guys now knew the route a bit better and had a better idea about the valley crossings.
So Juha continued in very good form and made it very nicely, in fact he arrived high at Gréolières and went on along the Cheiron mountain to the end of the ridge beyond Coursegoules and then came back (see track). Congratulations! Tomi made it approx. halfway and landed close to Col de Bleine. Jori and Jarmo did not get high right after take-off and as the wind changed to west soon after had to land at Lachens.
In the afternoon we all had another nice flight at Gourdon, the site wasn't suffering from the westerlies at all and offered surprisingly strong thermals and a somewhat unusual high ceiling. All in all we had a terrific week with lots of flying, sun and warmth every day, and of course good food!

22 August 2008

A tricky trip

Wednesday the weather reports forecasted strong westerlies, and when I returned from the local Gréolières bakery to our gîte at 8 AM we already had our first wind gusts. So we decided not to fly. Instead we went to St.André to meet up with the pilots that are flying the last round of the British Open there this week. To our surprise it was calm in St.André and a task was set. It was nice to see some 130 gliders take off and struggle along the ridge. We spent some time in the local paragliding shop and then saw the first people come down in the landing field next to the shop. That seemed a bit too fast and indeed, the task was stopped due to strong winds. In the end we left St.André with one new harness and one new helmet :). On the way home we went to see the ever beautiful Gorge du Verdon, and had a refreshing bath in the fast flowing Verdon river. And then had a walk around the little alpine town of Castellane, before heading home to Gréolières again.

Yesterday the weather was perfect again. We left early for the Lachens site. The idea was to fly from there back home via the Col de Bleine, a flight of 27 km. The weather surely was "on" in Lachens, and soon the boys were exploring the Lachens mountain for lift (picture). Initially the inversion was a bit low, but soon it raised and cumulus started to form. So after a little while all four left the mountain and glided towards Col de Bleine. It seemed that they all didn't cross the valley in a suficiently direct way and hence Jorma, Jori and Tomi landed near Seranon. Juha catched another thermal low there but then did choose a too difficult route and landed near Andon. Nevertheless nice 1-2 hour flights for all.
In the afternoon we all flew another 1-3 hours at Gréolières in very buoyant conditions. After a shower we analyzed the day a bit over dinner and decided to try the same trip again today (Friday).

19 August 2008

Busy days

We Finnish pilots have been very busy the last three days. On Sunday we first climbed up to our "home" launch at the Cheiron mountain here in Gréolières. We took off in good conditions but fairly soon the forecasted west winds were causing quite a lot of turbulence and we decided to land and have lunch. Later we went to check out Gourdon. Conditions were a bit weak there, but Tomi got into the air quickly and had a nice flight. The rest of us were too late as the wind changed again to west and even north-west, i.e. over the back. This was the trigger to execute the next step of our plan, which was to drive to the famous Rocquebrune site above Monaco. In the summer flying there is only allowed in the evening as the landing is on the beach, which is crowded during the day. A bit surprisingly the wind at Roquebrune was from the north-east so we had to launch from the rarely used east launch (see picture above). But that worked quite well and Tomi, Juha, Jarmo and Jori all had a beautiful flight. Which was crowned with a nice dinner at the beach restaurant.

On Monday we again climbed up to our home launch in the morning. This time it worked better and we all flew some 2 hours (picture below with Juha in front of Cipières) before conditions became strong and lunch sounded inviting. After lunch we set out for Gourdon again where we enjoyed an abundance of lift. In fact we all had to pull "big ears" every now and then in order to get down a bit to avoid flying into clouds.

Today we went to the nearby Col de Bleyne site with the goal of flying from there back home to Gréolières, a short but not so easy 11 km trip. Juha made "goal" and Tomi got quite far, whereas the others "bombed out". It was good we were out early as the wind turned west again, making any further flying unsafe. So once we were all together again we drove to the beautiful Valbonne village for a walk and lunch. In the late afternoon we walked down to the Loup river in Gréolières for a refreshing swim. Nevertheless back at the top of the steep trail, with 260 m altitude gain in 28 C, we were surely in need of a shower! And hungry, of course...

16 August 2008

Going places

Saturday was really nice here in Gréolières. Together with Åke from Sweden walked up to the launch around 9:30 then relaxed for a while and took off after the local students and tandems. Thermals were strong and abundant and soon we reached the top of the Cheiron mountain. We had in mind to fly to Gourdon, but the southerly head wind seemed a bit too strong for that. On my second attempt I had a bit more height and found a much better line and it looked like I could make it but I didn't see any gliders over the Gourdon ridge. And as the winds were quite strong I deduced that conditions must have been too demanding at Gourdon.
So flew back and up again and now made a trip along the Cheiron to the east, to the village of Coursegoules. This was really easy: I never needed to turn in thermals but could simple fly a bit slower and then faster in the weak sink. On the way back curved over Cipieres and then flew back to Gréolières (see track) to land after 2 intensive hours. By now the balise (meteo station) at Col du Bleine reported already winds of over 40 km/h. Indeed the landing was already demanding, and it was very "interesting" to see Ozone's Dav land a recent Mantra R proto.....

After a quick lunch it was time to fetch Jori, Jorma, Juha and Tomi from the airport. Once back in the village we of course went to the famous Barricade for a really good pizza!

15 August 2008

Blown out!

This morning notorious optimistic pilots executed the plan that was designed last night at the Gréolières patron party: head out in the morning and try to fly Gourdon. So I collected Åke from Sweden, Simone from Gréolières, and John and Kerstin from England into the minibus and then we drove through Cipières to the Gourdon launch. Alas, our optimism did not suffice to counter the cold fact that the wind was already from the north-west, over the back. In addition huge clouds were building quickly and the front that was predicted to sweep by seemed quite a bit ahead of schedule. So back we went. Simone, John and Kerstin would pack and then leave for nearby St. André where the last round of the British Open 2008 will commence on Sunday.

I myself used the afternoon to check out a couple of the other sites in the neighborhood, Col du Bleine (picture above) and Lachens. Once I was at the top of the 1700m Col de Lachens, the post-frontal mistral was blowing with full force, it was actually difficult to stay put! The mistral did nicely clear out the sky so in the late afternoon it was all sunny, and hence nicely warm. So on the way back home I drove via Andon through the Loup valley and stopped near a trail that led to a very nice bathing place (picture below). All in all not a bad day at all, and there still is the village party to come!
The forecasts for the next days look very promising so we should have some good flying ahead of us.

Gréolières at Night

Yesterday arrived once again in lovely Gréolières, in southern France. Lokkilok organizes another guided paragliding trip, 4 Finnish pilots will arrive tomorrow evening.
After some hassle with my easyCar reservation for a minibus I got here around noon. It had been sunny all morning but right then a cloud cover moved into the area. Couple of people were flying though, so I quickly organized myself and started the 35 minute walk up to launch. The first time it always feels a bit hard and now it was midday hot and humid to boot. Soon after I'd reached the launch the local tandem pilots arrived with their clients. Soon after they'd left I took off. There were only small pockets of short-lived lift and after some 20 minutes I landed. In the landing I was welcomed by more locals who suggested we go back up again, now with the 4-wheel drive navette that was bringing more tandem customers up. As soon as we were on launch it started to rain a bit, and within a minute that drizzle turned into a hail storm. All but one local pilot and my ran back to the only larger tree for cover and then requested for the navette to bring them down.
But we that sat it out could fly down some 20 minutes later. The hail had lasted only for 2 minutes and we simple waited a bit for the ground to dry and the thermal breeze to pick up again. The flight down was short though as there was almost no lift and still areas of strong sink, probably left from that hail storm. With hindsight we probably should have waited a bit longer.
Back in the landing field the locals all talked about the ball that was going to take place in the evening. It turns out that every year around the 15th of August Gréolières has a week of music, dancing, games and parties. It is apparently an old tradition to celebrate the patron saint of the village. So last night a good band was entertaining all: children, teenagers and adults alike with all kinds of music, from tango to hardrock. The same band has come for this festivities to Gréolières for 30 years! Tonight they play again, whereas tomorrow there a DJ and a local heavy metal band will take care of the music.