A nice memory of 2011. 100km O&R with Nigel Page

2011 really threw up some classic days, and although that year will always be associated in my memory with the tragedies of the Worlds and my own prang, there were many special days of memorable XC flights shared with friends.
Thanks to Nigel Page for reminding me of one of those magic days. Below is his tale. The Photo is of his maiden flight on the Mentor 2 on his way past Barco towards Tornavacas.

A Fine Day In Piedrahita

The year had not gone too well. Many things got in the way of flying and about mid June I hurt my back and could not fly at all for a while. At the start of August I found myself on my way to stay with Steve Ham and Puri in Piedrahita having flown only a handfull of hours in the previous six months and not at all for five weeks. Creeping old age was also making me less confident on my DHV 2 Sigma 7 as it had on my DHV 2/3 Omega 6 some years earlier. Some of the new DHV 1/2s fly extremely well and I had intended to try a Nova Mentor 2 but my bad back had postponed that. However, Steve had obtained one as a demo for me to try at Piedrahita which was to arrive around the middle of my holiday.

In consideration of my lack of recent air time I flew fairly carefully the first week on my Sigma 7. I did OK though. It’s always fun flying at Piedrahita with good groups of keen pilots and Steve’s excellent guiding and support. At the start of the second week a bag containing a something a lurid green colour was thrust in my hands and I was told to get on with it. I’m always a bit nervous on a new glider but taking off a 900m hill (take off at Piedrahita is at about 1900m and valley areas 1000m AMSL) on an unknown glider that had not been flown required extra care . Fortunately we were early at the take off that day and I was able check all the bits appeared to be tied on properly, the brakes set OK and that the thing would at least kite a bit. Compared to my Sigma 7 the Mentor seemed to almost launch itself but took a little getting used to in the air as the handling was very different. Two hours later I landed about thirty kilometres away near the Tournevecas pass without having scared myself too much. I’m not sure how much I might have scared the others but comments were more about how green the glider looked rather than how it flew. This glider was so green that with the sun behind it the screens on my instruments look green. I guess I must have looked green too! Anyway it seemed to fly OK and we had some good flying over the next few days. On the best day, of course, I managed to find some of the worst sink I’ve ever encountered low down and ended up on the ground early when the others flew all day. Never mind. I think I learnt something.

The following day we had the light north wind forecast to become northeast. On some days getting started from the Peña Negra take off can be a bit tricky. Unless a few people are in the air to show where the thermals are it can be a bit of a gamble where to try for the first climb. The hill at Piedrahita is a long ridge facing northwest with shallow spines running down it. The general technique early in the day is to stay over the spines and avoid the potentially sinky cloughs between them. If the particular spine you are on isn’t working you either cut across to another or follow the spine you are on towards the valley. It is important to stay high enough over the spines to be able to begin thermalling without having to worry about the terrain and to be able to deal with a bit of unexpected sink. Hill huggers tend to end up exploring the hillside on foot!

I turned right after launch and soon had a reasonable climb but with a surprisingly strong drift towards the east. OK as such, but a lot of drift for not much climb. It felt like the wrong place and I headed back towards the take off area. My next idea was to make for the usually reliable “chalet spine” to the left of take off where some pilots were doing better. I soon got a climb back to take off height and followed the spine down quite a long way before finding an excellent climb with only a little drift. At 3000m it felt good and lacking any other plan I flew along the ridge towards the “big spine” to the east. Meanwhile most of the group were scattered between the hill and the town in the valley. I arrived over the big spine to find no lift but pilots in the valley area were getting climbs so I left the hill and joined them. We worked bits and pieces and the group got up to a very respectable 3400m.

At this point Steve pointed out that we had been flying for an hour and had only gone about 3 km and that perhaps we should decide where to go. Easy for him to say! The rest of us were quite pleased just to be flying. Steve has spent a lot of time taking people over the Villatoro pass on the direct route to Avila and would quite have liked to try going north part of the way to Peñaranda and then east to Avila. It sounded good to me but the lure of the pass was too strong for some so Avila direct it was. After bobbing about under a cloud over the rather scenic village of Bonilla we set off towards the pass. With the height we had we didn’t have to bother with the technicalities normally associated with getting across the pass and just sort of made our way along the middle. Steve and a few of the others got on fairly quickly but the rest of us were a little behind having missed a climb. It was generally quite lifty enabling us to stay fairly high but the group scattered as we entered the Adaja valley. A few kilometres on a climb over Villatoro topped me up and I headed along the road towards Avila helped by the northwesterly wind to the next climb at Amavida. Things were looking messy ahead now and with Chris Little just behind me I headed diagonally across the valley for the sunlit ground on the south side. It seemed a good theory but we glided quite a long way without finding lift and our lack of height began to be a concern. Fortunately we found ourselves near the village of Baterna just to the south of the Adaja river which has a low scrubby hill to the north. This hill doesn’t look much but often seems to work and I have scraped out of there from low down on several occasions. Chris and I sort of felt our way across the hill into a fairly wide area of patchy but usable lift. We made a slow climb to about 2400m and set off towards the area just east of Muñogalindo known for producing convergence which had some fairly big clouds over it. Arriving at the edge of the convergent area we found a moderate thermal. It was a little lumpy and I began to get the feeling that there was a strong core somewhere. I explored a bit and found the thing which I guessed from the sound and nearby turbulence was going to be a bit wild. On my Sigma 7 I would have been rather cautious but I decided that it was time to find out what the Mentor could really do. Abandoning any pretence of finesse I pointed it where I thought the core was and when everything went whoosh I pulled the string and hung on. All fairly exciting and after a few hundred metres of rocket climbing it widened to a more relaxing climb. I reached about 2800m with Chris a bit lower having missed my rocket.

We headed northeast diagonally towards the main Avila road. In that part of the world the scale of things can seem immense. After gliding for what seemed ages we had flown nearly 10km without finding any lift and were getting rather low near the main road. With no other ideas I started looking for a safe landing and easy retrieve with the faint hope that the road would trigger something. Chris had to land and as I sized up a field for myself I noticed a bird circling very low just to the north of the road. I flew over to it but felt no lift so I flew a circle over the top of the bird. As I sank to about about 40m I began to feel some weak lift as the bird, possibly a sparrowhawk, gently climbed towards me and I concentrated on a fairly delicate climb. Usually I find that thermalling birds are very good for locating an area of lift but once in the thermal it’s best to do my own thing. This is partly, I suspect, because the presence of a paraglider in a thermal makes the bird want to leave. I thermalled as accurately as I could but still kept blundering out of the lift until I noticed my corrections always brought me back immediately behind the bird which was still thermalling despite my presence. I stopped trying to core the thermal myself, followed the bird, and was rewarded with an astonishingly accurate climb. Sharing thermals with birds are some of life’s greatest experiences but to be literally led up a thermal so cleanly by one was genuinely awsome. After a while my new friend said goodbye and left me to blissfully continue the climb on my own.

I talked to Steve on the radio. He was somewhere nearby and the others had all landed except one who had flown on to Avila. I was somewhere near the airfield at el Fresno and Avila would be an easy glide but Steve suggested we try and fly back to Piedrahita. As the strength of my thermal declined I set off back towards the convergence area near Muñogalindo. To my delight as I left the core I found I just kept climbing gently and had acquired a tailwind. Ten minutes or so later without turning I was 5km towards home and another 300m higher. Steve was a little way in front of me and we headed along the road back towards the Villatoro pass. I got a massive climb under the big clouds at Muñogalindo which I left way below cloudbase for fear of being sucked in. Steve missed that one but seemed OK and I waited for him to catch up under the next cloud a few kilometres on. The following glide got us to somewhere around Amavida about 8km short of the pass where I had found a climb on the way out but the cloud there was a bit messy and didn’t give us much. We plodded towards the pass finding some lift on the way but not getting really high. I was beginning to tire and a bit confused about how we were going to cross the pass. Thankfully Steve was still fully switched on and took us over a spine at the foot of the north facing slopes on the south side of the valley. The tactic soon became obvious to my somewhat fatigued brain in that it was getting fairly late and the sun had come around to shine fairly directly onto the north faces. As we arrived over the spine Steve was about 50 or 100m higher and disappeared skywards leaving me scratching around in zeros. I had some height so I tried the next spine along. That didn’t work but the area clearly had very good potential with a nice flat, sunlit field leading to the original spine which had been cooking all day and everywhere feeling lifty. As I gradually sank I felt my way around the field and managed to sustain at maybe two hundred feet for about ten minutes. It was baking. Something stronger had to come off and eventually a creepy little thermal wafted out of the field and tracked up the spine. Eventually the thermal widened out and I climbed nicely over the mountain in an 1800m climb to about 3000m and made another 300m in a straight line as I set off towards Piedrahita. Steve was well on his way by then in order to get back and organise the evening flight but suggested I flew along the middle of the valley as it might get a bit windy on the ridge. I had a nice lifty glide back topping up in the odd core here and there and arrived quite high over Piedrahita. A nice easy climb took me over the Peña Negra take off and a little beyond. I was very tired and took a gentle glide back over the town to land around quarter past six.

I had been been in the air for six hours and forty minutes and flown 100k as an out and return. I was particularly pleased to have flown for such a duration as prior to this flight I felt my limit was around four and a half hours. It has to be one of my best flights although I may well have not made it back over the pass without Steve’s help. The Mentor 2, which I later purchased, had enabled me to confidently deal with some of the wild stuff in the Adaja valley whilst retaining most of the performance of the gliders I had been used to in the past. I’ve grown to rather like fluorescent green! Piedrahita is a great place to fly. I should fly other areas more, but it’s great fun and the support Steve provides helps me to deal with a UV sensitivity problem I have. The more I fly in Piedrahita the more interesting it becomes and there is plenty more to do there.

© Nigel Page 2011

Posted: Monday, January 30th, 2012 at 20:03 by Steve Ham in Flying Journal.

Leave a response!

One Response to “A nice memory of 2011. 100km O&R with Nigel Page”

  1. Pat Rowley Says:

    sorry to hear about your back Nigel, hope you are now fully well
    what a great flight after missing several months of flying
    sorry not to see you in 2011, perhaps in 2012
    this was a great read!

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January 2012