Mike Thomas’s Blog July 2013
Day 1 – Sunday 30th June
Day 1 of my annual pilgrimage visit to Piedrahita with flypiedrahita.com, for what will hope to be a fun week of cross country flying. It’s always a long day the first day, with an early start and a late evening flight. WE landed at 10pm, had dinner closer to 11pm, and I had the bright idea to stay up until 4am editing and learning how to use the new editing software I have and waiting for my laptop to process it!
The flight itself was smooth, with us launching from lower down as it was a little blowy on top, with some East in the direction. Lovely evening views were to be had, so here’s hoping for day two, and that I get quicker with my editing, or it’ll be a bi-daily blog!
Day 2 – Monday 1st July
Day 2 promised a 4,000m (13,000′) cloud base with light south Westerlies and convergence flying. No pressure then! Our group drove up the mountain in anticipation at around mid-day, as hot temperatures were needed to get the thermals going. The wind was switching on the Pena Negra launch at 1908m and I took off not long after Steve, but stayed on the mountain as he was rapidly sinking over the chalets. Of course by the time I got into a decent climb he was back up, and I eventually topped out at around 3300m. I’ve only once been that high above launch.
From there I made the mistake of tacking toward the pass, whilst Steve and Jakub pushed straight out to a cloud in the valley. They stayed above 3000m whilst I lost most of it, and was lucky to work what seemed to be the only piece of lift over the cemetery, which turned into a big climb up to nearly 3400m. It was punchy with my wing needing a lot of control to stay where I wanted it (above me), and looking out into the Ambles (Avila) valley some big clouds had formed to the south and it looked to be raining out there in places.
Steve advised North of the Windmills so off I went in big sink again. When I found a climb I was joined by Hans from our group, and we took that rocket back up high, only to be drilled again on approaching the windmills themselves. I sort of went in between them, as they were much bigger than I had realised, 400-500′ high with the blades. There was a lorry fitting a blade on one of them and that gave me the scale, as it was tiny in comparison.
I did manage another small climb but it was again very punchy and I could see Hans landing in a big field, so I decided to glide out to a village near by. Steve and Jakub were also landing, but another 25km further away. The clouds were getting bigger in the distance by then.
Our retrieve driver found Hans and I in the only cafe in the village thanks to our live trackers, and then we went to pick up the other two under interesting skies and gust fronts over rolling fields.
No evening flight due to the rather ominous cloud behind launch and the gusty conditions on the ground.
Day 3 – Tuesday 2nd July
Day 3 promised a lot with a 3600m base, but it was not to be. The SW’rly wind was just too strong over the back for the thermic flow on the front to overcome. We gave up after a few hours with plans to return at 17:30 and a late XC.
When we arrived it was now on the hill but blatting through, so more parawaiting was called for. One of our group Hans decided to be the first off at 18:52, and although he got low initially, he was soon high, and even higher at 3300m when getting a climb at the cemetery. He went on to do a rapid 43km, which was well impressive for so late on in the day.
I took off about 45 minutes after Hans, and after a bit of a ropey launch, I boated around on the hill for a while and then went looking for any remaining restitution in the valley. Hans and the French pilots had used up all of it, so it was a gentle glide out for me, landing about 21:00.
Day 4 – Wednesday 3rd July
There were no climbs above 2400m on day 4, despite the forecast and it was tricky to stay up at the start. So tricky in fact that most landed well short or El Barco, the interim goal, as there had been thoughts of going over the Cherry Tree valley.
I landed even shorter at the Chalets, but was able to get a lift back up to launch with Jorge our retrieve driver, and had another go.
This time for me it was much better. Again it was small climbs with nothing more than 2000m near launch, and I slowly progressed West up the valley, pushing out to get the climbs and never getting above 1800m. However, West of the solar farm, a small climb I took drifted back to the mountain and turned into a 3.4m/s screamer up to 2433m, and from then on it was easy. I arrived at Barco to the North at about this height, with views up the valley to the lake beyond, and decided to head for a big field 8km West of the town. Again I arrived with plenty of height, and as I didn’t want to go any further given the low max height and lack of landings, I burned it off and landed for a 28km XC. A very satisfying 1.5 hours in the air.
After picking up the rest of the group from a bar in Barco, we headed back with the plan of a 18:30 ride back up to launch and a goal of Barco again. This time it was much easier with small climbs near Pena Negra, but then a smooth 2m/s big climb up to 2650m opposite the solar farm.
Five of our group made it, and I arrived high for a boat around before heading back East to find a big field to land in, as it was a strong NE lower down. Another 20km XC and an hour in the air.
A very satisfying day
Day 5 – Thursday 4th July
A NE forecast, but it turned out stonger than day 4, so Steve suggested we push North (West) over to the mountains at the front and then beyond. It was hard going to start with, and I was considering pushing out into the valley low as I was sinking near the Chalets. Thankfully some of our group found lift and I was able to thermal back up to 2200m above launch, and ended up doing a few 360’s with Hans again. Steve pushed out front early and actually bombed out which was unusual, and illustrated there was little happening in the valley.
Jakub, Nigel and I made it to the mountains to the front, and those two went off, whilst I waited for a better climb which I got. A screamer up to 2850m with lovely views for miles around, and which allowed me to glide out towards the hill at Puente del Congosto near the lakes and a river. I made it at hill height and took a rough climb to 2000m, but it was rough and made me uncomfortable. Pushing to the windward side of the hill, I experienced more rough stuff, very broken, and had my first small collapse on my Rush 3. Time to land then, as I was more scared than having fun. The landing was uneventful, but noticable that the wind had increased.
A very enjoyable 1.5hours in the air and another 23km logged. It’s not all about distance and time though, but quality, and that flight was a quality one.
No evening flight as it was crossed to the East on launch, so we had a couple of beers in the bar up top. One tip, if the dog looks wet don’t pet it. It has a penchant for cow shit.
Day 6 – Friday 5th July
Wow, day 6. What a day. A light SE was forecast, so we drove up to launch and waited for the thermals to start kicking off, but the birds weren’t getting high. Hans took one for the group and launched first. He performed valiantly but to no avail and landed in the valley. Jorge was asked to get him. A couple of French pilots launched later and things started improving, though they hardly got above take off. Then they did and we were like penguins jumping into the sea.
I launched with four others and it was straight into a thermal in front of take off. That took me up to 2800m or so, and Steve suggested we push out front again, four of us made it this time, Hans, Nigel, Jakub and myself. Oh and Steve of course.
From then on I spent an age on the mountain in front trying to get My chest strap lad loosened, making it uncomfortable to thermal so I pushed out into the valley NW of Piedrahita to find some stable air to quickly adjust it. I eventually made it to the Red Roofs but never got much above 2050m. I hung around there for ages but kept getting pushed back to the river when I took a climb, but once I got to 2600m I eventually flew West to the hill I landed at on day 5. At the end f the plain I encountered a big climb which took me to 3500m. Jakub said on the radio he’d briefly got sucked in at 3600m, so I stopped turning 100m early. Good job as I still went up. Off to my hill 20km from Pena Negra I went, and then turned back. Another climb to 3100m, ascending 200m in a straight line and a 18km glide back to Piedrahita with a tail wind. Yup the wind was now from the West.
I couldn’t get down at Piedrahita, as everything was going up, so I flew back to a blue hole and turned in sink to lose a few hundred metres.
3 hours in the air, 3500m, and a Personal Best out and return of 20km each way. Classic.
Day 7 – Saturday 6th July
Another incredible day. 4500M and light Northerly forecast. It was another late start, kicking off on launch about 2:00pm. After Steve, David, Hans and Jakub took off the wind started blatting through, so I had to wait for about 10 mins for an opportunity. Four of us took it at the same time, and one of those pilots ended up launching backwards, and then landing heavily on the road. He was OK apparently.
There was good lift to 3200m immediately for us who were in the air, and I pushed out into the valley to get some more under a cloud, as I was feeling rather tired and wanted to fly on my own. I found some and although I got down to 2400m behind the Quarry Spine , I then got back up to 3500m. I had to leave the climb to avoid cloud, but continued going up for another 200m or so, as it was a big big day. The pass would be no problem I thought as I was right there, but no. Crossing on the Southerly mountains I got drilled in 4m/s sink, and ended up on bar when I didn’t think I’d get across. 1000M lower, and still over the high ground I eventually found some lift, and it was hoofing back to 3500m+. It was that sort of day. More sink followed about the bend in the road, and I’d just radioed in that I was about to land (I was only 50m above the ground), when I got shot up 100m in two turns, only to lose the lift. Setting up yet again at a village called Blacha south of the river, I got yet another strong climb all the way up to 3600m where I left it for fear of popping into the white room.
With my new found room to manoeuvre I pushed on toward a little village called Munogalino, as Steve advised the wind switched round to the North there, and sure enough my ground speed dropped right off as I approached it at the 40km mark. The plan then was to fly all the way home, but by this time I was really tired and not in the frame of mind for summer flying. In future I will eat before flying as I’d had nothing since breakfast. I decided then to glide out to the SW along the N-110, racing along at 50kph plus only being slowly overtaken by the cars 600m below. I kept going through lift without turning for another 10km, as I just wanted down, and I had to look hard for some sink. When I eventually found some I burned off 300m or so to land in a big field.
3 and ¼ hours, 40km out and 10km back and up to over 3600m in altitude. Magic. The only bummer of the day was 1) If I’d scoffed something, I’d probably have had the mental capacity to push on back to Piedrahita, and 2) My GoPro ran out of juice not long after launch. I couldn’t have charged it properly the previous evening. Those who did the 70km out and return were Rob, Nigel and Jakub.
The later footage is of my evening flight which I had about 20 minutes after getting back from the XC. It was a relaxing 1 hour restitution flight in smooth, smooth conditions. A lovely way to end 7 straight flying days, over 200km of XC and 15 hours quality thermalling airtime.
Many thanks to Steve, Puri, Paul and Jorge from www.flypiedrahita.com for my best flying holiday in 13 years. It was truly epic.