Tuesday, 3 February 2009

following birds into bubbles

Or as some people call it: thermalling!

Now, this is truly a dark art, which if you try and teach yourself all you will get is WAY TOO CLOSE TO THE GROUND!!!!! (This is only a good thing if you are coming into land!)

So, I once again allowed Adam’s wallet leech access and I started to haemorrhage money. Money which was very well spent I do have to add!

The instructor on the 3 day thermalling course was a Swiss guy called Sebastian. Now I am very new to the sport and so I don’t know anyone’s reputation. However I had seen Sebastian conduct a few SIV courses and the people doing them were suitable impressed. Add to that a few choice sayings like “he’s the granddaddy of acro” or “what he doesn’t know ain’t worth learning” impressed me (which is quite hard to do).

On the 1st day, me, mike (an English guy who had stopped paragliding some 9 years prior) and a polish guy called mark went up in the jeep to torepani.

Q: what is a thermal?
A: it is a column of warm air rising of the ground and into the air. As the warm air rises, surrounding it is another column of cold sinking air. So when you enter a thermal you down, and then up. Once you exit a thermal you go down again. The idea is to stay within the column of warm air that is lifting the paraglider up. Easy really! Oh…did I mention that the thermals are completely invisible!

This is where Sebastian comes in. (I was flying with a vario which is a little magic box that beeps. A high pitch beep for up and a low pitch beep for down. The faster the beeps the quicker the lift or sink. This helps you know what the hell is going on). As you fly along you come across a thermal and the wing gets pulled in the direction of the lift. You wait…count one, two, three and then turn into the thermal. All thermals want to kick you out, so it’s a balancing act of body shifting, pitch and brake to stay in. Having some one on the radio telling you when to turn and how much brake to use is more than helpful. I was actually learning!!!

After the 1st flight it was back in the jeep to Torepani…or so I thought. Passing the frontiers launch site at Sarangkot the jeep stopped and every one got out! Bloody hell we were taking off from here…gulp!!!! The takeoff itself was good but travelling over the trees and houses to get to the ridge made me wonder and then ask myself the question “what was my paraglider’s sink rate?” Once over the ridge (phew) it was time to go thermalling…

After the 1st day, mark had to go back to work in Ireland, so it was just me and mike for the rest of the course. (Unlucky mark!)

On the last flight of the last day it all came together! Entering the house thermal we all climbed up till we were around 500m above take off, high above the Sarangkot ridge. Then we headed along the ridge to Torepani, gaining height from the thermals we met along the way. Looking down I did a quick mental calculation…damn I was nearly a mile above the valley floor…sitting beneath what is basically a big kite attached to it by bits of string…and I didn’t have a reserve!!!

When we were back on the ground both me and mike had a smile on our face that lasted for hours


It’s now been 12 flights since the course finished. Since then I have made it to 500m above take off all by myself. However what I am still slowly getting used to is flying with lots of other paragliders. It’s not like you can just stop in mid air to avoid someone! (The Russian pilots don’t help matters)

On my 9th flight I landed at the Maya Devi landing site for the 1st time. My concentration level was set to maximum and I landed softly and safely. Once on the ground my legs were shaking…but a cold beer calmed them down!!!!

Mum and Dad you can relax: I now fly with a reserve

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