18/7/99 - Rich Harding, 27.9km from Merthyr
Alex and I drove over to Wales, arriving on Merthyr at 12.15, where Jamie Messenger, his brother Warren and Steve, Donna's Friend :-), were just about to move round to the WSW face. Alex clipped in half way round and climbed out with Steve, Jamie and Warren as I was launching. They had reached 1200ato when Alex pulled out and returned to the hill. He landed to his own accompaniment of self-critical profanities!
About eight Joint Services pilots had arrived just after us and we scratched around with little success for the next half hour in wind frequently South of SW. At 1 o'clock, as the wind came back on the hill for a moment, Alex took off accompanied by a yellow Flame and started climbing a little which led to a mass launch into the developing thermal. A couple of hundred feet up and some sharp coring took me above the gaggle for the rest of the slow but reasonably consistent climb out (Alex says it wasn't consistent but I was aided by being on top so I could just adjust to fly over whoever was gaining fastest!) and when we approached 4000asl (just below cloud) there were four of us - me, Alex, Colin Hermon and the yellow Flame, so I let them past so I could take some photos!
The lift petered out fairly gradually and we drifted off downwind, losing over 500 feet before finding another climb back to almost base - which was at 4200asl. At this point our paths diverged, with the yellow Flame booting it for Mynydd Llangynidr, Colin and Alex heading off over towards Tredegar and myself just wafting around in air that was averaging 1 down. Halfway to the town, Colin came back leaving Alex to have the monster sink to himself! I soon found a little climb and saw Colin do likewise about 500yds downwind of me. The yellow Flame was struggling, but not as bad as Alex who looked doomed; Jamie and Warren had apparently both been downed in the same place.
The yellow Flame found something strong and was coming up beneath me but then inexplicably pulled out and headed downwind from roughly 3000asl. As I lost my climb at around 3500' I was immensely cheered by the sight of Alex getting a ridiculous save - he reckons from 100ft above an industrial estate! I then realised that I was sinking fairly fast and headed to Llangynidr Reservoir, with its adjoining forest-ette, which provided the necessary boost back to base, albeit a very slow one - Colin and Alex had reached the top of their climb and gone on a glide across the Crick valley well before I reached cloudbase again at the Northern edge of Mynydd Llangattock, just to the East of the road where the yellow Flame had ended his strange death glide.
Alex and Colin were on the far side of the valley now, heading for the ridge from Tretower to Talgarth, and having milked my cloud enough I followed across, managing to stay near base for a while but then using my speed bar for the first time in the flight. I arrived over the A40/A479 junction with enough height to make the huge Southerly bowl behind Tretower but discovered a slow but consistent climb that took me all the way back to base - it did take over ten minutes though! Colin and Alex had originally flown up the Talgarth valley but came back to the front at ridge height as I sailed over the Western end of Pen Cerrig Calch.
Mistake. I could see that the Black Mountains had overdeveloped to a degree with perhaps 75% cloud cover but I thought the continually SW-facing ridges and my height would combine to get me across. Wrong. In hindsight I think, with the height advantage I had over Alex and Colin when they'd tried it, I'd have been better off heading up the Talgarth valley, which was much clearer. Two ridges into the mountains I was heading at Pen Garreg, looking for a save. When I reached the hill I was faced with a choice of two bowls and stopped above the point to check directions and explore some rising air. Unfortunately, in the middle of a conversation with Steve, who I now realised (from the purple and yellow Advance bag) was the person standing on the hill below me, I hit a hole in the air and lost 200ft to be forced to land. Stupid - although I was already mindful that the valley we were in had a road back to Crick, unlike the one over the back of the ridge which has a 10 sq km forest and a crap footpath!
We didn't see Alex come back over the ridge to land a little way up our valley as we were looking for Steve's misplaced radio in the middle of a huge, bracken-strewn hillside! Colin went back up the valley towards Talgarth but went down. Alex actually beat me by .3 of a km and then walked back up to fly to Longtown, for some reason! Neither did we realise that Marcus had flown from Nant Y Moel to Merthyr (about 17km) and could have rescued us all with Alex's car! Simon had flown 3.2km from Nant Y Moel but assured Alex that the site has 'excellent XC potential'. Not quite as excellent as Merthyr on the day though, evidently!! :-)