01/05/00 - Tim Pentreath, 72.3km from Pandy
Arranged to meet Fi at her house in Olveston at 1030 to decide on the site for the day - the original plan was to head to the Malverns, but in the end the lure of the Avon Easter Cup proved too strong to so we headed to Pandy (which is less than 50 miles from Bristol, whereas "Kettle Sings" isn't).
We arrived at Mrs C's just before midday to find it was distinctly blowy, but there were a few people flying with no problem once they were up - clearly it was going to be taking off that was tricky. The sky at this stage was lovely, with a steady stream of Cu's passing overhead...
Because of the strength of the wind I headed to the HG take off first where Garry Mitchell was preparing to take off, however it was somewhat gusty there and was evidently making handling the glider very difficult. So Fi and I headed to the normal lower take off where the wind appeared to be about the same strength but less gusty. Alot of people were just sitting it out on the hill, but it was apparent to me that once airborne it was eminently flyable.
I took off at 1230 in a slight lull and within 5 minutes I was about 1000' ato directly above take off... I could tell it was going to be a good day! Rather than just going with the first climb of the day, I decided to explore the air some more and so headed down the ridge as far as possible to get some easy kms under my belt before leaving the hill. Along the way I had several nice climbs up to 1500' ato in some fairly boisterous thermals but decided to keep on pushing on up the ridge.
Pretty soon I was at the 9km mark up past the Darrens and I must admit I was a bit anxious about pushing too much further as I was now worried about turbulence from the hill in front. As it happened I reached the 10km point without incident, so without hanging around I turned round and headed back down the ridge.
Passed Fi on her way up the ridge and yelled across to her that my plan was to get back down the ridge and then go xc if possible. However I only made it about half way back before I found a great climb that was clearly going to get me to base, so I decided to stick with it. At this point Garry Mitchell joined the thermal some way beneath me and made good progress but by now I was at base and concentrating on staying out of the cloud. Next time I looked though I could see he was much lower, and speaking to him afterwards he said he had had quite an exciting time with his canopy pulling itself into strange shapes above him! He managed to find anther climb though and made it to near Crickhowell.
Meanwhile, I was making steady progress towards Pen Cerrig-calch (the big hill just north of Crickhowell), but losing height as I was no longer at base. I found some lift over the valley in front of the hill, which meant that I was definitely going to clear the top with plenty of height to spare. After drifting over the top I connected with a lovely lee-side thermal that took me right up to base again over the wooded hill just south of Bwlch. By now I'm about 18km from take-off and heading over the southern end of Talybont reservoir almost 5000' beneath me (now 24km from TO).
I have to say the next 20km or so were pretty easy with most of it spent at base. I passed high over both the lakes to the north of Merthyr, and then had a great time for about 20-30 minutes flying in and out of the sunny side of the cloud. I suppose this was my max altitude during the flight (about 5700') and I must have been a couple of hundred feet above base and was easily able to control my height by skirting round the edge of the cloud! This is one of the most wonderful experiences you can have when flying - I've only managed it twice in the ten years I've been paragliding.
It was now (at about the 40km) mark that my vario started playing up. The batteries were a quarter full when I took off, but the cold up at 5000' drains them pretty quickly, and it kept on turning itself off. I turned the UP volume to it's lower setting, and turned the DOWN volume off in order to conserve power, and this seemed to work ok, but it was a major distraction to me. I found myself constantly worrying about how long they'd last, and what I'd do if they ran out, and how I wouldn't be able to thermal properly, and pretty soon I was thinking "well, I'm now over the 50km mark and I'm satisfied with that", and sure enough, with all this negative thinking it didn't take too long before I was way below base heading down the Vale of Neath trying to eek out my final glide…
I was now down to my last couple of hundred feet, and had turned back into wind to land in my chosen field (on the same side of the river as the A465), but unfortunately I misjudged the wind strength and at the last minute decided to cross over to the south side of the river into a bigger field in order to land safely… …which I duly did, but the down side was that I was now 'stranded' the wrong side of the river!
Having packed up, the temptation to try to cross the river to get to the main road was too great. I took off my boots and socks, rolled up my trousers, climbed down the bank and stepped gingerly onto the first rock of the weir. I probably only had 20' to cross, but after just 3 or 4 feet I realised that this had the potential to go horribly wrong! The rocks were very slippery, it was deeper than I thought, and one slip would result in me getting soaked up to my waist (best case scenario), or in the worst case I would go completely under which not only be extremely inconvenient, but would also be extremely expensive (trashing vario, radio, GPS, camera, mobile phone and probably my Psion too!)... So I carefully turned round and with huge relief made it the few feet back to the bank!
Thank God that was over without incident! But in order to get onto the B road on my side of the river, I first had to scramble up a steep thorny bank, then cross a railway line, then scramble up another bank and finally cross a barbed wire fence...! Blimey, and I thought flying was dangerous!
Having made it this far, the rest of the retrieve was fairly straightforward (once I'd walked two miles to the roundabout on the A465 at Resolven that is), and three lifts and an hour and a half later I found myself at the Skirrid Inn waiting for Fi. Stupidly I'd not left my keys with the car, so even once Fi had arrived, I still had the final hurdle of collecting the car from Mrs C's to contend with! In actual fact it was a pleasant walk/jog up to the top (without the glider mind you), and so having landed at approx 3pm after a 1.5 hour flight, it was now 7pm and we were finally ready to head back home!
What an epic day!