Tuesday, 28 April 2009

A five hour flight (almost)

Climbing above the Ahorn Spitz (click the image to see the sailplane between my lines).

So this was the first day of the course run by local guide Kelly Farina. We all headed up to the Penkenberg launch where we had a weather briefing and given a 102km task to fly around the local mountains. But conditions were strong with climbs around 6-7 m/s and strong north winds to contend with. Not unexpectedly things were especially rough in the sunny leeside climbs, so much so that only 10km in to the task Kelly cancelled it for safety reasons. Most of the guys soon landed but Kelly, Wagga and Joe heroically carried on trying to take a wider line further out in the valley which was reasonably successful. I was a little disappointed and as I'd already flown to the end of the valley a couple of days previously I decided to go exploring. I had in mind the task of climbing up over the top of the Ahorn Spitz mountain which looked spectacular still in its winter coat. But that was only going to work later in the day when the sun would warm its more west facing slopes (the other obvious faces would have been leeside), I therefore had several hours to kill before I went for it. Not keen to get a kicking by staying in the leeside conditions deep in the western side of the valley I decided to try and soar the north slopes of little side valleys on the more windward eastern side despite the limited solar heating. On the main valley crossing I spotted a lone glider doing exactly what I had in mind and joined it, it was Adam! Together we worked weak little climbs on the Gerlossteinwand. Eventually I got enough height to safely head over the top of its ridge to fly around the corner into the main Zillertal valley where I got a much better climb that took me to cloud base. Now high on the eastern side of the valley I decided to fly south and try to get above the Ahorn ski area which would be my base for an assault on the Ahorn Spitz and also where I could kill some time. Unfortunately whilst climbing out above the ski resort I noticed Adam over a kilometer beneath me struggling to get up and regretted not radioing him about my climb when I left him in the side valley (although to my defence he did look like he was doing ok when I left).

Watching the skiers above the Ahorn Ski Resort

I then just relaxed and waited patiently for the afternoon sun to come around. I'd play little games such as aiming my gliders shadow at the all the people sitting at the tables outside the resort restaurants who would subsequently peer up at me hopefully not too annoyed. I'd also fly close to the cable car when it started its regular journey down in to the valley waving at the skiers. I drank a load of water, ate a bunch of fruit bars, had a leak (no not on the skiers!) and with the sun arriving and feeling refreshed I headed around the base of the Ahorn Spitz to look for a climb. After noticing some cloud forming I connected with a great climb that took me all the way to base; two sailplanes spotted me and joined me in the thermal one just above and one just below. It was great climb and we ascended 1235m (4050ft) in 10 minutes at an average climb rate of around 2 m/s to a max altitude of 3050m (10,000ft). High enough for me to fly close to the iron cross on the summit and see the footprints of climbers. After that I went for a fly up the valley skimming base before finally calling it a day at just under 5 hours flying. A great day out all in all.

Looking east over the Ahorn Spitz

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