20 Jun 03

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High Cloudbase/Strong Winds

Today was Terry & Margaret's last flying day before they set off for home, while it was Wendy's first, having just flown in the night before. At briefing the forecast cloudbases went off the scale (well above 4500m in the high mountains and 3500m locally). The north-westerly wind was to increase during the afternoon and would produce violent and gusty thermals.

John & Wendy at Mission Control

Near Pelvoux

Getting away was to be a problem with two strong inversions to get through before reaching the high cloudbases - a few of us needed relights but were rewarded with good flights afterwards. Thermals low down were difficult to find and very tight, but most of us were soon on Blayeul enjoying its unusually high 11,000ft cloudbase. It was then easy to set off for the higher mountains to the north. Trois Eveches produced 12,500ft, as did the tÍte de Lucy across the lake. It was then possible to work the spine of the Ecrins,  working in a zig-zag fashion to the north all the way to Pelvoux.

Lac d'Allos

The wind was a problem, at about 30 knots NNW. With a cloudbase over 14,000ft this generally would not be a great problem, but having mountains of 12,000ft close by generated extreme turbulence which made many thermals unusable to all but the most highly skilled pilots. John gave up near Plampinet after an hour in the spin cycle and retreated back to the south where the mountains are lower and the wind was a more manageable 15 knots.
The final part of the afternoon was spent hunting for wave at Gache and Chabre. With a local cloudbase of 12,500ft and winds of 20 knots gusting to 30 knots it was difficult to see what we were climbing in but no-one managed to get into any high wave.

An unexpected and most welcome bonus of the strong winds was in turning glider landings into a great spectator sport. It is surely only a matter of time before the fence at the threshold of 36 becomes but a distant memory.

The Sisteron valley, looking south towards St Auban