August : two potentially great days, but....

19th August : Saint André SW TO 
212 km zig zag - 7h20mn
See flight on OLC
Into the Ecrins forTP n°2

A good forecast for the day, but with probable thunderstorms in the mountains.
I had recently met German pilots Peter W. and Friedrich at Laragne and we had decided to go to Saint André for a few days as it had got a bit stable and inverted at Laragne.

After take off all three of us went "over the back" to the Cordeil and up the Colmars/Allos valley and over the Ubaye and Barcelonnette onto the Grand Berard where I arrived the highest, just over the summit. Here I entered the "house thermal" of the gliding club below, and for a moment I saw 12,6 m/s on the vario, the strongest thermal I've ever had in my life !
Crossing the Ubaye valley onto the Grand Berard  (the summit in shadow)
 Nearing cloud base which litteraly took seconds not minutes, I could see that the clouds which we'd been under, near Allos were developping too quickly and would turn into thunderstorms. So I abandoned any ideas of going further north to Briançon and headed off to the NW and Mont Guillaume, above Embrun and on the north side of the Durance. I lost track of Peter and Friedrich at this point. From here I headed NW up the Ecrins via the  Grande Autane to Pic de Souffles in the Valgaudemar valley. As I was on the Grande Autane, Bruno C. arrived from the north of the Ecrins having taken off  from the Col de Granon (he got to over 4900m near the Barre des Ecrins !!). He saw me, but unfortunately I didn't see him !!  
East of the Morgon : the storm looks active !
At same moment, looking to the west much more inviting !
Looking west there were blue skies and sunshine, but to the NE and E it was overdeveloping everywhere. I headed back to the Piolit (the normal crossing point to the Morgon-Dormillouse) but it looked to be raining over there, so I decided to head due south onto Mount Colombis (flying site) and try to get back to Saint André staying further west of the thunderstorms.
I got up on the Mont Colombis and as the wind was west, it was drifting me towards the Morgon, the rain seemed to have stopped there but it looked like the thunderstorm behind was active. At about 2800m and nearing the Morgon, I suddenly noticed the Serre Ponçon lake that leads out from the Ubaye valley was getting covered in white waves. I realised straight away that it was the gust front coming out of the Ubaye valley. That's the great thing about water : it let us "see" what the air is doing ! At my altitude, I felt none of this lower wave of air but I instantly turned back west and flew as fast as possible back to the Colombis and a good 10 km away from the gust front. Here things were much calmer and I was out in the blue and sunshine again.
Getting up on Mont Colombis, looking east to where the gust came out of the Ubaye valley
 At this point, I'd decided that there was no way I was going to get back to Saint André on my glider and decided to try and fly back home instead, which was about 60 km away. It worked, and at 7.45 pm I landed back at Ribiers, in a calm clear evening sky. The only problem was we were camping at Saint André ! Anne very kindly drove back to get me and we were back at the campsite just after midnight, a very event full day !

PS : today quite a few PG's got to over 5000 m and landed on the summit of the Mont Blanc !
At 7.30 pm, I overfly Ribiers where I live and land here
8.30 pm, after packing up the glider, this was the sky looking to the north !

21st August : Saint André SW TO 
216 km FAI triangle - 6h20mn
See trace on Google Earth
See flight on OLC
The first 50 km were very fast !
 High cloudbase forecast but probable thunderstorms developing in the afternoon.
There were lots of hangglider pilots  out today including Peter and Friedrich. Peter was seriously injured in a hanggliding accident about 16 years ago and now needs a little assistance on TO as he can hardly run (which makes some launches like the south side of Laragne impossible for him). He has a large pair of wheels on the base bar of his Combat 13.5 GT and lands in prone. His disability hasn't stopped him becoming one of the best HG XC pilots in Germany and is currently in 2nd place in the German league. Once he's up and flying you can tell that he's a brilliant pilot, who knows more about mountain flying than most of us. Today he flew a 242 km circuit on only his 4th flight ever at Saint André !
The Chapeau de Gendarme, on the south side of the Ubaye valley
Friedrich helped Peter take off first and I got off, followed by Friedrich. Again we went up the Colmars/Allos valley. Conditions where great and we got up to the Grand Berard next to Barcelonnette much quicker than 2 days ago. I was with Fredrich -we hadn't seen Peter since Saint André. The huge cloud above the Grand Berard started to rain, so again I decided not to go further north towards Briançon, but to go to the NW and Mont Guillaume where I met up with Friedrich again. (He decided to go back to Saint André and nearly made it, landing a few km short at Thorame Basse). 
La Petite Autane where more than 10 feathered friends showed me the thermal !
 Then from here I continued further NW  towards the Vieux Chaillol but encountered an increasing NW wind (see thermal spirals on trace). However there were good looking clouds further west over the Pic de Bure and beyond. I came back south onto the Pic d'Autane and got up and headed off towards the Pic de Bure. Here cloud base was over 4250m (the highest I've ever been in France) and I kept heading WSW towards the site of Aspres and towards the Col de Cabre. The GPS now showed I was 88 km from Saint André and I would have a favourable tail wind to get there.
Looking north towards Sisteron, the thunderstorm that I flew around to the west and south
However there was a massive cloud between Laragne and Sisteron which was developed into a thunderstorm so I had to go around it on the west and then south side. I got rained on quite heavily for a few minutes which prevented me from climbing back to over 4000m, but with the tail wind I flew quickly down to Digne and was able to get up on the Cousson. Looking back to Sisteron about 25 km away it was now raining very heavily. From the Cousson I was able to climb to about 2500m drifting towards Saint André and then go on glide to over fly TO and land down at La Mure (alternative Saint André landing field) where at the same moment I met Peter coming into land as he finished his circuit (which was quite different from mine - see trace).
Two happy pilots : Peter and Mark back at Saint André
So yet again another day where the overdevelopment had reduced the day from being really great to just really good ! I didn't have any real game plan after the Grand Berard, and you can see on the trace that I flew a sort of "round circuit" which "only" gave 216 km FAI triangle. Had I had flown with a bit more intelligence it would have been at least a 260 km triangle. I need to do a bit more preflight map studying !


  1. Hello! I wouldn't know about your needing to fly with a bit more intelligence! One thing is sure, you do fly with delight!! Your photos are enchanting. I've tried to understand a few technical things you write about, but am no good at this. What's 'a thermal'?
    What you say about your friend Peter is edifying!
    Pat Berthelier

    1. Hi Patricia ! and first of all congratulations on all the kms you rode around Le Mans race track ! bravo !! For me, the biggest advantage of becoming an experienced pilot has been to be able to fly for many hours and long distances on a good day (a bit like cycling after we have done some training !). A thermal is a current of rising air (in French : un courant thermique ou une "pompe"). There is a technical reason : warm air is less dense and rises (simple version). The sun heats the ground, the ground heats the air, then the air rises, like bubbles here and there, but you cannot see them. The swallows eat insects rising in these thermals. Vultures, eagles, buzzards, etc. use thermals to move around the sky without flapping their wings, therefore conserving their energy. All unpowered aircraft can only descend in flight. But we can go up if we are in an airmass going up faster than we are going down. This is the main use of thermals for the pilots of unpowered aircrafts : hanggliders, planeurs, paragliders, etc.
      Bye bye, Mark


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