Freesteel Blog » Weekends

Tuesday, July 21st, 2015 at 8:36 pm - - Cave

Top camp was still relatively empty before the hoards arrived for the third week expo. Two young ULSA (University of Leeds Speleological Association) cavers fresh from their bus trip from Leeds showed up and were easily persuaded to walk up the hill at 6am. We got there in time for Rachel to organize us into three teams and go do Balconyhohle into the area known as the Leeds Bypass. (Leeds people are gradually taking over this expedition in name and numbers.)


The team comprised of David, George and myself. Frank had found a new hole in the floor the day before and persuaded David to check it out. George and I went for a poke in the western extents in the direction of the Tunnocks cave (to which this one has not been connected yet).

On the walk back, I said to George, “You know that thin gap we saw in the ceiling back there? Do you want a leg up?”

“Sure,” said George.

He found a moderately large unexplored chamber up there. I didn’t believe him because there was no echo, but I had to squeeze through anyway to check it out.


We went back to fetch David who had so far only managed to push a big slab of rock over so it filled in Frank’s hole. He didn’t take any persuading to give up. We traipsed back to the drafting ceiling slot (tagged as “Question Mark 90b” in the database), pushed all our kit bags through, drills, tacklesacks of rope and ourselves, and began exploring and surveying it. Down one end there was a perfectly preserved dead bat spread out on the floor complete with wings and fur. David began drilling for bolts and putting in rope to get down the hole opposite to access the next level below.

We ran out of time and came back the next day.

Partway through the trip I finally got suspicious at how quickly George had been taking notes.

“Oh, I didn’t know you were supposed to draw a map. I’ve only been writing the numbers.”

David’s rigging had by then lead us down a rope and onto traverse line along a loose ledge above a bottomless pit to a proper passage.

I lay down for a nap while David sorted out some of the missing surveys. I planned to bodge out a map of the chamber above.

We carried on while David looked down the far end where there was a sandy slope with rocks embedded in the crest. He pushed one of them forward and it slid round the corner and carried on down. Back in the main passage with the high domed ceiling, George and I thought the world had ended with the entire cave imploding like a pile of boulders in a blender. I went rigid, unable to see any solid looking rock shelter nearby that I thought wastn’t going to burst into an avalanche.

When the noise subsided, David didn’t know what we were yelling at him about, so we stood him exactly where we had been and then went and pushed one of the other boulders off the slope so that he too could experience the amazing sound explosion.

As we were derigging the rope, a couple of other cavers were struggling through the crack to inspect our discoveries. “Go up in that direction,” I said. “There’s a perfectly preserved bat on the rock.”

They did.

Luke said, “What bat?”

I led him over and showed him where it was, now trodden on by a boot so that bits of wing and tail were spread over a wide area.

It was time to go out.

I came down the hill in the morning and typed in the survey data. It definitely doesn’t look right. There’s one huge rift passage which claims to coincide with an already known small passage. What a mess.

Tuesday, July 21st, 2015 at 8:26 pm - - Canyon, Hang-glide


Last week I did quick day trip to Greifenburg to take advantage of a weather window and a chance to do the “best canyon in Austria” with a couple of spare cavers who were festering in expo base camp. My tent spot hadn’t been filled since I abandoned it three days earlier, so I left the cavers Frank and Dave to pitch up while I waited for the taxi to carry my glider up the hill. It turned out I’d just missed the 9:30am rush to the bus, so we ended up driving my car up with David’s mountain bike for a pack lunch in the shade of my wing and a lazy start.


And so it was straight off for a fly at 1pm with low cloudbase and strong lift to 2400m. I had my radio tuned to the channel of my german friends. They couldn’t hear a word I said, but I could hear everything from them, which wasn’t very useful as I don’t know any german.

Monday, July 13th, 2015 at 8:34 am - - Hang-glide

I didn’t get very far up the Drau valley from Greifenburg, but the flight was sooo satisfying.

Anna Schutz is a bitch, if her Haus is anything to go by.

That’s the strange name for the sharp ridge on the north of Lienz marking the turning point where you can go around Kreuzeck range. It was my self-set task for the day because it’s described in a bit of detail in the Burkhard Martens Cross-Country Flying book.

Picture 8.5.17 Flanks over the Anna-Schutz house. A racetrack up high and a dangerous lee down below.

After a very difficult start of flight trying to get up from deep in the ravine between Emberger Alm and Gaugen, and then scoring 3000m altitude to get that hunger out of my system, I headed over to the red cliffs of Scharnik.

Here I had the usual nightmare with the rigid wing Atos gliders, who are always above you like mosquitoes because they glide more efficiently. However, they don’t thermal so well in turbulent air when a normal hang-glider can make progress by really throwing it around in the air currents, and inevitably you come face to face with them on the level. They think they own the thermal because they started out above you. And they fly differently so you can’t circle with them. And if your glider is easily recognizable like mine, they can give you a bollocking in the landing field as you’re derigging. They all look the same to me, these Atos gliders, so I have no idea when that was. It could have been two days before.

I do always keep out of their way, to the extent of making bad decisions and losing thermals. So I followed the back ridge from Scharnik to Damerkopf, lost all my height, went back to the rocks at Scharnik and did it all again this time without the distraction of the other glider threatening to bite me. I then crossed directly to Damerkopf, hopped over onto Anna-Schutz’s spine-back house perfectly lined up to take advantage of the thermal highway as advertized.

Far below on the southern flanks I could see gliders returning low from a competition task and having a hard time staying up. I’m glad I’m not down there, I thought to myself.

Five minutes later I was down there where it was as rough as a pair of long-johns flapping in a sea breeze. You couldn’t see anywhere to land except for a few green cornfields far in the distant valley that probably had three rows of power lines through them, so it was best not to bail out. Sometimes your shadow was so close you could almost touch it. Then you’d have a heart attack when you saw another shadow coming directly at it and you’d have to rapidly dart your head about like a chicken’s to see where the other glider was camouflaged against the boulders and scree.

Wednesday, July 1st, 2015 at 3:26 pm - - Hang-glide

Last Saturday we skipped MakeFest in the Liverpool Central Library to take advantage of some sunny weather.


I had a nice flight off the Long Mynd, caught one thermal up off the hill, and then drifted over the back and totally lost my sense of direction on the way down, blundered through one thermal on Wenlock Edge and was quickly down in a grassy field as I deserved to be.

I walked most of the way back to Church Stretton by the time Becka arrived with the van after her midday cycle ride up and down the Mynd holding up all the cars. We set up in the camp-site nearest to my landing field, had a late lunch, and then pushed off onto a bridleway along the top of the Edge which quickly degenerated into a tree-rooty footpath through a series of wheat fields.

When we eventually got back onto the tarmac, Becka sped off downhill along the country lanes until she came unstuck at a T-junction with a lot of loose chippings at the centre.

This is day 3 of the recovery period.

No caving for you!

Friday, June 26th, 2015 at 12:59 pm - - Kayak Dive

I took a break from my treadmill of unpaid unproductive work for a day on Cosmo’s boat with a couple of dives with Becka. We left the slip at 7am, having forgotten to have my morning tea. I wondered if my addiction was the cause of the headache most of the afternoon.

Aside from that, it was very calm out there.

We dived on the wreck of the Alarm (a light ship), which was pretty deep at 30metres, but clear enough to see and swim round.

There was a bit of a drama with the SMB reel which stops paying out if you squeeze the trigger too hard, doesn’t it?

beckawet beckapressuretest

Becka’s suit flooded completely. Luckily the water was 12degreesC, so it was like being in a cave. We pressure-tested it after the second dive with soapy water and only just detected the problem on the neck seal which had peeled off at the front and remained joined by a thick film of glue.

The second dive was on the Lelia in stirred up clouds of terrible visibility. (Here is a video from last time when it was clearer, which was also the last time I bothered taking a still-shot camera underwater.) Headcam video does the necessary job of aiding my memories.

We got off the wreck as soon as we’d dealt with the anchor, not wanting any repeat of our getting trapped inside experience from our last trip out (which, fortunately, was not our last and final trip).

Thursday, June 18th, 2015 at 9:31 am - - Hang-glide

Here’s one of those great two-hour go-nowhere flights I keep having in places like Llangollen on the days when people with some actual talent were scoring hundreds of miles.


The GPS gives a direction and velocity in degrees along with the position. If we calculate the average velocity observed in each degree of the compass, like so:

degreesums = [ [0, 0.0]  for i in range(360)]
for degree, velocity in gpsvelocities:
    if velocity > 1.5:
        ideg = int(degree + 0.5)
        degreesums[ideg][0] += 1
        degreesums[ideg][1] += v
degreehistogram = [ sumv/max(n,1)  for n, sumv in degreesums ]

… and graph it radially as the set of points

pts = [ (sin(radians(d))*r, cos(radians(d))*r)  for d, r in enumerate(degreehistogram) ]

you get the yellow circle which is offset from the centrepoint origin by the wind speed.

In this case, the deflection (wind vector) was has an inverse bearing of 322 degrees at 4.7m/s. The radius of the circle is 12.15m/s, which I guess is the average velocity of the hang-glider if you take away the wind.

To fit a circle (in cyan) to a series of points, I rely on scipy.optimize.minimize using the centrepoint as the parameter vector and the minimization function as the standard deviation of the distances of all the points from that parameter vector.

Monday, June 15th, 2015 at 6:07 pm - - Weekends

Last weekend Becka got drafted to play in the the massive canoe polo gala on the docks.
They didn’t score many points, and the game is quite different to the no-rules murderball we play on Thursday nights in the dark over the winter.

Meanwhile, a great deal of faffing has been going on with this machine.

Yesterday I went on a very long bike ride into Wales to check out Penycloddiau East having missed out on numerous flying days so far. I’m just not getting my act in gear. This is an official site. Some folks have been flying at unofficial sites and making people very very angry.

We did at least go over the Flint Bridge

…and see the 29mph speed limit sign.

…as well as a board outside another heavy industrial establishment that implemented the XKCD sign reset widget.

Tuesday, June 9th, 2015 at 11:09 am - - Hang-glide

I got a bit depressed with my performance when I look at the GPS track and noticed that I’d inexplicably missed out a complete turn when I was flying. This track is going from west to east downwind.

With the power of pyclick() I could plot locations on the GPS against a graph of the barometer values, so the positions of the red vertical pointers correspond to the vertical yellow lines on the barometer graph (in red):

So that explains it. The vario stopped climbing (air pressure ceased declining with altitude) briefly, and I flew downwind briefly to pick it up again.

So that’s not so bad then. I need more confidence that I’m doing it right in a thermal, because I can’t tell the difference between doing badly on an easy thermal and doing well on a difficult one.

Here’s the snipped from the flight video with the positions marked.

The a second curve in the graph above, the one in cyan that wiggles up and down, is the graph of air temperature according to a dallas one wire probe that reads every 0.75seconds. My other temperature devices are generating noise, and the infrared wing thermometer got lost when I broke an upright on Wether Fell.

Let’s look at a similar graph from later on in the flight where I did well and got to cloud-base.

The temperature graph is here, declining smoothly without any changes in direction with each turn. (The really wiggly line is the airspeed, which I’ve not worked out how to process yet, although I believe there is a correlation between sudden changes in speed and variations in altitude regarding the trade between speed and height.)

So what’s going on here? Am I dropping in and out of the first thermal with every turn, but managing to remain entirely within the updraft on the second?

Or does the sensor box on the left of the base bar enter and exit the shadow of the wing with every turn in the first thermal, and this doesn’t happen when I’m higher up in the shadow of the cloud?

That seems like a better explanation.

Recommendation: Always point a video camera at your experimental sensor instrumentation so you can get to the truth of any interesting effects that it might be picking up. It could be the sunlight, people walking past, a visiting cat, or other devices switching on or off in the vicinity.

Monday, June 1st, 2015 at 11:05 am - - Hang-glide

The word went out on the facebook groups (relayed by email to a refusenik like me) that Bradwell Edge was the place to go instead of the Long Mynd. Got up at 6am, left house at 7:15 with Becka in the car because she wanted to be dropped off at the Stockport Decathlon to replenish the shoe mountain.

I was first on the hill. The wind was strong enough to blow out all the paragliders, like other irritations like midges and farts, so the slope was reserved for just us hangies — or “stiffies” as those para-wafters often call us. I don’t happen to know the derogatory terms used for those big white “sailplane” things that were skimming along the ridge like flying canoes from the gliding club next door.


As usual, I delayed launching because it felt too windy and the first people up had shouted that it was a bit rough. Then, as I stood ready on take-off, there was not enough wind.

“I’m going to go down,” I whinged as I took off and was lifted about 500m by the first big thermal of the day. I was flying with a radio and heard a couple of the pilots above me saying that they were going to take it over the back and downwind.

I wasn’t ready to do this, still without any bearings, so I dived forwards and sped back to ridge for another one later. This put me at the level of the flying canoes, which was fine as long as they didn’t want to kill me. They must have been beginners as these are high performance machines, so I should not be able to get above them.

Weeeee, this is fun, spinning around in tight circles, riding a convective plume skywards.

I never spoke on the radio. All I heard was Gordon Rigg’s cattle-auction style monologue about the heights of each thermal he’d reached:

“I’ve got 4200 feet. Do I hear a 4-up? I’m now at 4600 feet. Going. Going. Cloud. Sold to the man with the tidy beard and brown dark glasses.


I had no idea at all where he was. He could have been flying from the Long Mynd with an antenna the size of a king-post, for all I knew. We have got to get an air-to-air universal simultaneous live-tracking system invented soon to put a stop to this.

As usual, I lost the thermal, even though I circled wider and wider to look for it. The peak district moors were all alike. The second time I looked at the town of Hathersage and the apartment block where Becka’s aunt and uncle lived, I had already passed over it downwind and towards the east.

And it was there I finally caught a good one and actually rode it to within kissing distance of the clouds.

“Come to daddy!” I shouted.

And I was finally there. 1550m above sea level.


Downwind was the city of Sheffield, a great grey wheel of little ant boxes with a crunch of spiky twigs at its centre that were the skyscrapers. It was like a space station.

“Oh dear. I don’t want to be blown onto that,” I said to myself.

I headed cross-wind to the next cloud, prepared for the brutal sink by Gordon’s unending monologue. It felt like riding a 45 degree slope ski-run where you lose a lot of height very quickly, except it wasn’t enjoyable and you couldn’t buy a lift pass.

At this point I realized I had no clue about tactics or strategy. Had I been provided with some air charts and terrain maps unfolded onto a really big desk, my track-log so far, a pencil, node paper, ruler, calculator, a cafetiere of really good coffee and an inch thick chocolate brownie for afters, I might have correctly weighed up my options over the course of the next couple of hours.


But I didn’t, and instead I wound up looking out over the infinitely vast expanse of Chesterfield with absolutely no way round, and decked it in a field of fresh stubble, which I was certain was the finest landing field for miles around. Once you get fixated on something like that, there’s no turning back.

I parked by the gate and lay on the ground half out of my harness, gazing at the beautiful wings of my glider, savouring the fact that I had finally lost my UK XC virginity, until I was rudely interrupted by a car driver who had stopped to poke her head over the hedge to say, “Are you all right? Are you hurt?”

“No. Everything’s fine,” I said, standing up, composing myself.

“Okay then.” She got back in her car and sped away. There’s very little public curiosity in hang-gliding these days. It will probably only get popular when some famous celebrity gets into it instead of wasting their time and money on flash cars or extremely boring jetskis and speed boats.

I phoned Becka’s uncle who came and fetched me back to Hathersage. Then Becka and friend showed up after lunch and lent me her bike so I could peddle up to Bradwell Edge to collect the car, return the bike so they could carry on while I drove off the other way to collect my glider from the field.

I would now dearly love to look at the 74Mb of data which this flight has dumped on my SD card, but I better get back to work calibrating the machine tool instead of having any more fun this morning.

Friday, May 29th, 2015 at 3:53 pm - - Hang-glide

Five days of a hang-gliding competition in rainy Yorkshire, and nothing went amazingly right either. Where was that easy XC soaring conditions that we were promised? Even so, the proper champions managed to fly 60, 70, 80kms on days when I got too low and had to land.


In this instance, I packed up, carried the glider back up to the top of the hill for a back-breaking two hours of frustration, rigged alone, did a dodgy self-launch into late in the day filthy conditions and only then noticed that the base-bar was sticky. I was bleeding all over it from a slashed flap of skin on my forefinger with no recollection of how it got that way. No one can fault me for lack of effort.

Becka joined me for the last few days, including one where competition was canceled and there was some free-flying. I missed the one chance in a decade to persuade her to take a tandem flight that was available. Bugger.


Then there was another day of competition, where I spent 3 hours in the air among a wheeling massing gliders, failing the get anywhere, though quite surprised I didn’t hit anything. The crop thinned out towards the end when I was forced to land by the strengthening wind.


And then, on the final day, when the wind was completely off and the clouds were dark and low, three of us club-class competitors realized we had to do at least something, and all came off the end of the hill (seen on the horizon on the right) and bee-lined right across the valley to a field by a road.

Turned out not to be scary at all. Should have done it earlier.