Freesteel Blog » The day my beautiful wings carried me for five and a half hours

The day my beautiful wings carried me for five and a half hours

Monday, July 13th, 2015 at 8:34 am Written by:

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.

It still amazes me how we are able to judge distances and trajectories so well in circumstances as alien as truck driving or glider flying where nothing ever touches and the whole experience is therefore unreal. I have this constant expectation that I’ll wake up face-planted on some inaccessible rocky cliff one day due to a brief time-delay or visual stutter in my visual cortex system.

I got back over to Damerkopf at the level of the powerlines, slowly circled above all the Austrian houses, farms and clusters of manicured cattle until I was at the summit, and then headed home towards Greifenburg.

Hang-gliding is all about the immediate skill of being able to soar and climb on the invisible air currents, while at the same time getting those long-range decisions right.

I had decided to chicken out of doing the Kreuzeck circuit task. Something was not right with the day. If this step was not consistent with what it said in the book, then all the other advice I’d memorized could similarly tend towards a disaster. In particular I didn’t have confidence in the following sentence:

You can also fly low into Molltal, the south flank at point “M” in picture 8.5.20 is a very reliable thermal source and continuing along the 12km long south east ridge of the Goldberg range is easy once you’re up over it.

So I was back onto home territory where I cruised straight up to a cloud at 3100m which proceeded to grab me. It was like being tipped up onto a set of rails, rolling downslope at speed while at the same time being on the upside of a see-sawed. I was on a serpent’s tongue tipping skyward as I slid into its throat.


Luckily (or because I’d made sure I was pointing in the direction) I punched through its gaseous cheek with a twang on all the wires as the net gravitational force went momentarily negative.

We were heading towards hour number four and the longest flight I’ve ever taken. I could just about wriggle my body inside the harness, which was as tight as a lobster’s shell. To the east in the valley I found 4 m/s downrushing air, but back over the Greifenburg the wind was okay.

I’d been longing to take a piss for some time, and now was a good chance to practice in stable air where I could fly safely one-handed for the necessary amount of time. The real fear when you’re digging around is that you might accidentally unbuckle the legloops, which would make the landing a lot worse than being caught with your pants down.

Anyway, the spray which went on for a long time was like a fuel leak from the underbelly of a cargo plane. It could only have been made more enjoyable had I been able to aim it at a passing paraglider.

Only kidding.

I’m sure they do it to us with those XC piss tubes they use down their trouser legs that are plumbed into a sticky condom as they sit on their backs in their canoe-shaped harnesses. The advice in the book is to go little and often, because the glue can’t necessarily take the pressure of a full-on stream that would likely blow it off and leave their backside floating in a cooling pool of water until they landed. So there are plenty of opportunities for them to play their aiming game, and I am pretty sure this is what I’ll thing the next time I get struck by some unexplained rain drops in a blue sky.

The datalogger — amazingly — still seemed to be operating, so I tried to fly for half a minute at different speeds in order to estimate the polar curve of the descent rate. However, it was very difficult to give a damn about anything at this point in the day. I was down to 1400m and the numbers weren’t coming out right on the vario. You’re supposed to descend faster the faster you fly.

I let the bar out and started to go up at 1 m/s. Straight to 2400m.

Way over on Gaugan a lime green glider that had been rigged beside me by an older gentleman was doing lazy circles. My god, someone else who has flown for too long, I thought. In fact, he had gone down, and this was his second flight. When I spoke to him, his experience was an exact carbon copy of mine from last year when on my second attempt after a disappointing bomb-out I had seen someone who must have been flying for an insane amount of time.

The sky filled out with an amazing array of lenticular clouds. This must be wave lift keeping us up in the unusual southwest wind. Landing was therefore from the trickiest direction across the campsite.


I got it in perfectly, and I felt great.

Not so great was the following three hour drive back to Expo Base Camp now that I’d already packed my tent.

Today it’s back to work till the grey weather blows through.

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