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Saturday, August 31st, 2019 at 3:13 pm - - Canyon, Hang-glide

The dates were set by Becka planning to spend one night in Interlaken on Friday 2 August between four weeks on the CUCC caving expedition in Austria and a one week caving expedition up a hill called the Sagistal to the east of the city, followed by a weekend at Sinterlaken the Swiss Caving Congress. This was then intended to lead into two separate week-long caving expeditions back in Austria (Plankamira and Datchstein), capped by a caving holiday down in the Ardeche in early September. However, I said: “Could we do something together that’s fun for me, because you ought to have got enough caving done by then?” and so, at great sacrifice, a canyoning holiday was scheduled.

I drove out to Interlaken on my own with my hang-glider on the 30 July, booked into Manor Farm 1 at £28/night for a narrow slot, and showed up the next morning at the Landplatz Lehn where I knew there was an english professional tandem pilot employed by hang-gliding interlaken to fly tourists off the hill at the rate of up to six flights a day, which is a heck of a lot of work.

Their van took me up to their favourite Amisbuhl takeoff between the trees (the taxi rate is 7Fr), helped me over the tedious 15 minute carry up a private road, and took three complete rounds of passengers airborn in the time it took me to set up and stand on the edge gibbering about doing a nil-wind takeoff. I have an experience of completely screwing these up with two crashes on take-off at Ager last year.

They say they have 300 flyable days at Interlaken, which is true because there’s enough shelter that they can fly in almost any condition, between bands of rain and cloud. They’re not all good flyable days.


Tuesday, July 11th, 2017 at 4:32 pm - - Canyon, Hang-glide

I sneaked in a couple of gorgeous flights in between canyonning adventures with Becka in the last three days.

On the 8th July, while staying at Tramoniti di Sotto we did the canyons Torrent La Foce and Rio Carlo Gasparini in the morning (the latter of which is not in Si Flower’s book and should be), followed by Becka driving me up and leaving me behind on top of the hill above Meduno (Italy).

As usual, very few of the photos were any use. This is from La Foce.

And this is from Gasparini, selected based on a tip-off from website listed in a canyoning leaflet.

The canyon ends by joining the much larger Torrente Arzino where you bob along in the swiftly flowing blue-green crystal clear water until the climbing out point. Magical.

This is my BWG (boring white glider, which describes the top surface) on behind the Meduno takeoff. As I explained to Becka, I would be consumed by jealousy if I saw one of these and didn’t have one of my own.

And here it is being boring and white in the bottom landing field with no bent aluminium. For once I timed the flare perfectly and landed on my feet like a pro. Boy was I grinning.


The next day (9th July) we did Torrente Cosa, which passes through the property of the showcave Grotte di Pradis (see the walkways in the background). The canyoneer’s advice is to write a note in Italian saying what you are doing and hand it in at the showcave so they don’t get annoyed at people unexpectedly traipsing through, but the man in the ticket booth didn’t really know what to make of it and waved us away.

Cosa had one scary bit where I abseiled into a cauldron of water in a dark cavey section and couldn’t easily fight past the swirling current while dangling on the rope.

Then we had a late lunch before the long drive to Camp Gabrje near Tolmin.

The next day we cycled over for a quick tour of the relatively underwhelming and costly Tolmin Gorges before I caught the taxi up to the top of the Kobala takeoff.


The lift looked weak. For a while there was a wall of paragliders directly in front of takeoff and none getting higher. Then I saw two birds circling behind them, waited for a gap, and then thermalled directly up to cloudbase.

I lost it all crossing over to the next ridge to the West where I soared ineffectively for the rest of the afternoon not daring to venture into the mountains behind. I’d never been here before and hadn’t looked at a map. The wings felt totally natural on me. I’ve really grown to like them.


And for a second time in a row, I landed on my feet with no bent aluminium.

Then I had a 45 minute walk back to the campsite in the sweltering humid heat to pack up the tent, fetch the car, drive back to the landing field, pick up my glider, and then go on a chase after Becka who was busy road-cycling to the Italian border via Bovec.

I’ve made a habit of having to retrieve my retrieve driver.

Now we are at Expo base camp in Austria where Becka is going to do a lot of caving and I am going to make myself bored until I start doing the chores that I have been putting off until now. Which includes writing up my logbook, blogging and looking at forgotten flight data.

Sunday, September 4th, 2016 at 8:52 pm - - Canyon, Hang-glide

A bit of a bonus holiday slotted in here, with not much time or care to waste on the internet.

With three of us in the car, first we went down to a campsite near Perpignan and picked a 3.6/4 grade canyon of Llech, which was an absolute hit with all of us. There were jumps and toboggans galore, including one called the pistol that shot you up in the air 5m over a deep pool. We need to go back to that area and do the others.


Then I snuck in three days of hang-gliding off Ager with the bonus help of a retrieve driver. On day2 I tried to go behind the ridge, and it didn’t go well. I don’t know how I pulled it down into the field not of my choice without busting something more than the skin of my knee, but I got away with it.

It should have scared me more than it did. Instead my worst moments of terror were on the K5 rated via ferrata Cast Urquiza Olmo to the west of Ager by the lake.

On the third day up the hill I got an amazingly detailed briefing from some visiting British hang-glider named Al about where to go and what to expect (a huge zone of downwash behind the ridge which you can confidently get through if you start with 7000feet of altitude). It worked wonderfully on my third attempt.


Then I let myself down by nearly parking my glider on a rebar fence by curving round too wide and falling short of the field I was aiming for.
But before that happened, the feeling came over me again where my wings became part of me for those few hours up in the sky. The joy was existential. A lot of the time I was circling with vultures. There are a lot of them about.

In the evening we picked up Becka from Lleida and then went to Torla-Ordesa to see the scenery. Unfortunately the morning buses were all full, and you’re not allowed to cycle up the tarmac road which carries the diesel buses because it’s a Spanish national park, so everything is banned even if it doesn’t make any sense. So we walked in until my foot-soles wore out on the way back and I had to catch the bus.


Then, on the way back to France, we dropped in on the 3.2/4 rated Neste de Saux canyon, which wasn’t that great, but we were pleased because we proved we were still up to it.

Now we’re in a gite in Aspet with a bunch of cavers. Everyone is going out to run around the maze known as Felix Trombe, while I have carried on working on the ground window software, where I have implemented a real hack to create flat shading within a the GLSL GPU shading framework:

The trick is to note that the passage tube structures are made from quads which you can colour with 8 colours {-1,1,-2,2,-3,3,-4,4} such that no quad shares a colour with any of its neighbours (edge or corner otherwise). Choose the brightness factor on each quad (say it’s 0which goes:

float flatfac = max(0.0, max(max(abs(vflat4.x), abs(vflat4.y)), 
                         max(abs(vflat4.z), abs(vflat4.w))) - 510.0); 
gl_FragColor = mix(gl_FragColor, vec4(0.0, 0.0, 0.0, 1.0), flatfac); 


(I’m now fed up with fighting with this crappy internet connection. It’s probably why I’m getting so much work done.)

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, August 25th, 2014 at 1:53 pm - - Canyon, Cave, Hang-glide

I did get a very short canyon trip with an even shorter rope before expo was finished.


The canyon was called Salza Stauseeabfluss, and it went from the dam on the lake from Grimming. The rope was labeled at 80m, but no one had noticed it had been cut at 36m when they picked it up. We had to descend down the wall of the canyon in three stages off trees. We also got the walk out spectacularly wrong, and ended up clawing our way up a 60degree grassy slope in the dark.

This was on the same day I had a very nice 3 hour flight off Loser totally alone (due to west wind predicted) with a relatively low cloud base again, and tactically squeaked through the pass into the Bad Mitterndorf valley knowing that there was a good landing field there which I had used a week earlier.


Unfortunately every single field including this one seemed to be full of tractors cutting and bailing hay. Fortunately, a bird appeared and showed the way up to the clouds after 15 minutes of barely maintaining height.

That’s one of the lessons from the 50k Or Bust Book: both time and place matters. Use your arithmetic to know that a slow descent rate of 0.2m/s is only 12m a minute (or 120m in ten minutes), which means you can stay in the game for long enough for the next thermal to rise.

Because the clouds were low, I didn’t want to stray up into the mountains, and stayed close to the valley where the lift was scratchy. The predicted winds were never materialized and I belly flopped on my landing again.


Here I am looking to the Grimming. If conditions this year had been equal to last year I would have got beyond it into the Enns Valley and maybe around to the Dachstein. This is the big target.

The annoying thing about flying is how quickly a good flight wears off on you. I was already fidgeting the next morning as though I had achieved nothing the day before.

Becka said something very mean to me last night: “You seem a lot more dissatisfied with life since you took up hang-gliding again.”

This needs sorting out. My original notion had to be to treat hang-gliding like skiing, where you go abroad on holiday to the appropriate place and do as much of it as you can to get it out of your system, and then come home and get on with normal life. But it’s not quite working out like that.

The final flight in Austria was in rough conditions and didn’t go anywhere, but the landing was perfect, like I was on autopilot.


Then the weather became rainy and normal for Austria, and we were into the depressing phase of bringing things down the hill and tidying up after expo.

We got away from the campsite at 5am in the drizzle and caught the 10pm Dunkirk ferry to Dover, although I did insist we stopped at the McDonalds in Zweibrucken because that’s where the previous car stranded me for two days in May.


It was the highlight of the journey.

Friday, May 9th, 2014 at 8:13 am - - Canyon, Hang-glide 2 Comments »

Yes, I got away on Friday to Whernside again with someone from the hack space to help carry up. And again the wind was off to the north and I was not able to go up to reach the clouds. I went down after 40 minutes, then packed, carried all the way back up the hill and flew again for 20 minutes back down to the same boggy field. This made me very cross, after all that effort on such a perfect day when other more competent pilots would have had a whale of a time. My calves in particular were killing me from plodding up the grassy face of this hill twice with the packed glider on my shoulders.

After this I decided:

“That’s it. I really am driving to Austria to do this properly. And I don’t care if don’t have any friends and have to go on my own.”


Wednesday, February 5th, 2014 at 8:33 pm - - Canyon

Spotted the new(ish) Liverpool Wakepark on the docks when I cycled passed it on the weekend while taking a break from endless, endless coding every day.

So we booked a ride on a fine grey February afternoon.

The place (called “Industry.1”) is dude central, and appropriately disorganized and friendly. Downstairs from the changing rooms numerous fire service bods were practicing how to rescue each other with tow lines from the static salt water. Looked a bit dull, but they can’t justify wakeboarding on working time. If this flooding goes on much longer, they’d do better to get their training at one of those artificial whitewater courses where they’d get washed off their feet and they added tree branches into the flow. See that river: that’s your high street.

I took my caving wetsuit, still muddy from the last time I used it in July. This finally got it clean.

And we’re off. It’s probably exactly the same as water-skiing, except without the power boat, the mess and the noise. I never had rich enough friends to do that.

Becka seemed to enjoy it a heck of lot more than snowboarding. Or canyoning.

We both got standing and going in a straight line before our time was up.

Not bad for something that’s literally a quarter of a mile away from home. How lucky is that?

Now, back to work. This ain’t the summer yet.

Sunday, August 11th, 2013 at 8:09 am - - Canyon, Cave, Hang-glide

Expo is small this year. Everyone is up the hill, except for me and Becka, and Becka isn’t with me at base camp because she has disappeared to a different caving expedition run by Austrians for the week. The weather has reverted to type, with several days of rain.

I’ve been working and programming for a change and my eyes are sore. A recap of some things.

In the last week of July when it was perfect flying weather I was at the 16th International Congress of Speleology in Brno.

It happens every four years and was a little too proto-scientific for me. I followed up every talk that had to do with data loggers and temperature sensors, and the general message is that nobody really knows what to do with the data. In particular, the Hoffman institute who collects lots of lovely data, and then stuffs it all into an excel spreadsheet with no idea what to do with it later.

In spite of the attendance by all the major contributors to the field, there was no scheduled workshop on cave surveying software. (Software is not real science, see?) So we had to invent one in a cafe at short notice.

Becka had a go at the speleo-oplympics and got scars from the chest tape on the 100m prussick (done in a T-shirt). Unfortunately it wasn’t a fair fight because a couple of Russian ladies who took this sort of thing a lot more seriously and probably trained throughout the year came along and cleaned up. People came out to see them race through the SRT obstacle course, which they did many times to get it right.

Then we got to expo. We’ve had the mid-expedition dinner. Got a visit from the deputy mayor of Bad Aussee for our 30th year of squatting in the same campsite every summer.

Yesterday we went canyonning in Strubklamm. Seems you can do a canyon too many times. I knew every corner off by heart. The jumps were good, although they didn’t seem to require the usual amount of dithering, standing on the edge, Will I? Won’t I? When do I go?

There’s kind of a decision-making protocol happening in your brain, with one part holding you back because it’s a silly pointless dangerous thing to do, and one part that eventually has the guts to over-ride it.

It’s like that with the hang-gliding. Except you can get sufficiently focussed on waiting for the moment when the wind is right that your guts are tricked into missing the moment. It needs to throw its veto in at the exact instant when you could simply step back, and this requires accurate timing as to when you higher brain is minded to be about to do something ridiculous. If the trigger for the action is external rather than internal, then it’s a little more tricky for it know when to step in react. It gets there too late when you’re already off.

It is exquisite magic that you can become a speck in the beautiful sky. Of course, it does not look like that when you are up there, because all you see is the ground around you looking down. The realities of where you feel and where you are are quite different. You’re in another dimension.

Meanwhile, I’m working through yet another half-baked idea on 5-axis machining, after all the other ones have failed. I’m getting far enough away from the usual approach that something might work. I do know now that it should not be done by (a) drive surface projection or (b) contact point driving, so it’s all about finding the alternatives.

Monday, September 3rd, 2012 at 2:34 pm - - Canyon, Cave

Got the video uploaded at last of our 10 caver escapade into Strubklamm canyon, now the recommended canyon for all CUCC-Expoers.

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012 at 9:33 am - - Canyon, Cave 1 Comment »

Tom had unfinished business at Dent de Crolles and took advantage of the four day Jubilee weekend to pad out meagre holiday allowances, as well as some caving victims keen in being guided through this famous cave system by someone who already done the necessary homework. A few years ago his caving buddy had an accident attempting to abseil down the pull-down side of the rope and they were stuck for thirty hours until the rescue call-out arrived.

Thirty hours is about how long it takes us to drive from the northwest of England to Mollard Bellet in the Chartreuse mountains (near Grenoble in the south of France) — each way. Such an undertaking should be made for no less than two weeks quality time out, during which time there should be no rain, and you don’t have a rhinovirus infection. We had only five days, it poured, and I snivelled the whole time. Fortunately the job of completing the famous 600m deep pull-through trip from the P40 entrance at the top to the Grotte de la Guiers Mort resurgence was done on the first day.

It’s not every day that a completely random French dude jumps into your pre-trip group photo

I had the honour of almost repeating Tom’s buddy’s mistake on the entrance pitch as I meticulously threaded my totally worn out Petzl Stop on the rope under the knot, and even clipped into the knot for backup, before realizing my mistake (akin to setting off to drive on the left side of the road in France), rapidly standing up from the ledge in horror, and shredding the backside of my oversuit beyond repair.