Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Progression Course - Sarangkot

The beginner's course was over! We had a scheduled rest day between the beginner's course and the following 5 days, known as the progression course. My plan was to hire a dinghy and go out on the lake, or maybe head up to the World Peace Stupa. However....

Return of the Stomach Bug! For the next 2 days (yes, including the first day of the progression course) I spent most of my time eating gentle food in various trusted restaurants in Pokhara and also lounging/recuperating in my room on the laptop. I eventually went to get antibiotics on the same prescription (delete that - just naming them was fine) as previously, this time for only £1.

On day 2 of the progression course I still wasn't up to flying. However, the other pupils were flying from Sarangkot that day so I went up with them to the launch site (sans glider) to watch, learn, understand and enjoy feeling slightly better in the sun.

All our pilots launched from the site which was gradually getting both windier and busier, and headed out to the lake before eventually landing on the island at the far end. I was jealous to see them flying - but actually had no intention of doing it myself. Definitely worth listening to your body on these occasions...

To my surprise I also saw Nicky up at the launch site - she was taking a tandem paragliding lesson with another of Blue Sky paragliding's instructors and so I offered to be photographer for her flight. Her takeoff was hilarious - I have the video evidence showing her refusing to run towards the edge (I actually know what that feels like) and the instructor having to charge them both forwards from behind! But I know she had an amazing time, well over an hour in the air. Far longer than any of my flights!

It wasn't long before something else interesting was taking place at the launchpoint. A Taiwanese YouTube channel was producing a programme about parahawking, so we got to see these guys in action. Parahawking is a very new sport and is built around the concept of having a tame bird of prey (always a resuce bird which can't be released into the wild) flying alongside you, finding thermals and lift for the paraglider pilot and returning for a bite to eat and a rest every now and again. It's an amazing site to behold - they offer tandem flights and produced a number of videos:

Later on, all our pilots had returned to Sarangkot for their second flight of the day. However, being an exceptionally unstable day for December, a very large storm was building over the Annapurna region. It wasn't long before the cold, strong downdraft from this storm was washing over the Sarangkot ridge. For us on the ground, that gave us the simple solution of deciding not to fly (it was a 10km/h tailwind by this time). For those in the air at the time, they could land fairly easily. 

But if you don't notice, or care, about the sudden wind change and still decide to land atop the launch site, then you are probably going to end up in the trees and write off your glider - just as this chap did. He was lucky not to write off himself! Unfortunately I didn't see the crash myself - I was visiting the 'facilities' which were basic to say the least - but the wreckage did attract a crowd.

We debriefed that evening, especially on the importance of reading the conditions and deciding for yourselves about whether it is safe to launch or not (and, arguably more important, whether a safe landing will be possible!). In this way we learnt the valuable skill of 'parawaiting'....

The theory sessions had continued to build in detail and we started to look at larger weather systems (how highs and lows are formed etc) as well as smaller weather systems (vallley winds and mountain diurnal cycles) which I did not have a great knowledge of. Now I felt like I was learning as well! Despite the sometimes amusing French accents of Mathieu and Sabrina (Mathieu ALWAYS mixed up 'air' and 'hair'), the theory tuition was of an excellent standard indeed and even the Nepal guys, with their double language barrier and an education system which is not as adept at preparing adults for this type of learning, seemed to be coping admirably.

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