Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Thermalling Course

The final day of paragliding...

We hiked up to Sarangkot unusually early (before 10pm) and there was a thin layer of cloud in the valley. I love being up above the clouds, whether hiking or gliding or in an airliner - it's such a rare privilege in the UK.

We waited until the cloud burned off and then flew off Sarangkot, practicing some pitch exercises etc but trying not to lose too much height as we did have to fly to the far end of the lake to land on 'the island'. For me, this was the first time, and although I think I judged the positioning in circuit OK I was criticised for not being aware of the moderate wind and did a kind of cross-wind landing - not so easy!

We did then have the opportunity to do lots of ground handling - this was really useful and I can see the value in practicing this. Certainly, this was the benefit of having taken off early.

We drove up a second time, followed closely by another paragliding jeep (in fact I think it was a race!)

And then we hiked up - by this time the clouds had built over the Annapurna Sanctuary and the view over the back of Sarangkot was quite stunning. In fact I have a poster that looks like this on my bedroom wall in my new house in Bristol.

Tell a lie, that photo above was obviously taken on a previous day! There were no clouds today! But you get the idea...

At the top, we had to wait quite a while before the non-beginner pilots took off. And then we all launched. I was in about the middle of the stack this time - as it was my last flight (and we had interesting things planned), Baris supervised my takeoff. Which was well and truly awful...

The thing about paragliding is, you are required to run with conviction down a slope which just gets steeper and steeper into oblivion. And here, the Nepalis have a huge advantage over my very strong in-built self-preservation reflex. They will happily hurl themselves at the edge, which is exactly what is required as long as your wing is functioning fine. Despite my conscious knowledge of flight and having seen my paraglider erect itself nicely every time, I just cannot run properly (leaning forward, loading the chest strap, and running fast) when I don't know where my feet are going nor what's over the edge.

I think this is going to be my biggest problem to overcome if I continue paragliding - everything else (the flying, the circuit and the landing, and the airmanship) I am very confident will continue to develop. But this whole running-at-a-precipice thing is somewhat disconcerting! Otherwise I will continue to belly-flop over the edge every single time...

Anyway, the trick of flying is to forget your launch as soon as it's over, so I did this and drifted along the ridge, flying back and forth not so much to gain height but to reduce my rate of losing it. There were quite a few other gliders around, but most were higher so they were easy enough to avoid.

Once over the lake, I was handed over to Sabrina who went through one of my favourite exercises, the Big Ears. By pulling on the line which goes up to each tip, you can fold them inwards to reduce your canopy size and increase your rate of descent. Although you are no longer in control of your brakes, you can fly around like this quite happily using weight-shift. Which I did!

Finally, I set myself up for a circuit to Maya Devi, this time ending up much closer to Sabrina but not quite following her instructions in circuit! But it worked nonetheless and I think I'm starting to get an eye for what's going on. Landing is definitely becoming a satisfying operation.

And that was it - my final paraglider flight to date! I really wish I could have continued to course all the way up to APPI pilot standard - but time just didn't allow and, judging by my progressively worse takeoffs, I was getting pretty tired and needed a break. Thankfully, I've got invites to continue my training in Morocco, France, Scotland, Turkey, Bulgaria, Nepal and Taiwan if I want to....

We sat around the landing site waiting for the others to arrive, enjoying the sun and watching also as some incredibly small wings (speed-flying wings - only 8 m^2 compared to my 26!) came down the mountain and landed on the strip.

Of course, theory continued back at the Blue Sky headquarters and this time the discussion was on equipment - particularly relevant since, apparently, my next step would be to buy my own harness, wing and reserve so that I can practice ground handling somewhere nearby and also have equipment I am familiar with for my next APPI course. This is actually quite an attractive prospect - so watch this space!

I nipped out to buy chocolates for the instructors and also said farewell to the rest of my course-mates, who were excellent company without exception and were also accommodating enough to chat in English when I was around, even though it was the 2nd language for all of them! I had a fantastic 2 weeks with Blue Sky Paragliding - if you are someone who is heading to Pokhara then of course you can get a tandem flight with any of the schools, but if you're after good standard tuition and want to develop as a pilot then of course you must check out...


Do it!

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