Capping off Winter XC in Cape Town…

Thursday, September 1st, 2011

Rainy day reading: make a cuppa java –

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Some “proper” Cape winter cold front activity had left me a little anxious with plenty of rain, low cloud and gale-force north westerlies keeping us ground-bound and unable to complete our month-end aerial photographic sorties.
Fortunately the front moved through more swiftly than forecast and sunshine and blue skies were a fantastic early morning greeting right on the 31st of the month.
After an early getaway from CT International Airport in the trusty CTFC Cessna Cutlass we got our low level pics in the bag and headed off-shore for our climb to FL 105 (10 500ft for those not in pilot-speak mode ;)

The flight had been seamless, smooth and a little chilly (with the door removed for photography) up until I noticed three of my mates flying their paragliders on buttery smooth post-frontal lift off Signal Hill and then on the climb at Lion’s Head, working their way up slowly to cloud-base…

Damn, here I am stuck in an aeroplane when it’s really flyable for proper flying!
I did the decent thing. Shut up and fly – but I did grab a few pics of the lads having some fun and made a pact with myself to process said workload efficiently so I could zip out of office to fly (with apologies to Keith and Lucia back at the office).

To keep email size down I have included only one pic shot on the decent towards Hout Bay (from the aeroplane earlier) which I thought gave a nice “candy-floss” feel to the valley (more pics on request).
These beautiful fleecy little cumulus clouds were a sure-fire indication of a fantastic paragliding day in the making (it was minus 2 degrees at 10 500ft). I had to fly later…

Aeroplane squared away and work in the bag I wasted no time getting back to the office and on to Signal Hill.
Boy, was I surprised to see not one of the trio I had seen earlier and nobody else for that matter either. I practically had to pinch myself when I arrived at take off.

25kph straight up, post frontal, now clear skies with occasional thermals coming through and not a flying soul around. Had to be a dream…

Just to make sure it wasn’t I called Stephan Kruger who was one of the three up earlier when I flew past to ask where he was – ah, a quick food break.
On his way back right now.

Quick rig and layout and up and away. Off along Signal Hill, little bit of work climbing Lion’s Head to just above the summit and a quick decision for a direct glide onto the centre of the 12 Apostles – cloud base too low to go via the upper cableway – base at about 800m. With Stephan following close behind, we put in a bit more thermalling above the 12 Apostles Hotel to get level with the peaks and just below base before chatting on radio and deciding to head to Karbonkelberg, again in a straight line without visiting the slopes of Little Lion’s Head above Llandudno.

Karbonkelberg splits the WNW prevailing wind in a tricky way which leaves plenty open to interpretation as to which face will have the best lift, but the Oudeschip corner jutting out NW from Suther Peak on the Karbonkelberg massif was causing a significant bit of divergence (much like the inverted bow of a ship), splitting the wind and forcing it to run laminar along both sides with very little lift. It took a few turns tight up against the cliff faces to ensure safer altitude to cross onto the the cliffs above the Boss 400 crane wreck, now about 1800ft below being battered in a tumultuous grey Atlantic winter swell.

Decision time – we chatted briefly again on radio about which route to take – gung-ho out over the ocean direct to Kommetjie – or the more conservative, safer route, over the Sandy Bay dunes and Hout Bay. Sanity prevailed and we opted for the latter – I’d have hate to have to have been rescued by my NSRI colleagues after a botched ocean crossing attempt!

The downwind venturi ride over the dunes to overhead Baviaanskloof in Hout Bay was quick and uneventful with hardly a bleep either way, up or down at 60+ kph groundspeed, but oh it was going to be challenging getting up again on the Hout Bay slopes of Constantiaberg at a tad over 200m ASL on reaching.
There I was thinking what next, when as though pre-ordered a tight little thermal core popped right off our new home in Baviaanskloof (giving added perspective to “house thermal” for me) and up we clawed very slowly…

Eventually we topped out at cloud base, again below peak height and it was another ballsy glide straight out over the bay for Chapman’s Peak, squeaking in just above the view point, again on a diverging spur with very little lift. Luckily Stephan’s climb at Constantiaberg had been slower than mine and he was lagging behind because there was not enough room for two overhead the Chappies view site. Ever so slowly I extricated myself from the clutches of not very friendly out-landing options on the slopes of Chappies, working my way across the cliffs to where a couple of gravity-defiant BASE jumpers have taken the leap of faith above the Chappies tunnel (overhang). Phew! Respect when seen from my vantage point.

Stephan joined me with height to spare and there we sat clocking out on some little raunchy bullets ricochetting upward off the fluted Chappies cliffs contemplating another decision – easy glide to Kommetjie and certain landing soon thereabouts or something more challenging?

No brainer decision – the challenge to get back – and reduce our recovery drive logistics won.
Now to think clearly and get home to Signal Hill – which way?
Cloud base had dropped and high level cirrus was starting to block out the post 4PM sun – not good for thermals, not good for us.

Crossing back from Chappies left no option but to go back via the lower cliffs of Noordhoek Peak (well below the Black Eagle nest, sorry eagles!) and into the deep ravines guarding Blackburn Gully in the quest for more lift and height – we made a point of avoiding the nest site though, staying tight on the Blackburn side.
Again we put in a few beats low, squeaking up to cloud base just above Blackburn Gully at about 720m ASL and then out around and west of Constantiaberg and Skoorsteenkop and on towards Vlakkenberg (behind Mandela Park).
This was the trickiest part of the flight now much later and significantly cooler with limited thermal activity and quite deep to the eastern side of the Hout Bay valley – backs against the wall of the Vlakkenberg with township shouts of excitement easily audible and the only way home out forward into the Llandudno venturi overhead Suikerbossie. Hmmm. Interesting.

Somehow and inexplicably, a feint of cumulus began evolving out ahead in the middle or nowhere and certainly not in keeping with thermal lore, roughly overhead the World of Birds and I scurried for it happy to find some snippets to scrounge my way back to a now reduced 700m base, but well back (east) but higher than from where I had started.
The vario decided the wind had backed and it gave me the confidence to head for the back table above Kenrock in the hope of squeaking back around Juda Peak and a run aback along the 12 Apostles for La Med and maybe a shot at getting back to Signal Hill. Wishful thinking! Obviously the vario-GPS processor runs on magnetic heading Ant – duh!

The back table instead threw nothing but 4m/s straight down (um, lee rotor Ant, no divergence) and I suddenly found myself trying to select the softest looking pine tree at Suikerbossie to tree-land on. Bugger this was going to tight! The Dominican Grimley School field was the only “emergency out” option if I had to run for it downwind in sinking air. A questionable make, but nice to know I had to option.
No time to look for Stephan. Hoped he was OK. Busy now….

I slipped through the Suikerbossie gap eyeball level with the restaurant, grateful now for the apparent lack of wind and tried in vain to pick up some lift below the Llandudno radio mast. Nope. Nothing.

Oh well. Llandduno beach, here I come. High tide, winter beach, little dry sand left. Bit of boulder skimming on final approach and voila! Safe and dry on the beach to be joined minutes later by a jubilant Stephan having had a similar forestry inspection final flight path :-) Hilario and Paul also down on the beach having just flown Llandudno asking if we were the two crazies deep in the Hout Bay valley in a NW – nice to know what your mates think of you ;-)

To my recollection of peninsula flights, I don’t believe anyone has made it to Chappies and back that far towards take off at Signal Hill yet.
Perhaps now a new challenge – Signal Hill to Chappies and back?

Stephan, thanks for the company mate! Great flight.
Also, if I may, sort of symbolic for me getting a low save thermal off Bev and my new home and then landing on Llandudno beach where we are to marry in a months time :-)

Role on Spring


PS you can find the tracklog here

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