Thursday, March 15, 2012

A Quickie on Lion's Head

After the disappointment of last week seeing the guys paraglide on Lion's head while we were climbing Table Mountain, the desire to do a flight never subsided. I've been watching the weather since then, but was away to Plettenberg Bay and the other times I was either at work or doing something else. Not that the weather is so aften good to fly Lion's Head, but when I saw the wind predictions for the day I knew I had to make an effort to get there because you never know when your next chance is going to come.

After a few phone calls to make sure that going to Lion's Head was not going to be a waste of time, I had my gear ready and was on my way. Michelle with the "damaged back" was also waiting for this opportunity to do her first flight after she had her unfortunate accident here a few months ago. I know how I felt after my bike accident, so I knew exactly what went through her head as we were walking up that steep pathway.

There are two take-off / launch  sites at Lion's head. One facing Camps Bay and the other facing Clifton Beach. Both are very short launches. The first one you have to deal with a bunch of trees that sits like hungry Venus Fly Traps waiting for their prey, and the second one has a sharp drop that lands you back on the footpath...or on some hiker's head. The official landing area is a small grass patch in front of La Med, where the view is great, the girls are hot and the drinks are friggen expensive. There are other less favourable places to land if you sink out too fast or if the wind blows you off Camps Bay (get fined by police) or the sports field of Camps Bay High (get laughed at by school kids).  It's a 15 minute walk to the first launch, but when we got there we could see that the wind was not going to assist us in launching there, so we headed further up an even steeper section to get to the second launch site. On our way up we were passed by a tandem in flight and we could see that there was not much lift. But with the thermal pockets one might just be able to stay up. Anyway, a top-to-bottom, or "foofie" as it is also called was also acceptable at this stage as this is still better than being grounded. 

Once at the second launch site, we met up with Jacques, an experienced paragliding trainer and tandem pilot. He was also the first on the scene when Michelle had her "bad landing". He suggested we do a forward launch as the wind was not very strong, but I have no confidence in launching forward. Even after 8 years of paragliding I avoid a forward launch if possible. The concern was showing on Michelle's face, but she laid out her glider with the help of one of Jacques' assistants and clicked in. On her first attempt the glider veered off to the right so she tried a second time. There wasn't much wind. She also does not like forward launch, but this time she did it according to the book and off she went.

Compared to Michelle's equipment mine looks a bit archaic. She has a brand new U-turn wing, a fancy full face helmet and a harness that can fold in and out to transform into a backpack. Mine one the other hand is an 8-year old Gradient, a harness that looks like a colourful uncomfortable swinging chair hanging on strings and my old skateboard helmet of which the insides are falling out has been assigned the important task as protector of my delicate skull. As I was lying out my glider I couldn't help but wonder what would've happened to me if it I was the one who had a "bad landing" a few months ago with my gear. So far I have been lucky and I was going to try and keep it that way, but before I could publish my safety record I still had a reverse launch to do without any wind....

I waited for a small pocket of air in order to lift my glider. With a forward launch a pilot can lift his glider in little wind by running forward. In a reverse launch this is not possible, so you need more wind. The advantage of a reverse launch is that you can see if your glider is properly inflated and that your strings are not in a knot before you do that leap of faith. Your only problem here is that you cannot run backwards and you still have to turn around before you can go. Not that there is much space to run on any of these two launch sites anyway. It is get up and go. I've never had a problem with this in the past, so I was determined to do my launch in reverse and get it right the first time. After I felt a little breeze I lifted the glider and quickly turned around. I immediately had to start running otherwise the glider would drop. There was no time to check lines and stuff. In the scramble to get away the lines caught my glasses and pulled them off as I was taking off. All I could do was shout back at Jacques to go look for my glasses.

I immediately felt that there was very little lift, but with the occasional pockets of warm air I managed to get a reasonable flight, although it would probably not fall under the category "flight" but rather under "extended foofie". I tried to stay close to the ridge and flew over the first launch site with the "Venus Fly Traps" but on my return and despite some more pockets, I could see that I was not going to stay up for long. I did a few turns and eventually decided to head out to La Med. I still had enough altitude to make a wide turn over the sea via Clifton and to come back in for a safe landing. The windsock was hanging straight down so landing could be done from any direction this time. Michelle was busy admiring her gear and taking pictures of it when I started my approach. For some reason my landing gear wasn't extended fully in time and I did a bit of "arse-landing" in front of a fully packed La Med. Fortunately I recovered well and avoided any further embarrassments...apart from the fact that I stood in dog poop later while folding my glider. Michelle's face looked much different than what it did at the launch and I could see she was real chuffed with herself...or maybe she was just smiling at my landing. Jacques pulled in just behind us with his tandem pax and handed me my glasses. 

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Once you've landed at La Med you obviously need to get back to your car which is usually parked where the footpath on Lion's Head starts. I usually hike a lift from passing cars, so we decided to get something to drink before we tried our luck. La Med is a really awesome place to hang out, but heavily overpriced. A 500 ml water costs seventeen bucks, where you would pay R5 for the same bottle in Pick & Pay. But the place is packed with the bold and the beautiful and it was nice to hang out their like a real "larneys" dipping our feet in the pool. The second option to get back to your car is to take a taxi, but that can work out between R35 and R50 a shot. With that money I could buy two 220ml cans of Coke at La Med...or six 330 ml cans at Pick & Pay. As we walked out  to the street the guys from Cape Town Tandem Paragliding was on their way up again and offered us a lift for free. So, getting back to the car was actually quicker and with less effort than walking up Lions' Head and doing our "extended foofies". Perfect.

This was probably not the best flying ever, but definitely worth the effort. The grand prize of the day obviously goes to my flying partner. Not only for the courage to fly Lion's Head again, but for the nice pictures she took with her GoPro camera which was attached to her boot. You see what I mean, this woman has all the latest in gadgets and technology..... ;-)

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