Celebrating mistakes during a Paragliding Competition.

It’s cold and wet this morning.

The forecast says rain, rain, short pause, then more rain. I am curious to see what the organizers can salvage of the day, otherwise it certainly looks like the comp will be a two tasker at best (Thursday looks good but Friday looks like storms).

Another early trip to the Casino Supermarche (it opens at 0830 and is a 10 minute walk from the camp ground) to top up sandwich supplies and grab some fruit. Aside from a burger at St.Vincent, it has been entirely uncooked food since arriving in Laragne – which certainly is not going to help with retaining weight and thus my wing size (having already lost 15 pounds since the start of the year due to health). Downsizing to a ML might become an unwanted reality before seasons end.

But right now we focus on today and the possibility (rather than probability) of a task.

0930 – the cats slowly herd themselves into the Main Tent and take seats. Jocky and Dave arrive not too long afterwards and go through the motions of awarding the task winner and recognizing those that made goal for the first time (goal virgins).

The crowd now is left wondering task or no task?

A pause.

Task it is.

The rinse and repeat of the previous day – grab kit, find a spot on one of the buses, and pile on up the hill.

I claim my spot on the eastern edge of the launch area – the wind tends to have an east component making for a downwind run when hunting for thermals along launch, but coming at the expense of having to dodge other launching pilots.

Around 1230 the task is posted.

The beginning and end is the same as the day previous – elapsed time, exit cylinder 3km radius at turn point B01, cross valley behind launch then tag the 1m km cylinder at turn point B06. From there proceed northeast across the main valley to the lake at B46 (the new component), utilize a mix of glide and climb to the B02 ESS (end of speed section – the point at which the clock stops for your course completion time), and land at A05.

Aside from the swap of turn point B33 for B46 today, the other difference from yesterdays task is the presence of cumulus clouds. Yesterdays inversion has been cleared out and replaced with fizzier conditions – more frequent, shorter lived thermals. The clouds will place a cap on the height we can climb to, as cloud flying is not permitted in the comp. When we arrived on launch, we were greeted by a lee side Cu forming right behind the hill. Looks like a bit of a waiting game for the base to rise to what I suspect will need to be a 1900m minimum for a valley crossing to B46.

Base might be a wee bit low, right now.

By early afternoon the lee side cloud dissipates and the overall cloud base rises. A launch time is announced and folk begin getting ready for round 2.

B46 is a small lake to the right of center.

Rather than wait, today I decide to launch early and try to keep an eye on the line that Alex takes as he tags the first few turn points. There is little hope I will keep up, especially in climbs, but for the first bit I might get a glimpse to how he resolves the task into actions.

The climb out from launch to B01 and B06 was a non issue. The transition to B46 was equally a one and two affair.

Transition to B46.


Upon arriving at B46, I spot a small lump of a hill further north. The location in relation to the valley wind and sun looked promising as did the expanse of field windward that would feed it. We have sources – the fields, we have a trigger – this small hill, all we need is a sign – someone climbing out. This turns out be me, initially. Searching above and  leeward of the hill, I manage to find a patchwork of zeros hinting that a thermal is building and should eventually release. When it finally does, I fail to core tight enough to stay with it and fall out the back. It takes very little time fighting the head wind in the subsequent sink to end up in the rotor of the hill.


Next time turn tight, tight like a tiger.


Clawing my way around the front of the hill, I try my hand at getting in tight and ridge soaring (something I never really do at home) with the hope that I am lucky enough to catch the next ride. The sound of the rustling leaves and the communal bzzz of what I gather to be a cicada like insect swarm catch my attention during my continuous beats back and forth.



Kickin’ shrubberies.

The comment regarding being a thermal ‘sign’? Looks like a few folk saw my attempt to climb out and came to investigate from the slope of the northern edge of the ‘volcano’. With greater altitude, skill, and luck they were able to capitalize on the thermal I lost.

Fatigue catches up with me and I set down in the field below. The retrieve is a short walk away, which was a godsend as I twist up my ankle something fierce falling into a two foot deep drainage ditch filled with crop level to the field. Speaking of ankles, one of the competitors was the unfortunate victim of a much worse ankle injury slope landing near turn point B06. 45 minutes later he was on his way to hospital and straight into surgery. Word has it he is recovering fine and will be heading home in the next couple of days. Show me a country that has this level of medical/emergency service and won’t put you in debt for life.

Injuries aside, my mistake in not hooking the thermal correctly costs me another 5 places in the standings. Jocky mentions in a follow up debriefing of the day that we should not try to make excuses for our mistakes, such as blaming it on the conditions, but instead not only own up to them but in fact celebrate them. The sooner this ‘acceptance’ occurs, the sooner we can go about fixing what was really wrong.

Another day,  another set of lessons.

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