The Witching Hour while Paragliding in Bassano del Grappa.

The hours and flights are quickly racking up. I am discovering and beginning to work on holes in my thermaling technique, developing my thermal ‘sniffing’, and even getting comfortable playing in traffic.

Skill, confidence and comfort with the Delta 2 are all growing to the point that another stair step up in my learning staircase may occur before I leave (most folk have a learning curve, I have a learning stair case where there will be little perceivable improvement for a long period of time until, magically, a sudden jump occurs).

On the high launch again for the morning flight. Cumulus clouds are forming two hundred meters above, making for an excellent opportunity to put into practice Kelly’s sage wisdom. Kelly wants the low airtimers to go first so that he can focus on instructing them via radio in calmer conditions.

An hour has passed since the first students were off – happily thermaling up to cloudbase and moving west along the ridge and out to the flats. Kelly and myself are the only ones left. I set up to launch and subconsciously clue in on the sudden disappearance of my thermal markers, the clouds. No big deal, I like blue thermal days anyways.

I pull the wing up and begin my run to launch…

and discover Bassano’s ‘Witching Hour’ in…

3 steps…

2 steps…

1 step…

I am off, not even in the harness, and the wing goes apoplectic. Continuous fall back and surge coupled with repeated sharp drops in brake pressure. I manage to get my feet into the pod and focus intently on keeping the wing straight overhead.

It was immediately obvious that I had my work cut out for me – trying to thermal a huge rock face that has been baking in the sun for several hours bound by a strong inversion right at it’s top.

I key the ptt for the radio, “Kelly, I hope everyone is off and away, it is absolute rock and roll out here now.”

I let up the button to suddenly find my wing snap back and decide to time travel or dimensionally displace, all I know is what was over my head wasn’t a wing anymore.

With a ‘CRACK!’ it reappears.

Guess it didn’t find anything particularly interesting during its jaunt.

Key the ptt again, “This is Mark, did you see my blow out?”

“You had a blow out?”

“Yeah, I’m heading out to the flats.”

Five minutes later, I gather Kelly is in the air when the call comes out on the radio,

“Guys, get away from the hill, I repeat, GET. AWAY. FROM. THE. HILL. It’s the Witching Hour.”

What had been perfect student conditions on the ridge an hour before had quickly gone advanced shortly after the novices in the group left for the more docile flats. Kelly’s emphatic statement made it clear that conditions were no longer suitable for them to consider returning to the ridge.

Kelly is very firm in his belief that aside from leeside variants, inversions are a pilots worst invisible enemy in seemingly flyable conditions (gust fronts rank highly in his opinion of dangers, as well, but are relatively predictable based upon observation of clouds and terrain). I am pretty sure his years of flying in Bassano helped cement this belief, and this opinion appears to be shared amongst much of the European flying community. Case in point, I recall Jocky advising one of the Swedes to be very careful of the inversions in Bassano.

Having taken about half an hour to settle into the conditions for the day and get back in sync with the wing, I begin trying to repeatedly work through four distinct layers of inversion, at 650, 800, 1000, and 1300 meters. An hour passes and my attempts come to an end as I land south of a factory a few towns to the east.

Turbulence tolerance *= 10;

Retrieval deja vu -> missed lunch, heading back up in the hill in half an hour.

By the time we were at the lower launch, conditions were clearly baked and a sled ride was all that would be had. Facing such an anti-climactic end to the day, I chose to ride down. The thermaling snob refuses to submit to a five minute sled ride after staring into the jaws of the dreaded ‘Witching Hour’ 😉

Dinner. Sleep. Repeat.

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