Waiting in the sun on Dale Head for task 1 to open.

3/6/2016    Dale Head (LCO task 1)


Task 1 of the LCO saw a hot , sweaty and what felt a long walk up to Dale Head – actually only about 45 minutes and never too steep.  Only on arriving at the very summit is it possible to appreciate the grandeur and scale of the huge bowl sweeping steeply down into Newlands, framed on one side by Hindscarth and on the other by High Spy.  It is impressive.


The day looked very blue at this stage – and remained so; as did the light northerly that occasionally wafted up the face.  The odd weak cumulus was forming to our left and right, but nothing overhead. Following some debate about the task, Jocky ….. ever optimistic,  set a challenging 64k race to goal at Ingleton – in fact to the field behind my local which provided added incentive. Great task,  but given the blue conditions and wind direction it was going to require a lot of cross-winding and that would take time.


For the first hour we laid out, set up instruments ….. and waited …. and waited. Only a few brave souls tried, slope landed, tried again and eventually demonstrated it was about to pop. Thankyou Gary Stenhouse for sweating for the rest of us. When it did 'pop', about 1:15pm, we were off in a flurry of activity and into our first slow climb.


Small gaggles of three or four ….. or in my case on my own, started drifting across the head of Borrowdale, over Honister Pass and into the high ground rising up to Great End and the back of  the Langdales.  Quite a few didn’t make it and ended up down in Borrowdale, some resorted to desperate soaring on the slopes of Glaramara before getting up. My own run was relatively straightforward, I hung back for a second better climb, clung to it dearly and got a fairly good line in, arriving above the top of Great End and joining a lone M6 (Chris Foster).  There were climbs, but nothing convincing, so based on the previous Sunday’s experience in this area I moved on to Bowfell, Crinkle Crags and then Pike o Blisco.  Gary was scratching the crags below and a good marker to watch. Eventually we got an unconvincing climb towards  the east shoulder of Wetherlam. Being slightly behind Gary, he got the jump on me and climbed away with Chris. AS they became high dots in the distance I chased after, but decided I’d missed the climb and headed back to join another M6 (Alistair Andrews).  It was a gambled, but eventually paid off as Alastair,  upwind of me found a climb that I was able to contact low on my push forward. By the time I had built the height for the crossing of Coniston Water he was a glide ahead.


Clear of the pressure, and certainly of the mountains the afforested ground between Coniston Water, Esthwaite Water and Windermere offered a fresh challenge. Instead of seeking summits we sought out brown, harvested patches amongst the trees. It worked each time and back with Alastair we worked the next three thermals together, at best touching over 5000’  The growing problem was the drift of the thermals which was 90 degrees to the track we need to goal. The pattern became thermal and cross wind. A look to the east (spreadout), to the south the sea breeze add in the passing time and it meant speed was becoming an  increasing necessity. I pushed ahead after each climb, crossing Windermere Lake at height and each time making the long glide for a decent, but distant cloud to the east.


Eventually the luck started to run out, trying to staying well north I aimed for a good cloud sitting above the north end of Whitbarrow Scar.  It actually looked the best cloud in the best position I’d gone for so far. Despite some searching and odd dribs it didn’t deliver and started to break up – perhaps just a little late? That was for me the key climb (had it happened)  it would have allowed me to move more inland and back nearer track for a decent run in. 


What followed was a desperate run south toward a smaller, bare hilltop in the lower part of the Winster valley. The height unwound and so it had to work ………. getting low  there was no plan B left.  The climb started weak, but it was there and the slow climb out began. It wasn’t bad, but I was now going even further south on the drift and the Bay loomed ever closer. I could have stuck with it, but it was looking like diminishing returns – height, versus direction taking me further from the track line. At just over 3200’ I pulled out and headed east from the blue towards the  area of the spreadout – another gamble. Maybe it would have some embedded cu’s, maybe some cloudsuck, but most likely nothing.


So it proved ………… opting for Heversham, over Milnthorpe to stay closer to the trackline I glided that way..  At Heversham I was down. This was the same place we all eventually ended up – some a tadge further, some a little shorter. Maybe we hadn’t made goal, but for 7 or 8 of us it was a quality flight through and over the Lakes and worth three times the distance of the flatlands.


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Carrock Fell - another damned walk up!

4/6/2016    Carrock Fell   LCO task 2


Task 2

What a difference a day makes! The cloud hung low over the hills and seemed reluctant to break. The wind being light meant the walk up Carrock was higher than normal and by the time we reached base camp the cloud was only 300’ higher.  Any task would be shorter and mean bumbling with others between cloudbase and cliffs.  Not a long task – a mere 14k back to the Keswick Flight Park but interesting as several lines and options were possible.

Once it (just) became soarable we were all off with the field scrabbling near the base of the cloud and splitting neatly into those who deemed it better to go along the front route via Souther and those prepared to take to the hills via Bowscale and Bannerdale Crags. My own choice was the latter – a route I’ve flown a few times before and found more reliable, but never with such a low base to work.


The glide over to Bowscale went easier than expected, arriving below the top to join a lone Delta 2 but soon to be joined by a host of others. It got busy, but never silly and being the higher wing made it nicer (and safer).  I’ve landed out before on the crossing to Bannerdale , and it always seems further than it is. Today I touch cloud and set off ahead of the pack – there was little point in hanging around. Again – it was an easy crossing; so easy I was able to bypass the whole, long line of crags and emerge on Scales Fell with little height loss. At this point the following pack caught up and probably pushed me from my gameplan. I had intended to work up Bowscale to cloudbase which meant well below Sharp Edge summit as it was still in cloud. The extra 400’ would have been useful later and in fact were quite pivotal given the high scoring awarded the task and my third place. For whatever reason I went along the spines of the front of Blencathra and they were not playing ball – no reason they should with the wind across them and stronger than near Carrock.


A short, but interesting flight and maybe 30 minutes later may have made it a lot easier (if rougher?) as the sun broke through, base lifted and the rest of the afternoon/evening was gloriously clear and hot!


Well done to Baz for sneaking past and winning the day – and the comp. 



Climbing out from Barkin with Geoff and Glen

5/6/2016    Barkin Fell


Funny old day.


Hot walk up! 25 degrees ....... remind me this is the Dales.


A decent team of Weasels after the mandatory coffee in the Mousehole, Barbon.  Great sky ...... our fear was it could go ballistic, given the forecast we were treading carefully. Not a lot of wind on the hill and for a while some reluctance to commit. When we did the timing was about spot on as we latched almost immediately onto a climb. I thought better lurked more towards Dentdale, based on a juicy cloud I headed that way and sure enough it was better formed. Below me all the others piled in and we made a nice big gaggle to cloudbase - not high, little over 4000', but it felt OK and being at the top allowed me to video a Weasel gaggle at work.


Tim, Glen and I intially headed towards the J37/M6, but a huge blue hole had to be crossed and I decided it was too big wasn't going to work so turned back towards the Howgills and a more active looking sky. A slight gamble, but once past Sedberghand back over the moors under the clouds again it started to work and soon had me high. The question was ........... where to go? To the east was again open sky with little sign of clouds ..... the thermal drift seemed all over the place, but I suspect the drift simply reflected the direction of pull into the heart of the climbs rather than wind. Should have sussed that earlier.


I progressed north ....... really just looking for the best cloud within range and going for that. To my right (east) was the back of Swarth Fell and Wildboar and the temptation was to head that way then back-track to Brantside before heading back. A nice triangle, but without the triangle assistant on and less good clouds that way I kept heading north as the clouds and climbs were that way.


Approaching Kirkby Stephen the last cloud showed nothing but open blue sky beyond  -  so .... that direction became shut off and the drift seemed more from the east again, OK, rethink................ maybe towards Tebay and back? That would be an interesting circum-navigation of the Howgills. But ............. I was getting low again. In fact I set off back to KS railway station, a train ...... anything to avoid a hot walk ...or the awful hitching in the Crosby Garrett Bermuda triangle.


I came in low over a rise of rough ground, then boom! It wasn't nice but it was going up; bullets of lift, followed by OK then another bite at the bullet. It was a fight, but I was climbing and drifting back to the west. A full frontal added to the fight which I caught before it developed too far and it was a non event.  Just when I thought I'd got out of jail ........... I lost it and that was rather that. Not far away the Sunsoar school was laid out so I drifted that way - hoping against hope for anything but it wasn't to be and I landed by the school.


I was fortunate that a nice Lincolnshire guy gave me a lift back to KL at the end of the days training. Many thanks ..... saved me all sorts of hassle and to John for getting my car back to KL..


Tomorrow I will chill whatever the weather.






Clough Head from a low cloudbase.

18/6/2016    Clough Head


The B team opted to fore-go the pleasures of the Highlands, deterred by the thought of 10 hrs in a car and being the main course on the menu for Scottish midges. Instead it was a leisurely 9.30 start at Wilf's with coffee and snacks. Weather-wise it didn't look at all inspiring with full cloud cover, little wind and  cloud clinging to the tops. But ............ it could change.


We gathered on Clough along with about 40 other hopeful, the cloud still reluctant to break and the wind remaining light ..... occasionally soarable, but mostly too light and with slope landings on the lower slopes quite common.  By well after 2pm it still didn't look that good, but the odd spell of blue showed itself and the sunny patches grew bigger and more dominant over the shade. It's hard to pinpoint just when things changed, but suddenly it appeared to be a lovely day, even if it had come mid afternoon and  cloudbase didn't appeared to have lifted much. It never got over about 3300'


Whilst the route south tempted some it still didn't seem to be an easy option at this stage, so John, Baz and I pushed forward from the south end of the ridge, following a street (or a convergence line ?). It was fairly slow going despite the modest wind speed but three successive climbs edged us closer towards Borrowdale and the sight of two gliders soaring over Derwentwater. Baz then headed back, whilst John and I continued. A fourth climb was needed to get us over the high ground of Bleaberry Rigg, but it didn't arrive and getting lower (too low) we scooted back over Iron Crag and onto the low ridges in the middle of St Johns in the Vale. It was looking a bit desperate as we scratched them, the sea breeze  rattling the bushes and no height to get back. However, all was not lost .... I managed a rough climb for four turns and dived over the back to arrive above the quarry on Clough. Quite exciting being rather low in the bottom as three assymetrics followed in quick succession. But I got up ............. phew! A close save.


Climbing to the usual low cloudbase over Clough I now thought it opportune to head south as it looked a lot better  ........ more following clouds out front than the ridge for the first 6k. Approaching Hevellyn I dropped back onto the ridge for a top up, I glanced behind to find myself stalked by an Omega x-Alps. Where did that come from? A short-lived climb allowed me to get round onto the front of Helvelynn and better positioned, given the wind was going to have some southerly component as we entered the south SB and left the North SB effect. The O8 tailed along and then pushed ahead not quite on my chosen line. Without needing Heron pike I climbed out over Snarker and towards the back of Red Screes. Not a lot of action here and a glimpse towards Wansfell showed a glider soaring but struggling. Wansfell never works well, the wind would almost certainly be across it so I was reluntant to go there. But I did - it was now gone 5:30pm and it seemed like the day was dying.


I hung around low over the south for 15 minutes until I spotted a glider out over the south of Ambleside. He was about 500' higher but importantly he seemed to be gently circling in good air - just maybe the town was in restitution mode. I headed out on a do or die mission and .......... crikey! It was working out front. I climbed slowly but surely until convinced I could get into Troutbeck which offered far better prospects. It was now gone 6pm, the sky mostly blue but good looking clouds were still dotted around. A lovely part of the day to fly.


I headed over Limefitt onto the lower slopes of Troutbeck, but on approaching them I was gifted a nice climb that got me high enough to track north to Yoke and Ill Bell. A bit weird really to be soaring the back of our normal (east) face ............ and it is a really beautifully sculpted ridge, right up to High Street. I relaxed and soared along to the north, passing a lone glider going south. A quick wave and he was gone. Looking over into Patterdale i contemplated carrying on towards Pooley Bridge - maybe returning, but I wasn't sure it wouldn't cock up the retrieve. So I turned and headed back.


The plan had been to head back 6k and then swing a left for  Staveley - cars, the pub and the chippie. Over Yoke I cocked up - followed a climb with Longsleddale in mind. By the time I'd decided it wasn't good enough I'd gone one turn too many to get back and found myself in heavy sink behind Yoke. I'd just suckered myself. There wasn't much to run for, but a decent cloud across other side of Kentmere offered a 'get out of jail' chance. I found the climb low, got a few turns and chanced to see two buzzards a few hundred feet above. That at first seemed a really good sign until one decided to go into attack mode - oh dear!  Three times he  came in from above dropping, fast with wings in and tallons out - pretty birds until they go aggressive. I moved further south, trying to hang onto lift, but clearing the area, which seemed to have the desired effect.  I drifted down Kentmere in light sink until it closed to nothing but trees and took the last field to land in. It was 7pm and I felt quite pleased with what was an interesting flight. For whatever reason - the lateness, I thought everyone would have packed and gone home hours ago. Not so .......... Tim and Baz were still flying and enjoying their own adventure, Baz to Sedbergh and Tim to the A6 north of Kendal. Nice one guys.


A another great (late) day out .......... and another that came as a bit of a surprise.



Barney climbing out near Murton

23/6/2016    Murton Pike


Referendum Day. After doing our patriotic duty as good Europeans and voting to remain (except Barney), we small band of Weasels (excluding Barney) gathered on the lush grassy slopes of Murton under a stunning sky.


The A team (Mike and Barney), set an ambitious triangle out to Penrith, back to north of Hartside before returning via the main ridge - with Marra riding as 'thermal spotter' in his sailplane. I should be more ambitious too ............ but chose 23k up the ridge and back as a declared and easier option - it didn't turn out that way.


Despite the light wind we all got away easily and climbed out without really beating the hill. I tagged my turnpoint and eased over towards High Cup Nick and had a top up with Mike and Barney. From that point they went their way and I went mine along the ridge. Approaching Wild Boar I got low, very low - in fact with the wind off to the south it meant scratching a gully side. A rough unpleasant thermal got me out of there thankfullyand as it smoothed out I climbed up and over High Cap with Geoff Moss coming in just below. Whilst Geoff lingered I pushed on, passing gliders laid out on the usual take off below. None were flying, some had landed below the hill and the indications were it wasn't doing much down there. Climbs so far had been OK, occasionally a bit rough, but nothing too bad and going to about 4800' (roughly cloudbase). 


Getting into Melmerby bowl was straightforward, I just needed a good climb at the north end to allow me to run north and out front for my turnpoint. Bang on cue the good climb arrived and took me to 4700', without any hesitation I straight-lined for the cylinder, tagged it and turned. At this point the God's conspired. I expected a decent run back only to be confronted with a fresh southerly headwind, my groundspeed dropping to single figures. Just to the north the sea breeze front was very evident and probably drawing air in - either way a battle south began as what had started at considerable height rapidly unwound. Getting back into the bowl was becoming an increasingly remote possibility as I sank onto the slopes in front of the masts - in other words the wind was across the slope. When it seemed hopeless I found a climb, small, very rough, but very strong in parts - four turns later I'd drifted back but deemed Melmerby bowl achievable and set off without working the climb further. I caught sight of Geoff again  - very low and heading towards Melmerby village and seemingly destined for a landing. Concentrating on my own woe's I lost sight of Geoff ..... .......... a big pity as he climbed out of there unseen by me.


Again I pressed for the bowl as the newly won height unwound - it was touch and go. Rather than head out I elected to 'touch' whilst still fairly high on the terrain - actually the large flat steps gave me little choice.. A run forward into the bowl only 50' away was on the cards until a stonewall and fence blocked the way. A run at the wall followed by a hop, saw me over the stone and metalwork and floating onto a small boulder slope with the wind still  somewhat crossed  before it continued onto the main, into wind face. Another touch down and kite up the into wind face in light wafting breezes got me 50' higher. Another take off, the third and some protracted scratching had me re-established higher and in the working part of Melmerby bowl. The O/R was blown ......... now to simply get back the 18k to the cars.


The trip back south took forever (over 2hrs) given the amount of south in the wind ......... getting low on the ridges would be a real battle, and only the gully sides would offer a chance - and I didn't fancy that. As it happened I managed to push from cloud to cloud staying high and occasionally entering cloud at over 5000', but progress was angonisingly slow. Several ks behind I caught glimpses of Mike scratching low in unikely places - Barney had gone down after leaving Melmerby.  After what seemed ages I came in with good height over Murton Pike and circled the willage,relieved to be back but disappointed at losing the flight.


No-one thought Mike would make it (Yes, we wrote Slippery Mike off)  ............ a long, low battle against the odds. He didn't completed the declaration, but managed to close a good FAI landing just short of Murton. 


A lot of air time, some interesting flying and another one to agonise over what almost was.







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© Ed Cleasby