Despite working most of the Easter weekend, I was able to gab a few hours and head down to Wolfgat Nature Reserve, on the shore of False Bay near Cape Town. Here, when the southerly winds blow against the dunes and low sea cliffs, one can enjoy hours of simple, smooth soaring. Equipped with my beloved Gradient XC3 glider, a lightweight Sup’Air harness and my GoPro, I took my turn cavorting over the cliffs and doing wingovers above the waves with the playful gulls. Magic. Watch in HD if you can.
The video was shot on GoPro and then, as an experiment, I downloaded the footage wirelessly and edited the entire thing on my iPad. It’s a bit of a rough cut but amazes me that the technology has advanced to the stage where this is possible. It also makes converting your fun footage into something shareable while traveling a serious option. Impressive.
The music is by an artist specializing in ‘Chillstep’ (relaxed melodic dubstep) that I am really enjoying at the moment, called Blackmill. Check out his stuff on iTunes and elsewhere online. Kudos.
A strong sou’westerly dropping to moderate in the late afternoon had me take a chance and walk up Lion’s Head with my paraglider. The Gradient XC3 is quick, and can thus tolerate a bit more wind than the average glider, but until I saw some tandem pilots sitting at the lower launch I wasn’t sure if I was going to be completely alone or not. Fortunately, Stephan on his very quick Ozone Enzo launched just after I arrived, and showed the wind strength was acceptable…
I launched the XC3 ahead of some tandems getting ready and climbed immediately. Stephan on the Enzo had flown far out to the south, almost over the sea, losing very little height and penetrating slowly into the wind. I cut into the smooth fast lift on the SW face and rocket up to the top of Lion’s Head, where I found my ground speed into wind was less than a walking pace. The XC3 has a great response to speed-bar, however, so I was safe to climb steadily above the peak. The air was cold and beautifully smooth. Judging from the clouds and wind direction at this level (around 650m ASL) it looked too southerly to fly Table Mountain and the Twelve Apostles, but I always get itchy wings when over Lion’s Head, so I gave it a try. The sink was potent in the last section of the crossing, and I arrived at the bottom of the cliffs near Kloof Corner. I could see the Enzo back at Lion’s Head; Stephan was biding his time and seeing if I got thrashed. It was certainly turbulent, with southerly flow wrapping around the cliffs from Fountain Ravine, but I worked the lifting patches and played the little flows until just below the top. There I found some southerly coming over the mountain, which made Sexy Lexi (the XC) very unhappy… she tried a few times to climb back into her bag. Deciding that the moment was not optimal, I flew out parallel to the Apostles to see if there was a band of lift to be found. Far below, the Enzo had made the jump, arriving with no more height but perhaps slightly further into the ravine than I did. Stephan also climbed steadily, but soon also made the decision to skedaddle back to Lion’s Head and the razor-thin Enzo writhed unhappily above his head.
My efforts to find a lift band along the Apostles failed miserably, so I tucked into a south-facing ravine to try scratch back up. Nothing! With the contour path approaching fast I turned and went on glide towards Camp’s Bay, thinking it was soon to be over. The great glide of the XC3 still surprises me, however, and turning downwind with some speed-bar added soon had me back at Lion’s Head, albeit below takeoff. Here the crisp handling and speed of the glider came into use, and I scratched back up again. I spent the next hour in cycles of climbing high, enjoying long periods of smooth hands-off contemplation flying out and practicing spirals and wingovers – I’m still getting used to this on an EN D glider! Finally, it was time to watch the sunset from the air, crank a spiral and land at the Glen for a well-earned libation. Here’s to 2013!
We were camping at the Khaya in the reserve with friends over a long weekend, and I grabbed the maiden flight for the area on the first evening just before sunset. The wind was very strong the next day, so we went on a 4WD trail instead, but our last morning dawned with a favourable forecast: Light southerly winds turning south-west later in the morning. I had planned a few routes to take advantage of all wind directions, flying into wind on my outgoing leg and then using a tailwind to return. The area is remote, with alternating mountain ridges and flatland valleys leading up to the Witteberge themselves. True to the Karoo, it’s a whole lot of desolation scattered with a handful of isolated farms; the mountains themselves have many hidden, trackless valleys. Not the sort of place you’d like to be stranded… but the rewards are great. Many of the old farms have been converted over the years to game farms and nature reserves; the WPNR and my planned flight path adjoin the Anysberg National Park. I packed spare water, energy bars, flares and survival kit and filled my tank to the brim. Launching at 3000ft above sea level with a heavily loaded and fully-fueled paramotor is not for the faint of heart, but the Ozone Speedster lifted off without difficult and carried me off into the unknown.
My first leg took me out through the southern end of the central valley of the WPNR into a beautiful flatland area. A few kilometers east I could see the boundary of the Anysberg National Park, and the land unrolling beneath me was soon dotted with curious springbok, twitching their tails in uncertainty as to whether I was a threat. I was flying into the gentle southerly, but with trims wide open maintained a comfortable 40 km/h ground speed. Although it was early, the sun breaking through patchy clouds was generating small thermals. This called for constant throttle adjustments; I tried flying at various levels but eventually settled for cruising at 300ft above ground and riding out the blips and dips. After 20 minutes of progression to the south I turned west along a valley, and was rewarded with views of some ruined native stone farmhouses and dilapidated kraals. As I crested a small neck and dropped into the lower section of the valley, a hefty eland bull regarded me with contempt while his two cows batted their ears.
The valley widened out, and in the distance I could see a large farm replete with actual dirt road, in use. This was my first accessible bail-out point – after flying 50 minutes – and I checked my fuel carefully. I had been observing that the wind, forecast to be south or south-west, was very westerly for the section I had been flying, which was limiting my ground speed and increasing fuel burn. I wasn’t sure whether this was due to the topography or if the forecast was wrong, but my fuel situation was just acceptable: more than one-third into my planned route I had used 5 of my 14 litres supply. To be a little safer, I decided to shorten the route, and instead of flying all the way around the western end of the Witteberg range I’d climb through a valley 10km closer. Turning north, I ran low-level thorough a beautiful vlakte devoid of any sign of human influence. A startled group of rribbok cantered off on a tangent; a single massive but elegant gemsbok shook its long horns at me; I began to climb into the mountains.
The westerly wind was blocked in the valley I entered, and in its absence the thermals had been building. Feeling the familiar lag of the wing dropping back as we entered a strong thermal, I throttled back in anticipation of the exit, but after a few seconds was still climbing. A brain-switch flipped; suddenly I wasn’t a paramotor pilot but an XC paraglider. Leaving the throttle I threw my weight over, pulled in the trims and was soon lazily circling at 1.8m/sec upwards in a beautiful morning thermal. What a pleasure…and good for fuel consumption! The bliss was prematurely terminated; reaching ridge-height the thermal rapidly became turbulent and then broke up. I checked my drift and realised the cause: the westerly wind was in fact a north-westerly that had been channeled along the valley, 90 degrees off the forecast direction. This was not good news: I was now 1h15 into my flight, had burned 9 litres, and still needed to fly across a head-wind for part of the route. Opening the trims again, I settled on the best course, angling to the only access road leading back to the reserve and then following it for the rest of the journey. A small herd of zebra ran along my path for half a minute as I overtook them, almost as if to offer encouragement. Reaching the road, I turned east along the valley and kept low, using the hills to funnel the wind into a tailwind. My fuel was receding into the last well at the bottom of the tank, but now I could see the mouth of Elandskloof and the WPNR ahead. I gave up on checking fuel and ticked off landing fields one by one as they passed below. Turning into the valley, I made a quick radio call: “Witteberg International, WMX approaching the field low-level from the north, requesting expedited landing runway 01.” I could hear the laughter in the background as my wife answered from the “tower” (a camp chair next to our tent): “WMX, land at your own discretion!” The Speedster deposited me gently through the turbulence, and I took a few minutes to enjoy the silence and smell of mountain fynbos before checking the fuel one last time. Just over a liter remained… but my tank of experiences was full to the brim.
Despite the shortened route (which proved, retrospectively, to be a very good decision) the flight track generated a 58km FAI triangle – my best yet.
Here are some details regarding this weekend’s WCPGXCL event. This month’s task will be held in Porterville, to coincide with the yearly Gatskop fun competition (which is on the weekend of 19-21 October). Two tasks have been set, to allow for winds that are north or south of west. Looking at the Saturday 14:00 weather forecast, it will probably be the Northbound task this weekend.
Take Off/start: PL1080 – Pampoenfontein (Radius 400m) – 32°55.630’S 19°02.189’E
Click the link above for all the GPS files compatible with any GPS (in the Porterville Turnpoints .zip file) as well as the Google Earth file for both tasks. Please let Eugene Claase know if yo need any help either loading the TP files onto your GPS or programming your device manually. He will be at the Glen Club tomorrow afternoon from 17:30 until 18:30 to help anyone setting up their devices.
A few important notes about this weekend’s flying:
1. Pilots are all meeting at 36 on Main (Coffee shop in Porterville) at 10:00 Saturday morning. There will be time for a quick tea/coffee and to sort out the recovery & site fees for the day. Note: Yearly site subscribers to Pampoenfontein and/or Dasklip do not have to pay any site fees. The Recovery vehicles will leave from 36 on Main taking everyone up the mountain at 10:45.
2. There is a possibility of a lift to Porterville from Cape Town (courtesy of Ant Allen and the Aerial perspective Vito bus) on Saturday morning leaving Cape Town at 08:00, coming back either Saturday afternoon, or Sunday afternoon, depending on everyone that wants join the group. Please call me Eugene and let him know if you would like to take up the offer – cost will depend on numbers.
3. There will be a possible 3 Turkey recoveries, driving back up the mountain during the day. The exact times will be decided on the mountain.
4. There will be a site and flight/task briefing on take off (most probably Pampoenfontein) at 11:30 by local site guru Paul Penning.
There are 8 pilots confirmed for the weekend so far… I’m committed elsewhere but wish them all good luck!
Tom Lewis and Frik Linde have a dream, and have built a partnership to translate it into reality. After creating a very successful outdoor experience with 4×4 routes voted into the Top 10 in South Africa at Mont Eco near Montague, they clearly have the necessary skill. Their passion, however, is to make a true wilderness lifestyle accessible and sustainable to those who share their love of wild open spaces, black night skies lit only by the stars, and air tainted only with the fragrance of fynbos. The Witteberg Private Nature Reserve is the embodiment of the dream.
The Wittberg Mountains lie near the southern border of the Karoo within the Western Cape Province, South Africa. Readily accessible from the N1 national highway between Touwsrivier and Matjiesfontein, they are 2.5 hours drive (about 250km) from Cape Town. Like most of the Karoo, it is a harsh semi-arid area where large scale farming is tough and the terrain precludes expansive infrastructure. With an average altitude of around 1000m, it is a place of rugged fynbos-covered ridges interspersed with vlaktes, and secret kloofs. Bitterly cold in winter and scorching in summer, the beauty here is subtle and requires a shift in pace and perspective to appreciate. Frik’s family have farmed in the area for generations; indeed, the property which is now the nature reserve was once their land. They cultivated hardy salt bush in the valley to support ubiquitous Karoo sheep and later harvested the indigenous Proteas from the mountains, leaving gravestones, dry-stone wall enclosures and some whitewashed houses now reaching national monument status. Frik, however, joined in the endeavour by Tom, has had a different vision. Trading the vegetation-depleting sheep for naturally-occurring wildlife and converting the precipitous flower-harvesting trails into 4×4 routes, they have spent the last 5 years turning a farm back into a wilderness… and the result is breath-taking.
Wow…what a weekend away at the Witteberg Private Nature Reserve. I’m filled with experiences, thoughts, views, fresh air and photos waiting to be published. I’m also completely bushed. Here, therefore, is a photographic teaser (courtesy of the camera of John Roos):
Earlier this month rare but ideal conditions allowed more than 50 paraglider pilot – including some of our local South Africans who were on a tour – to fly above Mont Blanc and topland. This has only been done by a few pilots in the past, but improved understanding of the weather, more accurate predictions and a wealth of social media to spread the news resulted in this incredible feat. It looked more like the launch at a busy competition than the peak of one of the highest mountains in Europe. This is the nicest video I’ve come across, documenting the special magic of completing this bucket-list flight. Well done, Gaël Lafond.
“On 19th August 2012, the weather was perfect, and for the first time in paragliding history, about 50 pilots landed on top of the Mont-Blanc after taking off over Chamonix, almost 10.000 feet below… The first paragliding top landing occurred in 2003, and since, only a very few pilots had managed it.Le 19 août 2012, les conditions météo étaient parfaites, et pour la première fois de l’histoire du parapente, une cinquantaine de pilotes on atterri au sommet du Mont-Blanc après avoir décollé de Planpraz, au dessus de Chamonix, presque 3000m plus bas… Le premier posé au sommet du Mont-Blanc a eu lieu en 2003 et depuis, seuls un petit nombre de pilotes y étaient parvenus.”