28 May 2005

Le Désert de Platé

It's the week-end, and Mickael has organised an outing at "Le Désert de Platé". It's an impressive spot just above Passy, near Sallanches and Chamonix, just at the foot of "Le Mont Blanc".
panoramic - Desert de Plate
We plan on leaving early, meeting is set for 6:00 at the paragliding club in Orcier. Due to some unforeseen circumstance, we leave much later than that (Alex is still in pennance on that one ;-) and we all pile up in the truck when we get to Passy in order to leave one car at the bottom. We'll only walk a thousand meters, as we're quite late on the plan already.

As we leave the car, we climb though the forest, but soon emerge in the full sun. Today is going to be a scorcher.
Going up - 17
On the way up there are a lot of pretty flowers. Flowers - 46
As we're going up at a good rythm, we soon get to the plateau but an unpleasant surprise awaits us there. A cold wind is sweeping the whole plateau downhill. Taking off in these conditions is impossible. We check on the hill a bit higher if the conditions are better, but no luck. There we meet another paragliding pilot, and he has flown here before and suggest we check lower on the slope a while later, when the thermals have overcome the cold breeze flowing down. Most of that air is flowing down because it is cooled down by the snow still on the ground.

The plateau is a huge slab of limestone, with a multitude of furrows carved by flowing waters. Limestone - 48 There is still quite a bit of snow as we're quite high and the temperature isn't very high. In places, the snow sports pink streaks. They are sand deposits. The closest known place where sand of that colour and composition can be found is in the Sahara desert, several thousand kilometers away. It gets carried by hot winds (called Foehn here) and deposited when the winds slow down.Pink Snow - 50

We have a leasurely lunch admiring the vista on the Mont-Blanc facing us and then seek a new take off spot. panoramic - Desert de Plate 3 Mt BlancWe find some reasonable conditions about a 100m lower than the original spot, and start laying the wings. The experienced guy takes off first in a magistral demonstration of glider control. His wing must have seen quite a few flying hours already... Mickael then prepares to take off with his passenger, followed by Annie and then myself. Alex closes the door behind ;-)

Takeoff is fairly smooth, but just as we get away from the ridge, we are swept by the thermals rising off the stone slopes below. It's pretty powerful stuff and we quickly gain altitude. Annie prefers heading for the landing field and she heads off towards the valley. There are three of us left to play around and we take advantage of these generous thermals. There are a few times where my vario starts screaming a bit too much for my comfort and I exit the area by going toward the valley, away from the forming clouds. We are indeed at cloudbase.

For the first time I get a serious asymetric wing collapse. As I'm circling in a thermal as a fairly decent ascent rate, I fly over a ridge in the terrain, and I must have had half my wing exit the ascending flux, the complete half collapses. Pretty hair raising moment, where the first thought that flashes in my mind is "these things are supposed to reinflate and fly again without pilot intervention". The wait for the return to normal seems pretty long, and I wish I'd bough a DHV 0.5 ;-)
All in all, the fall must have lasted just over a second, as my vario only registered a falling rate of 9.8m/s. The speed attained is impressive, and it takes me at least two to three more seconds to regain a steady controlled flight regime. I was lucky I had quite a bit of spare height to deal with this incident...

My first thought is to regain the lost altitude as quickly as possible, in case it should happen again. I circle in the area a few times, then go back to the first area in front of our take-off.

We keep playing for a while, and then I see Mickael and Alex head for the landing field. After a brief hesitation, I follow them. We've build up a nice height, and we have plenty time to circle around and enjoy the scenery while we loose a bit of altitude.

As we're over the town of Passy, I feel quite a bit of thermal activity and change my mind. I cirle a few times and regain a bit of altitude. I want to play some more. I see Alex also circles and regains height. We cross paths a few times, waving and shouting at each other. When I finaly head for the landing field, I see he's doing the same. We actually do our approach together and land almost at the same time.
Passy - 96
This has been a momentous flight...

On the way home, we all pile up into the truck as Annie is going another way, and Alex gets to ride at the back.
Alex in truck - 101
Technical data: Flight duration 0:58, Take-off altitude: 2103m, Maximum altitude reached: 2411m, Total climb during flight: 1810m, Max rate of climb: +4.6m/s, Max descent rate: -9.7m/s, Landing altitude: 460m(to be checked).

I'll add photos later when I've had time to upload them to Flickr.


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