Paul Gannon and his LCC 2003

Paul Gannon - 13/06/2003

Day 1 briefing shortly after the long slog up Jenkin, Steve Thwaites declared the task as a race to goal at Bewaldeth bottom landing area. A recommendation to follow the front face of Dodd Wood, and a warning to stay clear of the valley behind. Wind generally due South, window open in 20 minutes.

My own thoughts at the time :-

1. I need to be in the air early, because with 20 to 30 gliders soaring my normally cautious approach usually means giving up the lift to other pilots in favour of my own safety bubble.

2. I need to be high, and well out in front of the crags at Little Man and Skiddaw - I've found before that entering these areas can require speedbar for escape.

3. If I get past Dodd, will there be turbulence - I've never done this before!

4. I've heard pilots talk of the "Castle Inn sink-hole", and I need to cross this area to get to Bewaldeth - so I need to be high when leaving Dodd.

With one glider in the air already (didn't know whether it was in our competition), as soon as Steve shouted window open at 12.30 I took off. Brief soaring quickly discovered that thermals were coming up the gulley just East of take-off, and following the first one took me quickly to the top of Jenkin. When it looked like I might go over the back quite low, I left it and found the wind quite strong, struggling to get forward and losing quite a lot of height. Steve had mentioned the possibility of thermals further out from the hill, so I gained a little height in the gulley to the West of take-off, and tried flying out. At about 200 feet below take-off, I cancelled that plan and ridge-soared back up.

There were now quite a few other gliders in the air, working their way towards Little Man and beyond. The 'A' competition gliders had also started arriving from Blease Fell, heading the same way. I recognised one of these as long-time flying buddy "Dangerous Dave" Ashcroft, who came over about 100 feet below me and continued onwards. Having the extra height gave me the confidence to follow, but I stopped short when Dave went for the ridge at Skiddaw - number 2 on my list above!. Staying out in the bowl in from of Skiddaw I was soon thermalling with, and inside of, a tandem that seemed to have quite a young passenger - sorry if I got too close on one turn. Drifting in the thermal (now on my own) took me to the Western edge of the bowl, not particularly high, so I stopped to try and ridge-soar. Almost immediately decided that wasn't going to succeed, and although lots of gliders were significantly higher on the Skiddaw ridge, I realised I had no option but to turn and run, as trying to reach them would have meant gliding into the bowl.

At the end of the glide, I could already see gliders way below either on Dodd or looking for landing fields not far beyond, some as far as Castle Inn, and I wondered how long it might be before I joined them. Looking around for Binsey so I could glide in the right direction, I spotted a lone pink glider on Ullock (later identified as Chris Greenwood flying in the 'A' comp.). It seemed to be lurching around quite a bit, but was definitely going up. I had two or three hundred feet height advantage on Chris, and turned back towards Ullock. Looking back up the valleys towards Skiddaw was an amazing sight, and gliding towards them was quite scary - number 3 on my list! This seemed to be into wind, and I questioned my own sanity when I postulated that Chris was trying to soar rotor from the back of Ullock. Facing the hill, and still a short distance away, the air became quite rough but the vario suggested I was going up. Not daring to turn in such turbulence, I maintained my straight line and continued rising.

I can only guess that it was the thermal I'd left earlier - maybe it was lonely and came back to drag me in! After a little while the thrashing subsided to a point where I could risk circling, and the drift seemed to be exactly the right direction. Looking along my glide path towards Binsey, I spotted a couple of small groups of buildings right on line, with loads of landing options. Assuming there was a chance of top-up thermals, I didn't worry leaving my thermal when the lift disintegrated.

Right over the buildings and .. absolutely nothing! Over the next buildings and - still nothing. No sunny spots on the ground, but still heading the right direction at a reasonable speed so stay with it. Remarkable lack of height loss along the way - nice glider this Gin Oasis - maybe I'll make Binsey. One last chance of a thermal over the farm? Still nothing, and the ground doesn't look quite so flat and inviting. Will I make it? Loudly shouting out encouragement to myself, I begin to think I'll make the hill. Then I spot there's already a glider soaring Binsey. Competitive streak takes over - no idea if anybody else is at goal, but must get past and land before that glider! Wind behind me, I fly straight across the front of Binsey not stopping to soar, and on towards the Bewaldeth landing field and goal line. Over the line and turning back into quite a strong Southerly wind, I get hoiked upwards! Thermals from the motocross track, and lift from the gulley next to the track, make getting down quite rough and difficult.

Eventually I'm on the ground, jumping up and down with delight. Bundle up the glider, and walk over to Barty waiting with a check-in sheet. "You must be in the 'B' comp" he says. Could have fell over backwards when he says I'm first to goal, and it turns out the gliders ahead of me were in the 'A' comp on their way to Wigton. Flight time 55 minutes, distance about 11.6 k.

Lift organised for glider with Kirsten and Nick in the Aerofix van. My ride was in the back of a red Mini - two nine inch cushions and a windsock pole where the normal seats should have been! Thanks Sonia. Later lifts back for my car with Claire Davis and Dave Ashcroft - thanks.

Day 2 and 'B' competition is pleased to exchange hills with 'A' competition, the walk up Blease is hotter but shorter. Steve gives us the task. Over to the trig point on top of Latrigg, then back along the A66 Eastwards to goal at Whitbarrow Hall. Sniggering from the assembled group subsides when Steve confirms he's not joking, and this seemingly impossible task can be tackled by crossing the windy gap to Lonscale Fell, over the gulley to Jenkin, pushing out from Jenkin to Latrigg, then heading back the same way or just going East along the valley. Window open in 15 minutes.

My thoughts for this task :-

1. It's impossible! The only time I've flown out from Jenkin has been to the landing field. OK, you often find thermals just over the landing field, but the ground slopes upwards to Latrigg and I'll get trashed trying.

2. I've crossed the windy gap a couple of times before, it need lots of height when setting off.

3. I'm bloody determined I'm not going to lose this lead in the competition, so whatever happens I've got to try! Keep an eye on second place man John Gammage - the only other pilot to make goal on Day 1.

Bit more of a leisurely start today, as conditions feel slightly weaker than yesterday; two gliders soaring in front of take-off struggling to maintain height. Peculiar feeling of everybody watching me as I'm laying out the glider and putting on the flying suit; Pete Logan (third place after day 1?) cheerfully asks whether I mind him sitting right behind my laid-out canopy. Window declared open, I'm quickly ready and almost feel obliged to launch first. First tug on the glider finds light wind, so I drop it back on the ground. Next pull and I'm off, then soon struggling just below take-off. Few minutes trying to stay up, then land before I've lost too much height. Short climb back up, and a mouthful of water. Other pilots take to the air, and seem to be maintaining height. I feel a nice thermal and immediately take off and start circling. Working across to the Eastern edge of the site I'm able to slowly climb towards the crags, but not much higher. Wave and pose for a few photos from fell walkers. Notice that James Jackson has started to follow the same route, climbing just below me. After a little while, stronger thermals entice me to start a glide towards Lonscale, with just 800 feet above take-off. Unsure whether I'll make the distance, I turn back and join the group now soaring just above take-off. Back over to the Eastern edge which is giving the best thermals, and climb back to the crags. Thermals are better this time, and James sets off across the windy gap. My thermal builds in front of the hill and I set off for my second attempt, this time 1000 feet above take-off but already further out. Easy glide across, catching James all the way, I arrive close behind and 100 feet above. Over the gulley between Lonscale and Jenkin, I see James's glider surge backwards. I'm ready when the strong thermal hits. While James climbs in the gulley towards Jenkin, I stay with this thermal as it lifts and carries me forwards. Deciding I might make Latrigg from here and not need Jenkin, off I go. Slowing down for the gentle thermals and letting up in between, I begin shouting out encouragement to myself when it looks like I'll make it. Where's the trig point? Is it the highest bit of ground, or it is the bench at the far corner? Are those people on the ground turnpoint marshalls - do I need to fly over them? Not wanting to risk anything, I decide to keep going for the bench, besides which I can then maybe soar the front face - Derwent shows there's quite a strong Southerly breeze. Now past the bench, a quick instrument check shows I'm at the same height as take-off on Blease, and when I turn back for some ridge lift I'm rewarded with height gain. After a couple of short beats, the lift turns into quite a nice thermal, and after a little while circling I'm about 400 higher. What next? Best option seems to be back to Blease, and I can't help showing my emotions once again as I arrive to a welcoming wave from Steve and others.

Quickly through the gaggle still above take-off, I have time to look around and see that James is still on Jenkin. From where I am, John Gammage looks quite low but he's almost on Latrigg (was I that low?). Back to the now familiar Eastern edge of Blease, with regular supply of thermals. Spotting gliders quite high on Blencathra, I decide that route looks just plain scary; I've heard stories of the washing machine effect in this area. Flying across to the next bit of hill, I'm surprised at how short it is. Soaring for about 10 minutes without getting any height, the option East or back West seems to involve the risk of getting sucked into a black hole. When another glider comes across to this tiny ridge at the same height, I turn negative and decide to leave him too it - this is probably the end of my flight anyway and I'm destined not to reach goal. The glide towards Souther Fell finds sink instead of lift, now looking for a landing field - how far dare I leave it? Can I get over that field with the big brown bull - possibly, but I can't see what might be beyond it. Anyway, we were told to avoid the fields at the foot of Souter. Turning back into wind, I have a nice gentle landing. Flight time 1 hour 22 minutes; about 3.3 k out to Latrigg and then 8.1 k back to landing.

No jubilant dancing this time. I know I've done well to make this far, but surely others will been have watching and be following, not far behind, seeing and being able to avoid my mistakes. Packing away and starting the walk back, sure enough there's soon a few gliders much higher on the hill and heading this way. I meet up with Nick. He was flying the 'A' comp, and their turnpoint is the White Horse, so some of these overhead will also be 'A' comp pilots. Walking back with Nick for fruit juice and butties in the back garden at his conveniently situated cottage in Threlkeld, we contemplate those others still flying and agree that conditions are now much better than when we were up!

A few other pilots turn up at Kirsten and Nick's place, all flying the 'A' comp. One guy is so aggrieved at going down over their first turnpoint at Dodd Wood, that he refuses to go back into Grasmere for the results and awards - seems that competition pressure can get to very committed people.

After a lift with Kirsten and Nick, back in Grasmere I eventually find that nobody from the 'B' comp actually made goal. Pete Logan was the pilot making better use of that tiny ridge than me, and he beat me by a couple of fields. John Gammage had struggled for an hour on Latrigg, unfortunately without success. With second place on the day, overall, I'd won the 'B' comp, and was absolutely delighted. The congratulations were genuine without exception, and from so many people, it really made a wonderful end to the competition. My wife Liz and daughter Poppy were also in Grasmere for the day, which made the prize-giving even more special.

I've made lots of new friends, re-acquainted myself with others, and enjoyed a really challenging couple of days flying. All this in a well organised contest with such a buzzing atmosphere, and generous local sponsorship. I'm really looking forward to my prize - a mountain flying / XC course with Hidden Valley (Chris Scammell). Writing this a few days afterwards, I still feel quite emotional and proud of my own achievements, which would never have come without the support and encouragement from so many dedicated people. Thanks to you all.




Photos are sized to appear on this page at a width of 800 pixels or less. For pictures that are greater than a width of 800 pixels, the picture is shown at 800 pixels but you can view the full size image by clicking on the photo.