Clough Head Struggle  

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It's a great view over Helvellyn towards Ullswater

About this article

Local expert Kitt Rudd comments on several paragliding flights made from Clough Head along the Helvellyn ridge. All flights were made on the 1st October 2009 although Kitt was not flying on the day.
Intermediate pilots l Jim Bittlestone l Tony Bradley l Dave Horne l Gary Stenhouse l

Jim Bittlestone - Clough Head Struggle 

Hi all, went to Clough Head on Thursday and had a tricky time again. I really do think that it is a difficult flight, probably one of the hardest I’ve done so far. As with any flight, conditions mean a lot, but the topography of a ridge plays a part too. I’ve heard it called the 'milk run' which does not do it justice, it wouldn’t be my choice for a first XC that’s for sure, so many variables, so many potential dangers.

Clough cliffs
Gaining height on the cliffs at Clough Head

One poor chap had an accident on Thursday and left in the air ambulance having come to grief above Thirlspot. I’m not sure of the details of his accident but wish him well in his recovery. I know loads will have done this flight and had no problems but I found it tricky for sure.

On the day I watched Lance fly into the first gully and come back twice, so I thought it wasn’t on for today. I only saw one other head south and he went from base. I left tracking diagonally left and back, heading as high up in the gully as possible. A welcome boost came from the far side of the gully where the wind was getting stronger. I ended up toward the head of the gully where I needed a small amount of bar to track left and push forward.

From here onward the wind turned further from the north due to the valley effect, this also increased turbulence which acts horizontally and vertically. This effect makes finding lift more difficult and it is a matter of taking one step at a time, learning from that and changing the next stage to suit for me. Strong punchy thermals added to the mix with gusts and lulls, not a place to scratch. My built in safety margin I like to keep in reserve was getting bigger by the minute, but the terrain high up gets flatter, so escape routes get trickier to find.

Half way to Browncove Crags
Half way to Browncove Crags from Clough Head

At Browncove crags I got a welcome lift and used every bit whilst checking out the next bit. Great views over Helvellyn summit. If you are not high by now its time to land at Thirlspot, in my opinion, as the next stage has trees, water, accelerated valley wind, surface turbulence and rocks. Just my opinion with very little experience.

Once past Browncove Crags I tried to stay out of the turbulence behind by pushing out a bit, sacrificing height for safety, heading for a steepening below the walkers path from Dollywagon Pike, the top of which is a spine back so I didn’t go all of the way back there, just the side.

Past here I pushed out into a broken thermal someone was in, from below. I lost a bit of height here and pushed further out above Dunmail Raise looking for lift.

Approaching Browncove Crags
Approaching Browncove Crags

With my bladder about to burst I looked for somewhere high to land, knowing that it would put a dent on my km count but I was starting to rush decisions. I could either glide to Grasmere easily or land high on Seat Sandal and take off again to try to push on. I chose the latter and got above Alcock Tarn. Working some wicked little thermals I turned to see Ambleside which looked horrendous for landing, so decided given it was now blowing a hoolie, to give myself the best chance of a controlled landing in a huge field on the outskirts of the town.

A great bit of banter over a pint and some scran rounded the day off. Lance, Dave and Tony all got to Grasmere beating me and Gary got to Windermere, well done men, smiles all round. We all got our meals free ‘cos I won the bet off the barmaid that I could get Gary to buy the most expensive steak in the north:)

Two gliders over Browncove Crags
Thermalling up and back over Browncove Crags

Strong thermic days ooze tension at take off and this affected my mood on the day, which is probably why I’ve flown so defensively. I’m still learning loads and next time I’ll know a bit more, but if its thermic again I’ll be getting high and going over the back around Browncove area, why be a slave to fashion? A harder hitch back but easier safer flying perhaps, plus the views over Helvellyn would be great. I dont want to put folk off doing this flight on a different day, it may be easier, hopefully this account helps? 

Kitt Rudd comments 

Reading your account Jim - I would surmise one of the reasons why you found it tricky is down to the wind direction, the more North there is on the Ridge the bouncier the traditional topping up places get.

In my experience, I either try to get high and fly the ridgeline that separates Thirlmere valley from Ullswater, catching lift from both sides, or if I am unlikely to get the height I tend to avoid the Traditional 'Milk run route' of flying the higher W-NW bowls and slopes and instead head more directly for Browncove, keeping away from rotory places.

Thirlmere and Thirlspot from above Browncove Crags

The next stage becomes quite tricky in Northerly conditions with the next section generally in the lee of Browncove. Here it is important to fly decisively and actively. The area beyond Seat Sandal can get very lumpy particularly. Catch what you can and move on. I often then make a beeline for Loughrigg Terrace though there are little in the way of easy landing options here however. Over the back, you are heading for much flatter terrain down the west side of Windermere, which is a great experience. It is also possible from here to drop onto Wansfell and continue down the east side of the Windermere.

Flying XC is all about flying the conditions and not simply flying the route that was possible the day before.

The Clough ridge run can be a milk run, I have flown it only to turn at take off and again coming into land at Troutbeck and other times it has taken a good 90 mins to get past Ambleside.

Tony Bradley

Excellent write-up Jim and thanks for some very insightful comments from Kitt.

I was lucky enough to more or less straight line it past Helvellyn picking up height as needed on Northern sides of the shoulders on the way down. Guess the extra speed and performance of my wing made up for my decision to start the route so late. It was then a dive through the Dunmail Raise Gap with ease (I may be a fatty but nearly 80KPH! without bar!!!).

Dunmail Raise
Dunmail Raise and the approach to Grasmere

Probably made the wrong decisions from there on, trying to do the same height top ups on Seat Sandal, Great Rigg Moss & Forest Side (Getting quite a Kicking on all three, thanks to the wing for being such a gem).

With hindsight and Kitts wise words (plus a bit of Google Earth & Relief Maps) I should have headed to the screamingly obvious (It was calling me) next top up of Loughrigg with the wind on the lake heading smack on to it!!!

Was truly a day to remember and great crack! 

Kitt Rudd comments

You're getting it Tony. There are a lot of signals to help you choose the right route for the day and when you read them right the route becomes much more of a 'milk run'. 

Over Helvellyn
A great crack! The views over Helvellyn to Ullswater

Jim Bittlestone

Very interesting Kitt, cheers. The flight wasnt too bouncy on the day, just difficult finding good lift. I went alone as no one looked too interested probably waiting to see if it was working. I am looking at the map following your suggestions.

I can see why I got lift over Alcock Tarn as the Easedale valley wind comes in from the NW. I should have been more patient here as the lift was strong, I could have kept going and probably should have as I would have learnt more for next time. Wansfell looks like a canny trigger point but Loughrigg Terrace looks committing with an approach over water. 

Dollywaggon Pike
Dollywaggon Pike, St Sunday Crag, Fairfield and Grisedale Tarn

Kitt Rudd comments

You are right about Loughrigg - It is only worth contemplating when there is a good north wind showing on the Lake and don’t do it towards the end of the day either. It is just like it is often worth going into the space behind 'The Lion and the Lamb' but not on a northerly. On the right day it is a good convergence zone. 

Dave Horne

Really interesting posts here guys, here's my experience from the day.

I arrived at Grasmere about 2.30 I think, scratched on the N end of Alcock Tarn for a few minutes as it was obvious from the traditional bumpy ride down past Seat Sandal that the wind was off to North, before deciding to land in the showground. As soon as I flew southwards in a curve round to the showground, immediate lift.

Skiddaw in the distance
The view back along the ridge to Skiddaw

Was apparent that the wind was quite strong N to NNW by then - hence very interested in your points about Loughrigg, Kitt. I then spent 15 mins or so floating around over Grasmere at around 1500ft amsl with a strong wind from the NNW, with big ears in a lot of the time. Should have gone for Ambleside I suppose but as I hadn't landed there before wasn't sure about landing options there or in between.

It felt like there was a large volume of air hammering down Dunmail from the north, and with few ways out of the Grasmere bowl, a lot of it was then lifting, especially mixed in with a few thermals kicking off from Grasmere village itself, the whole valley seemed to be lifting off as it didn't matter where I flew it was virtually all going up.

Approaching Seat Sandal
Approaching Seat Sandal, Loughrigg just beyond Grasmere

I can see now why it can sometimes make sense to use the north side of Loughrigg, though I suspect that I could have put on a lot of height directly above Grasmere village on this occasion to top up for a run further south.

Note to self: Maybe a bit too timorous on this occasion but more prepared for next time.

Kitt Rudd comments

Dave Horne wrote: I suspect that I could have put on a lot of height directly above Grasmere village on this occasion to top up for a run further south.

The simple answer Dave If you suspect you could, you should try. That is what XC is all about; putting hypothesis to the test and then dealing with the experience (In most cases this is a positive experience but occasionally you do need to make use of the plan B). 

Alcock Tarn
Alcock Tarn and Grasmere

Gary Stenhouse

Yep a great flight, but like you say, very different to my first flight made 4 years ago to the day. I think if you compare, you will see my first flight was more of a ridge run and riskier. 4 years on and with more knowledge I think I was much higher and took as much lift as I could, without putting myself in direct compression.

Funny how the longer you fly the more you think about the topography and when and where not to be, even if it means going down.

Mind, I probably caught the most violent thermal in 400 hours on my way down. Though I managed to stay partly in it, at times I thought I was going to lose my wing. From screaming up, to breaking out of the core and not moving, the wing going soft and floppy. But I knew I had lots of height so no worries. Funny how now, when I am high there is no stress, whereas before I felt safe low.

Approaching Ambleside
View to Ambleside from above Rydal Water

A great flight watching Dave, Lance, Jim and several others going down and making their own decisions.

...but best of all was the good old camaraderie in the pub later with all the smiles. Thanks to Jim for retrieving me, as he obviously has the knack of hitching. I think my shirt tie and dinner jacket put people off. Cheers, Gary

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Map icon made by Silviu Runceanu from www.flaticon.com is licensed by CC BY 3.0