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Mount Bakewell Long Weekend

Mount Bakewell is probably the best hill near Perth for launching a cross country flight, the steep 300m face offers more time to find a thermal than anywhere else within 400km of Perth and it seems to generate reasonable thermals despite facing South. Despite this the 1998/99 summer was a bit disappointing, with no reasonable cross countries except one weekend in December.  Finally on the Anzac Day weekend we got a good weather forecast. I abandoned my plans for a trip up to Geraldton and instead headed for the big hill behind York with Mike Annear and camping gear, prepared to sit it out until we got a good flight.The South Launch has plenty of glider eating trees and good mobile phone reception.

The usual torturous drive up the 4WD track on the back of the hill with it’s 4 gates brought us to the takeoff . As usual the conditions were a bit hard to judge from take off but it seemed OK. When I launched I went straight up to 1000 feet above take off where I was joined by a wedge tailed eagle. The wedgie hovered inches behind the trailing edge of my wing and I couldn’t resist getting some photos.  I flew back toward the ridge whilst taking photos, as I was waiting for Mike Annear to come up and join me anyway. Unfortunately that wasn’t to be, he aborted his takeoff due to a stick in his lines and a gust of wind took his glider into one of the trees on launch as it came down. It didn’t look like it was coming out in a hurry.

Conditions didn’t seem quite so good now either, I soon ended up below launch scratching along the ridge, and although the ridge lift was weak the edge of the thermals produced gusts strong enough to blow me backwards momentarily. It was difficult to decide whether to hang around looking for the thermal causing it and risk being blown back, or run away and risk bombing out.
Mt Bakewell again, a mere pimple on the earths buttocks
The wind seemed to be picking up and I eventually got a good thermal with a core and decided to stick with it even though it was taking me back past the point of no return with only 1000 feet or so above take off.  I hoped it would carry through to cloud base, but it faded at about 2000 feet.  There were some nice ploughed fields just to cross wind, and some fires further away downwind. I didn’t like the idea of arriving over the fires too low, so I thought I’d try the fields. I hadn’t counted on the horrendous sink on the way over though, and I ended up landing in the field, just before what felt like a nice thermal came through and tried to blow away the glider while I packed it. The GPS said I’d managed 2km, that’s a glide ratio of about 2:1 from my high point.
I was able to walk back up on the bitumen road that we’re not allowed to drive on - quite nice really. I was dismayed to find Mike still hadn’t got his glider from the tree. It was well skewered over a huge dead limb. I gave him a hand and a couple of hours and a couple of near death experiences later we got the glider down. A couple of metres of yellow gaffer tape and we were ready to go again.

The thermals had calmed down now but the wind had settled into the classic Bakewell “magic lift” we happily boated about for a couple of hours in the buoyant air until it got dark.
The view in summer - Noondeening Hill, en route XC from Bakewell, Dec 1998
We camped nearby overnight and were ready to catch the first thermal the next day. Probably a bit too eager actually. I flew to the bottom without a single moment of lift. Mike Annear tried a bit later and was able to prolong his descent, but not much more than that. We grabbed some lunch in town and drove back up to launch to find a bit more activity. I started to unpack my glider and we saw Miguel launch from further down the ridge at Lou’s place where the hang gliders usually take off.

We watched as he scratched back and forth below us, clinging to the ridge, and slowly making ground, finally he made it up to the summit. With Miguel to mark the thermals, I was able to time my launch perfectly. I circled up behind the hill with him to about 1000 feet ATO in my launch thermal, then we headed back forward again, I diverged to the left a little to pass over the gravel pit, normally a good source. Sure enough I found something solid. I called to mike on the radio that I’d found something, and immediately suffered a full frontal collapse to emphasise it. It was a good thermal, and took me right up over the back to about 4000 feet.

Some good cloud streets were starting to from, but this thermal went straight up into the blue gap between them.  As the thermal started fading I spotted the skydivers’ Pilatus porter turbo prop climbing towards me. I realised soon it was not actually on a collision course and had probably seen me but put a few steep turns in anyway. It climbed alongside and turned around me, climbing steeply. I waved and started looking for lift again. I liked the look of the cloud streets, and was hoping to hang around until someone joined me so I headed up wind towards the nearest cloud.
Flat looking clouds, but plenty of lift.
Sure enough there was some lift under it and I got right up to base at over 6000 feet. I could see Mike had launched but was still scratching around at ridge height. Miguel had bombed out just after I climbed out, so it seemed like time to stop waiting and start flying. I headed downwind under the cloud street. It was taking me almost due west, not an ideal direction straight for the forests of the darling scarp and controlled airspace, but I couldn’t resist the street, I figured I’d head cross wind if and when I got too close to the forest.

It wasn’t continuous lift, but the sink wasn’t too bad and there were plenty of good climbs which kept sucking right into the clouds. There were a few rough bits but also some of the smoothest strong lift I’ve encountered, the glider staying totally steady as the G force made my harness creak, excellent flying.

I tried to branch north as much as possible without leaving the security of the clouds. There was a lot of burning off still. At one stage I thought I had to choose between a cloud and a fire as a possible thermal source, but I was quite pleased when I got to the cloud to find they were one and the same thermal, as the cloud had a distinct smoky smell to it. By now Mike had made it up to cloud base too and was heading north from Bakewell, just visible in the distance.
I reached the Great Eastern Highway at Wooroloo just as Mike passed by Northam. I got a good climb over the town and now had to leave my cloud street as it was taking me further from my initial goal of Toodyay, and over the forests.  There’s quite a gap between the highway and the next main road, Toodyay Road without much in A Bakewell regularbetween, but it looked like I’d just about make the glide even with no lift and I boldly headed out. Of course I struck strong sink over the first big patch of forest, and that had me heading for the ground midway between the roads. At the edge of the forest was a gravel pit, and near it some lift. I turned into the wind and climbed for some time, but every time I tried to circle I’d fall out of the lift to downwind. The wind had picked up and I was making very little progress into wind, and could see the windmills spinning wildly and trees thrashing below me. I was over a somewhat neglected looking farm, with a paddock in which I had worked out where the powerlines were and I ended up hovering there waiting to land rather than risk a high speed dash over the next few paddocks on the off chance of a low save.  I found the desperate need to stop for a piss was really hurting my concentration too, and it was actually quite a relief to land safely. The GPS showed 40.1 km a personal best for me in WA.  Mike Annear flew over just after I’d landed, having gone north then west while I’d gone west then north.  He’d found a similar thermal to my last one, but rather than try to turn and fall out he’d just climbed several thousand feet pointing straight up wind - I wish I’d thought of that, then again, maybe his thermal was better than mine. He was going to land near me until he realised my poor choice of location, about 10km from the nearest bitumen, quite an achievement so close to Perth. Mike carried on and landed near Toodyay Road, going ever so slightly backwards as the easterly at ground level was quite strong.
Mike Annear flies over my landing field (if you look very closely) Whilst a mysterious red arrow shaped  object  heads off upwind.
After some desperately needed relief I packed up my glider and headed for the farm house, it looked just as deserted at ground level as it had from the air. No radio or mobile phone contact here either. I was looking at my map trying to guess which direction would be the shortest route to a bitumen road, when an ancient and battered looking ute drove up to the shed and someone started loading some hay on. He jumped when I came up and introduced myself. Hadn’t been expecting to see anyone else out here. He looked about 70 years old, his face was hidden by a huge white beard, and floppy hat, all I could see was a large deeply pitted nose and deeply sunken eyes. I asked which way was shortest to walk, and he mumbled something about giving me a lift, if I didn’t mind him driving, as he’d already had a few. The prospect of 10km walk with a glider didn’t appeal so I agreed.  I managed to clear myself a small patch of dusty seat in the cab, between the stacks of empty beer cans, the fencing gear and the rifle. I was given a lift back to great eastern highway at about the same speed my glider flies, and I really appreciated it.  I still couldn’t quite believe I’d landed in the remote outback despite being within 50km of Perth.

Great Eastern Highway had plenty of traffic, but all in a hurry and not keen to stop despite my “Glider Pilot” sign, which has worked really well for me in the past.  After some time a truck returning from a dirt track go-cart race stopped. I squeezed into the cab four abreast with a man and his two sons, who were quite intrigued by my GPS and vario.

A short while later I was  dropped off at the lakes, I figured I’d earned some greasy roadhouse food, so I grabbed a ham cheese and tomato toastie and headed out to eat by the road verge to hopefully avoid missing the one lift of the day. I was lucky on this occasion, a car pulled alongside in the carpark and I was offered a lift before I even made it to the road.  This was quite a comfortable car too, I only had to share my seat with a small dog that had just Eric cruising the magic lift on monday arvobeen picked up from the airport, I guess he’d flown further than me that day too.
I arrived back at York just ahead of Mike Annear, who’d had a successful hitch too, via Toodyay and Northam. All that remained was to climb the 300m main face of Mt Bakewell to get the car back, well worth it.
It wasn’t just Mike and I who’d got away, Miguel had re-launched and made it to a safe landing near the pub in Toodyay, along with Derek on a hangglider. Several other hangglider pilots also had good flights, a great day.  And we still had the holiday on Monday.

On Monday Mike and I didn’t feel too optimistic about bettering Sundays flight, and might even have sat it out, except for all the other pilots who were keen to fly after hearing about Sunday. We set out with Julian, Bill, and Wally, initially going to Noondeening Hill as the wind seemed to be North East. On take off it appeared easterly and quite gusty. We stood and waited for a while until one of the hanggliders launched into some really shocking air. We were sure we didn’t want to fly in that, and the York weather station was now reporting ESE so we set off to drive some more. The thermals were still there, we could hear hanggliders on the radio, flying across from aerotow launching at Cunderdin. As we drove up the back of Bakewell we saw a hangglider launch from the top, circle upwards and head off, it was looking good despite the late hour.
I was first on launch, it felt good to know there was a car at the bottom so I didn’t waste too much time. I launched straight into good lift, but after a few minutes it faded and I was reduced to scratching back and forth on the small south easterly face below the take off until I finally faded out.  It did pick up again and  Wally got good height in front of the hill after I landed, but it seemed we’d missed the best of it, the evening magic lift came on though, and we all got some pleasant ridge soaring as a consolation prize.Call that a mountain?
All in all a fantastic weekend, more flying time than driving time for a change, hopefully there’ll be more great weekends next season.

Mike Dufty
Cloudbase Paragliding Club
20 July 1999
updated 6 August 1999

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