Inspired by reports from travellers, and a few days off work I headed across Australia from Perth to Manilla and Mt Borah in New South Wales last Christmas.
Mt Bakewell gave me a good send off the weekend before I went. A very late takeoff at 5:00 in a strongish southerly turned into my longest cross country yet. Just 3 thermals and one hours flying took me 30km to Baillee Farm, halfway between Northam and Toodyay.
Four hours on a plane, seven on a train and one on a bus brought me fairly efficiently to Manilla. I was actually asleep when I arrived, for the first time in the trip, but woke up and managed to get off the bus before it left. After a short wander the wrong way up the street I found my way to the Imperial Hotel Ė excellent very friendly Pilot accommodation for $50 a week.
From the hotel balcony I could just make out paragliders enjoying a sunset flight on Mt Borahís west face in the distance. It looked like the weather was going to be good.
Unfortunately the next morning I woke to very strong winds and even dust storms. Godfrey said it was the worst weather all year. I met up with Kerstin, a paraglider pilot from Germany I had previously met in Perth, and some friends and we visited a waterfall near Horton, a nice spot, but not what I came to Manilla for.
The next day was better. I got to experience the infamous Borah Basher,
and ancient dented landcruiser, that is probably only safe because it is
crammed so full of paraglider pilots that thereís nowhere to move in a
Someone managed to tune in the Shanghai String Quartet on the radio, something of a surreal addition to the scene, groaning up Mt Borah in the Basher, crammed full of pilots and billowing black smoke, whilst delicate classical music emanated from the radio.
The west take off offers quite an impressive view over lake keepit. Unlike Mt Bakewell there is room for more than one paraglider between the trees. In fact thereís only one tree, and thereís some lovely astroturf to keep the sticks out of your lines.
Conditions seemed perfect for ridge lift, but no-one was setting up. They reckoned it was too early for the inversion to have broken. I had thought that at a new site with lots of experienced pilots around I wouldnít be launching first, but after all that travel I couldnít wait. With that much wind I was pretty sure not to bomb out, and I felt a bit of ridge soaring waiting for the thermals to develop would be a nice introduction to the site for me.
I set up and pulled up my glider, which rapidly overshot me and dumped me on my backside. Nice start! I managed to save some face by keeping the glider flying above me through this and was able to stand up again and launch without dropping it.
I had a pleasant half an hour or so exploring the ridge and the developing thermals, I got a little low a couple of times, but before long found myself at 2000 feet above take off in a diminishing thermal with four other gliders (plenty of people were launching once I stayed up), trying to make the decision whether to go over the back.
What the hell, I went there to go cross country, it might not have been a great thermal for Manilla, but it was as good as anything Iíd been getting at home lately. Most of the others in the thermal headed back to the hill. That made me a bit nervous do they know the place better than me?
I didnít have long to worry I got two more climbs before I was even fully over the back of Mt Borah. I flew over Godfreyís then got a bit low before picking up something from a hill near the river. I havenít mentioned that these thermals were reasonably punchy. Sometime around here I got to see a total collapse for the first time. I guess I just happened to be looking up at my glider at the right moment. I may have experienced one before, but Iíve never seen the glider go! Quite a show surprisingly unscary if you have enough hieght, but still scary enough.
One more thermal brought me to the other side of the valley. Not
knowig any better I had headed downwind (east) across the valley systems.
I started to fly south along the next range looking for thermals,
but lost my nerve when I didnít find one fast and headed downwind again
for maximum bombout distance. A weak bit of lift got me to a textbook plowed
field which saved me very nicely from what felt like treetop hieght. This
climb got me to the next road, so I could relax a little, but I got very
low again. I glided along the top of a low ridge covered in trees and powerlines,
but got no lift so headed for the plowed field behind which I figured I
could just make it to for a landing. This time I think I really was only
twice the hieght of the power poles and lining up a landing when I got
a bit of a tuck and some lift. I spent a while maintaining hieght falling
in and out of some rough lift but finally centred it and got up nice and
high and headed for the next range of hills.
These were quite large and covered in trees, and steep enough that I was very wary of rotor on the lee side. I thought I was going to have to turn back upwind to avoid the rotor and trees when an eagle guided me into a reasonable climb which took me over into a fairly well enclosed valley. I was still a bit nervous of rotor, and the first lift I found just about went off the scale of the vario for about 4 seconds before dumping me down just as badly. I circled back and got the same thing and decided I didnít like it so headed back downwind away from the hills and my (probably imagined) rotor.
I found a weak climb quite low and drifted with it up the valley to what I know know is Red Jack. I didnít have much idea where I was at the time. I got to the peak of the the hills quite low above the hills. I figured I should fly it like a launch hill and just forget that there were no gaps in the trees on top, but the wind seemed quite strong and the thermals quite rough and I was uneasy about getting blown over the back by myself and along way from even a road. I decided to fly back upwind and hope to find a thermal out front that would take me over the hill with some hieght.
I didnít find anything, but made it about halfway to the road Iíd been watching. I walked to the road in about 15 minutes and discovered it wasnít bitumen as Iíd thought, but loose blue metal. I started walking towards Manilla, hoping to find a farmhouse to phone from, and noticed a huge plume of smoke coming from the vicinity of the next houses. It definitely hadnít been there half an hour earlier, when Iíd flown over worried about rotor, and had been desperately looking for some indication of the wind on the ground.
The first car came past about 10 minutes later, going the wrong way, but the women driving was nice enough to give me a lift back the other way to the nearest house, and the fire. It was a reasonably large grass fire, with lots of people around but not much equipment. I ended up doing my bit, attempting to beat it out with a fir branch. Actually we almost had it under control whenthe fire tender came round and put it out so easily it made us look silly. After that I was forced to consume multiple beers and accept a lift into town, with the property ownerís twin daughters.
Not a bad first flight. It wasnít my longest cross country in terms of distance, but at three hours it was my longest duration and certainly the most climbs and the hardest work. It was quite exhausting, particularly as the glider would mostly suffer some sort of collapse whenever I came out the side of thermal, keeps your attention anyway.
I learnt later that someone launching about the time I landed flew 50km.
I think perhaps if Iíd worked the top of that last hill a bit longer I
would have stayed up another 4 hours and had a really long flight. I was
actually quite relieved to land though, it was such hard work. I was also
worried all the time about rotor flying amongst such large hills.
The next day didnít go so well. It started off windy. Later the wind dropped and we went up to launch where I achieved my first bombout from Borah. I had encountered the thistles in my firefighting activities, and had plenty of holes in my fingers to prove it, but this was the day I learnt what they do to a paragliderís lines. I landed in the wrong part of the paddock, and just missed my intended clear spot due to it being full of cows. My glider was only just in the thistles, but it was in them and it took 15 minutes to get it out, then another 15 to get the thistle buds I had ripped off out of the lines. They were sharp enoughto prick my fingers through leather motorcycle gloves. Then I had to walk through the paddock of thistles to reach the basher. All the while I could see the people who launched just after me getting really high Ė paragliding nightmare number 1.
The basher had no handbrake at the time so when it was stalled on the way up the backwards rush on restarting was entertaining to say the least. Back on launch the wind had picked up too strong for even a West Australian to launch. There was an occasional lull though, and a couple of pilots including me got off in one. We immediately climbed about 1000 feet. It was enough to go over the back but not great, and I thought thereíd be plenty of ridge lift so headed back. I was wrong, there seemed to be lots of wind but no lift and I needed full speed bar just to barely scrape into the bombout paddock. I avoided the killer thistles this time by landing in a dry dam. A couple of other pilots behind me managed to land between the trees just short of the paddock.
My companion in the thermal went over the back, but only made it half way to Manilla.
The next day was good- new years eve. I got a ride out to the mountain early with another keen pilot but it was quite a wait for the basher to do a run up. I passed the time playing hacky sack (weird east coast rules) constructing an in-flight drinking system from a coke bottle and some vinyl tubing. There were clear skies and very light winds and a general air of optimism. When the basher finally departed there was an extraordinary number of pilots crammed into or on top of it.
We were greeted at the west take off by perfectly still air, and Godfrey with a temperature trace showing a likely cloudbase of over 3000m. Given the complete lack of air movement the initial rush was not to the takeoff but for a shady spot under the tree. Rhett was the first to launch, he alpined off in the calm conditions and failed to notice that a repair to his lines the previous night had resulted in a crossed line, and a pulled down leading edge. The waiting crowd were quite impressed as Rhett managed to scratch back up for a top landing despite very light lift and a wingtip that kept folding up.
Pilots slowly started to lob off and when one of the novices got an impressive climb the momentum started to build. Once a couple of pilots got high the rush was on. I felt very nervous of bombing out this day after 2 bombouts the day before, and with combind jinxing factors of a good forecast, having all my warm clothes on, a new vario to try, and my new drinking system. I was determined notto take off until someone was staying up, so now I was paying the price at the end of a big queue as 50 or so pilots tried to get airborne.
There were still only very infrequent and light cycles coming through
on takeoff, it was a little frustrating waiting at the back for a cycle
to come, only to watch those at the front mess up their take offs. I take
some pride in my ground handling skills and felt sure I wouldnít do the
same, but of course I did. The takeoff may be big and free of trees,
but with the number of people there it was actually quite cramped.
There is quite a strong wind gradient on the take off too, and it is easy
to pull the wing up too fast and have it overshoot, collapse and fall over
other pilots, which is exactly what I did. In my hurry to get the wing
off them cleanly I rushed the second inflation and did the same again,
this tiem getting dragged and grazing my elbow for good measure. By this
stage I was back to the rear of the takeoff, but found an opportunity to
take off safely from there, and finally got off and out of everyones way.
No-one seemed to be getting up from the ridge, all the good climbs were coming off the edge of the bush near the bombout paddock, so I had decided to fly out if I didnít find immediate lift on the ridge. That is what happenned, but I was pleased to find a thermal off the knob about half way to the landing field, and this built in strength as it rose. Soon I found myself sharing it with half a dozen gliders, including new world record holder Godfrey (always just above me dammit). It was nice to be able tosee the variation in lift by watching the surrounding gliders, but also took some concentration to avoid possible collisions, it wasnít always possible to fly where I wanted, because it would put me on a collision course. The whole bunch of us climbed up to 9500 feet in this first thermal. I was stoked. The earth had shrunk into flatness far below us, and I felt like I could fly anywhere, I was a little disappointed not to crack 10000 feet, but the lift was slowing and breaking up so I decided it was time to go somewhere. There was very little wind, a perfect day for an out and return or triangle, but I had come with distance in mind and went for the standard boring up the highway run. I joked to myself that Iíd start thinking about an out and return once Iíd clocked 100km.
I started with a run up the range to the north, topping up my height with a few gentle climbs. When I reached the north end of the range and headed over the flatlands I encountered a huge area of sink. My hopes of an easy awesome day started to drop. I found one climb with the help of a nearby glider, but only got to 7000 feet this time, and my next glide ws back in the strong sink again. This time it took me right down to 1000 feet above ground level. I was starting to assess my landing options and play spot the powerlines, when I found a patch of zero sink above the T junction on the highway just south of Barraba, This slowly strengthened and I was able to climb slowly back to 4000 feet as I drifted toward Barraba. At this hieght the lift broke up rather violently and I felt it was time to glide elsewhere again. It was quite warm at this hieght and it was hard work in the patchy lift at what felt like treetop height compared with earlier climbs. I was even a little envious of the 2 pilots I saw landing just below me on the outskirts of Barraba. I considered joining them, but decided I had just enough hieght to overfly the town safely as long as I kept near the edge. I was rewarded with another gentle climb which again turned into turbulence and sink at around 4000 feet there was a light tailwind here but my progress was still very slow. I glided over a wooded ridge keeping landing options in range and found another thermal, but this one as it approached 4000 feet started to develop a narrow core. I had a collapse every time I fell out of the core, but finally managed to get my glider turning in the middle of it and discovered my new vario plays little tunes when it starts to read over 1000 feet per minute. I blasted up enjoying the sight of the hills shrinking from around me to below me to insignificant bumps. A small cloud started forming above me and I reached itís base at around 11000 feet, finally into five figures. That was definitely worth the effort.
I glided onwards again and again found sink to match the climb. I drifted away from the road in one weak thermal, which faded out, but the next, off a deep gully only 1000 feet below me drifted back towards the highway, even better it took me back up to serious altitude. The thermals where smoothing out now and it was really pleasant flying, I grew used to looking at the world sideways as I circled in the lift, but started worrying that enjoyable as it was, I wasnít covering much ground. The town of Bingara was now in sight, and that became my goal, if I reached there Iíd try to go a little further for the 100kms.
Bingara was starting to look possible, but it was approaching 5:00 and I was worried Iíd run out of thermals. I figured I needed one more to get me there, and decided to leave the waning one I was in at 8000 feet to improve my chances of getting another before things shut down for the day. It turned out to be in vain, that was my last thermal of the day, but the sink had abated too, and you can sure glide a long way from 8000 feet. It started to look like Iíd make Bingara without another thermal. Iím sure I would have overflown it if Iíd stuck with my last thermal for another 1000 feet or so, but as it was I lined up a landing field at the bridge just outside the town. The sink finally found me here, and I got nervous of crossing a powerline so changed my landing field at the last minute to one just closer. Unfortunately this one had thistles in it!
6 hours after launching I managed a nice landing, and desperately tried to haul in and bunch the glider before it deflated onto the thistles, with a surprising degree of success. The thistles were only small here and I quite quickly extricated myself and found a thistle free spot beside the highway to pack my glider. A passing van stopped and offered me a lift before Iíd even got the glider in itís bag. A great finish to a great day, I arrived back in Manilla before dark, and was told that where Iíd landed was a common comp task and was 89km. Not quite the century, but a lot further and a lot higher than Iíd ever flown before, I knew my trip to Manilla was not wasted now, but I was still looking forward to what the next 4 days had to offer.
The weather didnít entirely cooperate, the next day brought a threat of thunderstorms, but a few pilots got up early to try to beat them. One die hard drove up to the launch at mid night, slept up there and flew down early in the morning. The rest of us were a little slower. This was my first excursion away from the West launch. The East launch is a little less friendly, thereís still lots of room, but not much astroturf, and the hill is flatter with a large step halfway down. Conditions were quite still with occasional weak cycles coming up the face, one pilot got away, but shortly after rumbles of thunder started coming ominously from behind the hill. The waiting for a gust to launch in got too frustrating for me and I ran off forwards, really just hoping for a sled ride down the hill before the thunderstorms got there. The basher was interesting enough going up the hill, I didnít want to find out how bad the brakes were.
I did find some gentle lift over the step and slowly scratched my way
back to above launch. As I rose I got a nice view of the thunderstorm dumping
tonnes of rain into the valley behind. It was obviously going to be a good
day to be indoors and not flying, but it was hard too drag myself away
from the nice smooth gentle lift. I havenít flown near thunderstorms
before and the only rule I really knew was to give them a lot more room
than you think is necessary. The lift wasnít strong though, so I decided
to get an in flight photo of the storm, then try to make it to Godfreyís.
The thermals turned out to be frequent and gentle and I made it over the
clubhouse with a couple of thousand feet to spare. Iím normally to jealous
of my hard earned hieght to waste it, and had never tried a spiral dive
apart from the occasional thermal Iíve turned abit too tightly in.
This seemed like a good chance to try one, lots of onlookers below to tell
me what I did wrong afterwards too. I put a few turns in and felt
a good bit of G-force. Rene, my gliderís previous owner had told me it
comes out of spirals very nicely by itself, so I thought Iíd give that
a go and let both brakes up. Obviously he hadnít meant it that literally!
I got a decent surge and the glider went very soft at the front, but I
did manage to keep it open. Not very graceful, but I learnít something,
and I had a pleasant little flight without any drama from the thunderstorm.
I thought perhaps Iíd cut it a bit close, but whilst some pilots below me were deliberately coming down as quickly as possible to the bombout, others were not so concerned. One of the japanese pilots, Tumi? Launched about when I landed and proceeded to climb happily up to speck in the sky hieght, Iíve got an interesting photo of him high over Godfreyís and dwarfed by the massive storm clouds. Whilst I had landed into a light easterly by the time he came down on big ears and full speed there was a westerly of close to 15 knots, definitely a better example of cutting it too fine.
The storms built up and pelted us with rain and hail for the next four days, even new years day was rained out, not enough people with hangovers perhaps. I got to know my around town a bit better, went for a run, read some books and sent lots of e-mail. Others ventured onto the golf courses, probably a safer thunderstorm activity than paragliding, but still not generally recommended.
I was booked on a train to Sydney the next day, but had a day to spare before my flight to Perth, and when it dawned clear imade a quick change to my train bookings and headed out to the mountain for one more go.
It was worth it. The basher was again overloaded with pilots desperate for another fly after the rain, and we headed up the hill as soon as the road was dry enough. Back to the west launch again. The wind was light and a bit off to the south, but a forward launch got me into a thermal and up high again. The chatter on the radio indicated that the ridge was not working but the flatlands were. I heeded the advice and headed for the highway, a good move as a couple of pilots with me who ran up the ridge ended up with short flights and long walks.
The clouds were abundant, not surprising given the wetness of the ground. But every time it looked like clouding ove completely agap would open again. The clouds were working well, particularly downwind ends and it was a novel experience for me to be able to see where the next lift would be. The cloudbase slowly lifted as the day went on, and I peaked at around 8000 feet actually above the cloudbase, with a fantastic sensation of flying between corridors of clouds. I tried flying toward a particularly dark and steep looking cloud for a bit of top up, but my glider snapped shut so emphatically on approaching it that I decided I was probably high enough and carried on up the highway.
There were a couple of other gliders nearby, in particular one in front that I was slowly catching, I later discovered it was andrew horchner on is sector tx collapsomatic. I thought it wold be nice to have some close company and was starting to congratulate myself on finally getting under the same cloud as him when I realised Iíd arrived that bit too low. Ten minutes scraping in slowly diminishing lift then sink saw me standing in a ploughed field a kilometre from the road whilst Harry climbed back up to the clouds. I think he made the best distance for the day, I got just over 50km, landing near Bendemeer? Still my second best cross country distance, but I felt a little disappointed, should I have carried on downwind instead of circling in the first weak lift? I had been trying to fly a little faster, hoping to crack the 100km. Oh well, Andrew Horchner made the best distance for the day in the end and was still well short of 100.
I had a bit of an epic trek back to the road. The problem with this lush green (relatively) landscape is they have rivers that are difficult to cross even in mid summer. I got a lift into Barraba, but after a bite of lunch found myself stuck there for some time. The magic ďGlider PilotĒ hitching sign didnít seem to be working here (written in artline on an old A4 envelope).
Eventually a sheep truck stopped for me just after a car started heading
out from manilla to pick us up.
Worth missing a day in Sydney for. I got on the train the next day fairly well satisfied. Iíd set myself ďidealĒ goals of coming back with 100hrs in my log book, and a 100km flight. What I had was 99 hours and a 90km flight, not quite goal, but nearer than Iíd really expected, and by all accounts this was a week of fairly bad weather. I think I might be back next christmas. Certainly many of my new flying friends were planning return trips, I canít see it getting less popular, they might have to start building new hotels in Manilla soon.
Interested in flying at manilla? - check out their web page - Manilla Sky Sailors Web Page, http://gri.une.edu.au/mss/
Michael Dufty, 16 April 1999
Cloudbase Paragliding Club
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