132km in the Valley-of-Desolation


THE ROUTE
 
Date : 19 January 2000
Pilot : Tristam Burrell
Duration : 7 hours
Distance : 132km
Best Height Gain : 3680m above launch (5100m above sea level)
 
     
Here we are on Launch. Our Team consists of (from left) Andy, John, Arthur, Tristam, Gavin & Tim (on the roof). John Philips on the right contemplates the conditions before getting set-up. Conditions seem light with strong thermals roaring through take-off. We can see some big dust-devils behind launch...
     
John, Tim & I launch and we quickly climb out to 2000m ATO. The British pilots seem to thermal extremely well. The view of the town from this height is spectacular.
     
We jump on our speedbars and head in the direction of the Ouberg, 20km away. John and Tim are left-side of the main road. I have decided to stick on the right and try find the next thermal on the foothills, near Welgevonden Farm.

We all get low and Tim & John land on the slopes of the Ouberg. I switch off my radio to concentrate on the matter at hand. I work hard on the slope, and finally a thermal triggers. I get up in the lucky thermal and climb over the Ouberg to 1800m ATO.
     
Now it's decision time. I have to decide whether to take the safe route and fly down the main road, or do I take the "no man's land" approach? I decide the latter, and chance flying over the Gats River Canyon towards Nieu Bethesda and on to Compass Mountain.
     
I start the long, lonely glide over the Canyon towards the big Compass Mountain sticking out in the far distance, with no possible chance of recovery if I land. I sink lower and lower. I get below launch height, and at the last possible moment I find a scrappy thermal over this dried out little pan. This is no common garden thermal. It starts to boom!
     
I then get joined by a Raptor, and we streak upwards in celebration of the life-saving thermal. The bird is totally un-concerned by me, and on occasion I can almost put my hand out to touch him while we thermal together.
     
I keep working; inching my way closer and closer to Compass Mountain. The terrain below is incredibly inhospitable. No roads! Just mountains and deep valleys. I think to myself that if I drop-out and land here; I'll be walking for days! Finally, I get to the peak and sneak over the side of it. There's more sink over the back, but I find a boomer and climb back to 2000m ATO. I am now 50km from launch.
     
The sky is a bit ugly for the next 20km, and I have to navigate around the odd storm or 2. The drift is NW, but I have to fly NE to get around the storms. This wastes about an hour & .
     
The sky starts to improve at the 70 km mark. After being really low again I get an excellent thermal. My vario changes gear to a seroiusly high pitch, and for the first time in this flight I climb to cloudbase, over 3200m ATO. The temperature is pretty cold; around minus 5 degrees C. (below zero). The ground loses a lot of its definition from this height. Everything looks kind of flat. It's at this point I realise a 100km flight is possible. At this height I'm able to talk on the radio to Gavin who is still in Graaf Reinet, and give him my position. He starts the long recovery drive, which ends up being a 500km road journey.
     
I can now see the last of the mountains. And 10 km later I reach the Flatlands. Another good thermal gets me to cloudbase again - 3680m ATO. (5100m above sea level). The highest during the flight. I am now 80km from launch.

The sky looks good, although the thermal clouds are far apart. I aim North and push out on the speed bar, trying to fly as fast as possible for the next 50km. The thermals are milder now and I have to work a lot harder to climb. I can now only climb at around 1m/sec. Progress is slow. If I'm not climbing, I'm on speedbar.
     
Now I'm over the 100km mark and the town of Hanover is in sight.
     
No more thermals and I'm on final glide now. Hmmm, I reckon I should just about make it to the edge of the town.
     
Down and safe on the Hanover Country Country Club Golf Course. The GPS says 132km and 7 hours from the Valley-of-Desolation.