ROB- The weather was looking good for Friday the 7th of April, with light winds in the North, so I got in touch with Fred about heading for the mountains. Fred said it looked slightly better over to the east, with a higher cloud base and slightly lighter winds but should still be flyable in the Ben Lawers area and so we made a plan to meet up and Champany and head North in the morning.
We stopped for a bacon roll and to watch the cold swimmers at the Loch Lubnaig on the way to Ben Lawers. Someone attempted to stop Fred parking by blocking his path so his friend could park his van. Fred ran him over. I think he learned a valuable lesson that day.
When we got to BenLawers it was looking good and we trudged up the path with Mark Bradley and Iain Wallace, with David Taylor soon to arrive. It was absolutely glorious with a lovely blue sky and about halfway up cumulus clouds started to develop. The wind however was starting to feel quite strong. As we got to takeoff a Sigma and Rush 5 took off and seemed to do OK though.
It felt a bit windy for me so I got ready slowly. As is often the way the day started to mellow to the point where flying felt reasonable after about 30 min. Fred took off first and managed to maintain but reported it off to the East and headed for the Tarmachan ridge.
About halfway over he got a weak climb and started to drift back with it and I took off straight away and headed for the same spot. Fred carried on back in the weak lift but I was not convinced so pushed forward, which worked out OK, as I hit a good core and climbed much better.
FRED- The day was feeling good and my climb was a gentle one. An east drift, so I made a plan. Rob was low and circling so I would wait for him to catch up and do the ridge run to the far end of Tarmachan and maybe Glen Lochy then back to the car. Next thing, he’s going up fast with little deflations. Looks good over there! But I didn't want that particular thermal..
With ‘come to me’ clouds everywhere I dumped my plan and replaced it with no plan and bravado. This is easy to do when climbing gently, and I zello’d Rob to say I was committing to Glen Lyon. I never saw him again till the next day and regret not joining up when it was easy.
Rob- I hung onto the remains of the thermal watching Fred cross Glen Lyon at what looked like very low and thought he’s in trouble. Eventually I lost the lift so pushed the bar full and headed for the other side. I got there with good height and hit a thermal straight away. Fred however was low. He disappeared from my view and I could see no way he could get back up again from the height he was at.
Fred- On a plateau north of Glen Lyon I was out of the harness but staying in the air and kept getting bursts of lift to 20 metres and then down again to the heather with feet up and chasing a large herd of deer, I could even smell them. I did about a mile cross wind. Do or die now I forced a turn and then another, and I knew I was leaving but it would be slow. But a firm decision now, I was heading into big beautiful nowhere for a while.
Rob- I thought that’s not so good, I need a plan. I didn't really want to go downwind because of Rannoch Moor’s reputation for long walk outs so thought I'll do a triangle along Glenn Lyon and then hop onto the front of Ben Lawers and head back to the cars and go and collect Fred. I sent a text to that effect. There was no mobile signal. But I hoped it would get through when I got some height.
I took off again and got a nice 4m/s thermal pretty quickly. The day had obviously really switched on and there were great clouds everywhere. By the time I got to the decision point I looked down wind and saw a perfect cloud street disappearing into the mountains. And though bugger it. Put thoughts of landing out of your head and go. You can always sleep in the glider.
Fred- now at nearly 5000 feet Rannoch moor was downwind and the air so fresh you could eat it. Holding the C handles I leant back and thought wherever I end up this is worth it. I modified no-plan and upgraded to cunning-plan. I was going for Creag Meagaidh car park with the idea of a ride back with the pilots who had gone there. Cunning-plan was a bad plan as it modified how I flew the day, always pushing east putting myself on the edge of the best air. But I hadn’t realised that yet.
Rob- I hadn't connected up my electric gloves so I just flew straight for a bit and managed to get them turned on but by the time I got settled again the clouds in front of me had started to decay. When I got to Loch Rannoch it was pretty sinky and I was kicking myself a bit.
I started to feel some little bubbles. Not a thermal, not enough to stay up, but I thought there's no point rushing on. I stayed mincing about in little blips for 5 or 10 minutes, and while I was doing that I saw an eagle start to climb slowly from low off to the side. I went and waited where he was for the thermal to arrive.
I drifted with it for a bit until it died, then I crossed the loch into another good thermal and climbed back up to base. The drift however was taking me down loch Ericht, so I flew crosswind to the next cloud street and drifted back with that towards the mountains.
Downwind was a Ben Alder, a huge snow capped lump of rock in the blazing sunshine so I thought no point hanging about, that has to be working, and pushed the bar and flew at it. As soon as I got there I hit a nice 4m/s thermal which took me back up and over the mountain in the company of an Eagle.
Fred- I was pushing at Beinn Pharkagain, a few miles SE of Ben Alder, sinking but confident, and hit the slopes well below the top and started scratching. Looking up Loch Ericht I knew it was a 15 km bike ride to climb Ben Alder and that put me 30 km to Dalwhinne. Bit of mental gymnastics put me about 20 km still to the A82, and about 10km back to Rannoch station but definitely no trains by the time I got there . Idiot idiot idiot I kept repeating as I very slowly gained height but eventually off the top I went and back to 5000ft. I had just the right glider for a slow upward slalom round the rocks and was glad of it.
Rannoch moor is an awesome 50 square miles of treasure but not much cop in the way of roads.
Rob- It was a bit intimidating with just rock, snow and cliffs, but I thought I am going to get into more trouble being timid than being bold so just get on with it and do what needs to be done. The ground felt very close though with the mountains being so high.
Looking downwind I could see massive walls of rock one after another lined up cross wind. I thought baking in the sun, with a 20 km/h wind going up them, I can probably race a bit now. I pushed the bar and sure enough over every windward face was a strong, and rough, climb.
Eventually I just drifted away from the big mountains in the last climb towards Creag Meagaidh. I also saw the first signs of tracks and houses, which was very slightly a relief. By this point I had been in the air for 3 hours and it was after 4PM and it was getting weaker.
I found a nice light thermal over a small mountain at Loch na h EarbaI. I more or less assumed the day was done. I thought I will be on the ground soon, so I might as well just enjoy the view for a bit. After 15 or 20 min of soaking in the view I decided to find somewhere to land so pushed on to Creag Meagaidh, which had a road running along the bottom.
When I got there I got a weak climb, but looked down wind and thought I am not going over that lot. It was late in the day and it was just an empty moor, which I had seen enough off. But I thought, I will be on the ground soon enough, I might as well hang about and enjoy the view for a bit.
Fred- My cunning plan was my downfall. I veered more easterly to head for the car park about 15 km away and assumed every hill would give up its thermal for my greater good. It
should have been an easy hit but the sink was relentless. I could see the long long track eventually leading to Loch Ossian and Carrour Lodge. I surfed the hill as much as I could but eventually landed a mile or three from the A82. It was impossible to be upset though. The sun was warm and the air smelled like only heather and bog on a Scottish moor can smell. They should bottle it, but of course they do.
Rob- After a bit of hanging about I thought I’d better find somewhere to land. It looked quite friendly down the bottom of the ridge, so I pushed the speed bar and headed cross wind along the ridge. At the bottom of the ridge a cloud was growing and an Eagle was gently circling and as soon as I got there I started climbing slowly.
It was not so desolate behind the ridge here, with a maintenance track running alongside some pylons, so I thought I will be on the ground soon enough, so might as well hang about and enjoy the view for a bit. I can always land near the track.
The thermal went on forever. After quite a long time going in circles I ended up on the next mountain over and way up high. On top of the mountain there was a dam and access road so I thought I might as well keep drifting and enjoy the view for a bit. I will be on the ground soon enough.
At least I won’t be stuck in a bog if I land. There was a small moment of worry when the Oudie reported the wind speed as 29km/h but there were no real obstacles to cause rotor so I relaxed again as it settled back to 20km/h.
After a while I could see what looked like houses far away in the distance so I thought, it’s 6:30 PM now. It really is late and I really need to land somewhere where there is food and a bed. So I pointed the glider at the houses and pushed the bar.
As I got closer I could see it was a decent sized place at the bottom of a big Loch. As I flew over the town I started to go up again. There was a huge convergence line / cloud street above me, but I had had enough at this point and could see white horses on the Loch (Ness) below. Downwind was more endless moorland and my heart was just not in it.
I searched about and eventually found some sink. Things got a bit exciting as I dropped past mountain height and into some rotor. I had to catch one big surge from the glider and I thought I really don’t want to die now after all that. I moved over the forest so that if I had to throw my reserve I would come down on something soft.
Thankfully as I dropped below the mountains the air became laminar again and the landing was uneventful. When my feet finally touched the ground I did a small celebratory dance and phoned Fred to let him know I was alive.
The phone had been going off periodically for an hour or two but Zello was not working and I could not answer. I assumed he thought I was dead on a mountainside somewhere. I was delighted to hear he had got himself out of the hole and went on to have an excellent flight.
Fred- I bunched up the glider and walked 50 yards to the track to pack. And then an aberration. On a track with no possible chance of a car, a car appeared, and stopped. The man, or I should better say Gentleman, I later found out was called John. He wound the window down and I stuck my thumb out for the one and only time of the trip home. I could have burst out laughing. No time to pack and with my glider loose on the back seat he took me to my goal, the nature reserve car park. Thank you so much John.
Then 50 Pakistanis started, with such good humour, to help me pack up, this was a laugh but slowed things down somewhat. The coach driver said ‘where to’ and I said ‘south’. For the second time there was no time to pack so it all got crumpled into the rucksack for a fun ride to Pitlochry.
Rob- After a brief discussion with a friendly and helpful golfer I decided to find a hotel and spend the night rather than get home at 4:00AM. The first one I came across with rooms was nicer and more expensive than I really wanted, it being Easter weekend. But I thought sod it. So I got a room. A wash and some food.
Fred- Pitlochry: I met Scott Becker and we spent two hours searching for Ollie Carr who was on a massive bomb-out walk from Mount Blair. Obligatory chips first then the guys dropped me in Aberfeldy before turning round to the A9 again and home for them. Thank you Ollie and Scott for making my day nicer.
It was dark now and time for my secret weapon. I rang Saltire Taxis in Killin, then half an hour later I was having a long chat with the driver, a very nice man also called Rob, en-route to my car, and an almost as long chat at the bottom of Ben Lawers under a cold star filled sky. Home by midnight.
Rob- In the evening I walked back up the mountain to sit and enjoy the stars and silence for a while. Really great end to a pretty epic day. The next day I got the bus to Fort William, then the train to Glasgow, then a train to Linlithgow, a Taxi to Champany and picked up the car and drove to witchy to retrieve my wallet and flask from Fred.
Fred- Next time
- Spare phone battery just in case. Check
- Lucky blue socks. Check
- Follow the lift you numpty and don’t just point at goal
Oh what a wonderful world and what a wonderful thing we do
Photo from Fred, mountain at the top of the Loch is Ben Alder which Rob flew over
Leaving Glen Lyon
Passing Loch Ossian