By Frode Halse
pilots have experienced the immense force of a full grown cumulus
nimbus. These clouds digest incomprehensible volumes of air and at
times"flies" like hang and para -gliders. Some have had narrow
escapes from its bowels and some have never had the chance to tell the
tale. Have you ever wondered what it is like to get sucked up inside and
trapped ? I don`t need to wonder any more...
May -96. Launch site is the
Dugurdsmålskampen peak (1550 m. asl.) above the old chalet
Raubergstulen in the heart
of the Jotunheimen
mountains in Norway. Many competition pilots in the
off for training flights.
Easily they reach cloudbase and go fora XC. Thermal activity is picking
up rapidly and the cu`s are
growing fast . Overdevelopment will most certainly be the end result.
I take-off at 12.30 and approuch
cloudbase at 2200 m. a few minutes later. While the others go NW towards
Vågå I go SE , following the Bøverdalen valley to Sognefjell. (A
mountain area that never have been crossed with a paraglider.)
Half an hour later I realise that it will not happen today either,
turning back after 20 km. because of a strong headwind created by a
valley crossing. Having abandoned my task I now have ample time to enjoy
the panorama view: Three seasons represented by the green summer down in
the valley , the grey and green tones of spring on the mountain slopes
and the eternal winter on the mountain
the left the Leirdalen valley continues to Leirvassbu hut.
To the right the Sognefjell mountain road.
At this stage the clouds are
fusing together. A few ,
small peekholes of blue sky remain, not giving enough view to be able to
determine the height of the different cloud layers.
ending" cloudbase is dark grey
and sharply defined. Thermals are numerous and reliable ,
averaging 4-5 m/s, making flying very easy. But why bother with the
individual thermals ? Keeping close to the base I am able to fly in
constant lift, adjusting my flight level with the stir-up.
ears when flying through patches
of extra strong lift. Flying fast on a "skyhighway" gives an
euphoric state, but already, in the back of my mind, a red warning
light is flashing
, advising me to fly lower. The risk of a possible inbeded cu.nimb. is imminent.
Half of the return distance is completed and I decide to go for
the remaining in the same manner, relying on intuition to detect danger
in time. Don`t worry, be happy ! Wrong decision.
Entering another area of
strong lift I pull big ears and kick the stir-up but instead of
descending the opposite happens. Ascending rate races from 5 to 15 m/s.
within a few seconds!! The extreme strain hit the seams of the harness
producing a strange, creaking sound. Ground dissappears in a jiffy as I am sucked inside the cloud.
Not again, I don`t need this shit ! (Refering to "The
Ultimate Nightmare", Cross Country No.43 )
Standing in the stir-up I grab a bunch of lines on each side
making XXL ears,
minimizing the wing to one fifth of the original size. Still going up
fast. Any other options ? Desorientation rules out spiral diving . A
thick layer of ice covers my optical glasses. Visibility is close to
zero. There is hardly any daylight. This gives the sensation of being
buried alive in a grey matter. I get jolted around by turbulence, happy
to remain under the wing. (Or at least what I believe to be under.) The
vertigo is sickening.
and no sign of
deacceleration. An armor of
ice is building up everywhere, making the lines look like thick ropes.
The raw air is cutting into my exposed cheeks like knives and the icy
eyelashes are sticking, making it nearly impossible to see. By peeking
beneath the glasses and scratching the vario display
I get split-second
observations before the instrument is covered with ice again. This
maneuver is difficult because I have to keep control of the lines with
one hand while scratching with the other.
This monster could be thousands of meters high !
What can be done to escape? The compass is inaccessable giving me
no help in determining directions. In an effort to exit the lift area I
focus on trying to fly as straight as possible, pulling the two bunches
of lines down as evenly as
2900 m. Lift is decreasing .
Then , at 2950 m. , 750 m. above cloudbase, I hit sink.
Is there a God, after all ?! Rapidly I loose 3-400 m. but equally
fast gain another 200. Like a jo-jo I repeatedly go up and down . Hope
and despair battles inside of me.
Twenty minutes have passed
since the earth dissappeared. Arms and shoulders are exhausted by
pulling the lines and hypothermia is setting in. The conciousness is
getting blurred. The
situation is becoming critical. I have no choice but to maintain the
current position and fight to stay awake. If I fade out it will all be
over. I am trapped.
Relieved, but not all
together happy, I slowly
achieve an average loss of altitude.
In this neighborhood many peaks are higher than cloudbase. Since I don`t
know my location this kind of worries me...
Falling out of cloudbase I must have looked like a snow man. When
releasing the lines the
wing unwillingly inflates, sheding a heavy burden of accumulated ice and
No wonder I fell like
a ton of bricks with the vario screaming in ultra low key . Also I
missed the Skarstinden peak (2373 m.) by a margin of 50 m. !! Lucky.
The rest is routine. Flying
low ( for a change !) I arrive safely at Raubergstulen and touch down.
Mingling with the tourists I feel like a zoombie but no one seems to
Life goes on.
SAME POSITION, TWO
DIFFERENT SCENARIOES !
|Above:Close to Storgjuvbreen
glacier, clouds sucking. Surrounded by peaks higher than cloudbase you surely don`t want to be
|Left:The same surroundings on a no-trouble day.
To the far right the
Skarstind peak where I fell out!
To endure the described
treatment is neither bravery nor a deed. It is a well deserved
punishment for not showing
enough respect to forces of
nature. An example of what may happen if you try stretch your ability to cope in a situation that you
can not handle. Although you feel confident it is sometimes wiser to
retreat than to fight. Better safe than sorry.
The cu.nimb`s lack of early warning signs took me by surprise
and I paid the price. (Quite cheap to be honest.) A nimbus in its prime could easily have taken me to a lethal
altitude. Also it most likely would have torn the glider apart. This one
probably was close to dying when I stumbled into it.
Yes, I will continue to fly !
Flying is the essence of
life. On second thought, maybe taking up golf would be a good idea ?