By Frode Halse

Many 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 
Paragliding-Europeans in
Vågå  take 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 peaks.

Photo: Frode Halse To 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.
The "never 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. 

Pulling big 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.

Passing 2500 m.  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.  2700 m.  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 I can.
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 snow. 
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 notice . 
Life goes on.    




Storgjuv glacier, no cloudbase problem ! Photo: Frode halseStorgjuv glacier, sucking cloud ! Photo: Frode Halse


Above:Close to Storgjuvbreen glacier, clouds sucking. Surrounded by peaks higher than cloudbase you surely don`t want to be swallowed !

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 ?


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