Paragliding at Treble Cone, 1991

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Comments in 2004 by Peter Groves (see the Leo Geary Trophy page for an introduction):

"Leo's vivid description still holds true today and our competition was flown in exactly the same spots he mentioned. Also the organiser of the 1991 event, Richard Van Nieukoop, is still in Wanaka operating a paragliding business and of course he remembers Leo."


Leo face Here is the contents of Leo's 1991 file, "Treble Cone XC".

As a warm up for the 1991 National Paragliding Champs, quite a few pilots rendezvous'd in Wanaka on the morning of 2 February under interestingly unstable skies. As we arrived at the Pub Corner take off on the Treble Cone Skifield road, lovely lee side thermals were shaping up the slope, though a strong westerly blowing over the back promised certain wind shear turbulence for anyone eager to climb up to it. Although XC organiser Richard Van Nieukoop of Wanaka's Air Action Paragliding School had hoped for a distance event with Wanaka as the goal, none of us thought the conditions were right for it, so we flaked out for a fun flight prior to establishing a task.

I was really keen to put my brand new Pro Design Airbow through some paces, and since I had only 2 flights on it, I burned with curiosity about how it might perform in thermals.

About 45 minutes later, we were all back up for another flight. Conditions were getting better and better, so Richard set the original task: open cross country distance to Wanaka, with the Domain as the destination. Big booming thermals were cruising by now, and as we staked out take off positions on the hill, there was a palpable taste of competitive anticipation among the participants.

Perched on a rock high on the ridge, I checked out the competition: Neville Bailey - down to defend his title as National Champion-methodically sorted through the lines of his Stealth. I fly with Neville a lot and knew he'd out in the front of the pack. Warren Trethewey I also knew well, and with his new Nova CXC could be a different threat. Talking with Neville while waiting for the next cycle was Masakazu Kaneko from Tokyo in his formidable-looking Flash by UP. An unknown factor. It was hard to assess the threat posed by Morgan Varaine, 14 year old French Junior Champion in his little 8.5 Falhawk Athlete. It amused me to think that this wee guy who barely stood as high as my belly button had started flying 3 years ago, 1/2 a year before I started, and had allegedly logged over 300 hours thermalling from his back door in Grenoble! Mark Poole of Matamata Paragliding sought a high take off site on the ridge by me in his Nova-I've flown against him in the last Champs and know that few pilots can match his canopy-handling skills.

There was a lot of other talent on the hill, and I knew the field would fly well and far. I think that here in NZ, we've arrived at the realisation that competition will always unerringly serve to bring out the best in any flying endeavour, and this event would definitely prove the point.

Warren launched at the peak of a boomer and we critically surveyed his flight as he headed out from the hill before appearing to lose it, dropping slowly to a low height. Next to take off was Neville, who artfully used dynamic lift to work his way up the hill between cycles. Ready to go myself, I stood in calm air remembering what Richard had told me the night before about how experienced pilots time thermal cycles and take off not when they're at their peak, but a minute or two prior to their arrival. Far below I spotted the tussock just beginning to move, and determined to put this idea to the test, I launched a minute before I expected the next cycle to kick in. I made two passes maintaining height before my canopy heeled back to nearly stall point, my vario pegged out, and I hooked in to the core of one mother of a thermal up to the height of the saddle above the top T-bar. The thermals were bigger now, so they held back the westerly blowing over the back of the skifield, but I still managed to get a few collapses at the shear interface. In retrospect, I think most collapses on this flight were due to my unfamiliarity with the trim system on the new canopy-I flew with too much trim and too little brake. Dropping below the shear level to head down the valley, I ran into sink all the way past the rocky buttress above the waterfalls to the left of the skifield. There I caught up with Neville, who'd been working the dynamic lift available close to the relief. We made our way to the lower flanks of End Peak on scratchy bits of near-worthless thermals until finding a series of hot rocky ledges that provided point-release bursts of fine lift. As we worked our way up, I was surprised to see Warren below us-just goes to show how it's never over until your feet hit the ground. Climbing, climbing... we regained our take off height of about 2400ft and kept going up. Suddenly I saw Mark Poole coming out of nowhere a good 200ft above Neville, who had passed me by coring our thermal more efficiently

Well, here we were at End Peak, the last in the range before the vast flat stretch of the Mototapu river valley which blocked our way to Mt Roy and the ridge running east to Wanaka. With a stiff breeze blowing from our right as we gazed across at Roy, we were pretty intimidated by the gap. Circling in the convergence, Neville and I yelled back and forth, pondering our options.

We watched as Mark made his move from somewhere between 4 and 5 thousand feet, but there was still some height to be gained and the two of us who remained meant to make our bid from maximum altitude, which Neville said later was at 6500ft. I remember hearing him shout, "We'll never make it, but why don't we try and shoot the gap?" I suggested we head for a huge triangular tussock face just up the Mototapu from the central summit of Roy. So we headed over 2km of mean cross wind and sink. I flew on no trim and full speed bar, while Nev cruised on a more conservative half trim. I moved ahead and dropped about 100ft below him, but we finally arrived at the same height, amazed to find ourselves still with 840ft above the valley floor.

We rode as best we could the slightly uphill tailwind blowing us in the direction of Lake Wanaka. We had to cross two large gorges, and in the first one, I had a huge frontal collapse that knocked my canopy clean backwards out of my sight before snapping back into reinflation. We made our way towards the lake, maintaining altitude, and saw Mark finally bomb out just short of Glendu Bay Motor camp. Tough luck, mate. At about this time I realised that if we could just make it around on to the front face of Mt Roy, facing the lake, we stood a good chance of catching the afternoon thermals bubbling up the face. Rounding the corner into good lift, I knew it looked good. Back and forth in fine dynamic lift, a few bursts, enough to carve some 360's, yeah! We were getting stuck into some awesome lift, and then I knew we'd pull it off. Then we were about level and I saw Neville hit a massive thermal which stopped his canopy dead before tossing him straight up in the air. I heard an inarticulate yell from him before he climbed out of range. I've never seen a parapente climb so fast. I avoided the bumpy shear we'd been climbing in to fly straight towards the summit of Roy. Excellent convergence lift brought me 1000ft over the summit, which was only 1000ft lower than our high point over at End Peak. Smug now with the realisation that Wanaka was within grasp, I contemplated trying to fly across the lake for a landing in Richard's backyard. Cruising 1500ft over the beachfront, I looked back to see Neville about 1/2 a km away. I pulled two small full stalls over the lake, then 500ft of hook turns before landing on the beach across the road from the Domain, 1 hour 25 minutes after take off. When Neville landed a few minutes later we raved about the flight for awhile through grins as big as Texas before some of the other guys started to drive back into town. While we sucked down a few well-deserved beers, about an hour later who should we see drop into the Motor camp down the road but wee Morgan in his Falhawk. One fine flight indeed for three pleased pilots!

This information might have appeared in a Parapente News newsletter in 1991. If so it is © 1991 Leo Geary. All rights reserved.

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