As I approached launch in the car the clouds increased and the sky became dark and 100% cloud cover spread a vast shadow on the ground. It was cold, very cold and deep snow lay under foot on the walk up to takeoff.

Cubierto de nubes
Rain clouds

There was light wind with sometimes the wind blowing over the back. Basically conditions looked crap. Little chance of anything but a sled ride to the bottom. Not only would that sled ride most likely offer no great pleasure, but then I would have all the hassle of getting the car again.

The other pilots on launch did not bother. What’s the point? It’s cold and a waste of time.

However I have a different attitude inside me.

If it is flyable then fly. You never know what to expect and sometimes you are surprised. If you don’t take off you can be sure what will happen.

Once you launch you can never be 100% sure what can happen.

I launched in the light frontwind and the vario made that dreadful deep drone as I sled rode down in the dark and overcast sky. Zero chance of thermals.

Volando parapente un día de nubes

I took a deviation to the right were the wind was a bit better orientated to the ridge, and I felt a few beeps. A very surprise thermal, and as I turned into it, the lift got more solid and just 10 turns I was up at the dark menacing cloudbase and the clouds were sucking. Do from dead air there was lift all about. I headed forward and found the front edge of the cloud and carried on climbing up the side towards the sunshine.

I was transported into a kind of fairytale scenery with snow below, holes of blue sky and the sun playing games on the white and grey clouds all about me.

It was like being in heaven, and it felt all the more special because it was just a complete surprise. Nobody had expected this, and I was reaping the rewards of taking the chance and flying.

If you think you know it all, you are closing your mind to the unknown. This I have seen time and time again. This is what I dislike about the kind of task setting that now goes on in competitions.

Volar en parapente

The tasks are always easily achievable and within the control of the organization. No task is set that is impossible nowadays. Every task has to be achieved through known routes and using standard techniques. Part of this philosophy comes from the drive for ever increasing safety and the other from the problem of liability of competition organizers. There are reasons behind this trend in competition, but to keep an open mind in your own flying is a key philosophy that is part of the true beauty of free flying, both hang gliders and paragliders.

Open your mind to the impossible, and you might just be pleasantly surprised.

One cold and windy day on Weather Fell in northern England, the British Hang gliding league set clearly impossible XC task. Cloud base was 100m above the top of the hill and the wind strong. It was clearly impossible to go XC, but easy to ridge soar just above the ridge to gale dangling. This was hang gliding but the same would have been true had it been a paragliding competition as well. After the whole day of flying nobody had been higher than 100m above takeoff.

During the day it had been allowed to top land, take a rest and a sandwich and take off again. However, after 18h was the time of the last launch, and task rules specified the last landing was dusk at 21h. Everyone who still had some hope left went ahead and launched at 18h. We all hung there in the wind just below cloud base as the evening came. Just before 19h the wind dropped a little and a little slot appeared in the cloud cover just in front of the ridge. Some pilots started to play with the hole in the cloud and gentle lift started to give pilots a smooth ride up and though the cloud cover. More and more pilots started to explore and soon the whole field was climbing in weak wave lift and lenticulars started to form above the low cloud cover.

always the most incredible flights are when you achieve something that you thought was just impossible

We climbed to 5000ft and started to jump from wave cloud to wave bar downwind and the wave slots started to open up more as well. Smooth lift was everywhere and as the sun sunk, the only thing limited the distance we could fly was the amount of daylight left.

Many pilots made the 50km downwind to goal and many got disqualified as well for not landing before sundown. Some landed late into the night!

This remains as one of the most incredible flights of my life. But always the most incredible flights are when you achieve something that you thought was just impossible. If this had been a competition in 2013, nobody would even have opening up their gliders. I think this is very sad.

If you think you know everything or don’t even try, then these most amazing things will never happen. Open your mind to the impossible, and you might just be pleasantly surprised.

Bruce Goldsmith


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Bruce Goldsmith has been designing paragliders and equipment since 1991, and is also a seasoned competition and XC pilot, as well as writer. Among his achievements is the creation of some of the most popular and successful gliders in the world, including two winners of World Championships, one flown by himself. He manufactures paragliders under his own brand BGD ("Bruce Goldsmith Design").