For once I'm writing it in English, please use Google Translate for a German version.
El Nino was certainly quite strong in 2016. For Kenia that meant wet weather and weaker thermals. Great for some really fast 100 km out and return flights (almost broke the world record), but not so great for big 200 km plus triangles. But for India, El Nino creates dry weather and water shortages. I was there for three weeks and could have flown every single day.
I will write the report for this year like a photo story, as Krischa got some really great shots, thanks a lot for letting me edit and use them. :-)
Just click the images for high resolution versions.
I arrived right after a wet period and clouds had still a tendency to grow quite big as you can see on the photo above. At every other flying site you would go for a landing immediately if you see clouds like that, but along the Dhauladhar Range the rule is a little bit different. Clouds normally stay above the range and the flats are often completely blue, so you can always fly out where the downwash from the rain clouds lift away all the thermals and you can fly almost effortlessly without a need to thermal. On this day I lost only a few 100 meters gliding in a straight line for almost 40 km out in the flats. Only if the flats start to get cloudy, or explode as we say, you go for a landing and as fast as possible.
As you can see on the photo above, I had another reason to fly the flats, and away from all the possible strong wind the clouds could create, my thick speed bar line broke. Goes to show how much I use the speed bar these days. There's a reason they call me "Fast Fredi". ;-)
A short video of the clouds.
Bir has changed quite a bit compared to last year. The whole takeoff you can see in the distance was expanded to accommodate the PWC last autumn and a lot of new places were built to stay and eat in Bir. But the character of the village was thankfully still pretty much intact, with a lot of great people to hang out with. It's a place you just have to come back every year, not just because the flying is some of the best worldwide.
Because everything was quite dry out in the flats, we not only had the usual small Indian style waste burnings, there were some quite long lasting forest fires, as well.
Compared to last year, cloudbase was much higher, often way over 4000 meters, some days even topping 5000 meters. But of course quite cold up there. On one day I was flying so many hours above 4000 meters, and of course mostly really fast with a lot of wind chill, that even with tons of isolating layers, I still froze so much, that my whole body was shaking. I flew directly through many thermals just to get lower, but with cloud streets like you can see above, it's hard to even loose any altitude. ;-)
Days were often so good, that even cirrus clouds, sometimes much thicker than the ones above, didn't stop us from flying 200 km almost whenever we wanted to. A lot of people flew over 200 km for the first time, Indians included. They have some quite talented pilots now to follow in the footsteps of Debu and Gurpreet.
On the not so good days, I tried to overfly a mountain relatively close to the takeoff we call "Toblerone". You can see the mountain in the top middle of the above photo. I tried to overfly it a few times, even on days with north wind (yeah, it was turbulent!). Finally managed to do it on one of the >5000 meter cloud base days. What I learned later, is that some crazy pilots in the past soared the north side of that mountain. Really have to do that someday, too! On the right of the mountain is what they call the windy valley. If you thermal up there close to the rocks on the left side of that pass, you often have a lot of big birds doing the same and you always hope they aren't hunting, as than they get distracted easily and could crash into you. Good thing, when I was there they just enjoyed the view and we just had an amazing time together thermaling up, often with close eye contact inspecting eachother.
Here's a photo of me flying around the peak of Toblerone. The view over the back is quite spectacular as you can imagine from similar mountains on the following photo.
The view towards the bigger mountains, taken further to the west, around kilometer 70. You really don't want to bomb out there. ;-)
There's a story of a pilot that got into a cloud a few years ago, came out above the high mountains, landed and than hiked back for the next six days, with zero civilization for the first days.
East of the takeoff is the Mandi Ridge. Here Krischa was flying back from right before the 360, where some french pilots built a nice hut with a jacuzzi and an amazing view. You can topland there and spend the night, partying or just relaxing. Pilots are always welcome. Sometimes flying back late in the day along the Mandi Ridge can be quite nerve wrecking, as often you have strong head/side wind and from where you come from, the ridge is lower, so you have to fly through lee sides and make altitude doing it. It almost always works coming back that way, but a big thermal is of course welcome at that point. I only had one flight were I almost bombed out below the ridge, with only one small field close by that didn't have a power line through it. Thankfully I managed to find a thermal very low down that got me back up to the ridge.
Sometimes on photos or flying along the lower mountains, you get the impression the Dhauladhar Range mountains are not so big, but as you can see on the photo above, you can feel quite small flying along the big range and these aren't even the really big ones. If you click the photo you can see a small glider flying there, that's me ... and I wasn't even close to the rocks!
I had three goals this year in India, fly a new site record together with Debu, collect over 1500 points for the XContest world ranking and have as much fun as possible. And I more than just achieved all of that! On the 25th Debu and me finally had a good day to go for it. The image above shows my track. It was a 253 km flat triangle, 13 km more than the old record! Here's the Doarama visualization of the flight. As you can see, Debu almost bombed out in the beginning, but had a much faster line along the big range, so was able to catch up to me again at km 50. Krischa was following us closely till km 70, but than lost us a bit and finally flew 228 km! The record was ours, I flew into the top ten of the world rankings with more than 1500 points and of course had one heck of a great time!
Here you can see us three after landing. Me on the left, Debu in the middle and Krischa on the right. It was really amazing to fly with those two this year! You can read Krischas blog post over here. We really had something to celebrate that night, but lost our record one day later to the previous record holder Kubo. He had a really close look at our flights and felt quite motivated the next day to get his record back. He flew two kilometers further, so we have a lot of extra motivation to come back next year to set another record. :-)
Here's a list of all the bigger flights I did this year. Especially have a look at the 209 km flight I did at the end, with an average speed of over 37 km/h, the second fastest 200km plus foot launched triangle ever as far as I'm aware! I only had like ten thermals on that whole flight and was straight lining most of the time, but couldn't fly further as big clouds were standing in the way and they looked quite scary. I almost had to make a safety landing on the Mandi ridge as one cloud was overdeveloping above the official landing.
What an amazing three weeks it was. So many great flights, super spectacular views, amazing people and great food. What more can you ask for? I didn't even have any stomach problems this year. Thanks a lot to all the amazing people that helped make this some of the best weeks ever for me!