Soaring to Mt Aspiring with Alex

Soaring to Mt Aspiring with Alex

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A special flight with my son

This is my editorial from Issue 26, Feb/March 2012, of SoaringNZ.

A Special Flight with my Son.

Mt Aspiring from the air is the most awesome piece of rugged countryside I have ever seen. There is an astonishing ice plateau, a huge stretch of white snow, the scale of which is nearly impossible to comprehend, until you see the tiny shadow of your glider against it as you fly only a few hundred feet above it. Suddenly, the sheer size of everything jumps into focus. Massive waterfalls tumble hundreds of metres into a hidden valley which moments before you’d dismissed as a bit of a gully. The terminal wall of the ice isn’t mere metres high; it’s at least a hundred. And the small cloud you can see curling down off the edge… when you cross that ridge you are going to plummet.

Thankfully I wasn’t flying this adventure on my own.

I’m not quite sure what I’d done to deserve it but out of the blue one morning at Omarama, my son Alex announced that since no-one else was flying the Janus, he’d like to take me on a cross country. For all that we’ve spent a lot of time together at gliding sites since he’s learnt to fly, we haven’t flown together much. I did have the honour of being his first passenger (very pleasing) but most of the time we’ve been too busy doing our own thing to even think of flying together. With a fantastic weather forecast, a glider to ourselves and the whole sky to play in, we decided on the ’south a bit,’ type task setting of a certain record setting friend of ours. Very soon after getting airborne, this gelled into a Mt Aspiring - return.

The day was spectacular. It was December 23rd, a day John Robinson, in his story about flying from Alexandra  thinks was the best gliding day in years. Cloud bases were well above 10,000 feet, possibly about 14,000. We had no oxygen gear, not expecting to need it and reluctantly left good climbs well before they topped out.

We headed off across the Ahuriri and the Dingle to Lake Hawea and from there it was unfamiliar territory for me. Alex is training to get his instructor’s rating and from what I can tell from flying with him, he’s going to be very good. He would be explaining where he was aiming for and why and all of a sudden break off and say, “You can tell me to shut up if you want to Mum.” Why would I want to do that? I was flying with one of the top cross country pilots in New Zealand. The insights were fascinating. And this was my son.

I was basking in that most extraordinary feeling of happiness that parents get when they see their kids achieving something wonderful. I love that my boys have taken to gliding and love it as much as John and I ever did. Having been brought up on airfields, there was always the chance that they’d hate it and want nothing to do with it. The fact that Alex has made gliding his sport and is proving to be so good at it is just a wonderful bonus. Yes, I should have been on top of the world.

Sadly I was also suffering that peculiar sensation of joy and distress that I suspect can only be felt by glider pilots. In spite of loving the flight, the scenery, the company, the whole everything, I was starting to feel really ill.

It was hot, it was a thermal flight and because it hadn’t seem to matter at the time we were getting ready, I wasn’t sitting on any cushions and could barely see out of the back of the Janus. This all added to my discomfort. I had flown a little in the beginning of the flight, but once we were over the tiger country of the McKerrows, getting high and staying there was crucial, so I was happy to let Alex take over. Which all meant that by the time we were actually approaching Aspiring itself, ready for that one time only skim across the plateau, all I was really concentrating on was making sure I had my plastic bag at the ready.

That plummeting bit off the edge of the plateau turned out to be the trigger. The steep climb back in our last marked thermal to get us back onto the tops was… unpleasant. But… bag carefully dispatched through the window, by the time we were heading home I was fine.

And I wouldn’t have missed this flight for the world. I was flying in some of the country’s most spectacular scenery with one of our top young pilots. All glider flights can be joyful and fun but this one was especially so, because the pilot in command was my son. I’m sorry Alex if I’ve embarrassed you by printing this. Please don’t let it stop you taking me for a flight like that again, because I can honestly say that this flight was one of those special times that I will remember for ever.

Happy flying everyone.
Stay Safe.
Jill McCaw

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