Lion’s Head

Original content sourced from Greg Hamerton’s ‘Fresh Air Site Guide‘, 5th edition, 2006.

Guidance by a local pilot at this sensitive site is essential.

Description

A consistent and beautiful site to fly, offering a panorama of Camps Bay and the Twelve Apostles. In the afternoon, Lion’s Head heats up and generates a thermic, upslope breeze. Best flying is from 3pm onwards during wind-shadow conditions. Parking is on the back (Cape Town side) of Lion’s Head, then a stiff hike is required up the gravel road and around to the front side.

HG: get permission to drive a 4×4 up to the launch site from Nature Conservation office (RHS of Signal Hill road on way up).

Weather

W-SW, thermic lee-side in light SE.

When it is soarable, the wind diverges around the spire-shaped peak, which causes a strong increase in wind-speed at both take-off sites. The wind is usually crossed from the left (S) at the upper launch and very strong, and crossed from the right (WSW) at the lower site.

Location

Launch

Lower launch is reached after a 10 minute walk, where the path narrows from a jeep-track width into a hiking track. It is a challenging launch through a silver-leaf tree grove from a short net-covered runoff. Be meticulous in your layout and pre-flight checks. This is where to launch when the wind is South West 5-20 km/h.

Top Launch is reached after another 10 minutes of brisk walking (it is NOT on the top of Lion’s Head! It’s below the cliffs on the NW side). It is a rocky netted launch site that is both steep and loose underfoot. The wind is usually crossed from the left here, making good ground-handling and committed launch techniques essential for a safe get-away. Typically used when the wind is South to West-South-West, 5-20 km/h.

Altitudes

  • Bottom Launch 400m ASL
  • Top Launch 450m ASL
  • Ceiling at 1200m ASL

Landing

On the grass playing-field in front of The Bungalow, at the Glen Country Club (it is a bit short for Hang-gliders). The field is rented by the Camps Bay High School from City of Cape Town. Don’t land there if school sports are being played on the field. The Glen Paragliding Club have landing rights and you will be expected to become a member if you land there regularly. The Camps Bay High School field (above the main road, to the left of the big swimming pool) can be used as an alternative if it is empty. There is also a median strip between the upper main road and the lower main road, just above The Bungalow. The lower slopes of Lion’s Head can be used to slope-land in an emergency.

The City of Cape Town has appealed pilots to not to land on the beaches (Camps Bay, Clifton, Glen) during the busy summer months.

The hang-gliding alternative landing is Mouille Point lighthouse.

Cautions

  • Don’t pioneer a new launch site on the mountain as it is a Nature Reserve.
  • Don’t leave valuable in your car.
  • Lion’s Head has complex weather systems, please ask the locals for advice. You may contact The Glen Paragliding Club for experienced pilots who can brief you.
  • When it is soarable, the strong venturi effect at both takeoff sites can be hazardous.
  • Ensure that your launch is directly into the wind, and that the conditions are within your capabilities. Begin your soaring flight with very short tacks back and forwards until you have established the limits of the venturi-effect at each side of the peak, as penetration into the wind becomes difficult beyond either takeoff site.
  • If you are blown over the back, try to fly around the side as much as possible (not directly behind the peak). Turn and run for the end of Signal Hill or Green Point if possible.
  • When the wind turns southerly, the spine which runs down to Camps Bay High School from lower launch generates lift on its windward side, and sink on the leeward side, so fly to the left of the spine to reach the landing field, otherwise you’ll be forced to land short.
  • In berg-wind conditions (prevailing NE wind), it is possible to sneak off Lion’s Head in a thermic cycle. This is a VERY BAD IDEA, because the hot, dry and descending air will try to mix with the cool, moist sea air, making conditions very unstable on the way in to the landing field. There may be a shear layer between the two air masses with violent lift and sink.

Directions

Drive up through Cape Town and take Kloof Nek road up to the pass between Lion’s Head and Table Mountain. At the circle, turn right to Signal Hill and continue until the road levels out. You will find a gravel carpark to the right of the road. The path to the launch is on the left as you reach the carpark.

Caretakers

SANParks Activity Permit

All pilots flying in the Table Mountain National Park are required to apply annually for a TMNP My Activity Permit (Level 2 – Hang-gliding and paragliding) which currently costs R455pa. These are issued at the SANParks offices.

Additional Micro Meteorology Notes

When the SE wind blows over the Cape Peninsula, it is disrupted by the mass of Table Mountain. The wind is deflected upwards, and only returns to the surface far out in Table Bay. This creates a ‘wind shadow’ in the area between Llandudno and the Cape Town Harbour. As the SE increases in strength, this wind shadow will shrink to protect only from Camps Bay to Green Point, and finally, it breaks down completely (usually when the SE is over 50km/h) and the wind tumbles down over the Twelve Apostles. The size of the wind shadow can be clearly observed by the patterns on the Atlantic Ocean. A wind-line forms in ideal conditions, marking off the end of the SE and the beginning of the calm bubble of sheltered air.

There is usually a gentle reverse wind (NW) blowing in the wind-shadow and The Bungalow, created by the pull towards the low-pressure on the lee-side of the mountain. As long as you fly within the wind shadow, you’ll be fine, but heaven help you if you fly too high, or out of the bubble. The SE wind blows you out to sea, and is extremely strong and turbulent, as you are in rotor from Table Mountain. There should be at least a 1km margin area of smooth ocean around the landing field at The Bungalow.

If there are squalls on the water inside the wind-line, where the water should be smooth, don’t fly – the wind-shadow is breaking down. If the cloud begins to pour off Table Mountain, through any of the Twelve Apostles, conditions are beginning to deteriorate. Cloud is usually dropping off the front face of TM by this time too. The furthest Apostles can be whited out, more than that and you’ll end up in the sea. If you get caught in a dissolving wind-shadow, try to retreat to the shelter of Lions Head, landing on the slope in the main bowl, or on Clifton Beach.

Watch the progression of the wind-line, and the speed with which it is changing. If the wind-line has moved onto Whale Rock at the end of the curve of Camps Bay beach, then it is too close and not flyable anymore.

IN SOARING CONDITIONS (SW), the picture changes completely. At sea level the air is dense (especially if cold) and you’ll have a lower flying speed than at inland sites. The lower launch will seem becalmed, with very gentle wind. This illusion is because of the site being at the separation point. If you can pull up your glider and ground-handle it above your head, it is very strong. If your glider can pull you strongly back UP the slope, then collapse it and pack away. It will be incredibly strong once you escape from the separation point.

Top Launch is too strong to launch from and crossed in soaring conditions. The silver-leaf trees always whistle in the venturi as you walk up, but if they are thrashing around, it is unflyable. If there are white-horses on the sea, it is too strong to fly. If there are cat-paws on the water, parallel to the wind, wait.