Safe Flying on Mam Tor NW Face

At the committee meeting this past weekend, there was some discussion around safe flying on Mam Tor NW Face. All except perhaps the news pilots, will know that the NW Face of Mam quickly becomes too congested to fly safely when there is only ridge lift available or, on days where the lift is cyclic. That is, the sort of day when lots of pilots can launch with the air is moving up but sends everyone dashing back to the ridge when the thermal has passed through.

Those who are familiar with the site guid will know that this is already called out to some extent, firstly at the top of the page:

There has been a mid-air reported at this site early in the year for each of the last three years, including the first flyable day of 2016. If this continues then it is inevitable that eventually a fatality will result. The easily soarable area of the Mam NW bowl is small and quickly becomes crowded. Please make a careful consideration of traffic levels before launching. It could be that the pilot who finally tips capacity over the edge is YOU. It could be that the pilot who dies is YOU. Please everybody take care, keep a good lookout, refrain from launching into crowded conditions, and maintain good airmanship and lookout even when conditions are less crowded.

and secondly further down the page:

This can be a very busy site in the air. There have been a number of collisions and/or near-misses at this site in recent years, any one of which could easily have resulted in fatalities. In light conditions, the easily soarable area of the bowl is too small for many pilots to soar at once. If you are flying and feel it is too busy to be safe, please go and land at Mam Nick, it is only a short walk back up. If you are waiting on takeoff and it is clearly congested, please do not add to the congestion until separation improves. It’s not much fun anyway scratching in busy conditions, and it may be you that dies should you choose to continue.


Given this site still gets easily crowded even with these entries in the site guide, the Committee felt that it may be a good idea to include a recommended maximum number of pilots that should share this site when the conditions are scratchy. The idea is not to have people on the hill enforcing a hard limit but to give pilots an easy way to decide weather to launch or not. Indeed, it could also be considered as a way for pilots in the air to consider landing to give others a chance fly that day.

The concern is that if we do not take some form of action as a club, someone will get killed or seriously injured at this site…

…If that were to happen, at worst, we could loose the site entirely or, end up having to enforce a limit whenever conditions are right to fly the site, this already happens in some other clubs on the most congested sites.

The thought at the recent Committee meeting is that the site guide should stipulate that pilots should not consider launching in less than ideal conditions on Mam Tor NW face if there are already 10-12 pilots already in the air.

The Committe felt that a good way to stimulate discussion, raise awareness of the problem and come to the best possible solution, we would ask the membership for input, we’d love to know what you all think so please let us know in comments below!



16 comments to “Safe Flying on Mam Tor NW Face”

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  1. ChrisD - Feb 28, 2017

    Being fairly new myself, I have flown NW face a few times and felt uncomfortable even with 10-12 pilots in light conditions. In such conditions I have usually landed early. If the wind seems to be pretty much that direction for the day or going more W it sometimes works well at Cats Tor which I would recommend to newer pilots, especially if they have not yet visited this site.

  2. Drew - Feb 28, 2017

    Thanks for the input Chris, I’ll report this back at the next committee meeting!

  3. Grouse - Mar 01, 2017

    I don’t think setting a site limit will work, but can see we need to try SOMETHING as a club. I don’t know what.

    If I was going to set a guideline for “less than ideal conditions” then I’d say 6 pilots. 10-12 in the air would normally be a clue that conditions are pretty good! Even 6 can be too crowded on Mam NW though!

    Although the NW face is titchy and can get too busy horribly quickly, the whole ridge has faces that work in a NW and not enough pilots seem to use it. Back Tor takes the same direction as Mam NW- if you can stay up on Mam NW you can usually stay up anywhere between Back Tor and Lose Hill.

    Can the committee do anything more to get people to use more of the ridge? E.g. Could the club negotiate an additional take-off to help spread pilots out a bit e.g. at Losehill and/or half way along before Back Tor? (How about agreeing this for the SE side too?) And/or additional landings, so that people try flying a bit further along the ridge knowing they can land somewhere?

    There’s a bus that stops at Mam Nick from Edale (perhaps just Saturdays? Summer only? can’t find the info just now) – could you include this in the sites guide too? Hitching isn’t bad here either, often people driving through the Edale valley will pass Mam Nick – maybe if pilots knew they’d get back quickly enough they’d try exploring a bit further.

    Can the schools do anything more to help? I thought about a No Schools rule when it’s busy, but I’ve seen Steve sending students off and remote controlling them on the radio so that they try pushing out a bit further towards Edale – it benefits the students because they realise how far out they can explore without having to bottom land, and benefits other pilots because they realise how much longer the lift band is.

    Setting a site limit doesn’t really solve the problem – e.g. it’s just as bad on Mam east face every spring, are we going to set a limit of 15 on there because it’s bigger? Quite a few pilots would ignore a site limit, knowing they can get a bit of height quickly and clear off out of the way rather than give up flying for the day. It’s not enforceable.

    It’s the mentality that needs to change, more than the site rules – if it looks too busy for you sit it out for a bit, if you have a choice between a collision and a bottom landing, bottom land, try to put yourself somewhere in the air where you have a plan B…that sort of thing.

  4. Wayne - Mar 01, 2017

    I still consider myself a new pilot and therefore this might just be that my perception is skewed through limited airtime…

    Of all the sites I flown, I find that pilots flying Mam are the least good at following the ridge on the right rule. It could be the shape of the bowl \ ridge that contributes to this. I do recall coming along on a beat back towards the landslip to see a line of 3 abreast heading towards me (cue a look round and turn back the way I came).

  5. moyesboy - Mar 01, 2017

    I’ve been flying this area longer than most, and Mam North West has a repeated pattern of conditions.
    Firstly, the sort of weather that makes the wind blow north west more often has a tendancy to turn more west, rather than turn more north…
    Secondly, the lay out of ridges, the edale valletly, the snake valley, tend to locally turn the surface wind more westerly rather than more northerly.
    Thirdly, local convection, particularly at Hope Brink, but also Bradwell, Bamford and the Stanage westerly faces tends to pull the wind more westerly as the day progresses.
    All this conspires to mean that if you arrive early and fly mam NW in the ideal NW or NNW wind direction you may well find that by 2pm your perfect site choice is less ideal and you are stuck on only the more westerly parts of the ridge, accompanied by hordes of other pilots who went to the first site they saw a paraglider above, or rely on some computer tracking thing to follow others to their site rather than assessing conditions and making their own mind up ;).
    So be aware the wind tends to fall westerly from north west or north north west, and pretty soon you are flying a goldfish bowl. So be ready to move to an alternative nearby westerly place!
    Seriously, in 30 years flying here, I have only encountered an all day wind direction allowing easy soaring to loose hill and lords seat a handful of times, and most of them lasted because it was at least 20mph on top of Mam!

  6. OT - Mar 01, 2017

    My question for the committee to discuss would be are there any other sites that we as a club could negotiate that take a NW? Or if all other site options have been considered and there are none suitable, then as Helen said – could we look at negotiating other take off points and landing zones along the back of Mam Ridge/Back Tor etc?

    I’ve thought the same in an Easterly and I’m sure lots of folk would agree Mam East can become very busy, but not many seem to bother with Dale Head which is a reasonable alternative, or again why not try and negotiate another site – Cracken Edge/Chinley Churn for example?

    • DenW - Mar 02, 2017

      We Have Cats Tor as already mentioned…I think Chinley Churn etc are in Manchester airspace.. so no there are no other obvious NW sites for us to go for that we know of.
      As Helen says if the conditions are anything like you can fly down the ridge to Back tor etc but people dont because they dont want the greter srisk of going down when it turns off … and back tors not much fun in those situations. I see no reason why a few couldn’t wak down the ridge to take off… but not in large numbers or ii the lambing season!

      Gordons points about likely development are very relevant. Often the worst situation is when the wind has gone westerly and Mam only works in very limited areas…and then Bradders would be a better option anyway. If you predict that this will happen you could have moved site before it got horrid!

  7. OT - Mar 02, 2017

    Cats Tor is under 3000′ airspace Den – the same airspace as Chinley Churn (except that takes an easterly so would be good alternative to Mam Tor for some)

    What about Coombs edge? Steve Hudson has it mentioned on the ‘un-restricted’ sites on his website:

    Combs Edge. Best wind direction NW. Elevation 470m. Approximate take off 15`17`06.56.N 1`56`29.90.W. From the village of Combs single track road up hill or from Buxton north on A500 to wards Whaley Bridge 3kl. Park and foot path through White Hall Centre 500m.

  8. Grouse - Mar 24, 2017

    Dales club sites guide includes “capacity”. This seems a better starting point than trying to set a limit. E.g. on one of their sites the Capacity is “3, but 1 if it’s scratchy”. You can tell from this that it’s an iffy site. Mam NW … 20, but 3 if it’s scratchy?
    (It’s just taken me ages to find this, is there any way to combine the searches for Forum and News so users don’t have to remember which section of website to look in?)

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