Sunday, January 23, 2011

...and winter returns

I must be mad.  The Bise has been blowing the last few days in Geneva.  The Bise is a bitter North wind that whips the lake up into a foaming frenzy of spray and brings freezing temperatures.  The combination of the two creates fields of ice along the lake shore, with low hanging branches weighted down with long icicles.  I'm mad because even in these extreme temperatures I choose Friday morning to haul myself out of bed just after 6am and run the 10km to the office, detouring round the worst of the ice.  Despite the severe cold the run in wasn't too bad, the wind was behind me - it was the run back with a 10kg rusksack on my back that was the killer!

By Sunday the wind had calmed so I took my Paraglider for a walk up the Saleve, across the top and back down.  The top 200m was like a winter wonderland with the thick frost covering everything in site, turning the whole forest into some kind of glittering fairyland.  Unfortunately for you, I forgot my camera so I cannot share the stunning images I experienced.  I half thought it might be flyable, and it probably was possible to launch at the telepherique but the wind was off to the north and I continued up to the higher take off at the view point to make sure, only to find a light cross-wind (launchable) giving way to moderate downslope gusts (definately not launchable).  I wasn't desperate to fly so continued down to the south end - half way along there felt like a good upslope breeze, but by the Crete take off the wind was strong down the hill again.  I can only assume the upslope wind was rotor.

I continued my walk off the mountain via the path that passes through the Orjobet cave, before heading back along the base of the mountain to Veyrier where I had left the car.  Back down at the bottom it was -3 degrees centigrade (at around 450m asl) according to my car, so up on the top (1300m) it must have been a lot less, I probably should have worn more clothes!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Spring has come early to the Alps

Despite being January the weekend has felt like March - spring-like conditions have allowed some welcome flying.  Saturday I only managed time for a quick run up the Saleve and a flight down but the real treat was in store for today, Sunday.

Together with Tom Payne, Damien De Baenst and Martin Dockrill we walked from the Tailloires landing field up to the Col Des Frettes, next to the Dents de Lanfon in Annecy.  Here we are on our way up through the forest with, R-L, Damien, myself and Tom.

 Arrinving at take off...

 On launch with Herve - supporter for the FRA2 X-Alps team
And finally airborne!

What I'd expected to be just a short fly down turned into much more, firstly it was dynamically soarable on take off - allowing a little bit of height over launch.  From their I worked across towards the Lanfonette, and found some weak thermals which allowed me to get there without loosing much height.  On the South end of the Lanfonette there was a soarable bowl which took me about 3/4 of the way up where I managed to connect with some more weak climbs, finally climbing in a 1.5m/s up to around 2000m.  I hadn't expected this at all so, as you can see in the above picture, I pushed across to the slopes of La Tournette with a view to soaring up, but the magic was gone - I could just about maintain on La Tournette, but I wasn't climbing so I turned and glided back to Tailloires to join the others who were just landing.  What a magic day - a fantastic walk up a great little flight.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Unknown unknowns

To a certain extent the concept of the Red Bull X-Alps is easy, fly or run walk from Salzburg to Monaco, however that’s as far as the pilot is concerned for the supporter the task is less straightforward as they have to respond to differing situations, routes and conditions. I am reminded of the words of that great orator Donald Rumsfeld who claimed "We know there are known knowns: there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns: that is to say we know there are things we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don't know we don't know." Bizarrely that sums up what I feel about the X-Alps at the moment we have a training plan to familiarise ourselves with the route, we can plan route alternatives, we can plan the more mundane, yet important tasks such as catering, we can begin collecting the best equipment for the event yet ………………………….

I suppose this is what makes the event so challenging and exciting, tough physically certainly, requires high flying skills certainly, requires seamless teamwork certainly, but also the probability of having to think on one’s feet and address those darn “unknown unknowns”

Paris by night

One of the challenges I have in preparation for the X-Alps is simply fitting in the training.  Yesterday and today I am in Paris on business.  With no intention of letting the training slip I managed to find time for a quick run between a full day of meetings and a work dinner.  My course took me to the Arc De Triomphe, down the Champs Elysses between the Grand Palais and the Petit Palais, across the river to the Hotel des Invalides, round to the Ecole Militaire, under the Tour Eiffel, up the steps of the Trocadero and finally back to my hotel in Port Maillot.  It was a fantastic way to see the sights, the city really is beautiful, in fact I got so carried away that I was 15mins late for dinner!  I only wish I’d had more time to run past the Louvre and Notre Dame as well!  I thoroughly recommend this as a great way to see the sights in any new city, the only disadvantage was that I had to stop to cross roads, but that is no great hardship.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Happy New Year

Happy New Year to you all.

January is now the time to get even more serious about X-Alps preparation.  I spent some time with my father (my supporter) over the Christmas and New Year holidays and we started making lists. His knowledge of ultra-marathon running and his extensive contacts in the outdoor industry are certainly very useful (just to prove the cliche he did buy me socks for Christmas, but ones he swears by for ultra-running, especially when combined with his top-secret foot cream!!)

We started looking at the route in detail between us and to that end borrowed 2 boxes of maps from Tom Payne who competed in the X-Alps in 2009 - thanks Tom!.  We are dividing the route into sections and studying track logs from past events as well as the maps to try to gather a much information together as possible.

Planning the remaining 6 months is probably one of the most important tasks on the list though.  I'm training hard at the moment but sought some professional advice between Christmas and New Year and now need to turn that into a fixed training plan that I can track and stick to over the coming months.  Apart from the physical training we also need to learn the route, particularly the Austrian and Italian sections (which I know less well), so we've started planning pre-X-Alps trips in order to scope out the route. We need to be looking at the route from a flying, walking and driving perspective.  The goal of all this of course is to hit the starting line familiar with the route and as well prepared as it is possible to be.  That's how we'll make it to Monaco!

As for New Year resolutions, I don't believe in them!