Sunday, March 6, 2011

Fiesch Flying Fun

What is the best way to train for a paragliding and hiking race?  I figured going paragliding and then hiking must be a fairly good approach, and with that in mind set off at the crack of dawn to catch the early train from my home in Geneva to Fiesch (well, strictly speaking that isn’t true as dawn was still some way away when I set off).

Fiesch is in the upper Valais, in an area that, depending on the route I end up taking, I’ll likely have to pass through in the X-Alps.  My trip had multiple purposes, to get familiar with the area, to brush off the winter cobwebs and get some decent flying in, and to do some hiking with the glider on my back (despite not having lightweight gear yet).

Brig & Materhorn in the distance (photo T.Payne)
The flying was fantastic, I thought spring would be gradually waking up and we’d have the first few soporific thermals stirring after the depths of winter, in fact spring had jumped out of bed and was running around like an exuberant child – thermals were regularly over 3m/s and I had over 4m/s on the averager at one point!  I flew down past Brig and Visp and contemplating trying to cross into and explore up the Zermatt valley, given the Materhorn is an X-Alps turnpoint, but decided against it for today.  Still I ended up meeting up with Tom Payne in the air who took some great photos.  X-Alps teams FRA2 and FRA3 were also out exploring Fiesch.  After splitting with Tom I carried on down the Valley but I did not have an airspace map and I knew there was a tight area close to Leuk where I had to squeeze past a corner of Sion CTR, and wasn’t confident to do this without the map, so I turned to fly back to Fiesch.  On the way back there was a strong Easterly wind at altitude, so, about 10km short of Fiesch, I turned once again and flew back finally landing safely before the airspace to the east of Leuk.  Not a long XC flight but a good exploration of the area and frankly I could not continue as I was bitterly cold, despite being well dressed, or so I had thought.

Now for the walking part.  I packed up and set off down the valley.  It was carnival and every village I passed through seemed to have something going on.  At first I thought I was hallucinating, perhaps as a result of the cold and altitude, as I saw 4 guys walking along dressed as what looked like giant chickens with huge bells strapped to their bottoms.  As they walked the bells banged up and down making an enormous racket.

It just seemed to get more bizarre as even the name of next place seemed to be giving me some sort of advice about my preparation…   A couple of hours later came a huge lorry with a 4m high penguin and people sitting around in deckchairs (sorry no photo of that one – I didn’t get the camera out in time!) Anyway, to cut along story short I walked for about 37km (see arriving in Sion around 9pm to jump on a train home to Geneva, finally crawling into bed well after midnight.

Overall it was a fantastic day, the only slight niggle was some problems with blisters, but it is exactly these kinds of days that replicate the reality of the X-Alps that should help me to eliminate these issues.

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