Saturday, April 2, 2011


I managed my first big flight of the season today – a 147km out and return from Fiesch in the upper Valais.  Despite the relatively strong SW wind (15kph at altitude) the flight was relatively easy going.  First was a leg to the north up to the the Grimsel pass.  It was good to see this area as it is likely the X-alps will bring me into the Goms valley near to here (via the Nuefenen pass).  Secondly I flew 70km against the wind to Crans Montana to the SW.  Below 3000m it seemed sheltered from the worst of the headwind but above that ground speed was very low, so I tried only to take height when I needed it for a valley crossing.  Heading back to Fiesch was relatively straightforward – I used the principle of getting as high as possible so the wind would take me there.  I considered exploring the Zermatt valley but I had not really left myself enough time and with a strong SW I expected it to be extremely turbulent in the narrow valley there, so I decided just to push back to Fiesch to link my flight.

One of the highlights was around 20km short of Fiesch, above Visp, I climbed up to about the only cloud I had seen on the whole flight – with base at 3700m I felt like I was in orbit!  I could see all the way down past Sion towards Martigny.  From here the mighty valley carved out by the Rhone looked miniscule.  It was also excruciatingly cold!  The last section was interesting, I’d thought that from 3700m I’d be on a straight glide in, but at Riederalp, still at 3000m, I hit a NE wind, presumably the cold air off the Aletsch glacier coming down with such force that it was pushing over the ridge.  This made progress difficult and I could see another glider in front get drilled in the valley and land about 5km short, so I played safe and climbed again before pushing through with the speed bar to come back past launch at take off height.  With the job done and the flight ‘linked’ I then made the error of winding off my height to land at Fiesch.  With a NE flow in the valley and still at 2200m over Fiesch I could, with hindsight, have flown back to Brig and the benefits of a mainline train station to get home.  Instead I decided to walk down to Brig (I am training for the X-Alps after all) but that didn’t go to well either as the footpath I took turned out to be a dead end, or at best a circular tour (designed, presumably, for walkers who want to start and finish at their car…).  After 2hours walking I ended up back near Fiesch and decided just to get the little slow train down to Brig.  I was just walking to the station at Lax when it trundled past.  Arggghhh…missed it.  To cut a long story short it turned into a very late night. 

Brig station 10:30pm

2 important lessons from today – always put suncream on!  I forgot to do so, and thought, oh well, I have a full face balaclava so I’ll be ok.  Wrong – I have a ridiculous (no exaggeration) sun burn mark on my nose and across my cheeks in a kind of horizontal banana shape.  Doh!  Secondly, don’t take footpaths without being sure where they go to.  Ho hum, best to learn this now than on the X-Alps!


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