Firstly a warning. This article is far too long for a blog post. But, I’m posting it anyway as I can’t think of any bits to leave out. So be prepared, get youself a beer, and settle down. If you like it leave me a comment, if you don’t, well, don’t.
‘Vol Visa’ is a tongue-in-cheek French expression referring to flying and hiking across a number of days. The term is a play on Vol Bivouac – flying and sleeping out in the back country. It’s called ‘Vol Visa’ because instead of bivouac kit you simply take a Visa card and stay in hotels and eat in restaurants. Still, despite that, it is no less of an adventure. Here is my story.
Friday 22nd April - Day 1: Domodossola to Roverdo
‘The Egg Sandwich day’
It had been a last minute plan. I’d always planned to use the long Easter weekend to learn some of the X-Alps route but, like the event itself, the intention had been to do this with the support of my father. A minor family emergency prevented his trip. So I was on my own and it was only on Thursday night I finally hatched my plan – I’d take the early morning Milan train to Domodossola in Italy, and try to fly East – ‘backwards’ along the X-alps route. Ok, so the plan was lacking in detail, but it made up for that shortcoming in its audacity.
The early train was indeed very early and I was up at 4.30am to catch it. Arriving in Domodossola at around 8.15am, I immediately set off north towards the hill I intended to hike up – the sun wasn’t even over the mountain yet as I walked along the main road buffeted by lorries. I consoled myself that I only had about 1km of this before I came to the village of Masera from which I’d set off up the mountain on footpaths.
|9.05am - Egg Sandwich time!|
I suddenly realised I was very hungry, and I remembered in my rushing around last night that my wife had lovingly made me an egg sandwich. As I left the main road and walked over a footbridge I came to the pretty church in Masera, where I sat and ate the sandwich. It was good. Re-energised I could now face the ascent. After about an hour of walking uphill, I noted I still wasn’t very high above the valley. A quick check of the map and I realised the valley floor of the Vigezzo valley – running E-W towards Locarno – was some 400m higher than Domodossola in the main valley that I’d left. In other words, all my walking so far had simply been to get up to the valley and not above it!
There were already cumulus clouds forming everywhere – the day was clearly very unstable. About half way up I came to some fields where it was possible to launch, still I was very low, on the shallow lower slopes only, and the breeze up the slope was very weak. Sinking out at this time of day would be a disaster, so I pushed on up the hill (cursing Italian maps as I did so) in the hope that I’d find some more clearings. A few hundred meters higher a bird circled up and I began to feel a proper upslope breeze now. This would have been perfect, if it hadn’t been for the fact I was still in thick forest. Argghh.. Up and up I went, the day was working very well now, I could actually feel the change in temperature as the hot air of the thermals blasted up the slope, but even though the trees had thinned, there was still no space to take off. Finally I came to the first summit on the ridge, some 1500m above where I had started, and here, next to a cross, was the perfect launch spot. I hurriedly threw my gear out – I had intended to eat something but there was no time for that (besides the egg sandwich seemed to be powering me along just fine!). I looked up to judge the conditions to see two paragliders coming from the East.
I was soon in the air – conditions were good, I climbed up to cloudbase at around 2800m. The only problem was a very strong southerly breeze. I headed east jumping across to the ‘Piana di Vigezzo’ where there is a launch, and where, I assume, my two new friends had come from. The wind was howling here close to the ridge and anything less than 3m/s wasn’t worth turning in as the height was quickly lost pushing back to the ridge. I carried on along pushing into wind around the high ground to be rewarded by a good climb on the other side. I was aware I was under the outer limits of Locarno airspace now, and because the development was quite big I keeping a good separation from the clouds. If I carried on in this direction the flight would soon be over as the airspace stepped down towards Locarno. The only way around was to the north. That would mean flying over some quite demanding terrain.
Saturday 23rd April - Day 2: Roverdo to Bodio
‘The day of the dead snake’
|Early morning view from my hotel room in Roverdo|
I set off up the mountain with a spring in my step, the day was looking brighter than I had expected and I was enjoying the walk, even with 16kg on my back (I still haven’t got my X-Alps gear!). After about an hour, I saw it, lying there on the path. At first I thought it was alive but on closer inspection it was clearly quite dead, still it’s not everyday you see a snake on the path. I decided that this was not an auspicious sign and what is more I was proved to be right.
|cloud rolling through|
|Damp, cold and dejected!|
|View towards the Nuefenen Pass|
|Landing near Visp|