Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Here is a fun little test. You might be training for the X-Alps if you...

1) Eat your breakfast cereal out of a pasta bowl...
2) Balance on the ball of one foot whilst cleaning your teeth...
3) Walk or run back and forth to work every day...
4) Add lead weights to your bag for the above mentioned walk...
5) Find yourself analysing every available space, no matter how tiny and trying to work out if you could land your paraglider in it if you had to...
6) Have 5 pairs of running shoes, and you use them all...
7) Ask 'how much does it weigh? when buying anything...
8) Decide to park your car 20km away and 1800m lower than the place you are planning to fly XC from...
9) Forget that you have your glider on your back whilst walking...
10) Have become obsessed with Google Earth and maps of the Alps...

Ah, just realised the last one applies to almost every paraglider pilot who flys in the Alps!  Anyhow, they are all true and I'm sure my fellow competitors could add a good few to the list...


Monday, May 23, 2011

Fun and Games 2

I'm fascinated by motivation, I really do not know what has motivated me in three ultramarathons nor Jon in his intense X-Alps training, however if I think hard I can come up with answers, alas I could not come up with answers as to why the drummer in an impromptu pipe and drum gig in the small provencal town of Roquebilliere on Saturday night was wearing a white rabbit costume complete with pink tail and one floppy ear!

Yes another weekend on the road looking at and hopefully learning and understanding the X-Alps route. First though some necessary chores on Friday morning when we visited Sup-Air to collect Jon's competition harness, a superb and lightweight model well thought out by Pierre and his team and, I am told, a delight to fly. Next to Talloire to collect a new Flytec instrument and we were ready for the off. The forecast was not good for later in the day so rather than 'miss' the weather window we drove the short distance to the take off above Marlens to give a masterclass in take-off techniques to a group of Belgium flyers there with a local Parapente school, well it should have been a masterclass but sometimes even experts get it wrong, anyway second time lucky and into some thermal activity that was to take Jon high above Ugine and an easy valley crossing to Mt Cornillon before working south east along the valley of the Isere towards Moutiers. Losing height it looked as if the flight would end in the valley but some strong thermal activity enabled Jon to fly up the valley towards and across the ski resort of Valmorel before landing just over the Col de la Madeleine, a landing decided upon by the state of the cloud accumulations that had been following Jon up the valley and now looked set to not be friends with him.

The time of day and the look of the weather put paid to flying for the rest of the day so a drive down to the Maurienne Valley and then up the Col du Telegraphe to Valloire where the black clouds now all around us decided that camping may not be the best option. We found a room in one of the two hotels open off season and donned rain gear to walk further north up the valley towards the Col du Galibier now swarthed in cloud.

Next morning dawned bright and clear so after picking up some bread and ham for lunch we drove up to the Col du Galibier doing our best to avoid the Marmots playing chicken with the traffic, well just us really we had the mountains to ourselves. The very top section of the Col was still closed for although clear of snow there was still a lot of rock debris falling onto the road. Once we convinced the tunnel traffic lights to change and let us through (actually they never did so gentle reader, don't tell a soul, we drove through with hazard lights on hoping that we were the only traffic) we parked on the southern side and walked up the few hundred metres to the top of the Col. (You have it to do).

Most of the possible take-off points were still covered in snow, but hey the road was closed so here was a fine piece of unused tarmac at the top of the col with a low wall the only possible obstacle. It just had to be done. (see picture). Alas so early in the day little was working in the airmass so the glide down to just north west of Monetier les Bains acheived little apart from some startled chamois. Now help me here, Jon is convinced that the past tense of 'glide' is 'glid', to endorse this he quotes the fact that the past tense of hide is hid. I on the other hand am less sure, after all the past tense of 'ride' is 'rode' so that would make glide 'glode' which I must admit I like much more. Still undaunted by such grammatical niceties we drove up the Col de Granon and just below the summit once more laid out the glider for a take off southwards towards Briancon. I walked back to the car watching Jon seemingly drop into the valley and then lost sight of him whilst I ate my ham baguette. I drove down the road expecting at any minute to be informed of a landing somewhere around Briancon. The radio crackled into life (yes we had purchased a new one in Talloire) "It's bloody cold at 3100m without trousers on" surely one of the great alltime radio calls. Once again strong thermals had taken Jon above the Serre Chevalier ski area and south along the western flank of the La Durance valley across Argentiere la Besse and then south east towards Guillestre before climbing in strong thermals up towards the Col de Vars. By now though the weather was again threatening and just before reaching the Col Jon elected to leave a strong thermal and land as spots of rain were now beginning to fall. Think I get the retrieval prize as he had hardly got his helmet off before I arrived on the closed piste to help with packing. I would say that I had done nothing but drive from take-off to landing although admittedly the road down the Col de Granon had been necessarilly slow, shows the speed of the modern glider, especially with storms chasing them.

A cup of coffee at the top of the Col and a drive down towards Jausiers from there to take the road up to the Col de la Bonette. A conflict of signage with signs at Jausiers declaring the Col open, signs half way up the road to the col declaring it closed. In a way they were both right, in order to claim, as the multitude of signs did, that the col was "Le plus haute route d'Europe" at 2802m, let me let you into a little secret, this is a bit of a con. At the very top the road cuts through a short defile at (2715m) to the downward road rather than climb the last few hundred metres to 2802m height and it was this top part that was closed. Still at least it allows the French to claim a superlative.

The clouds to the south were to get excited about so a launch site was quickly found and a takeoff again into bouyant late afternoon air. I drove down the long road towards St Etienne de Tinee slightly worried by the almost complete tree cover making landing sites as rare as hen's teeth. I need not have worried the radio crackled into life again "What a great day, I'm at 3400m" (Still without trousers I would add but with the warmer afternoon sun or euphoria, perhaps a mixture of both this did not seem to matter) Jon crossed over the Isola 2000 ski area and we hastily made another possible meeting point at St Martin Vesubie. I was about to joke over the radio that seeing as the road signs indicated Nice only about 50k by road we set up a meeting there but Jon beat me to it. "Can you take a look at the Nice airspace map please"

Well we do have a Nice airspace map obviously and Jon was certain that it was in the car but so far, even up to today it has not shown itself so rather than trespass into airspace Jon glid (glode) down the Vesubie valley to a landing on the football pitch at Roquebilliere. I arrived on scene a few minutes after landing, two French pilots who had seen him land were already on site and fascinated by the wing and the harness and amused by the fact that the football pitch was fenced by a high wire fence with locked gate. Still they reassured Jon with the fact that there was a football match today (Monday) so he could be let out then.

As luck would have it the football pitch (the fence was climbable) was very near a small campsite that became home for the night, a shower and then a walk into town for a meal serenaded by the rabbit.

Next morning (Sunday) Jon began walking up the Col de Turini whilst I packed up camp. I picked him up after he had been walking an hour or so and we drove to the top of the col and then around the circular single track roads (which were happily one way) around the L'Authion ski area and in the Mercantour National park. Our weekend was beginning to run out of time and we wanted to explore more fully the area around Mont Gros so we drove down the valley through the Gorges de Piaon slighty bewildered by the lack of landing sites. Brought a sandwich in Sospel and then drove up to the Col de Castillon where Jon elected to walk via paths towards the village of Gobio where we arranged to meet. Jon's route finding may have been easy, mine less so as a bike event had closed the 'upper' tunnel through the col necessitating a drive back to Sospel and a drive to the lower tunnel through the col, the A8 motorway winds along the sea shore and as far as map reading goes obscures the small roads that I needed to use to get to Gorbio. Still thank heavens for the Sat nav which got me there in time to look around the lively flea market before Jon arrived in the main square. Mont Gros beckoned it was only about an hours walk, Jon set off and I followed in the car slightly alarmed that the friendly Sat Nav lady was taking me on a road that doubled as the same footpath that Jon was on. Still I need not have worried the narrow track soon joined back into the main road system and took me to La Turbie where the road to Mont Gros winds up through some very expensive real estate and past the Monte Carlo Golf course, (even the fairways look immaculate) to Mont Gros. Jon beat me by about a minute. Took a picture (in case we never go there again!) and back to the car for the long trip back via Italian motorways to the Mont Blanc tunnel and Geneve.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The most amazing wing in the world!

I flew it.  It is awesome.

After a week of the Ozone X-Alps M4 sitting on my floor begging me to fly it, finally the weather played ball and a perfect evening on the Saleve presented itself to try out the new wing.

Firstly I had to get over the first impression of a wing that didn't look like it should fly at all - it seemed to be made out of tissue paper with shoelaces for risers... but knowing better than that I quickly clipped it to the harness and sorted out the lines.  It didn't take long.  There aren't that many!

Lifting the glider up was effortless, partly due to the lightweight material, and immediately I was airborne.  The hill was lifting well in the evening thermals and I quickly hooked effortlessly into a strong climb straight to the airspace ceiling.  In literally a couple of minutes I'd gone straight to the top of the stack.  What was really amazing though was the fact that I felt completely at home on the wing.  It seemed like I'd been flying this wing for years. 

Heading south down the ridge for a bit of a ridge run, I immediately pushed the bar.  Wow, next suprise - the bar was very light, which made it very easy to use the pressure on the bar to control the pitch (not that it really needed it in this air).  I was loving this wing so much that I was blasting down the ridge only coming off the bar to slow down as I came above other gliders climbing, but hardly stopping to climb myself.  there was a group just past the tower lowish trying to get some height to come back but before I got to them I hooked into a lovely climb and was back to the airspce ceiling.  I was feeling invincible now and decided to push on right to the southerly tip, despite the obvious fact that the air would not be so good behind the col.  No problem for this wing.  I went further than was obviously wise and was half way down the ridge as I turned to skim back along.

Well, now I was having so much fun I'd overdone it slightly and I was right down at the bottom of the hill about 7km from the take off, with virtually no wind (so not dynamically soarable) and a dying sun.  Still, nothing was going to wipe the grin off my face and in any case if it came to it it would be a nice evening walk back to the car.  But I wasn't done yet.  Remember, I was invincible on this wing!  So I flew out over a small village on a slight slope with a couple of ploughed fields out in the flats.  Sure enough there was lifting air here but I was only 100m over the houses as I painstakingly worked my way back up.  I worked my little lifty line for about 20mins, finally crawling back about 200m and all the time drifting back toward the launch.  Connecting back to the ridge half way up I squeaked back in under launch but very low.  Above me beginner wings soared around effortlessly, but I still had my work cut out to scratch back up.  As I gradually clawed back the height it seemed to get more difficult rather than easier and I realised everyone else was now sinking out as the day finally started shutting down.  I still had 200m to gain back to land up at my car, and it was looking touch and go.  Finally I made it, landed back on take off, packed up, jumped back in my car, put some loud music on and drove the whole way home with a silly grin on my face.

What a test flight, ok it was just a mellow evening flight but still, I'd climbed in good thermals (and it climbs beautifully, handling is impeccable), blasted along on bar (great feel and light pressure) worked tight and close in to trees (banks up nicely when you need it to) and worked a low save out in the flats (efficient turns with great sink rate)

What more could I want out of a wing?  Thank you Ozone.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Gimmee a High5 !!!

The X-Alps start is some way off but stuff for the race seems to be arriving chez Chambers almost daily at the moment - it is almost overwhelming.  Probably the delivery that suprised me the most has come from High5.  When they said they'd support me with some products I had no idea that they were aiming to cover my entire nutritional intake for the race with their products alone!

When I started my training I tried many different brands of energy bars, gels and isotonic drinks.  When I moved to High5 a few months ago, I suddenly realised that energy bars didn't need to resemble Wham! bars (remember those?).  Instead, they could taste like real food (because the High5 ones are). And isotonic drink didn't need to be sticky and sickly.  Net, I am sure that I really do have the best sports nutrition products to support me through the race - the 4:1 endurance drink will be the main drink in my drinks bottle through the race. The data published on the benefits of this for multi-day endurance races is impressive.

What's more, even their name is appropriate for a paragliding race!

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The wing arrives...

My X-Alps wing has arrived!  I've been itching to fly it ever since I picked it up on Saturday morning.  Unfortunately the weather has not played ball and for once it has been windy and wet here in Geneva.  The photo was taken during my 5 hour training walk today - I got absolutely soaked!

Anyway, back to the wing.  My chosen  wing is a special lightweight version of the Ozone M4.  Whilst many of the pilots in the X-Alps will be on lightweight versions of comp wings (and the R11 was VERY tempting...) I've decided that the M4 is the right wing for this as I need something I can launch anywhere, land anywhere and fly in the most demanding of conditions. 

The attention to detail from Ozone in making the wing lightweight is impressive, as well as lightweight fabric it has very skinny risers (not sure you can actually call them risers) and even  kevlar loops to replace the normal maillons where the lines join the risers.

Watch this space for my first impressions of the wing when I get to fly it (soon hopefully...)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Some pictures from the weekend exploring

Following my Dad's write up, here are some pictures from the weekend:

On launch over Lake Como
2500m above the Simplon Pass

Monday, May 9, 2011

Fun and Games

Well it's been two weeks later than originally intended due to family illness but team GBR2 finally came together for our first practice run this weekend. A late night drive from Geneva on Thursday night eventually found us catching a few hours sleep in the car just south of Zurich, you see we were even training our bodies for sleep deprivation!.

Anyway on the go at 6.30 for an early morning drive up through St Moritz and the Bernina Pass near the Piz Palu turnpoint. Alas the late spring snow put paid to any possibility of launching near the top of the pass so we drove south eventually driving high up on the western side of the valley near Poschiavo. Now whilst we were overjoyed when Proctor and Gamble sponsored us with a Mercedes Marco Polo Camper van perhaps we had both thought in our own minds that something larger and more spacious may have been more our style. The roads, no that's not the right word, the narrow tracks above Poschiavo quickly put paid to that idea!

Anyway back to the plot, a pleasant launch site and Jon set off south along the valley heading for the Sondrio valley whilst I propelled the car back down the mountainside. Alas the weather conditions prevented aerial entry into the Sondrio valley so the flight ended just to the south of the Lago di Poschiavo. Still the day was still young, well we had started early, so we drove up into the Edolo valley where once again we climbed narrow roads up the steep north face of the valley above Cortenedolo. If I thought this mornings tracks were narrow and steep this was just taking the mickey. Still a decent launch site was eventually reached above the rather strong valley wind that had now developed. Jon launched with a comment that "I should make Sondrio", A throw away comment but one that was to assume great importance as when I returned to the car I was to find Jon's phone (an HTC Desire, clearly he did not desire it enough) still charging merrily away to itself. Oh yes, I forgot to mention, during the morning flight we discovered that only one out of the three radios appeared to be working (although if you think about that logically, how did we discover it?) which frankly is not a lot of use and as a result I was unable to make contact with Jon who by this time anyway had crossed the col into the Bormio valley. Using what I thought was a dead radio but just in case it was transmitting and not receiving I made a few transmissions suggesting Sondrio as a meeting point and then drove back down through Aprica to Teglio wondering how do you find a needle in a haystack. Jon however had other problems, a strong valley wind was blowing at up to 60kph in the valley bottom but somehow he managed to cross the valley and work the spurs on the north side of the valley westward to our meeting point in Sondrio. I however made an executive decision that as the wind was bending the trees in the valley he would not have been able to make progress and would have landed just the other side of the col just north west of Tirano so having already driven to Sondrio I drove back to Tirano probably just as Jon was landing 15kph backwards with full speed bar in Sondrio and wondering what the Italian was for "May I borrow your mobile phone for a quick call please" is.

We did eventually meet up and the situation had produced two positive lessons, a checklist before taking off, and a backup plan in case of communications failures. It also got me acquainted with the roads around this part of the Sondrio valley rather better than I needed but hey!

Camping suddenly did not seem like a good option so a night in a hotel in Sondrio,a meal and an early night restored our minds and bodies to peak performance.............well perhaps in Jon's case I'm a lost cause.

The plan next day was to fly towards Locarno and we set off to look for take off points on the north side of the valley above Ardenno, alas it was a fruitless task as complete tree cover opposed any takeoff plans and although some possible take off areas presented themselves high on the mountain these looked pretty inaccesible. We drove back down the mountain where once again the benefit of not having a giant Winnebago was obvious as even with a VW Touran some bends necessitated several turns to get around! (Still on the event he will have to walk up whilst I sun myself at the bottom!).

The 'club' take off on the SE facing slope above Gera Lario proved to be the best option although the first attempt resulted in s slope landing a few hundred meters below take off with no apparent lift at all. Second time the hill was working better but it still took a lot of work to climb out sufficiently to cross west via Passo di San Jorio to an eventual landing three hours later at the village of Preonzo in the Ticino valley just north of Bellinzona. Whilst Jon wrestled with the air I meanwhile risked certain death below ground in the road tunnels along the NW shore of Lago di Como from the driving of several Italian drivers who decided that my exceeding the speed limit by perhaps 10 kph was insufficient and that the double solid white lines in the tunnels and the No Overtaking signs did not apply to them!

The next part of the route Jon had flown at Easter whilst I was not around so we drove west to Santa Maria Maggiore where Jon, decidng that driving up hills was for wimps opted to walk up to a 'club' take off for a last flight of the day whilst I went and set up camp at a campsite in the valley.

Next morning Jon again walked up whilst I broke camp and packed the car which had now began to resemble a refuse truck. Note to self, good housekeeping will most certainly be important during the race to ensure efficiency! The plan was to walk to a take-off above Druogno and fly up towards the top of the Simplon pass, perhaps further into the Zermatt valley weather conditions allowing. As it turns out many of the paths shown on the map did not in fact exist so a planned two hour walk up took Jon rather longer and strong winds in the valley around Domodossolo meant that the flight had to be aborted whilst I was waiting at the top of the Simplon pass. The Swiss border had been rather more vigilant than usual when I had crossed on the way up, now I headed back through down again, only to return with Jon half an hour later. I'm almost on first name terms with the man with machine gun now!

Back at the top of the pass Jon elected to walk up the 600m to the col to survey the opportunities for take-off into the Zermatt valley. Feeling like I should 'support' this venture, that is after all my mission in this event, I opted to go as well rather than the more attractive proposition of slumbering in the car. There is a perfectly good path up to the col but once again the late season snow still covered most of it so our route was 'guestimated' in parts across snowfields in which we plunged up to our waists. Note. Shorts not the ideal garment for such terrain. Still the col was reached and mental notes taken of possible take off points and flight paths with much muttering of "Why did I not bring my glider with me". A quick run back down, across the snow fields, the theory was that at speed you would not sink in, wrong, and we were back at the car. It's perhaps as well Jon has a daft Father who cannot say no to a challenge! Just a drive back to Geneva now. Lots learnt, lots still to learn and much to get right, still if everything went perfectly you would not benefit from a rehearsal would you.

Monday, May 2, 2011

The walks just keep on getting longer

Looking back at Geneva on the way up the Voiron
I spent yesterday walking.  The whole of yesterday.  I walked from my home in Geneva, up over the Voiron and round the 'vallee verte' which as the name suggests is indeed very green!  In total, about 70km (I say 'about' as the battery gave up on my foot pod, so that is measured the old fashioned way, with a map and a piece of string!) and 2100m height gain.

Here is the 'move' on :