Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Dinner with Team France 3

Last night it was my pleasure to host team FRA3 (Clement Latour and Sylvain D'Honneur) along with Tom Payne (X-Alps 2009) to dinner and a session sharing what we have learnt from our various recon trips on the X-Alps route.  As a few people have remarked, the X-Alps is less a race against each other than a race against the mountains themselves - sharing information will, I'm sure, help both of our teams do better in the race

Monday, June 27, 2011

Chamonix & spectators

Once upon a time I used to be able to turn up at a launch, say, 'hi' to the few pilots I know and then take off and fly an XC with friends.  Things have changed, and all because my wing is now covered with X-Alps logos.  On Chamonix take off yesterday I seemed to be centre of attention, as people wanted at look at my wing, my harness, ask about the Pringles sponsorship etc.., etc...  When I finally did pull up the wing to launch it was with at least half a dozen people positioned around launch with cameras to get piuctures of 'the X-Alps pilot' launching.  A small taster I guess of what life is going to be look for the next month or so as the hype around this race builds up to the climax of the start on July 17th.

Suddenly it all seems terribly close.  I'm see-sawing from feeling wonderfully prepared, both physically and with my kit, to the next minute worrying about the multitude of things that I still need to sort out before I leave in 2 weeks time.  None of them major but the clock is ticking...

Anyway, back to Chamonix.  A stable day meant that flights out of the big massive were unlikely to be terribly successful.  Even in chamonix climbs weren't more than about 1.5m/s and the sky was blue, not a cloud to be seen.  Even so, despite being slow, I had a lovely tour of the valley, finishing with a flight along Les Aiguilles and the very face of Mt Blanc.  This side of the valley becomes a no fly zone later this weeek as the July & August exclusion zone takes effect (in order to allow the rescue helicopters free reign of the massif to collect unlucky or stupid mountaineers).  Still, I patiently climbed in the weak climbs to over 3000m to skim along glaciers and buzz the refuge on the route up to the Dome de Goutier.  Suprisingly, given the number of pilots on launch earlier in the day I had the mountains more or less to myself.  And that was the amazing thing - because it was so stable you could fly extremely close into the mountain, literally looking down deep crevases whilst swooping the glacier and whooping over ridges.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

These shoes were made for walking…

Well running actually. 

Since getting back from our extended trip to learn the route, life has been rather hectic, but for once not with X-Alps activities.  Instead I’ve had the pleasure of some family time, and the less pleasurable, but necessary, demands of work to manage.

Still, for those of you following my preparation – the glider is now complete with X-Alps logo on the top surface and Pringles Xtreme logo on the under surface – I’ll hopefully get a picture this weekend and add it to the blog.

Now to the title of this post – before leaving for Austria I spent a whole morning in New Concept Sport in Geneva, where Laurent patiently made me try on almost every shoe in the shop, and run around the block in many of them (often with a  different shoe on each foot).  All I can say is that the people in the cafĂ© two doors down must have been quite amused!  Anyhow, the point of this exercise, together with the treadmill analysis and foot contact area analysis beforehand, was to find the ideal shoes, both trial shoes and road shoes.  I didn’t write about it straight away as I wanted to see what they were like to run and walk in.  As we say in English the proof of the pudding is in the eating.  Now, having covered several 100km’s in the last few weeks, I can confirm they are perfect.  I’d more or less eradicated blisters, at least in training, but with these shoes there are no signs even of rubbing, and the trial shoes seem pretty water resistant (even though not theoretically waterproof) given after 5hrs walking in the mountains in the rain I only just started to get wet feet.

So my thanks to Laurent for a thoroughly professional job – for the record the trial shoes are Adiddas and the road shoes are Brooks…

Final news for now is that I am now entering my final phase of physical training, which means the effort actually ramps down, eventually to a week of total rest prior to the race itself.  Rather nice after averaging 60-70hrs training a month for the last 6 months!

Monday, June 13, 2011

The week in Pictures...

Here are some pictures from the last week or so that never made the blog posts:

Walking in the Dachstein mountains

Breakfast - we're going to need a consdierably bigger bowl!

Contemplating the Gross-Glockner turnpoint

Evening light at Bad Moos

Bad Moos again...

All we need now is a very big piece of paper...


Piz Palu & Piz Bernina in a rare moment of late evening sunshine

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Matterhorn turnpoint

On the final day of our trip to learn the first part of the route I found myself back in known territory - the Valais is a local flying area for me.  The weather also decided to play ball with thermic conditions despite a layer of high cloud (which slowed the development and was probably a blessing otherwise the day may have become quite stormy quite quickly).

A quick hike up to a launch spot above the Goms valley proved that take-off spots are not always easy to come by.  The spine we were walking up was incredibly steep, but I still managed to find just enough space to throw myself off (almost literally) on what has to go down as the most extreme launch I've done yet.  No video I'm afraid as I needed the help of my father to help me launch. I flew from there down route towards Zermatt, although once again I didn't really have the height to penetrate into the Zermatt valley so instead we travelled up to Zermatt by car and train to check out the walking route up to the  turnpoint.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Water & Walking

I always thought paragliding was a summer sport, alas this training trip has largely proved me wrong because a low cloud base interspersed with rain has rendered flying impossible again today. Still it could be like this in July (heaven forbid) so it’s all good practice. Talking of water, Jon forgot to mention on the last post of an amusing moment in the small medieval town of Glurns yesterday. As we drove through the quaint walled town I noticed a water fountain in the central square. As Hannibal was almost out of water (that’s drinking and cooking water not engine coolant) I parked in the square next to a large tree, the benches beneath which were the afternoon haunt of the elderly men of the village. Jon went to start filling up a water container whilst I undid the water filler cap and made ready with the large funnel that the hire company have provided for such purpose. Hannibal has only the one obvious filler cap and that is the water, the diesel filler is hidden away under a flap by the driver’s door. After filling Hannibal with three lots of water, one of the elderly gentleman wandered across “Wasser?” he enquired, “Ja, wasser” I replied “Es ist sehr billig” which unless my old german teacher is turning in his grave means it’s very cheap. The old man shook his head and wandered back to his friends where much muttering took place. So if you are running a garage in Glurns and many of your clients have suddenly got water in their fuel tanks it might just be our fault.

As for today, after an earlyish start we drove down through St Moritz and down the valley to Chiavenna.  Just outside of Coloredo I left Jon to climb across the Passo di Forcola into the Mesocina Valley. The walk up from the valley floor was significant with about 2000m ascent to negotiate, still Jon made the top in a little over 3hours and was soon down the other side.  Not contented with walking over a mountain range he then set off for another couple of hours walking down the valley!

My journey to achieve the same end required driving up the Splugen pass which is not for the feint hearted in a slightly underpowered campervan after which the St Bernardino pass back south was a doddle.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Duty free, border guards and a jolly nice man at a campsite...

We still have poor weather in our part of the Alps, but less rain forecasted. So, ever optimistic, I walked up the mountain this morning hoping for a fly down, between the clouds, into the valley below.  At 2000m the rain started so I continued up, just for the hell of it really.  Higher up I spied a take off, just clear of the higher cloud and the rain had temporarily ceased.  I quicked my pace, but finally to no avail as by the time I arrived at the hut (2350m) the cloud had rolled in again. I waited a while, ate some food and realised the situation was not going to improve so headed down.

It wasn't until I was back at 1400m that I finally came out of the forest still high above the valley floor with a nice grassy slope - and for the first time in what seems like an eternity - sunshine!  I threw out the glider and launched, but of course the sunshine was immediately causing some mega cloud growth and the congestus behind me was sucking up rather too nicely.  Squeezed the glider down in a very small football pitch surrounded by trees, and that was that, back to driving in the rain as the overdevelopment quickly engulfed the valley.

So to Lavigno, a sleepy valley in Italy that seems to have some strange tax free status - we filled Hannibal with Diesel at some ridiculously cheap price (Euro 0.94/l) and continued on into Switzerland near to the Piz Palu turnpoint.  As well as duty free fuel there were many opportunities to buy duty free alcohol, so it was no great suprise that this was the one border crossing with plenty of guards who wanted to check our paperwork and van.  Still they were very nice about it.  I like Switzerland!

Finally to our current place of rest, Camping Plauns in Pontresina.  The chap who runs it is a paraglider pilot and learning we were in the X-Alps insisted we helped our selves to a 'good bottle of wine' for free from his little shop.  It is a great campsite too.  I really do like Switzerland!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Rain, rain, rain and more rain

It seems to have rained incessantly for the last few days, so driving and walking have been more the order of the day rather than flying.  Nevertheless we've seen a lot of the route and found some cunning shortcuts (in one case my walk over the mountains took about the same time as it took my Dad to drive around in the van!).

The highest point we've been to was the top of the Stelvio pass, where we spent a cold night and woke to fresh snow on top of the van (can someone please tell the weather that it is June!).  I leave you with a picture of Hannibal (as that seems to be what the van is now called) at the top!

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Mighty Dolomites

Tre Cime from the Tre Cime hut at 2450m
We are currently sitting in the van (thank heavens for small mercies) with rain falling in stair rods all around us, so cannot say that this Dolomite weather is really suiting flying at the moment. Still today has not been a complete waste, we did achieve something before the weather stopped play. We began the day in Bad Moos on the northern side of the Tre Cime turnpoint, expecting the weather to worsen, Jon set off early (well not proper X-Alps early but early enough) to begin the walk up to the Tre Cime hut and then the col to the east of Tre Cime where he then took off to the bewilderment of several onlookers. I meanwhile had driven round to Misurina where we had guesstimated that the glide down would take him to. However, a non-straightforward bit of flying after take-off had dictated some concentration during the first few moments of the flight so Jon had not been focussing completely on route findings. Misurina has a small lake around which the town nestles but then so does Auronzo and guess what! Still at least Jon is unlikely to go the wrong way there in the X-Alps now he has done it in practise!
Contemplating the Cortina valley!

We then drove across the Tre Croci col and parked up to explore take off points high up on the Ski resort on the southern side of the col, alas whilst some decent prospects for take offs existed the wind and by now the rain, rendered all of them useless for today, luckily however we got back to the van (Hannibal) before the worst of the weather. Since then we have been mainly looking for somewhere to park the van with access to wifi with which to post this blog (amongst other things) but with absolutely no luck so by the time you get to read this we will have moved on, the delights and complications of Bolzano airspace the next challenge.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Dachstein take 2

Thwarted by the snow on the Dachstein Via Ferrata yesterday but today we came up with a cunning plan... use the cable car, so after negotiating a small mortgage for the return fare we arrived at the top and wandered along the edge of the cliff to find a suitable take-off point. That done Jon duly took off in a steady wind, (the signpost at the base of the mountain said wind speed 60kph, a slight over exaggeration) intending that the flight would possibly be just a top to bottom with the bottom being at Radstadt some 15km away. I drove down the mountain and duly made my way there. Once in the ‘Radstadt’ valley the sky was blue and the clouds fluffy, I just knew he would not be there. Sure enough by this time he was well on the Way to St Johann im Pongau so I gave chase. Eventually threatening clouds forced a landing in Goldeggweng so today being Sunday and with the Supporter having failed on the bread buying front yesterday we treated ourselves to a lunchtime pizza.

On the way up the Gross-Glockner pass
After lunch a drive up the valley to Wurth which is a direct route towards the Grossglockner turn point. No road access exists at the top of the valley although it would be a good bad weather route (if walking). We then drove back towards Zell am See and up the Grossglockner pass pausing on the way only to part with another king’s ransom to the Austrian Highways authority to be allowed to use the road. Spent some time at the top surveying various route options before Jon elected to fly down the other side to explore the westerly valley towards the turnpoint (see picture below!) Strong valley winds eventually brought the flight to a halt on the mountain slopes as Jon had no desire to revisit the type of landing he had in Sondrio a few weeks ago, ie 15kph backwards. Tomorrow Lienz and who knows how much further.