The 17th and 18th looked likely to be possible days to attempt the now famous top landing of Mt Blanc. Here is the first attempt on friday 17th...
We started from Verbier (just to add a bit more challenge) with a big group of pilots but the conditions were very stable and it took us over an hour just to reach Champex. Pilots were starting from here too and I joined up with a green Omega 8 with whom I ended up flying much of the way with. Once above Champex we were on our way finally, although we'd lost many good pilots on that initial stretch. There was a stable layer at around 2800-3000m and we were not breaking throught it, finally just before the col ferret I managed to punch through to 3500m, enough to get over the col, but the time was getting on - we'd averaged less than 10kmph for this first section, as patience was the name of the game in the stable air. Tom and some other wings were not lucky enough to get through the stable layer so now we were just two. Once over the col things improved, with my new found friend on the green Omega we stumbled into a 3.5m/s thermal that propelled us up to 3900m. Finally real flying!
The next section past Courmayer was straightforward, but I was worried how late we were. At the corner of the Meage glacier I took the inside line up into the granite and ice whilst the Omega went round the front. Unfortunately for him his route did not work and after a couple of attemps he ended up on the deck near the entrance to the tunnel du Mt Blanc. I was now on my own. I'd connected with the south east spur meanwhile and worked my way up to over 4000m. After a few attempts it was clear nothing was going higher, and that last 800m to the summit might well have been a few thousand. I cut my losses and headed for the Col du Meage. I just scraped through and whooped my way out into the Chamonix valley.
The trouble is, the Mt blanc side of Chamonix valley is closed airspace in July and August so I had no option but to fly across to the SE faces of the Aiguille Rouge - but it was after 5pm and the sun and the wind were on the other side of them. I climbed over Aiguillette Des Houches, then the Brevent, but then I was running out of options. I was following the spine but could not go onto the back side (into the sun and wind) because of the nature reserve, so finally I took a deep breath, pointed across the valley at the ridge below Grand Montets (this is after the restricted zone) and prepared to be flushed into the valley. Which I was. When I reached the other side I was at a lowly 1800m and everything was still stable, I dribbled along this side of the chamonix valley, working ridge lift from the valley wind on the spines and working the occasional weak bubble for a few hundred meters.
Steve and Emma called on the radio from Chamonix and told me they were there with a car if I needed it. They then obviously got bored and told me they were going to the pub by the landing field. I was low, hot and tired and getting out of Chamonix valley looked quite unlikely so this innocent radio comment represented rather strong 'ground suck' (or should that be 'pub suck'!)
Finally, I reached the end of the valley at the La Tour ski area but by now I was right down to 300m off the floor. I scratched my way back up in the valley wind, found a small bubble to take me to the west facing ridge next to the col du Balme, which remarkably was soarable in the westerly wind that was now blowing. I patiently soared up to 2700m, before plucking up the courage to dive over the col into the downward flushing air once again. I took a bit more height on the next slope (soaring once again!) and now I just had a prolonged glide back into La Chable along the valley. I expected the valley flow to be pushng me along and the slopes to be bouyant, but in reality the first part was very sinky, and I ended up having to use some late evening restitution on a tree covered slope which was into the valley wind in order to get round the corner back to La Chable, even so I didn't have the height to cross the village and land in the official landing, instead having to land in the last field just before the village. This had it's advantages - it was nearer the pub where Tom, Quentin adn Martin were waiting!
In the end I was the only one who made it round but it was painfully slow, very technical and challenging at times. In total it was 95km but in the unimaginably slow time of six and a half hours.