Monday, June 29, 2009

The "South" or the "North" route?

I got up early Friday morning and headed from Zermatt (Taetsch) to Fiesch. I connected with the local school and got a lot of information from Xari and Benno (thanks again to everyone). I got one flight in the morning just before the thunderstorm was starting in the early afternoon.

Due the bad weather development I headed east and then to the south over the Nufenen Pass. This pass is where you come over when you travel the “South Route”.

There are 2 main routes you can go after the Marmolada.

The traditional is going via Meran, Ofen Pass and the Flüela Pass, then over Davos to Chur and over the Furka and Grimsel pass ins Wallis.

The “South Route” is going over Bozen to Sendrio, the Como Lake, then over the San Jorio pass to Bellinzona and then over the Nufenen pass into the Wallis.

Which route is the best? Well Alex Hofer proved at the last x-alps that the south-route was the best due the weather conditions. This is why I wanted to drive the “South Route” and the “Traditional North Route” to get a better idea about the terrain.

So, after getting over the Nufenen pass I drove to Dongo at Como Lake. This is in Italy and it is very surprising that the word “Internet” seams to be a foreign word. It is extremely hard to find a place offering Internet.

Saturday morning I got up early and I started to hike up to the San Jorio pass. I thought it would be good to get some more training in. Well, some training …, this hike ended up into a 6 hour hike up to plus 2000 meters elevation (1800 meter elevation gain) and a total distance of 40 km. I thought 2000-meter height is not to bad, but I did not realize right away that Como Lake is only at 200 (plus) meters. Anyhow, the hike was great. After a good shower at the campground I was heading to Meran. The “South Route” drive was very interesting and certainly has its pro’s and con’s and I am glad I drove it. At around 10:00 pm I ended up at a viewpoint overlooking Bozana. This is where I stayed overnight. The morning was awesome. I had a great view over the valley going from Bozano to Meran.

After a short breakfast, I headed to Meran and planned to go flying at Laas. The weather showed signs to overdevelop again and so I decided to drive to Flims (near Chur) to check out the “Traditional North Route”.

After a long day of driving and checking out terrain I ended up in Flims at the Gondola station. There where a ton of paragliding pilots at they just rounded up the Swiss champion ships. I met Alex Hofer (he was second at the Swiss Championships) and we talked a bit about the routes. The flying for the Swiss championships where not good at all (based on Alex) and I did not miss anything from a flying point of view.

Anyhow, tomorrow I plan to fly here in Flims and hope the weather will not again overdevelop later in the day. After this, I will head back east into the dolomites.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

What did I do from Monday to Thursday?

Ok, here we go. This will be quite an update as I have done a lot the last couple of days.

Monday morning I met Laurant at Laurant told me right away that the Altirondo I used is not the same as the new Altirondo. As I was sitting int he new one there was quite a difference. Laurant set me up with the pod, the reserve and made sure all is set up just right. He told me to use this brand new harness until they have the x-alps version ready (800 gramms lighter), thanks Laurant. I have to say, this harness feels great and with the pod it makes it very slick. I also like the attachment to add a pack on to top of the bag. All this is very well thought out.
The afternoon looked windy with rather big clouds, so I decided to find a "Herz" repair station to get the coolant hoses fixed as we constanly lost coolant liquid. It looks like an animal was biting into the hoses. As it turned out, they asked me to drive it until I get back to Germany and exchange it there. Anyhow, Frank did a good job taping it and it seams to hold the coolant for a couple of days.

In the evening I decided to head to Chamonix, stay overnight at a hotel with Internet connection for my Monday conference call and to catch up with work.
Tuesday morning I hiked up west of Mount Blanc to Col de Vosaz (850 meter elevation gain) from there you can launch and fly into the Les Contamines-Montjoie valley and head back up the mountians to continue south west to Moûtiers from where you can start heading up the first big pass I traveled with Frank a week ago.
After I got back, I decided to head east of Chamonix to Martigny. On the way to Martigny I found the trail head to Col de Balme late in the afternoon. I thought I go without my heavy bag and do the 1200 meter tour fast with a light bag and water. So I headed out after 4 pm and made it back after 8:00 pm. This was a great hike and cerainly worth it. On top on the Col de Balme there are great take off spots haeding to Chamonix (see picture, to the left is Mount Blanc and Chamonix below). I alos found some cool historc rock houses. All in rock including the roofs. After I got back to the Van, I had a great shower with the camping shower and haeded down to Martigny. In Martigny I was able to catch up with more work online.

The next morning (Wednesday) I headed up to Verbier as I wanted to try out the new harness and I knew that this is a rather easy flying site. Once I drove up there and looked for the landing site, I realized that the landing site was very small and when I was there last (22 years ago) that this is how far we only could fly unless it was a great day and we could fly over Verbier and landing down in the valley. Today you land in down in the valley except the vally winds are gettting to strong. So I parked the Van and hiked 50o meter elevation to a nice alpine grass launch site. The flight lasted about 30 minutes and was very smooth with some small thermals. I was very happy about the harness and the wing and got ready for a hot 800 meter elevartion gain hike back up to the van. With this hike I accumulated over 3400 meters elevation gain in 2 days.
Late afternoon this day I headed to Zermatt and had a good look at the windy Martigny and Sion Valley. Driving up to Zermatt (Taetsch) made me realize that I do not want to land anywhere from the Matterhorn down to Visp (town in the main valley). There are no landing sites at all. At Taetsch (5 km before Zermatt) I pulled in a campground. You can not drive any further as the last 5 km to Zermatt are only accesible by Train or Taxi.
The next morning I got a hold of Bruno (local Tandem pilot) and met him at the landing site at 10:00 am. This is a cool landing site as this is virtually on the train station. He was heading up to Unterrothorn which is at 3103 meters and just east of the Matterhorn. I was taking the gondola up with him and his tandem passenger and got a lot of information about the area. He made the whole area sound like a piece of cake. I flew off from the Unterrothorn (picture is with Matterhorn behind at cloudbase), crossed the valley and had a look at the turn point Schwarsee. The thermals where chopped up as it turned out the valley wind got stronger earlier then normal. Also the cloulds started to build up and later in the day we had a short thunder shower. The flight was great. I could thermal right under the cloudbase (at 3100 meters) and could get more comfortabe with my new harness. The landing was as expected in strong valley wind. While I packed up I met Ronny and his girfriend Karla from Holland. Ronny will be in the x-alkps and representing Holland. After I packed up we decided to hike up to the Turn-point Schwarzsee to get familiar with the trail. After 900 meter elevation gain (this brings me now to 4300 meters elevation hikes in 3 days) starting with sunshine and ending with some light rain and a thunder strom further south we had a special cheese sandwich ala Ronny. The sandwich is way to go but sitting heavely in the stommach. Ronny thinks this is best x-alps food (just kidding). After we had the meal, the thunderstorm and rain stopped and we unpacked out wings and flew down to the train station. The winds where very light and we had a great flight down. These flights are very good to get in tune with the new harness and wing. I do like it and hope the weather stays good to get more flying in. I will spend one more night at the campsite and then head to Fiesch. This is a very well know cross country fliging site. From there you should be able to fly to the Matterhorn and at least to Sierre (east of Sion).
Anyhow, this is it for now. I hope this is not to much writing as I do not want to bore you either.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Update about Frank and quick update from Chamonix

Frank and Tracye are still in Nice and they will fly home coming up Friday. Frank is doing better every day and he enjoys the beach with all their views. Today Frank was even able to have a swim in the Mediterian Sea. As you can see, he is not in a full body cast, he wears a plastic cast as you can see in the previous blog.

People asking me for more details and some people are already coming up with their own stories.
I will add a bit more to what I wrote in the last blog.

... I landed before Frank right at the sand beach. This is about half way along the beach. There was no wind and the flight as absolutely calm. Once I landed and turned around I saw Frank about 100 meters behind me laying on his back and people walking to him. So I have not seen how it happened.
Frank's statement is the following, he felt he was a bit high to land right beside me and he did an extra turn while flying slow, then flying even slower and the wing stalled and he did not have enough height to get out of the stall. Frank had a light airbag harness (which worked just fine) and landed on his behind. The wing was not a high end competition wing as some people are stating. The wing is a large Triton by Nova and is rated as EN "C". This is the same rating as his Sigma 6 and 7. To the safety, our wings are constructed with extra light material and this will make it an even safer wing as the extreme flight maneuver will reacted slower and easier then with the heavier material. The difference between the Sigma and this wing is that the break travel is shorter and Frank was not used to this and did not watch this.

The internet coffee is closing here and I will have to write about what I have done tomorrow.
In short I hiked just over 3400 meters in elevation (this is more then 4 times Swansea) in 2 days around Chamonix. Had one flight in Verbier to check out my new harness and enjoy camping.
I will write more and add pictures once I get back tomorrow from the Matterhorn.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Frank is out of the hospital and I am heading north

Frank got released from the hospital June 19th late afternoon. He was happy to be out and to go for a beer. Although you could tell that he was in pain. The day after we spend the day at the beach. He certainlky is not hopping arond and even got back to the hotel in the afternoon. He is ok, but when he is up for a while he certainly is hurting. I spend one more night with Frank and Tracye to make sure they will be fine on their own. They have a hotel right on the beach and only 5 minutes away to the Nice Airport. If all works as per program, the insurance will book a flight for them for Tuesday or Wednesday. I will keep you upated in how they are doing as I am in contact via Skype.

In the mean time, I made it back up north to Samoëns. This is between Annecy and Chamonix. Some of you might remember Nico who used to work as a electrician in Radium, this is where he lives.
I decided to drive via Turin as the shortest way from Chamonix to Monaco is through Turin. This is a shorter way if you would walk it all. There is not much of a chance to fly as the foothills are treed and you will have to cross a lot of valley's to get down south. Once you are about 50 km to the Mediterranean, the mountains are getting lower and covered up by bush/thorns and landing is virtually impossible due the narrow treed in valleys. It seams the route south of Albertville or the long route along Grenoble is a better choice. After all, it will be weather depended to see what route will work best. I am glad I traveled this section as this was a huge eye opener.

The most impressive part today was driving the route through the Mont Blanc tunnel. The view up Mont Blanc from the south seamed to be unrealistic and just humangus.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

We made it to Monaco and have to do some changes.

We are having to do some modifications to our plan. Frank had a landing accident in Monaco. He fractured and compressed his Vertebre (L2)and will be released from the hospital today wearing a body-brace. Frank is very mad at himself that this happend. To the accident, he was on final and wanted to land closer to me, did an extra turn, then stalled the wing from about 20 feet and ended up on his behind.
The injury is a clean fracture and needs time to heal. We are happy that it did not turn out any worse.
Today we will pick up Frank from the hospital, check into a hotel and figure out when they will go home.

Here a couple words in how we got to Monaco.
Wendsday morning, light rain. Not really what was forcasted. We took our time, cought up on work and e-mails. Once we packed up and went to the van, the weather opened up and it turned into a super nice day. We decided to go for a flight Frank and Tracye drove up and I decided to hike up. It is only about 400-500 meters in elevation and somone told us that there should be a path going up from the hotel. Well, not even the hotel owner knew about this trail and I decided to head up anyways. This little hike turned into a little adventure through tall wet grass, thick bush with a lot of thorns. I crawled through a very steep dried out creek up to the plateau reaching eventually the launch site. This was a friendly reminder in how it can feel if you try to make your own path, specially in a terrain you are not used to.
Frank flew first while I ajusted the harness and sorted out the gear. Once airborne, I realized that this older version of harness is not the same as I tried at SupAir. It was not comfortable at all. The thermals were strong and punchy and I got up to plus 2000 meters. I was trying to see where the mountain range is leading to Monaco and I could not find it. In the mean time Frank landed as he had trouble with his vario and I decided to fly out as well and check out maps and then head down to Monaco. Once I got down and checking the map and driving towards Monaco, it all made sense. The range was there but we had to drive over a 2700 meter high pass (Col de la Bonette). So from the air it looked like you would fly into instead along a mountain range. The top of the pass was spectacular and the drive down the other side turned into a 60 km narrow valley leading to Nice. Not very inviting to land. Later with Google Earth it showed that you would fly along the range and if you need to land, you would land on the east side of range in a wider and higher valley and not landing along the road as there is no way to land.
We got to Monaco around 7:00 pm and headed straight up to Mount Gros. The wind was very light, the sun was just about to be gone. The launch was easy and we had a spectacular flight looking over Monaco. Looking over the mediterian, checking out all the houses, hotels, people and ships. It was just beautiful until we landed.

As stated before, Frank will be ok and on his way home in the next days. I will head back up north and continue as planned.
I will keep you updated.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The first couple days on the route

The first couple days are full on with no moment to spare.
Monday morning 4:00 am my alarm went off and 45 minutes later I was on the road to Geneva to pick up Frank and Tracye. This drive showed me what rush hour can be in Europe. I spent over an hour in stop and go traffic around Zurich and arrived late in Geneva. Not a problem as Frank and Tracye were late as well.
The first stop was in Annecy at SupAir. Laurant e-mailed me to try their new harness and check out all the new add-on's. I now have an older demo to try, but from what I have seen so far, this is a wow. The pack is rather large and very good to carry. The backbag also offers an additional bag to be mounted on the top, which does not sacrifice any carring comfort. Now the exciting add on is the "pod or fairing" for your feed. This can be added on very easy and you have a comfortable and warm harness. Anyhow, I will be back in Annecy on Friday and will decide if I will get one based on a couple of test flights.
After the visit at SupAir, we tried to go flying at Annecy but the weather was coming in faster and we just watched the last couple pilots landing. Right now Annecy is holding a paraglding world cup and it was cool to see the high aspect ratio wings coming in.
The night we spend in Albertivlle (Winter Olympics in 1992) and then we headed south to explore the route most x-alps pilots used. This was a very interesting drive through the french Alps and certainly showed how challenging they can be. Some of the challanges is the high altitude changes (up to 2000 meters) and valley crossings.
South of Albertville we drove over the Col de la Madeleine and then over the Col du Galibier pass. These are very impresive passes and very popular by road and motor bikers. We did not see anyone walk or fly there. From there we drove through Briançon and over Col de Vars pass to Barcelonnette. This is the area where Alex Hofer's route joined with the others heading south to Monaco.
We stayed overnight at a very
old place 3 minutes out of Barcelonnette and we will head south to Monaco. The weather is not as forecasted and we have light rain. Lets see what the day will bring, maybe we can get a flight in Monaco.
Keep you posted.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

The first couple of days

Everything is going well going well and no boring moment so far. I met with my brothers and sister to get things organized like picking up the van and the new wing, shopping (phones, food and other stuff), met old flying students and had a great chat with the old flying school colleges. Saturday I had a couple practice flights at the training hill, hike up Tegelberg and an amazing 2 hour flight over the castle Neuschwanstein to Säuling, back and then to Buching and back to the castle.
Training is already in progress. As mentioned before, Saturday I hiked up Tegelberg and today I had a 4.5 hour hike from Pfronton to Aggenstein and back (about 20 km and 1200 elevation gain). I could not fly today as it was way to windy.
Right now I am getting ready and pack the van to leave at 5 am to Geneva to pick up Frank and Tracye.
Will keep you updated

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Arriving in Germany

I have not updated my blog for a while and it is hard to believe how fast time is going by. Right now I am on the flight from Calgary to Munich. This is a 10-hour flight and I am very lucky as I have a whole row (3 seats) and can stretch, study maps, sleep and write this blog.

Anyhow, training has slowed down for me since the May long weekend as I got really busy to clean up around the house and to finalize a ground breaking contract with and I have been in contact with a group from the US for the last 6 month to work on a very exciting venture. This will bring the technology I developed with to the next level. will become and at the same time we increase our team with very talented people to beef up the design, add more features, develop a consumer portal for appointments and have a very experienced Internet marketing team in place to dominate the appointment scheduling market. The contracts got singed in Seattle June 2nd and we are in full progress to work on the new venture.

In the mean time I spent as much time as possible with the kids before leaving as I missed them already before leaving. I also wanted to give Penny some time for her training, as she will be handling the kids, the canoe and kayak rental business and packing up the house/kids to follow me July 8th.

For those who do not know, Penny is my best buddy, partner, mother of my kids and supporter for the x-alps. She was training as hard (as she always does) to get ready for the race. Penny is a powerhouse and lives up to her name (Penny Powers). Besides looking after me, the kids and her businesses (Personal trainer and running she participated at 2 running events the last 6 weeks and at both races she won her age class and come in as 4th overall. One race had 1000 runners, the kids and I are very proud of you, way to go Penny.

The kids (Erik and Katia, 3 and 5 years old) are as active as mom and it was great to follow the progress with both starting to ride their bikes without training wheels. They went from pushing to riding all by them self’s within days and now they are riding through obstacles in the skateboard park. At the same time they started to take tennis lessons and keep hitting balls around my ears.

As you can see, there was never a boring moment and I am sure all these events are the reason why time flew by so fast.

Now, once I arrive in Munich, I will get the rental car, my wing (with the right colors), gear, and start exploring the route. Monday I will pick up Frank (supporter in 2007) and his girlfriend Tracye in Geneva and start exploring with the French Alps.

During daytime I will be training, exploring flying and meeting local pilots and Team Nova Pilots and during the evening hours I will spend about 2-4 hours working and updating the blog to keep everyone informed of where we are and what we are doing.

Thanks again to everyone for all these good wishes and all the help we have received so far. I also like to thank the team (Shalene Wright, Cicely Younk, Ashith Shetty) and the team (Rob Monster , John Leonowich and John Lawler) to allow me to prepare for the race and to be flexible with their times to keep on working on the venture.