The X-Alps / Day Eleven

We had two full days left to reach the float and approximately 200 km to go. Conditions were extraordinary. A strong high pressure system had installed itself, perfect to fly big distances in the high alps. Between us and goal were three distinct cruxes. Col du Galibier, Col de Vars and Col de la Bonnette, also famous in the Tour de France.
We were too far off to reach the Col du Galibier by foot in the morning, which would have been ideal. But there were seemingly good launches just before too, with long and steep approaches though.

Again we were behind schedule when we reached the launch a little before noon. Valley winds get strong in these parts, a nemesis for Dave. He still had bad memories about the valley winds around here, particularly in Briancon.

We chose a lower launch than we wanted, but the clock was ticking and we needed to get in the air before it started howling too much down lower. So I took off quickly to check thermal activity.
It was weird. There was already a considerable wind blowing and apparently our launch was in the lee. My wing behaved like a raver on speed and it took me a while to get into a more manageable area to fly. Thermals were quite unorganised, it seemed I was in the middle of an inversion. I managed to ridge soar out of trouble and would have been able to connect with the peaks behind. Dave watched me climbing out and had launched, but the valley wind had increased significantly.  The lee side had become a rotor fest and his LM5 was buckling like an unbroken mustang. He lost too much height right out of the gate, so he couldn’t do the same as me and tried to safe himself by flying towards the Col, but it was in vain. Winds were too strong and he landed below the pass.

In the meantime I had one of my most exciting flights of my flying career. Valley wind had switched on like a spring flood even though it was just noon. I realised too late while descending into the tight valley to where my car was waiting and couldn’t sidehill land. Everything was densely forrested and I had no choice than swallowing the bitter pill and descending all the way to the floor. Winds started howling while I got lower. I couldn’t reach my planned landing next to my car anymore, as winds exceeded 35 kmh and the gusts started blowing me backwards towards high power lines. I ran out of options quickly. The valley had a distinct bend at this point so my only hope was to fly into the lee of the valley flow to hopefully get into some slower air. With my hands on the breaks I was still flying with around 85 km/h over to the other side. I was slightly in distress. As we know valley flow consists of lines of lift and sink. While I sat uneasy over my landing spot I was only going up for quite a while. With my speedbar fully extended my Alpina 2 was able to penetrate a little bit and whenever I felt I had enough distance to the power lines behind my landing I started spiralling to loose enough altitude. It was a little like sisyphus and his stone but eventually I landed safely on the ground and nearly didn’t get dragged.

After my little episode and hiking back to the car on the other side of the valley, I drove up to the Col to meet up with Dave. There wasn’t really any point anymore in pressing onwards past the Col, as the pass was the best launch for a herculean effort on the last day. So from the relative safety of a coffee shop we watched Eric ‘The Viking, the Swede living in Annecy, struggle with the strong winds and land just past us. It seemed we weren’t the only ones that had troubles that day. The Viking had tried to launch just above our launch of the day multiple times and had not succeeded to work the thermals for quite a while. Michael Witschi from Switzerland had quite a depressing day. He had done a mistake and got in a bad spot. In succession everyone soared past him. There is nothing worse in this race for your head and psyche. After his reserve toss over lake Poschiavo things had gone a little downhill for him. Maybe the incident had messed with his head, understandably.
We all met up on the Col du Galibier. There was still one full day and 160 km left for heroism and together, the chances of reaching Monaco were much better.

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a wedding photo on the col is worth so much more with X-Alps combatants. photo by Vitek Ludvik

 

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