Friday, August 19, 2011

Chamonix Nostalgia and an XC to Saint Jean de Sixt

Driving from Annecy to Chamonix through the middle of the Alps is one of the most beautifully scenic paths one could ever imagine taking, with majestic sights abounding. Not even mentioning that this is the route one would try to fly, high above these very same peaks, trying to do an XC flight between these two astounding destinations.

Today, the weather was marginal for flying, so we decided on a Chamonix road trip of nostalgic proportions, cruising the middle route through tiny mountain villages like Alex, Thones, Villards sur Thones, Saint Jean-de Sixt (which we will cover later), and three kilometers further, La Clusaz. Through the Col des Aravis and down to Flumet, across to Megeve and into the Passy Valley thru St. Gervais, to view all the massive high granite walls most of us flew upon last year, in our Monkey travels high above Plaine Joux. Then into Chamonix itself, with the breathtaking steepness of its towering mountains and hanging glaciers that fall down almost into town, with Mont Blanc itself as the prize, the tallest mountain in all of Europe!

After a nice lunch and a couple of Pelforth Brunes at the Bois du Buchet LZ in Chamonix, while watching an instructor teach ground handling to a few students, I was amazed to think that on a snowboarding trip here with Jeannine 16 years ago, I took my first 3 tandem flights, bought a used paraglider and was taking classes here at this very same majestic place just as these students were doing today… wow, nostalgia to the max!

This was my beginning, in a special place, to which I have migrated back so many times since! Now we took a nice stroll through Chamonix Ville, then it was back on the road again towards the apartment that had been our home for two weeks in Annecy. We drove the middle route again, thru the Passy Valley by Sallanches and Cluses, and then to the left, up and over the Col du Colombier and down to Le Grand Bornand, and three kilometers further into Saint Jean-de-Sixt (details below), to complete the loop through the these amazing mountains that dreams are made of. Now we followed the same route thru Thones, and around the back side of Mont Veyrier to Annecy les Vieux, arriving home to sunset cocktails on the sixth floor balcony, watching the red hues of the setting sun on the granite walls of Le Parmelan and Mont Veyrier, two new places I was lucky to reach with my Sol Torck 2 on this trip to France.

The next day was our last in Annecy, as we cleaned and checked out of our apartment that Jeannine’s sister Jackie was nice enough to let us rent from her for two weeks, as she moved to the family home in Dijon. We finished at 2 pm, and Jeannine was so nice to let me get one last flight in on a sunny perfect day (after two cloudy days). Up thru Talloires and to Plan Fait launch we drove, and I got into the air by 3 pm. The lift was tough, but I managed to get to the top of Le Dents Lanfon just as I always luckily do. At 6,000 feet and almost to cloud base, I topped out, and this time on my last day here in Lake Annecy, I wanted to go toward the dream I have not tried yet, east toward the big mountains and Le Grand Bornand!

I drifted as I topped out toward the next link two miles away, Dent du Cruet (next to the village of Alex), coming in at the base of the granite peaks but above the trees. I climbed out with about eight other pilots who also migrated there, and I topped out again, this time at cloud base and into the wispies for one last thermal turn and climb. I went for broke on glide at 6,300’ to cross the 5+ mile expanse, to arrive above Thones, and to the ridge leading up the next mountain of Mont Lachat. On the glide there, I looked back for a picture and saw six other pilots following me to the Mont Lachat destination! Wow - I hope they didn’t think I knew what I was doing! Arriving well above the lower granite walls above Thones, I immediately climbed the ridge without stopping, for two miles in ridge lift and thermals, to a point just under the tallest granite peaks of Mon Lachat, with six pilots in tow! There we tackled our next huge feat of trying to now thermal up to these top peaks, to be able to continue to the Aravis…

After a half hour of thermalling, climbing 500’ and then sinking back to ridge height level many times, and losing four of the other pilots back down the ridge to Thones, I finally hooked one more ride up, and when I topped out at 5,500’, I was thinking that Jeannine was going to be very excited if I did not return soon, as we still had to drive four hours to Dijon! So I went on glide to expand my new territory. I had two options: go on glide and easily make Le Grand Bornand LZ, or try to cross the five mile valley to Plateau Beauregard from Mont Lachat, trying to continue the epic flight of my life in the first attempt at crossing the biggest mountains I’ve ever tried to conquer in this direction. Yep, you guessed it, greed got the best of me, so across to Plateau Beauregard I went, coming in much higher than the two other pilots that took a different line and were landing well below me in Les Villard sur Thones. I arrived…scratching hard, but from the tall forest of trees below, only short burst of bullet thermals were coming my way, so on glide I went toward Le Grand Bornand, but way too low now to make it there. I came to rest in a very nice pasture next to the D 909 in Saint Jean-De-Sixt, just three kilometers short of Le Grand Bornand, and halfway to my dream of the Passy Valley and the Plain Joux LZ, just a short ten miles away!!! Not bad for my first attempt in this direction, I thought, while basking in the 5 pm sunlit valley at the junction, 3 km to Le Grand Bornand on the left and 3 km to La Clusaz on the right… so close but so far!

I called Jeannine on the cell and gave her my coordinates to punch into Josephine, our Tom-Tom (I also radioed her my intentions as I left the Dents Lanfon) and she left the sun drenched beach of Menthon to rescue the poor Mad Dog in distress at Saint Jean-De-Sixt. When she arrived, we drove directly to a nice little outdoor Brasserie for a couple of celebratory draft brews, before starting the journey at 6 pm back to Dijon. That’s the story of my life so far! I should have tried this direction earlier in the two week stay, but those mountains looked so huge, and just the unknown aspect of it scared me big time. But I was so stoked today to think that I reached the halfway point on my first attempt this way!

Thank You again for listening to the ramblings of a very excited Hawaiian paraglider pilot in the huge expanse of the Alps… til next time in Engleberg, Switzerland.

Aloha from Mad Dog et La Peste


Anonymous said...

Mad Dog, I enjoy reading your descriptive post/stories of your adventures.
Mike (5-O)

JK said...

Thank you for taking us along with you on your adventures, Mad Dog. We flew vicariously along with you through the Alps. Travel well and we'll see you over beers for the mission debrief.

firedave2 said...

Chris, An excellent flight in so many ways, what can I say. Well done.

Sharky said...

Bravo Mad Dog! Bravo! Wish I could go again...Makes me want to sign up for the Chamonix Monkey train again!

The next time I go, I will not be sledder boy...I'm pretty sure of it! :)

Thanks for sharing your adventures!

Fly High and Far bro!

sandy said...

I raise my glass to you Mad Dog! (and someday again I hope that may be Pelforth in the glass) Thanks for sharing your story -- very inspiring!

Mad Dog said...

Thanks everyone! just arrived back home & can't wait to fly with you all again. Needless to say I had a well rounded BLAST of Paragliding, Hiking & Via Ferrata climbs in the French & Suisse Alps this year. I am also longing to go back next year again to Annecy to explore new territory East from there towards Chamonix so this notice gives anyone who wants to join me a whole year to plan for some fantastic flights in the French Alps! 22 Monkeys last year & I missed all you guys! Hope we can do it again next year.