I feel the wind on my face turn into a deeper shade of cold as I am engulfed in the clouds. The sky around me turns white and all the cares and fears of my world disappear. We call this silent place in the clouds the “white room” and no matter how many times you enter its presence, it never gets old. I emerge from the featureless white and stare down the high alpine knife edge glowing in the sun. As the green slopes of the high alpine drop away into the blue hues of rock I am reminded once again why I love to fly in the French Alps. I have been lucky enough to fly in most regions of the Alps; from Austria and Switzerland, to Italy and France, but for some reason this remote corner of France somehow always feels like coming home.
Being here with some of my best friends makes the experience so much richer. So grateful for Gary, Jane and Paul for inviting us back into their home for a week. This time around I decided to capture my experiences with video more than just images or words. Hope you enjoy the change of pace.
Day 1-Travel Day.
We have been awake for over 30 hours as we rolled into this remote corner of the Alps. The weather looks promising, but we are all so tired. Nevertheless, we decide to venture up to the nearby slopes of Mens and get in a quick flight. The thermals are working and we spend the next few hours flying along the granite mountain range. The flight is a quick reminder as to why we are here and that sleep and food should always take a back seat to adventure.
Day 2-Into the Clouds.
After a short morning hike in the mountains above the house we launch into the first thermals of the day. The surrounding mountains are beautiful. We fly around the hillsides and across the valley for a couple hours. Once the valley winds pick up we head back over to Mens to try and fly to the top of the mountains and across a unique alpine spine. The thermals are working, and the clouds start forming. The next several hours turn into a magical experience in the clouds and across the alpine mountains. A perfect day for flying!
Day 3-Exploring the Sites.
With bad weather we make the most of the day hiking through canyons, over rivers, up cliff faces and even down into the caves of blackness. It has been an awesome day, despite that really, really block of stinky cheese.
Day 4-La Grave….or is it The Grave?
It is 5:30 a.m. as we all huddle around the glow of the laptop discussing the weather for the day. It looks to be very windy and rainy today, but a small region may have some potential. It is worth the risk, so by 6:00 we are in the van driving the curvy roads as the rain continues to fall. As we enter the deep glacial valley I see the thick dark clouds and realize the day is likely done. By 8:30 we are on the gondola that leads up to La Meije and the clouds are starting to break. By 9:15 the sky is dead calm, sunny, and the morning mist has mostly burned off. The deep blue of the hanging glaciers taunt and excite us to get ready to fly. We know the valley winds are going to kick in early, so we waste no time in getting ready to fly across these iconic glaciers and into the valley below.
I punch off first, followed by Keenan, Paul, Clark, then Gary. The flight is amazing! A calm sled run really, but often those can be the best flights of a trip. By the time we end up on the valley floor the valley winds are just starting to pick up….perfect timing. We grab a nice French lunch on the patio below the beautiful mountains above, then venture back to home base.
Day 5-The Challenge
The weather looks promising today so we decide to get an early start and head up to the Col above Noyer. I have had my eyes on this range for the last 5 years, so I am excited to actually have the weather working in our favor today. There is a slight inversion in the valley, but with the first puffs of morning air we venture into the sky to see if we can get across the mountain range heading north. It becomes a very short 20 minute flight down into the valley with no productive lift. We all agree to head back up and try it again. The valley winds are conflicting and the air is not feeling very organized. Paul and Gary quickly take off with similar results as the previous flight. We talk amongst ourselves about the impending valley winds, and try to come to some decision. The air is feeling more productive, so I head into the sky alone and hook a very small, but productive thermal and am able to climb high above launch and into the mountains. Paul offers a $20 challenge to whomever can get all the way back home. I accept, and begin flying the ridge line back to the north. A few peaks behind me now and the lift vanishes. I extend my glide against the cliffs hoping for something, but nothing offers me any luck. As I turn down the valley I slam into the valley winds. Nothing too strong, but my glide performance is diminished significantly. I realize I have to get back across the glacial river towards the highway, or it is going to be a long, cold and wet hike. I just squeak over the river and land in a nearby field next to the highway. I find a nice place in the shade to relax until the van arrives. No $20 for me today, but the challenge was fun and resulted in a rather enjoyable mountain flight.
In the end, the days were filled with flying, but more important they were filled with friendships. I so enjoying flying and adventuring with this small group of friends. We have been known as the DEAF Crew for years now, and although we do not fly with each other as often as we used to, the good times, adventures, love and respect endures. Already looking forward to the next adventure!