To the race itself, it was an amazing experience. Yes, the weather was not good at all and we had a bad start. Right from the beginning we were behind a day, which was hard to catch up unles you managed a tricky and risky flight. Martin Muller, who was behind with us, pulled off an amazing flight, and he managed to get back in the lead group. In total we flew 414 km, hiked 714 km and hiked 55 km in altitude. Without taking a lot of risk, we managed to finish 14th. By the end, we still had healthy feet, our legs were in good shape, we were still feeling strong, and we had had lots of fun, made a lot of new friends, learned a lot of lessons and gained some incredible experiences.
Anyhow, after the “Hochtor” Andy and I hiked towards Kals and stayed overnight on the Glorer Hut. Staying on the hut was the right choice, we got some great food and had a bed for a good rest.
The next day we mananged to fly down to Kals in the early morning. The flight was great, but the landing in the Kals valley was rather challanging due the strong north winds. After talking to some weather guys we decided to hike up over 1000 meters for a flight into the Defreggen tal and then to Toblach (valley before the Dolomites). This decision was not easy as the winds at the landing site peaked at over 60 km/hours. Sure enough, once we were up, the winds were only around 15-25 km/hr. Andy and I got some good launches and thermaled right up to 2600 meters. Crossing the Matrai valley into the Defereggen valley was not a problem. The problem was the it started to overcast fast and shutting down the thermals.
I decided to ridge soar into the valley as far as I could and started to hike to Maria Hilf to cross the next mountain ridge by foot. Andy was a bit more patient and could fly half way up the pass. After I hiked up the pass, the weather cleared and I was able to fly into the next valley finding some great thermals bringing me up to 2700 meters. I tried to fly accross the next ridge but had to land into the upper slopes and hiked up higher to get airborne again to fly to Toblach. From Toblach I hiked to the bottom to the Drei Zinnen, where we met Andy Froetscher again and stayed overnight.
On the way to Fanes de Sennes I stayed on the “Sennes” hut for a great meal and a good nights rest. Penny had to go back down and drive around the mountain to where I hoped to land the next morning. The next morning ended up to be a race from the fog and low clouds. I managed to get airborne from a 2600m high alpine launchsite resulting into a dream like flight between clouds and fog part way up to the Würzjoch pass. Hiking past the pass was in pouring rain. Just before Brixen we managed to get a another short flight in down the valley from where we reached Feldthurns in a couple of hours.
The next day we opted to hike up to the “Klausen” hut and hoped to fly down the other side. I ended up in a snow storm and on the other side they even had to shut down the gondolas due the strong winds. Once down, I had not choice to hike up the other side to Meran 2000, the weather got nice but we had at least 80 km/hr Foehn winds resulting and a hike down to Meran.
Andy (Italy) Steve (GBR1) Richard (Braz), Oriol (ESP) and I all met up at Mutkopf (Meran) to fly into to the Stilfzer Joch. Amazing that after 8 days, we were all there together, and Martin (Argentina) was not far behind. We had a great flight around a lot of clouds and it seamed that my Mentor2 (DHV 1-2 wing) could perfrom very well with the 2-3 rated wings. I ended flying the furthest with Richard and Oriol. We packed up and rushed up to 3100 m to get airborne again to keep on flying to Piz Palue. The flight was awesome and we could thermal out a couple more times until the overcast shut us down. From there we hiked to the Pass da Val Viola where we stayed overnight. The next day we hiked south of the PizPalue into the turn point radius and flew down to Lago di Poschiavo. From there we kept on hiking to Sondrio.
The weather forcast was very wet for the next day so we decided to split from Richard and kept on walking until 11:00 pm. The next morning the forecast was still calling for rain and we started to walk fast and strong to Como Lake. During the morning the weather looked better then forcasted and everyone seamed to hike up for a flight. It turned out they could not pass me due the weather conditions and I managed to hike another 2000 meter up to Pass de Jorio. We were luckey enough to get to a take off site from where we could launch at 8:30 pm and fly towards Biasca. Too bad I could not take off any earlier as I had to spiral down over 800 meters to land 2 minutes before the 9:00 pm night time flying restriction.
I kept on hiking until 11:00 pm and layed down beside the road in my paraglider for a nap. Penny still had to hike down the mountain and then drive around the mountain, around a lake, through a couple of valleys, only to to get me at 2:15 am to the spot I was sleeping. She got me up to sleep in the van, and then we were up again an hour later to get ready for a 4:00 am hike to Biasca and then 2000 meters up for another flight. Penny managed again to hike with me. Once I got to the top the wind was from behind (north/east) and it was not easy to take off into the wrong direction. If I would sink out, i would have to do a lot of hiking to get back on track. I was able to scratch my way north and on the end of the ridge to find a thermal from where I managed to cross the ridge and fly towards Airiolo. This all was very tiring and I could feel how I started to fall into some short naps during the flight. Gladly the flight was ending soon and I could rest a bit. While I walked towards Ariolo, I started to get hallucinations and realized that I was simply too tired to proceed. I tried to call Penny, but her phone was not working and I had to keep on going which was not a good experiance at all. Once I met up with Penny, we both had a nap for 40 minutes and things got better. That night, I was able to hike halof way up to Nufenen Pass. After 3.5 hours of solid sleep I hiked up to the top of Nufenen Pass and after a couple launching attempts (wind from behind) I managed to fly down to the Wallis. I had to land before the restricted airspace and hiked passed the controll zone and hiked up again over 1000 meters for a take off spot. We took it easy as I was pretty tired from the day before. This was just perfect in timing as the conditions turned on later that day from where I managed to fly almost down to Visp. I had to land short of Visp due very strong valley winds, but this flight saved me from a 35 km walk.
In the mean time Andy Froetscher (Italy) was working hard to catch me. He seemed to always be about 10 km behind me for the last 3 days and tried several moves to catch up. At the last flight the valley winds got very strong and I managed to fly 5 km further then Andy to the next ridge where I could climb up high and was able again to be ahead of him. It might have been the timing that I flew further, but I think part of it is the Mentor2. The glide is amazing, but more so I stayed in full speed bar even if it got rough and when the wing collapsed I just got off the bar for a short moment. Now most 2-3 wings would fly faster but in rough conditions most can not use the extra speed they have. During the whole race I was very pleased with my wing, which allowed me to take off and land in very challenging terrain.
After the flight I headed up to the Matterhorn turn-point with Andy following behind me. Just before 11:00 pm I called Andy and told him that I would like to finish the race with him and share the 14th position unless the conditions were flyable, then we would fly for the 14th position. Andy was all for it, the next day was completely overcast, we called Christoph (race director) and told him our plans and met up at the Matterhorn turn-point. Penny was prepared like always and hiked up with some cold beer for the finish. What a way to finish – way better than running a couple km ahead just to claim one better spot. Sharing an accomplishment is more rewarding especially when you raced so many days together.
After the finish we had a long shower at the campground and headed to Monaco for the party. It was great to meet with the others and to share the stories. Stories and experiences seem to be the most important part, more so than the ranking. This also got confirmed at the awards by Hannes Arch. This is also what we could hear from so many other people who followed the race for these 2 weeks. They got addicted to the online “Live Tracking”, photos and videos. Overall a great experience and entertainment for everyone.
I would like to mention a couple thank you’s to the people and companies who made this all possible:
Nova Wings and team for the tips and the Mentor2
Andreas Boehl and Flight design for the use of the CT to check out the route and the for giving me weather updates.
Oma & Opa to watch the kids for the 2 weeks.
Hannes Arch and Ulrich Grill for putting on the event, and to their whole team
The Columbia Valley businesses and friends who donated services and products for the fundraiser (see details at http://www.flyingmax.com/xalps/sponsors-and-supporters/)
And to all our friends and family who have given us so much support