Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

August 11, 2014

Back-To-Back Long-Distance Flights in Austria!

Well, our time in the Alps has come to a close.   This was Jim's first time sightseeing in Europe, so we detoured from paragliding here and there to see a few touristic sights like Venice, a few castles, the Matterhorn, and some Roman ruins.  We put 7500 kilometers on the rental car, driving to Germany, Austria, Spain, Switzerland, France, Monaco, and Italy.  We hiked and/or ran 136 miles across some really beautiful high alpine trails.  We climbed some great via ferratas and saw more great scenery than our camera could capture.

What we didn't do enough of, until the very end, was fly.  The weather seemed to work against pilots this summer, with wave after wave of low pressure systems bringing rain and winds.  Even the locals were complaining that they hadn't gotten any flying in yet this summer.

Lucky our last few days in Austria brought some smashing blue skies.   So we had several good days in a row and I busted all my personal records, including longest flight and furthest flight!  Plus I got to fly over glaciers, high alpine lakes, and the beautiful villages of the Pinsgau valley.

Both record breaking days, we launched from the Schmittenhohe launch above the town of Zell am See.  By now this launch was an old friend, as we had flown, hiked and run from here back down to the valley.  It's a great place to go XC, as the ridge is wide and long and it's possible to fly and out and back quite easily.  Which is what we did first, heading west until we passed over another popular launch site at Wildkogel and almost to the Gerlos pass.  I knew it would be hard to find public transportation over this pass if I bombed out there, so after 45 kilometers from launch, I turned around and flew back again.

High over Zell am See
Back over launch I got really high, and with 90k under my belt, went over the airspace guarding the airfield at Zell am See.   And kept heading east to see how far I could get.   It seemed easy to stay high, so I crossed the valley to the south and went into the Gasteiner Valley where we had a nice day of flying a few weeks earlier.  I noticed a lot of snow had melted on the hills since then, and just kept on going.   By then I wasn't on a long ridge, but a series of fingers pointing out from the high ridge of Alps to the south of me.  With the late afternoon sun hitting them, I was able to jump from one to another pretty easily.

Until then the clouds had been fluffy and benign, but on one valley crossing the ridge ahead of me suddenly seemed dark.  I knew there would be lift under the cloud but didn't want it to be the unfriendly kind.  I steered in front of it and made the next leap too soon, arriving low and sinking into the valley winds.  I landed on a freshly mowed hayfield after 6 hours 8 minutes in in the village of Flachau.  My final distance on XContest was 144 kilometers, so my longest flight ever!  You can see my flight on XContest.org

Luckily Jim had decided to fly the first 90k with me and then landed by the car (what a nice option to have when flying!).  So he was chasing me and driving much further on the roads than I was flying in the air, I'm sure.  He arrived within a few minutes of me landing and we had a nice pizza in town to celebrate!

The next day looked just as good, and I had hopes of finally flying that 100 mile distance, but it wasn't to be.  I made a good start by flying a full 50k west from launch, past the Gerlos pass and into the next valley and then all the way back again.   But due to a later launch time, daylight just ran out on me.   I knew I wouldn't get as far as the day before and this was our last flying day, so instead I crossed to the southern side of the ridge, getting as deep into the high mountains as I dared.   I was so high that I heard my vario beep a warning that I was near the upper limit of airspace, and it was a relief to then descend a little so my fingers could warm up!  All the time I was staring down at glaciers, blue lakes, and the massive peak that is the Grossglockner.  

I even got to thermal over some high ridges with a sailplane!  The sky had been filled with paragliders, hang gliders, and sailplanes all day.  It's a wonder we can all keep track of each other.  But in the late afternoon the sky emptied out and it was just me high above the snow.   With the last bit of lift left in the day, I got in a few kilometers for a total of 114k for the day.   And another long flight of 5:35.    This place isn't called the XC Highway of the Alps for nothing.  Amazing.

Climbing with a sailplane
The view near launch of the main Alps ridge!

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