Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

Dawn - Sometimes An Ultrarunner

August 9, 2015

Red Bull X-Alps 2015: Day 9

Morning found me still walking the valley between St. Moritz, Switzerland and Chiavenna, Italy.   I had made it to Switzerland, only to leave again!   The high valley where I landed was flat for a while, then dropped off sharply, continuing all the way down to 300 meters ASL in Chiavenna.  It would be hot down there.  But at 6 am, I was only concerned with the question of whether I could fly some of this descent instead of walking it.

The day was mostly unflyable.  Strong north foehn meant that the rotor and the winds wouldn't be my friends in the air.  Today would be a walking day...unless I could get a short flight early this morning from a hillside near where we had camped.  I had checked the winds and it seemed like I might get away with an early morning sledder.  This would save me at least 500 meters of decent and a few hours of walking.   Jon Chamber's book about the X-Alps had told of a launch from the south side of the pass.  I hiked up in still air but I could see the fog curling down over the northern mountains and knew I need to fly and then land quickly before the day had any heating to speed the winds along.

Luckily a launch found me fairly easily and the winds were still.   I could find no reason not to launch even with that ominous fog on the peaks.   So off I went!   Boy, did I quickly have a tailwind.  My supporters were watching and saw me flying at 80km an hour for a short time.  It was smooth though and there were plenty of pastures below me.

However, when I saw the valley narrowing in front of me, while I was still high, I decided to land because I didn't know what my options would be on the other side.  I hadn't flown here before and wasn't sure if it would widen out again.  In the meantime I was speeding along, and picked the biggest pasture below me.  To be safe I lined up almost upwind of it in case the valley winds were stronger at the ground.  I had an exciting ride down, getting jerked up and down and never sure when the next big sinking air would hit...hopefully not near the ground.  The hardest part was trying to control the wing while looking behind me as I definitely wasn't flying forward.   It all worked, but that was the 4th time in a row that I had landed in strong valley winds.  I really wasn't enjoying that part of flying in the Alps.

The winds were going to continue all day, but conditions would improve after that.  So I was back to walking for the whole day, further down the valley to Chiavenna, and then back up into the mountains.  To cross back into Switzerland, I had to climb up and over a 2100 meter pass.  I hoped I could fly down the other side tomorrow.  In the meantime, it got hotter and hotter as I made my second descent of the whole race.

I met everyone in Chiavenna for a late lunch, and they gave me the bad news.  Colas (ESP) had dropped out of the race rather than get eliminated.  This meant that Stephan would get eliminated instead in the morning, and I was on the chopping block two days later, unless I could pull ahead of Gold (AUS).   This was quite a bummer, as I had hoped to get to Zermatt before I finished.  I had planned on having 4 days to get there, and not possibly only 2.   Zermatt was 200 km away by road with some high passes thrown in for good measure.

All I could do was continue on and hope for the best.  What I wanted most was to dip myself in the cold river running through town, but it was impossible to get to.  What I got was a hot walk down the valley before starting my climb up to tomorrow's launch.  About halfway up the 1900 meter climb, we figured we could find a place to park the vehicles that would be cooler and more scenic than this hot valley.   So I climbed.  And climbed.  It was a beautiful river gorge, with canyoneering sections far below me.  Didn't that sound nice!

Jim and Chuck finally appeared to tell me that our camp was only a mile away.   I was still going strong but motivation is a fickle thing.  After a mile I could see no sign of them and wondered if I had missed a turn.  After closer to 2 miles Jim finally appeared to lead me to the motorhome, and I was almost in tears.  Phones weren't working in this valley and even my live tracking was lost.   But pain is temporary, and I got buoyed back up by soaking my feet in a cold stream and eating a huge plate of pasta.   Plus I had an early night, and knew I didn't have too far to go in the morning, so perhaps I would sleep in a little!

An empty dam and lake at the pass
Hiking up to launch
You can see the Foehn winds coming over the mountains to the north
Looking back to Switzerland

Launch will be somewhere on that hillside
And here it is!
The biggest LZ I could find

Walking through a tunnel is hot and loud

Final climb of the day was hot and steep
Leaving Chiavenna behind me

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