Archive for the ‘Mont Blanc’ Category


A Mont Blanc adventure

October 10, 2011

My Mont Blanc trip’s finally beginning to sink in, but not quite enough to write about it yet, so here’s a sneak preview…

Day 1 - climbing above the clouds

Day 2 - crossing the Grand Couloir

Day 2 - climbing

Day 3 - halfway up to the summit as dawn breaks

Day 3 - the final ascent to the summit

We made it! (L-R: Jon, me, Colin, Darren and Irwyn)

Happy! Me flying off with the summit of Mont Blanc in the background đŸ˜€

My lovely Geo II in the sun

Back at base, pouring drinks over ice brought all the way from the summit

I’ve had quite a few questions about the trip, so want to do another post answering all these in one place. If you have any questions, post them here.


Mont Blanc preparations

September 19, 2011

I woke up this morning with the rain drumming on the roof of the van, once again thinking we must be absolutely nuts! It’s cold, grey and raining – probably snowing up the mountain, much like it was yesterday when we headed up the Aguille de Midi for a bit of acclimatisation in the wind and snow. It’s looking like we’ll get a narrow weather window next week, so we need to get the acclimatisation in now.

Checking out the knife edge arete - is that a smile or a grimace of fear?

This cold snap should reduce the risk of rock fall, even if we may be trudging through powder to get to the top. It’s not going to make the arete down from the lift station any better though. I was genuinely terrified when I went down it in June and it’s even worse now – it looks like a knife edge.

The big thing now is to assemble all the kit. I resisted the temptation to buy the down filled mini skirt at Vielle Campeur, and limited myself to a new head torch, energy supplements and climbing trousers. We’ve stocked up on food – carbs galore, enough food between two of us to feed a small family for a week. I’m also investing in a proper pair of mountain boots. I’ll do a full kit list post before we go.

Obviously the most important thing is weight – and the heaviest thing is my flying kit. I’m really looking forward to getting my wing – I’ve been promised a lightweight wing from Ozone, which is almost certainly my best bet for getting ice back from the summit to Maison du Moulin. It looks like we’re heading off tomorrow, so I’m really keeping my fingers crossed it arrives today, otherwise logistics are going to be VERY interesting…

The guys I'll be cooped up with for the next few days - lucky they seem like a good bunch!

The guys I'll be cooped up with for the next few days - lucky they seem like a good bunch!

There’s still some running around to do, but everything’s falling into place. I think we’re nuts! I’m nervous about the whole adventure. Will my kit be suitable? Am I fit enough? I haven’t done any real training, other than stomping around the mountains for a few months, being generally bouncy and hyperactive and splashing around the lake. But I’ve met the lads and don’t seem to be too far behind them in terms of fitness. And Irwyn’s taken me up the mountain before and has faith in me and that gives me confidence in myself…


Exciting possibilities…

September 12, 2011
Heading up to the Aguille de Tour

My first proper bit of mountaineering - heading up to Aguille de Tour

I wasn’t really keen on the idea of flying off Mont Blanc. Or, more accurately, the flight should be awesome, but I had my first mountaineering expedition last month and it was tough and it hurt. I wasn’t sure I was up for walking up to the top.

But I’m easily led! As I talked it through with Irwyn, it started to become a real possibility. And rather than a simple flight straight down into Chamonix, we started to think about ways to make it a little bit more interesting…

So now I’ve accepted the challenge. And the challenge is to launch from the top of Mont Blanc with some ice from the top, and get it back to Maison du Moulin in Annecy for the post flight drinks. It’s just over an 11:1 glide from the top – with a bit of a tail wind and little bit of lift, it’s tantalisingly close.

Mont Blanc at sunrise

Mont Blanc - an exciting possibility or a really daft idea?

Now, I’m scrabbling around for lightweight kit, working out how I can juggle a bit of training around an almost equally exciting visit from my big sister and, most importantly of all, where in France I can get some decent rum for my post flight drink!

Watch this space for updates or see Irwyn’s blog


Quite an adventure

July 5, 2011

Aguille de Midi aheadPosted by Jenni

Words can’t really describe last Monday, but I’ll give it a go, as much so as I don’t forget anything about the day as for people to read.

Ever since I saw Vertige, I wanted to fly off the Aguille de Midi. I never expected to do it so soon though. I’d assumed it would be complicated, that I’d need more flying experience or mountain experience, or I don’t know what…

Then suddenly Irwyn made it possible. The weather was right, we had a good group and there was apparently nothing to stop us. Oh shit!

Becky, Dan and I were all pretty quiet that Sunday. It’s one thing to dream of doing something like this, but to be faced with the reality was pretty daunting. I had doubts. Would I be able to keep it together walking down that arete? Would I be able to take off OK? Would it be as good as I’d imagined? Was I ready for such a big adventure. Unable to sleep, we sat up drinking wine until the small hours, not quite believing what we were about to do the next morning.

Four intrepid adventures set off

Four intrepid adventurers set off

When we arrived in Chamonix though, I was content. Even if we didn’t get to fly, it was already a good day. We’d got ourselves together to come and do it, and that was a great feeling. But we checked the conditions on launch and it looked promising. We bought our tickets for the cable car and went to get fitted for boots and crampons at the local hire shop. I’m still giggling at the thought of my first time playing with ice axes and crampons đŸ˜€

At the top of the cable car, we took a while to get accustomed to the altitude and take in the views. When my legs started wobbling walking down the stairs in the lift station, I realised just how nervous I was about getting down that arete. I get vertigo on escalators or concrete stairs – I just don’t trust my feet enough. I wasn’t going to let it stop me though. Irwyn roped me onto him, which was just enough reassurance to let me do it (the others decided to go unroped) and we set off, through the gate that said: “Access only for mountaineers.”

Crampons and skirts

Crampons, ice axes and summer dresses. Because we could...

Eek! This is scary stuff. With thousands of feet empty space to either side, I felt my knees shaking. We must have been one of the slowest groups to ever make our way down that path, much narrower now than in the video I’d seen. Irwyn’s patience was fantastic, reassuringly coaching me through one of the scariest experiences of my life. Just concentrating on placing one foot in front of the other, checking the crampons were biting with each step, I focused only on the snow within a foot around me, refusing to look at the awesome views. They could wait!

Once we got off the flat narrow bit at the top, I began to relax a bit. The path was steep, but wider and we started side-stepping down, which felt much more secure. Still slow, still wobbly, still nervous, but I was able to look up and start take in the awesome mountains around me. “This is actually OK!” I said to my patient guide. And: “Wow! I’m actually doing this!”

The scary path

The scary path from the cable car to take-off

At the bottom of the path, our hugs and cheers were testament to the joy we felt at having overcome our fear. Walking through the thick powder the rest of the way to take off, falling into holes, tripping over with my 18kg pack on my back, just made me laugh – even more so when I realised that whichever route I chose, however stupid, Irwyn, still roped to me, would have to follow!

But then another challenge… I never thought I’d have to deal with the issue of where to stash my ice axe in flight. Setting up my wing with the axe’s pointy handle sticking out the top of my harness caused me a moment’s concern. I really wouldn’t want to land on that!

Flying out over the Vallee Blanche

Flying out over the Vallee Blanche

After Dan and Becky gracefully demonstrated that our launch site wasn’t going to to work – nil wind take-offs in deep soft powder are not easy – we decided to move to another site. Rather than pack up and do the 45 minute walk up and back to the southerly take-off, we found a convenient snow ledge that allowed us to invent our own bespoke launch technique.

Third off, I laid out my wing on top of the snow ledge and made my way down the slope below. The effects of the altitude became apparent as I had to check and recheck my lines several times before I was happy. As I’d watched Becky and Dan take off before me, I wasn’t expecting to be able to stay on my feet all the way down the snow field, so when my feet gave way below me, I just concentrated on keeping the glider above my head as I skied off on my knees, whooping with delight.

Aguille reflection

Taking in the sights while flying the Vallee Blanche

The flight itself is almost a bit of blur. We were lucky to be able to fly down the Vallee Blanche, over the glacier, rather than the more usual route overlooking Chamonix town. The rocks were stunning, although with only pockets of lift. I floated around above and in front of them, switching between trying to climb and photographing the amazing scenery (have to get myself a video camera). It was when a light aircraft flew between me and the cliff that I realised I was nowhere near close enough to get the lift off the cliffs and was instead sitting in the sinking air in front of them.

I came round the corner to see that the valley floor got shallower and realised I needed to get some lift if I was to get happily over the valley mouth. It took what felt like forever to cross to the other side of the valley through increasing sink, hoping that it meant that there was some good strong lift behind it. Finally! I felt relief as the vario stopped droning. The diners on the terrace of the hotel opposite probably heard me as I shouted “Wheeeee!!” going quickly from sinking air to a peak of 5m/s upwards. It was patchy though and I had to work at scraping my way up the slope to get me above the ridge on the other side.

When I came out of the valley, still climbing, I played around in the thermals a bit, and considered trying to get back up. But with my mates already landed, I decided to go and join them. Giggling and gibbering on the radio as I approached (“Ooo, look at the pretty choo choo train”), I set myself up and landed alongside them.

The experience was only slightly marred by our guide getting stuck on the mountain, unable to take off. But eventually, after four hours of trying, he got the right conditions to launch and the four of us were reunited. Ask him for the story one day…


Back to Annecy to toast our own success

Back at Maison du Moulin in Annecy, the day already seemed like a bit of a blur. Three happy pilots, giggling, drinking champagne and watching the stars…

So now I need to do it again, to really appreciate the flight and convince myself that it wasn’t just a dream!

See the videos on Dan’s Youtube page.