I’d been talking the talk but not walking the walk for quite a long time before this summer’s volbiv trip to France, and if “shopping the shops” was also a phrase, then I’d being doing that too, buying all sorts of stuff over the internet – from Amazon and eBay of course, but also from Chinese sites like AliExpress, BangGood and Wish, which had some useful kit at really good prices, including my 750g pyramid tent for £60, which worked out really well. But more about kit later…
I’d been hatching a scheme whereby I’d try to be away for the whole of July, doing the volbiv in the first week, then driving from Annecy / Chamonix through Switzerland and Italy for the next two weeks, before ending up in Feltre for the new format “British All-Comers’ Comp” in the last week of July. Only thing was I had to a) try and find a way of making it work with my work, and b) try and find a way of making it work with Lisa!
The former was relatively simple, just don’t tell my clients I’m going to be away for a whole month! I’m fortunate with my work in that it’s all computer based so as long as I have a decent mobile data signal I can work from anywhere. So I let them know I’d be away on hols for the first and last weeks, but not the middle two, where I’d be mixing work, sight-seeing and flying as best I could.
Convincing Lisa that she’d like to be part of this plan was harder, after all, she’d be the one driving the campervan the 800 odd miles all the way from home in Bath to wherever we’d end up rendezvousing after my volbiv on her own, something I don’t think many other-halves would be that keen on doing! Then of course she had to clear things with her clients too (she’s a self-employed graphic designer), and sort things out at home (ie. cats and dog – fortunately my son and his girlfriend were back from uni and living at home for the summer, so they were able to help there), but anyway, I must have done something right because she agreed, on the proviso that she could fly home from Treviso if she got too bored during the comp in Feltre! So, the trip was on, no more talking the talk, it was time to walk the walk!
I spent the last Saturday working out how to pack everything into my Lightness 2 harness and Lightpack 2 rucksack – amazingly it all went in, including the espresso pot!
Sunday 1st July – Bath to Nice to Col de Bleyne to Orcières
After leaving home in Bath at 4am I was on takeoff at Col de Bleyne near Nice at 1230, then airborne 40 minutes later. I landed almost 6 hours and 125kms later above Orcières, having met my volbiv partner-in-crime, Nigel, en-route (he’d taken off from St-André-les-Alpes). What a fantastic start to our adventure!
Monday 2nd July – Orcières to Massif du Taillefer
After a good night’s sleep and a hearty breakfast of Pro Nutro banana flavoured gruel we walked for about 15 minutes to find a good take off spot. After a bit of parawaiting we were off, the plan being to fly the northern leg of the big 300km triangle that the French aces fly around the Ecrins. Of course like all plans, they change, and we ended up flying north towards Grenoble rather than east, but boy was it ever spectacular! We chose to land after 60kms at a place called Massif du Taillefer – a beautiful high plateau dotted with lakes and tarns… a perfect spot for a bivvy 🙂
Tuesday 3rd July – Massif du Taillefer to Briançon
We awoke to a beautiful morning after the rain of the evening before, and after a swim and breakfast we packed up and hiked about an hour to find a suitable takeoff near the Refuge du Taillefer. The plan was to fly to Col d’Izoard, or maybe further, but conditions became a little worrying as we approached Briançon, so we opted to land there and hitch the rest of the way.
I make no apologies for the number of “wahoos” in the film, but I will apologise in advance for a couple of profanities 🙂 In my defence I will say that this flight moved me close to tears at one point, so intense were the emotions I experienced. I hope this film captures the raw beauty of the mountains and clouds, and that you get to experience, in some small way, what I felt during the flight.
Wednesday 4th July – Col d’Izoard to St André-les-Alpes
We awoke to a beautiful morning at the Col d’Izoard, and after breakfast we went in search of water. The nearest option was the Refuge de Napoleon, a few hundred metres down the road to the north, where in addition to water, we topped up on calories too :-). Well, it would have been rude not to!
Our plan for the day was to fly back to St André-les-Alpes as Nigel (who lives there) had to be home by the evening. After a sketchy take off on a steep slope, during which I failed to notice that the footplate of my pod was inside-out, I eventually climbed out and my six hour adventure began…
Thursday 5th July – St André-les-Alpes to Puy Aillaud
After a good night’s sleep in a proper bed I said my goodbyes to Nigel and Karol, and made my up to the St André takeoff, la Chalvet, by navette. Arriving at the top I discovered my water bladder had leaked all its water out, so I sent it back down in the navette with instructions for it to be filled and returned on the next navette, which duly happened, ninety minutes later… aghhhh, such a schoolboy error – always keep your water with you, not with your glider! This obviously cost me ninety minutes, which meant that by the time I took off it was already overdeveloping to the north, meaning my plan of flying to Puy Aillaud, 100kms to the north, wasn’t going to happen. However, in retrospect, it’s funny how the day worked out…
Friday 6th July – Puy Aillaud to Serre Chevalier
After positioning myself perfectly for a leisurely morning and easy walk to take off (50 metres), the strong northerly wind put paid to any ideas of aviation, and so, with a free day ahead of me, I opted for a 23km hike from Puy Aillaud to Serre Chevalier. Google Maps suggested it would take just a bit under six hours – in the event it took nearer eight. It’s probably just as well Google “lied” as I don’t think I’d have attempted it had I known the truth 🙂
Saturday 7th July -Col du Lautaret to Lac d’Aiguebelette
FINAL DAY! I was unsure about taking off from the nearby Col du Galibier, so I decided to hitch from Col du Lautaret to Alpe d’Huez, where I knew there was a high takeoff. Two hitches later I was there, and one chairlift and one short hike later I was up at 2,800m and ready for the final stage of my volbiv adventure, hoping flying to Annecy where Lisa and I had planned to meet. Unfortunately low cloudbase further north, and a strong valley wind put paid to that plan, but I still had a lovely 2hr / 43km flight, landing in the big valley south of Albertville. Three hitches later (did I say I love hitching in France – I never had to wait for more than five minutes for a ride!) I made it to Lac d’Aiguebelette (near Chambery) where Lisa had found a great spot by the lake… And so ended a fabulous week’s adventure – 458kms flying, 23kms of serious hiking on day 6, 11 hitchhikes, and too many amazing memories to count!
- Anker PowerPort Solar Lite 15W solar charger – £40 https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B012VK1I0C
- 2x Anker PowerCore 10000mAH battery – £22 https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B019GJLER8
- XC Tracer II – £265 https://www.facebook.com/XCTracerUK
- and Flyskyhy on my iPhone 6 – http://flyskyhy.com
- Garmin inReach
- Gin Concertina Compress bag – £70 https://www.freeflightexperts.co.uk/shop/gin-concertina-compress-bag
- Sup’Air “School” certified helmet – £75 https://www.freeflightexperts.co.uk/shop/sup-air-school
- 3F ul Gear “Pedestrian 2” single-skin tent – £57 https://www.aliexpress.com/item/650-grams-silicon-coating-2015-New-arrival-of-3F-Pedestrian-2-ultra-light-3-seasons-1/32547985186.html
- Therm-a-Rest NeoAir Xlite Mattress – £118 https://www.gaynors.co.uk/equipment-c153/camping-c237/sleeping-mats-pillows-c171/thermarest-neoair-xlite-regular-sleeping-mat-p800
- Sawyer Water Filtration System – £24 https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B00FA2RLX2
- 3 litre water bladder – £14 https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B075L7BG9S
- Dpower Backpacking Stove – £9 https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B016ZHFOTS
- Mountain YOYO Series M walking poles – £55 https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B00S9JZUYK
- Pro Nutra maize protein cereal
- Sainsbury’s Mexican rice
- Lidl’s pasta & mushroom meals
- Glengoyne Cask Strength Whisky (essential!)
Basically I was a cheapskate and should have bought some nicer expedition meals!
Google Sheets kit list – https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1UFX_2WcF-veRY6AHSlbYLCw3tmg1b71bPrRibLDHLaQ/edit?usp=sharing
Things I forgot:
- mozzie repellant
- cigarette lighter
- more treats (sweets etc)
- cup-a-soup – good to mix with dried pasta
Things I brought but needn’t have:
Total volbiv kit weight – approx 8-9kg
Total pack weight incl water – approx 22-23kg
Facebook “UK Volbiv pilots” group
Greg Hamerton / Flybubble guide: https://flybubble.com/blog/how-to-volbiv-beginners-guide
Weather on the go
The trip was a fantastic success, however I think that was partly because we were flexible in our goal. We set out to fly north to Annecy or Chamonix, or further, however the weather in the northern Alps wasn’t as good as further south, so we decided to turn it into a more local tour, ending up back in St André-les-Alpes at the end of day 4. That then gave me three more days to hitch, hike, and fly north on my own to meet Lisa, and that worked well too. It’s definitely fun having company, and for sure joint decision-making is reassuring, but I did enjoy the three days on my own too.
We chose July for the trip, because after I’d done some research using flight data on xcontest.org, I’d realised that June was too unstable (ie. some excellent days, but lots of unflyable days), and July was when it became more reliable. August would have been good too, but it didn’t fit in with other things quite as well.
This was my first multi-day volbiv, and I’ll certainly be doing another trip again next year – I don’t know where yet, or when, or who (if anyone) I’ll be doing it with, but I know I’ll have a lot of fun planning it over the winter.
Just do it!
PS. The rest of the trip was a great success too – I had some memorable flights in Switzerland, and did well in the comp at Feltre – but that’s for another blog post.