Friday, July 30, 2010

Beginning the push to Kosovo

Thursday, July 15th

I walked around Interlaken for an hour or two as I waited for Betty to be repaired. She wasn’t actually being worked on at the time as it was lunchtime and the Swiss like to take extended breaks but not quite with the zest of the French. There were a number of fancy shops in Interlaken and if you had a need for a watch, a Swiss army knife or chocolate, you were more than covered. The prices were a bit outrageous for most items and I thought it might cost me just to window shop!

After lunch the new bolts and nuts arrived and happy go lucky Peter began to work on Betty as I sat outside on my camping chair catching up on my flight logbook. He was finished sooner than I expected and I had a little tour around their shop/playground. They have restored some older American muscle cars and had some other projects on the go. The job for Betty’s wheel was 200 Swiss Francs ($200 CAD) but I could only pay in cash so I meandered to the bank, got two crisp, bright green notes, paid them and bid them adieu. I have two new friends I can always stop in and see in Interlaken now.

Peter, Jack and Betty (read the last post if you don't get it):

It was 4:30pm as I got on the road. I now only had about 45 hours to try and make it to the capital of Kosovo, Pristina to meet up with my friends Garth and Holly who were flying in from Istanbul. They’ve been living in Saudi Arabia for the last few years and are working their way back to Canada with a month and a half stint in Europe. About 45 minutes outside of Interlaken I began a climb up a mountainside and back in the valley I could see the runway of an airforce that’s where all of those military jets came from. I drove until 10:30pm with some fantastic mountain views and many tunnels. I ended up short of Innsbruck by about 50 kilometers but I was pleased with my progress. I pulled into a highway stop and parked near a bunch of trucks and crashed for the night. Tomorrow will be a long driving day...

The airforce base:

Gorgeous waterfall:

More great views:

A windy road in Switzerland:

Catching up...

I've had spotty Internet access through the Balkans but today I'm off to Slovenia. Be prepared for a blog onslaught over the coming days as I have been keeping up with my travels offline...

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Betty's to Austria!

The wheel issue has been resolved by the funny brothers and at a cost of 200 Swiss Francs (about $200 Canadian). She still has her starting problems but that's not going to stop me right now. My plan is to get down to Kosovo to meet up with friends Garth and Holly in the next few days...let's hope Betty holds together...

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Wednesday, July 14th

Yesterday I thought I would vacate this country and head to Innsbruck via Liechtenstein (just for the hell of many people do you know have been to Liechtenstein?). Well Betty had other ideas. I had heard some funny sounds from her as I motored into Interlaken. I think it’s a wheel bearing. It sounded much worse so Liechtenstein is definitely off. I tried a garage whose owner directed me to the Ford dealership and they were booked up for the next 2 weeks! The guy there gave me some numbers of dealerships in nearby towns and I headed back to the campsite where I knew there were some phones. I tried the first one but they too were busy...seems the case in all garages in Europe! I talked to the young lady at reception, Corinna, and she was nice enough to try a bunch of local garages for me while I hung out by the lake for an hour. She found me one in town that I could visit in the morning...sweet. So a mellow evening with some blogging, emailing and Skyping accompanied by a few beers was in order.

First thing in the morning I drove into town to the Eiger Garage, that ironically has a superb view of Jungfrau, not the Eiger. The moustached, balding man in the office walked (well, really he limped) me through to the mechanic who sported a pony tail and looked like he could be a member of the band Rush. I explained the problem and we went for a short test drive around the block as he listened to Betty’s whining and then into the garage to hoist her up. He removed the rear driver side hubcap and then the problem was fairly obvious. The five bolts that attach the wheel to the axle were all loose so the wheel was able to wobble half an inch in and out...not good, nor safe. The mechanic tried to remove the nuts but they spun as did the bolts they were attached to. As I waited I chatted with the guy from the office, Hans, and it turned out that this was a family business since 1940 and the mechanic was his brother Peter. Hans had never been to Canada but has a friend that moved to the far north (near Whitehorse, North West Territories) and is the biggest “Cowboy Junkies”, a Canadian band, fan having collected every piece or music they have published and was super proud that he had received some emails from them through their fan club...never would have guess it.

These guys were fantastic, albeit quirky at times, but in a good way. When I told Peter that the van’s name was Betty, he later made a joke as he lowered Betty back down that this was “Jack” and she “Betty”. The parts I need should be in tomorrow afternoon so they are letting me stay in Betty, outside their garage and home. At least I save some money on camping fees!! So I walked around town a bit and then came back to the beach at the campsite...all in all, it’s not a bad place to be stranded!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Interlaken...thanks for the scare...

Monday, July 12th

I got up early as I knew that I had a 3 ½ hour drive to Interlaken, Switzerland, my next destination, a well known paragliding center. The campsite office wasn’t open for another hour when I left so I felt slightly vindicated that I camped for free. Thankfully the roads were quite empty through Chamonix and I had a lovely drive into the Rhone Valley. I arrived in Interlaken, a small city on a gorgeous lake surrounded by mountains (the famous ones being Jungfrau (the virgin), Eiger (the ogre) and between them Monch (the monk...there must be a story there as Beat, a guy in the next paragraph brought up). I arrived at the LZ and had some lunch as I watched a few mini-buses of paragliders and hang gliders head up to a lower launch. I saw some PGers waiting at a bus stop so I asked them how much and would they accept Euros (as the main currency is still the Swiss franc)...they thought they would. I’ll have to do some research as to why Switzerland hasn’t fully adopted the Euro. I finished lunch as I saw a guy ride in on his motor scooter with a paraglider on his back. He ended up joining me at the bus stop and was obviously a local so I asked him a few questions. His name was Arno and he worked making prosthetic legs and arms four days a week. Paragliding was one of his many pursuits so he claimed he was by no means and expert.

Thankfully the bus did take Euros, but only bills, but after a couple of minutes of the bus driver figuring what I owed, we were on our way. We arrived at the railcar that would take us a good portion of the way up the mountain called Niederhorn followed by a gondola. I was a bit shocked that it cost me 33 Swiss francs to go up (about 33 Canadian dollars!)...but when in Rome, or at least a thousand miles from Rome... In the railcar there were two other paraglider pilots. Howie is an ex-Brit who lived in Australia for a number of years and now works as a tandem skydiver nearby and he reminded me a lot of my good friend Paul Macoun in looks and mannerisms. His friend was a funny Swiss guy Beat (pronounced Bee-At). Turns out that they met in Pokhara, Nepal this past year and therefore knew my paragliding instructor Claudio and his wife Elli who spent the winter there working with Scott Mason and his parahawking company...sometimes the world is so small! Walking up to launch the wind was unfortunately blowing over the back but there had to be some thermic cycles coming through once in a while. The view was gorgeous and Beat comically laid out the ultimate flight plans: “If we miraculously get up above launch and then miraculously up to cloudbase and then...miraculously cross the lake we should head along that ridge...and then miraculously...”. Arno was the first off and he didn’t find too many thermals but supposedly wasn’t really looking for them. Howie launched next and did find some lift and was soon followed by Beat.

On the railcar up:

The view behind launch:

I took another half an hour before I got off. Between a couple of botched launches, resetting up, waiting for cycles, having a cycle come through finally just as a helicopter flew by only a 100 meters above launch...I had my difficulties. Once finally in the air, I headed right towards the gondola and shot up quite quickly. I was a bit dismayed to hear a very loud jet somewhere in the sky, had to be, and was a jet fighter. I sire hoped not to have a close up view of him. As was the case in Laragne, it’s amazing how fast one can go from desiring lift to being frightened by it. I briefly saw an axcent rate of 7.3 meters oer second on my vario! I was wary of the clouds above me and kept towards the edge of them. I worked my way to the west to try and have a view down the steep little valley behind launch. I worked my way back and was having to fight at times to keep my wing open. I thought I was in the clear when suddenly my wing fell way back behind me, out of my sight. This is a good indicator that I was hitting an extreme thermal with a shear layer of air flying quickly down and other air flowing up. I braced for the surge of my glider and did some extreme braking to prevent it from flying in front and eventually down below me (read: that would be bad!). I was happy that I was flying with a wrap (I had the brake lines wrapped around my hands for extra leverage) thanks to Kester’s advice the week before. Even with my major braking, all hell suddenly broke loose. The next bit is a bit of a blur as the wing flung around as did I. A few times I recalled, “Hands up”, meaning to keep your brakes up and let the wing sort itself out as it will want to try and fly. Soon I found myself in technically an acrobatic manoeuvre called a helicopter which is a flat spin which requires you to stall the glider to enter into it, I guess I had stalled. I eventually recovered the wing and with an empty adrenal gland contemplated what had just happened. I lost at least a couple hundred meters of altitude and had a few hundred more before I would have crashed on the forested slope. I felt that I had done fairly well to get a hold of the situation apart from never looking down to assess how much altitude I had left and whether I should have thrown my reserve parachute. A big bummer was that I didn’t have my HD helmet camera videoing the whole affair as it would have been a great teaching tool to know what exactly happened.

In flight:
Looking down at Interlaken:

As I left the area I started to feel more lift and contemplated spiralling down a bit to escape this air rodeo but I wanted to make sure that I made it to the landing zone. I ridge soared an area where a lot of students hang out and then headed out to land. I started sneezing and least a dozen I allergic to near death experiences? Whew...I have to say that a cold beer doesn’t taste much better than after an experience like that! My nose continued to run for the next hour and I consumed a large amount of my last box of three-ply, moisturized super awesome Kleenex’s from Canada...oh well, small price to pay.

I headed to a nearby campsite and relaxed for the evening. Another campsite that cost about 35 Canadian dollars for a flat piece of land with electricity, which sadly wouldn’t power my fridge. Oh, Switzerland, you’re beautiful but damn expensive!

Speak to me Chamonix

Sunday, July 11th

On to Chamonix! I arrived into this busy little town nestled in a valley with Mt. Blanc dominating one side and a ski hill on the other. At mid morning the place was already hopping and it took me quite a while to located the landing zone which luckily had the seemingly only empty parking spots in town. I donned my paragliding backpack and walked a couple of kilometres to the gondola. There was a big climbing wall, tents, bleachers and speakers set up in one square that I passed through...must be some kind of festival going on, I’ll check that out later.

The climbing wall in town:

I paid my 11 Euros and was heading up to launch. What a gorgeous view of Mt. Blanc and Chamonix. There’s a gondola station up to a point called “Aiguille du Midi” (meaning Noon Needle) which is super impressive, a building perched on the jagged peak of a mountain. Humans can create some incredible things can’t they?!? There is a paragliding flight that you can do off of there but not during July and August. The Brit Tim had done the flight and shown me the video and I was flabbergasted. It looks incredible as you fly over an awesome glacier. He claims that you can’t do it in July/August because there are too many rescue helicopters flying up there to help idiot climbers! I must return in September to do this flight...

The gondola up to launch:

Aiguille de Midi (the sharpest point on the right by the cloud):

Walking five minutes up to the launch after de-gondolaing (I know my former English teaching aunt’s going to love that one...), I noticed a tandem guy setting up and there were two guys with parachutes on their back. I’ve seen a skydiver jump from a tandem before (in Nepal) but two? One jumper was in the usual harness and the second stood behind the pilot and was just tethered on so when they launched he dangled below. It was pretty cool to watch them take off. Their sink rate was pretty high but they still had good altitude over town. Perhaps they were part of the festival’s entertainment. I never saw a parachute open but I did see the tandem all of a sudden look a bit strange with a big crease in the front middle of the glider...I hope everyone was alright. A few acro pilots came through and launched. Oh, I forgot to mention that as I was riding up the gondola I saw a dude doing an infinity tumble. This is the latest and greatest paragliding acrobatic move where the pilot is doing full on loops around his wing. “Infinity” is a bit of a dumb name for it as eventually you’ll hit the ground but the record is over a couple hundred of these loops where the pilot experiences +6 to -3 Gs on each rotation! It was the first time that I had seen this manoeuvre with my own eyes. Some other people arrived on launch and it was twin brothers piloting two tandems and an Aussie girl. I think i recognized these guys from an article I read in a paragliding magazine. They are in their early twenties and apparently quite talented and I got to see that first hand.

The launch, with the three crazies getting ready:

The three crazies in flight...notice the guy hanging off the bottom:

I eventually set up and launched. I hung around near launch trying to find the lift that I saw the twins catch but eventually headed south where most paragliders had gone. I fought my way around a corner, wary of turbulence from rotor and suddenly shot up a few hundred meters. The air got kinda funky so I decided to head back towards launch and even past it heading north. I was bummed to realize that I hadn’t charged my HD helmet cam so I was only able to take a few pics and the stunning surroundings that I was flying in deserved a lot more than that.

In flight:

A happy paraglider:

Happily back on the ground I walked through town to take in some of the festival and looked in vain for a bakery. Although I could have stayed in Betty where she was for 24 hours (and there were many other campers around), it was a busy road and it was the finals of the World Cup so it would be nice to be able to watch that. I decided to head to a campsite called Les Deux Glaciers. They did have Wi-Fi but i was dismayed to hear that I wouldn’t be able to receive it at my site. I’ll figure something out for watching the game. The view of Mt. Blanc was stunning at the campsite. Later I decided to go into the restaurant to have dinner and watch the game and I showed up an hour before the kickoff to ensure I got a spot. Forty-five minutes passed and not a single waitress asked me if I wanted anything. I finally caught the attention of the lady who had booked me the sight and she said that I didn’t have a reservation...well why the hell did you let me sit down to begin with?!? Ah, another great experience of French customer service. So I left and took my camping chair, laptop and a few beers to a spot close enough to get an Internet signal but alas it kept cutting out. I then joined some other campers with peering through the restaurant window to watch the game but eventually gave up and went to bed. I was happy to hear the next day of the winner...Viva Espana!

Walking around Chamonix:

Approaching the landing zone (on the left):

Betty happy at the campsite, in front of Mt. Blanc:

A better view of Mt. Blanc, sans Betty:

Don't Get Les Gets

Saturday, July 10th

I stayed another night at the cool little free camping river site and then decided to head north to a place called Les Gets (said with a soft “g”). It was another paragliding site in the guide I got from Annelies and yet another ski town. When I arrived it was fairly windy although I did see one or two wings in the sky. They turned out to be tandems and that’s not always a good gauge as to whether one should fly as: a) they are really good pilots b) they know the place c) they want to earn their money. It didn’t looked like they launched from very high up and I have to admit I wasn’t as impressed as La Clusaz or La Grand Bornand.

I walked around town that was filled with ski and mountain bike rental shops, restaurants and bars. There were quite a few mountain bikers cruising through town as I searched for a grocery store to buy some lunch. I found one, but it was closed. After a futile search and with the skies now overdeveloping and starting to look dark, I asked a shop owner and she said the “Shopi” would open at 3pm. Somehow I missed that sign on the store but who closes for 3 hours in the middle of Saturday afternoon? Shopi does. I sat ouside the store with about 10 other impatient customers, expecting that I would get drenched by the time I got my food and walked back to Betty who was once again strategically parked on a slope at the edge of town. The skies became incredibly dark to the north and somewhat menacing to the south but thankfully the downpour had yet to start when I walked back to my campervan. I decided to let Miss Satnav take me to nearest campsite which was only 5-6 kms away. Unfortunately it was full, and most campsites nearby were likely to be as well as the Tour de France was coming through this area tomorrow. I decided to head towards Chamonix, away from this area (sorry Jordon – my former manager, who would have loved to have been in my shoes and would have definitely stayed to watch). The GPS unit took me a different way out of this valley and I drove up a narrow tarmac road that snaked up a ski hill (the road must definitely be closed in the winter). I contemplated staying in a tucked away meadow but it was pouring down rain and only 4pm, might as well press on a bit. I descended in to the next valley and tried another, and quire big, campsite but it too was full. I reset my sights on St. Gervais Les Bains which was one town shy of Chamoniz, my goal for tomorrow. Chamonix is primarily a morning site so it wouldn’t hurt to be closer to it. The campsite had a lovely view of Mt. Blanc and I had a pleasant evening there. Skyped with my nephew Matthew and caught up on a few housekeeping items.

The ominous skies:

The ski hill:

Betty with Mt. Blanc:

Monday, July 12, 2010

La Grand Bornand

Friday, July 9th

I slept in a bit and then headed off to La Clusaz, thinking I’d do a repeat of yesterday but perhaps this time I’d hike to the top for some exercise instead of taking the chairlift. En route, I took a slight detour to a town called Le Grand Bornand that Annelies had mentioned that I should visit. I saw some paragliders in the air and now it made sense from yesterday that I had seen one paraglider head in that direction from La Clusaz and I noticed a number of wings flying over that area. Why not fly here instead? I located the landing zone and then backtracked to the telecabine (gondola). There was a cute woman at a tandem paragliding outfit and I asked her whether this was the location to head up to paraglide and indeed it was. I got bit again by the French lunchtime as I was trying to go up around 1pm but of course it was shut down from 12-2. I decided to walk around town as Annelies had mentioned that it was beautiful village. I headed along a pedestrian trail and first passed some tennis courts followed by a pool and mini-golf. There was definitely a theme of “cow art” in the town. Not sure of the origins but I did enjoy some of the piece.

Cow Art:

The French sure now how to rec-reate (not recreate but the recreation “recreate”). The path followed a river and it had an exercise circuit similar to one I saw when I was stranded in Chateau Arnoux. They have various stations with wooden signs telling you to “Walk while swinging arms” or “Climb over structure”. It’s a fantastic idea and I did perform a few of the activities such as chin-ups and sit-ups. The French do exercise a fair bit as there are many cyclists, hikers, climbers etc. The funny thing is that almost everyone smokes...isn’t that counterintuitive?!?

Exercising in France:

I returned to Betty an hour later and took the gondola and then a chairlift up to launch. The view from the top was stunning. Mt. Blanc was obvious and most of the terrain was grassy with the odd lake. The skiing here in the winter must be fantastic. The launch itself was quite steep and the biggest obstacle was finding a place with no sheep or cow shit. There was no avoiding it, it was more a matter of finding a spot with no recent droppings. There were already a number of wings in the air and they were working a thermal about a kilometer away, over a treed knob. I had a few aborted attempts and then took to the air. I stayed close to launch and with the help of some other pilots, we climbed a few hundred meters above launch. I noticed a blue wing start to head north along a lower ridge and decided to follow. We both helped each other in locating lift and eventually made it to a bigger ridge that ran more east to west. I realized that it was a female pilot and another wing joined in from higher up. I’m quite sure it was a couple that I saw on launch. We had to hug the steep grassy terrain at times to gain the lift but it was all laminar flow so it didn’t seem dangerous. They both headed along the ridge and then got a boomer of a thermal and flew a few hundred meters above me. I searched for the same lift but couldn’t find it and suddenly I was left on my own. I eventually pursued them a couple of kilometers and they had reached the end of the ridge and crossed a small valley before I got there. I wasn’t too much higher than the ridge when I decided to go for it and was pleased to arrive only 50 meters below the lady. I watched as she had a bit of a collapse due to some rotor but she did all the right things and was no worse the wear. We cruised along the rock face but didn’t find much.

The "real" cows near between the gondola and the chairlift:

Taking the chairlift up:

The view from the chairlift up to launch:

The view from launch:

The steep launch:

The ridge I first flew to following the blue PG:

Flying down that ridge:

Looking at Mt. Blanc:

Around the corner was her companion and he was working a scree area that wouldn’t have fit all three of us. The woman saw me and gave me a thumbs up for having made it there and I did a wipe across my brow for a partial collapse I had witnessed that she had a few minutes prior...she recovered well though. I tried to work the rockface that faced east but that lost me a few hundred meters and I started contemplating landing zones. The other two started to glide away from the face and I could tell that they were trying to get as far as possible towards the start of the gondola which was 6-7 kilometers away. I decided to cross back over the small valley and see if i could bench up from there. I spent probably close to half an hour, eeking up 80 meters in height and then losing it. At one point, when I was only 220 meters below my launch height, I headed a few kilometres back along the ridge and contemplated landing near the bottom of an inactive chairlift with the thought of hiking to the top and re-launching but then I lost my height. In the end I landed in a farmer’s field with various small fence posts to contain cattle. I wasn’t sure if they were electric fences so I began to pack up in the longer grass that I was in but then was shouted at by a farmer in hi s barn. I wasn’t sure what he said but got the impression that I shouldn’t pack my wing there. I moved to a roadside turnout, packed up, and began my long walk back to Betty. According to my Satnav I had close to 7 kilometers to go...well, at least I get my exercise. At least it was pretty much all downhill. Just over an hour later, with sore feet setting in, I arrived at Betty. I was pleased nonetheless with the flight...well worth the price of admission!

Where I landed:

La Clusaz

Thursday, July 8th

I decided to head a bit further east today. I scanned and printed off a great magazine from a paragliding friend in Victoria, Annelies, and having perused the local sites, I chose to go for a place called “La Clusaz”. It was only 25 km from Annecy as the crow flies (so who knows how long it will take Betty to get there!). The drive was lovely and the town is primarily a ski town but you could tell that they were trying to promote the summer sports. They had mountain biking trails, trampolines, mini-golf and equestrian riding all in a close vicinity to one another. I eventually found the chairlift that would take me up to launch, actually it would take two and also found a parking spot for Betty that was not only free but on a slope so if she didn’t start later, no problem.

Taking a chairlift to launch is absolutely fabulous. This was my first experience doing so. Back in Canada, we always have to worry about car retrievals after a flight....this was much more civilized. Just me and my paraglider backpack heading up to launch. I was slightly concerned when I first got to the launch area as the wind was blowing quite cross (and I don’t mean it was angry). I set up anyways and sure enough some good cycles came through. I took off and immediately headed up. I cruised back and forth a few times to get above the chairlift lines and some power lines and then was greeted by the smoothest and most solid thermal I’ve had since I’ve been on the continent. I gained 800 meters in ten minutes and was close to the top of the mountain with a fabulous view of the peak of Mt. Blanc. I was concerned about rotor since the wind seemed to be coming from the east but most of the time it wasn’t an issue. I noticed a paraglider coming along the rocky face in some areas I wouldn’t have considered safe but he seemed to be doing alright. I didn’t stray too far from where I was and after half an hour or so I decided to head a bit south, towards a valley crossing to a mountain called Aravis. Well, I sank a fair bit and chose the safe option and headed back towards the town of La Crusaz. I then made my way towards the landing zone and as I approached I noticed a guy taking photos of my landing. After safely landing, he came over and showed me the pictures he had taken. He was an older British fellow with his wife in his convertible Mercedes. Nice guy and we chatted for a bit before I began the 20 minute walk back to Betty.

Taking the chair lift:

Kicking Mount Aravis:

Mont Blanc (the little white thing way in the background...I tell you, it looks way more impressive in real life!):

My approval rating of the flight:

Looking down on the down of La Clusaz:

I looked on my SatNav for a nearby campsite and opted for a municipal campsite about 15 km away as I knew the other nearby ones were not cheap (4 stars and 25 Euros). Before reaching my destination I noticed an area by a river that already had a camper parked there. I pulled in and while leaving Betty running, I asked this older couple if it was okay to stay here for the night. The claimed that sure, any place that you can pull over, it’s good to go. If the authorities don’t want you staying somewhere, there will be a barrier. It was a gorgeous little location so I set up for the night. The guy came by Betty later and asked if I wanted to join them for coffee. I thanked him for the invite but mentioned that I first needed to make some dinner. Later I ventured over to their motorhome and the couple, Marie and Christian were wonderful hosts. We had a few drinks while we chatted. They were from Switzerland and were both previously married but weren’t married to each other yet together for 8 years. I told them my antics with Betty as best as I could in French and we had a lovely evening. In the morning they left a note on my windshield that they were moving on but they had had a “sympathique” night with me. I had to look up in my French/English dictionary what they meant as a sympathetic evening didn’t sound right but in French it really means pleasant. I also appreciated their company and I hope they have a fantastic holiday.

The free camping spot for a few nights:

Saturday, July 10, 2010

A Better Flight in Annecy

Wednesday, July 7th

After a bit of a sleep in, breakfast, catching up on my blog and emails, I wandered over to the paragliding office just before noon. There was a chain smoking Aussie guy named Nick who was there with a mate yesterday (and they had walked away yesterday which aided in my decision to have an administrative day). This time the conditions looked a bit better but there wasn’t a shuttle until 1pm. I returned to Betty to do more blogging and there continued to be no cumulus clouds in the sky (indicators of lift) so I continued to catch up on my journal entries until close to 3pm. I then caught a shuttle up to launch and the conditions looked alright for flying. There were a fair number of spectators and pilots launching when I first arrived but by the time I finished my ham and cheese baguette lunch (which is becoming a bit of a staple by the way...I love the bread in France!), surprisingly almost everyone was gone. I pretty much had the whole launch area to myself.

I took to the air and the thermals were much easier to stay in than the other day. There was one thermal by launch that two paragliders were already in along with a hang glider. They were all turning in the same direction, which is proper etiquette, so I entered from the bottom and turned clockwise as well. I watched as the hang glider pilot fell out of the thermal a couple of times and then was at my height. I was adjusting my turning radius so the same thing didn’t happen to me. Since hang gliders fly faster than paragliders, I then became an obstacle for him. He yelled at me a few times but I didn’t think I was in the wrong so I kept turning, enjoying the view and the lift and listening to the tunes flowing out of my little speakers on my flight deck. He took off up the ridge shortly after and I was glad to see him go. I eventually left the supposed safe confines of the area near launch by following a woman who had “Louise” emblazoned on her wing. It helps a lot to follow someone as you can tell if they are going up or down and it helps your decision making. We both climbed a hundred or so meters over the last point of the ridge and then it was decision time, cross over a small gap to the north to a couple of rocky faces called “Les Dents” (the teeth) or just hang out here. Well Louise started to go for it so I decided to follow. Turns out that my wing was a bit faster than hers so I passed her and arrive at the grassy slope below the rocks before her. We worked together to locate lift but then she continued on as I hopped on a thermal. Soon I was above the teeth and soaking in the view. Magnificent! I could see Mt. Blanc off to the east and other mountains and ridges to the north. I headed to the second tooth and notice 3-4 hikers right at the top of it, boy, they sure earned their look at the landscape.

Getting higher up:

My first views of Mt. Blanc (a bit tough to see in these pics...but trust me, it looked spectacular!):

Hikers on the Teeth (really hard to see them):

After boating around for a while I decided not to cross the lake as the sun was no longer heating the faces of the ridges on the other side so I didn’t think a circum-lake-tion was possible. I opted to try and head back to where I’d come and try and make it to the proper landing zone. I passed by launch, only a hundred or so meters above it and then cruised out over the lake. I attempted a couple of wingovers but my heart wasn’t into it...which actually can be dangerous. I got part way through one and then stopped weight shifting and pulling the brake as I should and that almost caused a nice collapse! I had plenty of height over the LZ and had a nice landing. While packing up, chain smoking Nick yelled a hello as he had just landed and had had a nice flight. I walked the kilometer or two back to the campsite and settled in for some dinner and the other semi-final of the World Cup, Germany vs. Spain. Another good day in France!

High above Lake Annecy:

The view back of the Dents: