France break - Posted On

My good old friend Sébastien, also called « Jojo » wants nothing but taking some time trekking with me in august. 

I suggest trying together a “trek&fly” concept. Unlike a “vol-bivouac”, the idea is mainly to walk, carrying a light wing with us. And IF conditions are fine, THEN we could go down from the top to bottom flying. Aware of our “little” flying skills, and not wanting to risk anything, we are not aiming for flying high and long, but playing with the slopes and mountains. 

Our playground is named Chambeyron, in the south Alps. We take five days of food and equipment, as well as a couple of friends who joined us. They are not pilots. For the wings, considering that my Ultralite 23 is now ‘dead’ (too much porosity), we use Sébastien’s normal wing and a small 11.5m² speed flying wing. It’s very light and very fast. It’s usually used for taking off with skis. But when conditions are rough, it’s better and somehow safer. In fact I love it! Very easy to fly, I use it very much like an extension for the trekker, like some wings added to the backpack. 

When in use, I leave the others walking forward and let me gliding down, passing them like a bird and taking big steps forwards when they hurt their knees looking jealously at me….

After having validated the “speed flying trek” concept with five days around the Chambeyron, we go up to climb the Pelvoux in Les Ecrins, 3950m high. This time my sister Marie comes with her new husband Johan. They are both very much experienced with alpinism. For two days, we are climbing with peaks and crampons, ending up through the Glacier of the top, happy to be together for such an intensive and beautiful experience.

It’s late when we are up there. 9:30 am. Quite surprisingly for Johan, there’s no wind up there. Quite none in fact but it’s already quite enough to give us a warning. The aerology at that time is quite complex. It’s early enough not to have too strong thermals and we still receive adiabatic (down) wind from the glacier. On the other hand, it’s late enough to have breeze, locally strong from the top of the chimneys all around the top.

Nadège, Séb and I make our minds to try and take off. Sébastien is first, his large wing takes him straight in the sky through the glacier de l’Homme. Nadège gets herself ready on the large flat area of the glacier. But the traitor wind puts her wing down. She slides on the sloppy ice down and stop there, a bit shocked. She will go down with Marie and Johan, six hours of climbing down. 

I am the last one, with my speed flying wing of 11.5m². I chose the “Roches rouges” side, steeper, to take off. However the wind is very much confusing. I try at least 6 or 7 times. Marie and Johan start stressing up. It’s late and they know it to go down on the glacier. They are right, the later, and the more dangerous it becomes, rocks getting detached from the melting ice. 

It’s now my last try and I would then pack up and walk down. Shit, I missed it! I close my eyes, desperate to fail. And then I feel a very tiny facing breeze. Not hesitating a second, I run madly toward the steep slope of rocks. When I disappear behind the last rock, Marie cries, she felt like her brother just died in front of her. But 10m further, already speeding toward the ground, I am in the air, feeling the heavy backpack cutting my shoulders and I shout of pure joy. 

We made it! 

Six minutes later I crash in the middle of the camping place, sliding on the grass for ten meters, but safe, welcomed warm fully by Sébastien. Thinking shamefully about our friends up there in the dangerous glacier, we cheer up around a merited beer.