I had 2 free weeks, so went to Fiesch in Switzerland to meet my friend Bruce Marks. He’d been flying huge triangles and out and returns for the past 5 months so I figured it would be a good place to fly.
It didn’t fail to deliver some great conditions but more on the vicious side of the spectrum… An hour into my first flight, a bullet thermal stalled my wing out of nowhere, followed 2 minutes later by a massive asymmetric that ended in a nice spiral dive with my wing below me. Glad I had an SIV before to understand what was going on. A few days later I experienced a huge frontal while in a thermal right about take off and another multitude of other rock and roll situations over the first week… I really started thinking Fiesch was trying to kill me but Bruce said not to take it personally as it tries to take everyone out. Well, I guess that’s the price to pay for big flights!
On the flip side of things, this place is insanely beautiful with high mountains everywhere and what seems to be a glacier between every two of them. It’s really a grandiose setting, and about as perfect a bivouac playground as one can dream off.
I was not planning to bivouac during my first week, but on a day I was a bit tired I decided to top land on Eggerhorn to take a couple hours break and then fly back out for a little 3 hours afternoon flight to finish off the day. I had no clue how bad the day was going to turn and the major lesson I was about to learn on which mountains to choose to top land on.
Eggerhorn is surrounded by 3 valleys, the major Goms valley, and 2 more steep and long ones on it’s sides.
The first clue that something was wrong is when I came in to top land on the Goms side and the wind switched 180º right when I was 3 meters off the ground, making for a not so nice pummel in landing… What just happened??
I packed up my gear at 2000m and took a one hour nap under one of the only trees around and then set out to hike up a bit to figure out why the wind kept switching direction… And I kept hiking up and up the steep spine that was the only way up. I ended up making the top a sweaty hour later and figured out the problem. There was a strong thermal on each of the three sides of this death trap of a mountain.
I figured if I waited long enough the sunny side would win out and I would get to take off again… Even though I always fly with my tent and sleeping bag, I only had 2 little cubes of chocolate with me, so really wanted to get off this mountain. But at least I had water.
Every time I would set my wing somewhere thinking it was the good side, it would get back winded from over the top… After a few tries I should have known better and waited for any thermal activity to totally stop and just forward launch in nil wind and glide back down to the valley… But I laid my wing one last time and while trying to gingerly pre inflate it, all hell broke loose and I immediately figured 2 things out: first I realized the 3 thermals had just joined up at the top in one death dustless devil, and second that I was in deep trouble. Before I could kill my wing it was already over me, spinning around and dragging me towards the cliff on the other side of the top. I pulled as much brake on one side to stop the wing but after a few twist it got locked, I grabbed the brake line over the pulley and kept reeling line in but my wing would have none of it and kept spinning and dragging me.
I really thought this was going to end very badly but my luck was about to turn as I smashed in the only object at the very top of the hill, a log bench, that I grabbed on for dear life. It was almost a loosing battle but gave me a chance to finally kill my wing before the leg I had jammed below the bench got ripped off!!
Wow, I am still alive, and quickly decided to sleep on that mountain for the night.
I jammed my wing under the log bench and started to walk the rest of my gear to a little field behind the peak I had spotted for a campsite. I had not walked 30 meters down that I saw the shadow of a wing above me. Thinking it was someone flying over me I looked up, only to see my balled up wing flying high… Ok, that was one of the top eeriest moments in my life, followed by the realization that my wing was gone. But for an extra zest of weirdness, it decided to come back down to land about 10 meters from me!!!
Once I got that tripping out feeling out of me, and made sure all my gear was secured and going nowhere (it was windy as hell again and from all directions,) I set up my camp.
It was the first time I put up my new ultra light tent (1 kilo and packs tiny.)
I was very surprised at how quick it is to set up and how spacious it is. Things would have been looking good if I had food but as the French saying goes “qui dort dine” so I just waited to watch the sunset over the mountains and passed out until 6am.
I slept very well and barely heard the wind outside, while I was very comfortable. This was my first real life test with my new extremely light bivouac gear and I was impressed!
I had only been awake for 10 minutes but was pretty much ready to get off Eggerhorn so I packed up, walked up a bit to a good launch area and set up my wing in nil wind. After a couple of minutes, a light face breeze came up, I ran like a maniac to get a perfect forward launch and I was off… well almost, because for some reason I got a large deflation on the left as a final goodbye from this $%#@ peak from hell… but I did get off in silky smooth air and a beautiful early morning light waking up the sea of mountain peaks around me.
To make sure I get the scare out, I did a bunch of asymmetric spirals and wingovers over the LZ.
So there I was, landed around 6:30am after a forced bivouac, the whole valley still asleep and the first thing I did was not eat but take a showerJ
You would think I would rest, right? Wrong, I was on the 9:00am gondola back up to the official take off with Bruce, for what I incorrectly thought would be a normal long distance flight (we had a nice chat with Chris Maurer on the way up about the best options for the day… Really cool and down to earth guy .)