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Vol bivouac - Windmill TIlting

Ben Keayes - 13/02/2007

Vol-bivouac Third Attempt ‘Tilting at Windmills"
All Quotes attributable to Don Quixote.

“he so immersed himself in those romances …and thus with little sleeping and much reading his brains dried up to such a degree that he lost the use of his reason”

Scene One Valley of the Inn"

Once upon a time in a land close enough to easy jet, two intrepid and foolish characters (who had been as lucky as a whelk surviving a supernova on previous June weeks) set off to bivouac from the dachstein back to Geneva.

It seems that exploration for the pair is limited to geography. Not being explored was new equipment. Despite opportunities for a "comfortable" new tent (!), a pick of dates and ignoring new wings they set out on the same day for pastures new. As usual, explorer II (known henceforth as Nimajneb) knew not where they were headed not what flight and not where his passport was. Explorer I (k h a DD) had done the leg work (and remembered to bring the details and Nimajneb) and as such the bewildered travellers arrived in XXX. It's not a secret I didn't know and can't remember.

We were to be joined (possibly) by two scots (but they looked at the forecast and went to Spain instead) en-route. We are made of tougher stuff. Undeterred by sub-zero conditions we walked uphill in the rain until we needed to run for the last cable car an exercise that blew away the train trips (plural devised by muppetry) needed to get us into the hills. Walking for a while we discovered a meadow that in completely different climatic zone would be a perfect launch site. Even better it ha a hut with large alpine porch where we could shelter from the sleet. Attempting to set fire to the hut to keep warm worked (we stopped shy of reaking and entering), but the sleet continued so a blister inducing walk down led to further train rides into a new country (Italy).

Scene Two Apple Valley

A beautiful place full of beautiful people and a new language (italian?). Weather still one notch away from appalling we decide to give it a shot. One short flight later – ending in a backwards landing in the only non-cultivated 20 sq, feet of orchard in the valley led to a discussion about the sanity of attempting to ridge soar (in snow showers) the 400km+ to the destination.

It also brought about the first of two close calls with the local constabulary.

“(they were) spurred on by the conviction that the world needed (our) immediate presence…”


Scene Three Vertical Limestone

Leaving gliders and accoutrements in a train station we abandoned the bivouac attempt. Instead we settled for a couple of nights in the wilderness that is the western dolomites. An 8 hour wander later we were starting to regret leaving the gliders (not for flying potential – just that it was -8 and falling, windy and gliders have wonderful insulation properties. A winter refuge (and rapidly dwindling woodpile) allowed fingers to warm enough to capture the view.


The next day was superb. A combination of fun via ferrata (imaginary kit of course) and wonderful isolated walking lead from left to right through the heart of the range shown. Once we had glissaded down the first couloir (DD showing considerably more fortitude than Nimajneb) we were committed.

After 12 wonderful hours we had but 3 km worth of descending ferrata to reach the scree slopes on the right. Using ice axes (tent pegs) and caution on the neve (don't think about the exposure) made up for the ferratas cable being buried in the snow where we needed it most. It felt the most dangerous thing we'd done since the Peery Knees (especially on reflection) and close examination of the photos…

Definitely a place to return to either to fly or to climb.

Scene 4 viva la France

Tropical weather reports from the uk lead us to hanker for air. So another train journey (boring save for the multi-multi lingual girl who's idea of hell was to find herself in a country where you had to mime to ensure your steak was cooked) took us to Les Gets where we dabbled in mtbing (hired double boingers). This taught us that the french don't brake (break) and english fat boys (in body armour) are in fact girls. Just when we had given up hope conditions broke (less than 48 hours before our departure) and we got out our wings with excitement.

The flight

From Les Gets onto the Arravis and on into Chamonix valley. Nimajneb (who was already heading for a premature landing) met with unexpected resistance to paragliding – 1st of all by an irate eagle (jealous of prowess no doubt) and 2nd by the whirlybird gendarmerie who flew alongside making unmistakeable land now hand motions. DD topped the day by having to phone Mr Thwaites (en-vacance in the valley – and unable to fly on said day to ‘bad’ condition) to remind him of where the Chamonix landing field was. This was the icing on the cake as the best in France had attempted to fly from Plan Joux earlier in the day and called it off due to the dangerous strength of the North wind. Nimajneb’s adrenal gland was satisfied by having to hide from the cops under a copse (not pretending to be a corpse).

“Neither fraud, nor deceit, nor malice had yet interfered with truth and plain dealing”

Two more floats on Mont Blanc were possible flying from the mid-station of the Aiguille du Midi (Nimajneb getting drilled to the Mere de Glace) – but an attempt to launch from the aiguille was a step too far for the ice axes (tent pegs). There’s something about risking death in full view of the public that seems harder than in private.

Never having been onto the Aiguille’s surreal mountain top café before I was impressed by the view (the mountains for sure) – more priceless was the look on the face of the cable car ‘driver’ as the car plummeted from the Aiguile du Midi’s top station. Fortunately quality engineering intervened with only the emergency brake stopping 45 japs and 2 ‘explorers’ from meeting a grisly and public end. I’ve never seen anyone shake like a leaf before.

“Truly I was born to be an example of misfortune, and a target at which the arrows of adversary are aimed”

Next – well a little post trip research has suggested conditions in the Northern Alps are unlikely to yield results on a short trip like ours. So in 2007 we need a new plan.

If you can’t keep safe keep going…

 

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