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Redbull X-Alps – Finish

30 July

Hi everyone

Well the race has finally ended and what an amazing race it was.
The favourite, Chrisitan Maurer, won the race, beating second place Toma Cocenea by almost two days, despite having a 24 hour penalty!

He’s an absolute machine, flying more than 75% of the route.
Toma arrived in Monaco this morning in second place, whilst third place went to Paul Guschlbaur who unfortunately was only 7km short of the finish line!  How frustrating that must be for him.

Honza, in the dying minutes, managed to fly past Thomas Dordolot, to take 10th position.  Interestingly enough, positions 6 to 11 are all within 10km of each other, even after 13 days of racing.

The prize giving is in Monaco tomorrow evening.  Pierre and I have been somewhat occupied driving around Europe and we decided to save the 1500km drive to Monaco and back to Salzburg, so we won’t be at the prize giving unforuntately.  They normally organise a nice party afterwards, but athletes tend to fall asleep rather early…  :-)

We’ll be back in SA by Monday.  Thanks to everyone for all your support, it truly has been amazing.  Looking forward to the next one.

See you soon, best regards
James and Pierre

27 July

Hi everyone

Well, more exciting news from the race, it just never seems to slow down.

Day 8 finished with Pierre crossing over the final mountains, Merano 2000, before the wide Meran valley.  He was quite exhausted by then, so I met him halfway up at Saint Catherin, where we spent the night.

His liquid diet of coke was starting to work and although still weak, was looking much better than previous days.  By the end of the day, we were in last position again, as the walkers who completed their 50km slog were now slightly further south than us, and hence closer to the turnpoint.

However, all was not last, and day 9 proved to be a most exciting day.

In the morning, we found this spectacular launch site, about 200m from where we had slept, about 1000m above the valley floor.  The wind was straight up the slope.  It had one challenge being that the tree line in front was maybe a bit too high for comfort, and Pierre would have to fly between the tree tops to make it into the valley.  The little church at St Catherin was the highest point, and to launch, Pierre would need to inflate his glider, ground handle up to the church doorway, and launch to clear the trees.  He did so, all in fine style, and glided off over Merano, and the heads of the five pilots walking through town below.  So within an hour, we were back in 16th position.

Merano is quite a large city and the valley is covered from side to side with vineyards and orchards, many power lines and poles, and no where to land!  Pierre executed a very tight landing into the bicycle lane next to the motorway on the far side of town.  After watching his glider disappear behind buildings and trees, I was somewhat relieved to hear that he was okay.

From there, we took a direct route up onto the south-facing slopes of the wide Meran valley, to try and take advantage of the morning sun.

By the time we got there, three pilots had launched already and flew over us.  conditions looked good but slow.  After climbing about 400m up (the other guys had hiked to the very top) we decided that since conditions looked okay, we would launch from here.

In front of us was someone’s nice lawn, and we decided to launch from there.  As Pierre got ready, I could see a large curious Italian woman starting to approach us.  Pierre quickly launched and I dealt with the situation as best I could. She was saying something about “the grass, the grass…”. When I explained that he was trying to fly from Salzburg to Monaco, she responded “Si, X-Alps, on tv!” and with a huge smile waved goodbye.  Phew, what a relief!  Slightly aside, the coverage of the race in Europe is huge.  Every night, an update is given on the sports channel in most european countries.

After ridge soaring some balconies and rooftops, Pierre thermalled up and was soon at the top of ridge working his way down the valley.  Our plan was to fly to Sproding (I think) and then to turn left up another valley, as the race leaders had done.  The weather slowly deteriorated and within an hour, the sky was totally overcast and it was raining on the southern side of the valley, including along our planned route.

Luckily, Pierre was uncertain about which valley to fly up (when the mountains are hidden in cloud, it is difficult to identify which valley is which) and he flew up the next valley.  Despite it being a significantly longer route, he had marginally better flying weather and flew all the way up to the Swiss border at Munstair, where he landed.  We crossed now into Switzerland and Pierre was jubilent that he had reached his personal goal!

No time to waste, I rushed in to the nearest shop to buy hiking maps whilst he set off on foot.  Since our route was further north, we had lost a few positions, and only had two pilots behind us: the Argentinian (sitting on launch at Merano) and the Czech (walking in a valley far to the south).  We had to make a wise route choice to avoid a possible elimination but our options were limited.  We could pick up a hiking trail that would move us directly towards the turnpoint but that would climb up to nearly 3000m in snow and more than likely in the dark.  Or, we could take a convoluted road pass to the south, which would link up with the route that the other back markers were following, and hopefully sneak in a late evening glide down to Bormio.

Although this would not give us an advantage relative to the back markers, it would keep us closer to the turnpoint than the Czech pilot.

In the meantime, the Argentinian pilot launched, and promptly crashed into a tree, somewhere near where Pierre had launched from.  I would be most amused if it was in the same garden of the irate Italian woman.  Here was a dilemma now, if the Argentinian retired from the race, the next pilot who would be in last position (us or the Czech) would be eliminated the following morning.  If the Argentinian pilot was in an okay condition but did not wish to continue, then he would be eliminated.  Unfortunately, he managed to injury himself sufficiently to require a helicopter rescue and a stay in hospital.  I am not sure on the details, from what I could understand from his supporter, he suffered a broken rib and minor compression to one vertebra.  The tree landing was fine, the fall from the tree was not.

Unfortunately, he had to retire from the race and the pressure was back on us to keep ahead of the Czech pilot.

By the evening of day 9, Pierre had flown more than 50km (in a straight line) and hiked nearly 30km up the pass above Saint Maria.red bull x-alps

His strength and determination had returned.  At sunset, we were at 2300m again, at the old Italian-Swiss border post, high in the Alps, offering a huge glide to Bormio below, and a gain in a position or two.  Since night had fallen, we decided not to hike down, as the glide would be far more beneficial from this high point.  Whilst we had an early night’s rest (and Pierre had eaten his first proper meal in days), the Czech pilot continued to slog on foot, into a valley with a T-junction, that required him to go straight.  We could out glide him from our position.

Day 10 started very cold (I slept in my glider for warmth) and since we were on top of the Bormio pass now, we only had to move about 50m to find a suitable launch spot and wait for favourable conditions.

The Czech athlete had started early, climbing up the mountain in front of him, but not gaining much distance from us, he was still well within reach.  For us, the time game started: we were waiting for flyable conditions, or for the 7am elimination phone call.

The Bormio valley faces south west and has incredibly sheer valley sides.  The road winds its way down through numerous switch backs, then follows the southern cliff wall via a series of tunnels, perforating the cliff face!  To make things more intimidating, two nasty power lines run down the valley, cris-crossing it like a spider web.  We couldn’t see the end of the valley since it meandered to the west, the plan was to either (crash-)land into the road or onto the roof of an avalanche shelter, if there was nowhere more suitable to land.

We were laid out and ready at 5.30am, just waiting for half a puff of wind to launch.  But alas, the cold air on the western side of the pass (in shadow) was sinking down the valley, and was just too strong in completely the wrong direction, for a safe launch.  We tried to find a more sheltered launch spot where the wind would at least be zero, but searched in vain.  As time ticked by, so were our chances of out gliding the Czech pilot who was now stuck in his current position.

At 7am on Day 10 (yesterday), we received the phone call that put us out of the race.  We were a little disappointed, by happy for Jan, the Czech pilot, that he could continue.  He’s a pleasant character that we have spent lots of time together with, in the previous race.

Despite Pierre’s poor health, we managed to hang into the race for a very long time, making clever route choices: on one day, Pierre slept for 18 hours and we were still in a comfortable position.  Pierre had very few problems with his feet, unlike the previous race, and those that hiked from Brunico to Bozen to Merano, just the after effects of heat exhaustion.

Although we are out of the race, the race continues, and Maurer should reach Monaco today or tomorrow.  His lead has increased, and even after receiving a 24 hour penalty, he is still far in the lead.  The fight for second place is hotting up with Paul Guschlbaur (sp?) and Martin Muller, hunting down Toma Cocenea.  Martin has had an amazing recovery from his 25th position on day 1, to fourth!

Yesterday afternoon, Pierre and I drove to Zermatt, to visit his parents, and to have a real shower again!  :-)

From us, a huge thank you to those that made this race possible us: we were sponsored equipment from Gradient, Solomon, First Ascent and Blue Eyewear.  Thanks to Redbull SA for organising the plane tickets.  And a special thanks to all for the encouragement and support before and during the race.  I am sure that work productivity levels in SA have been at a serious low and bandwidth levels at an all time high!  :-)

We should be home at the end of the week, I will send out a concluding report covering the end of the event and the final results.

Cheers,
James

 

26 July

CARTER OUT

Tailwind on take-off prevents catch-up flight

Pierre Carter (RSA) has been eliminated.  He had hoped for a long glide today to try and catch the pack ahead of him but a tailwind prevented him launching. Carter, who was laid up quite ill three nights ago, has shown amazing perseverance in the last four days.  His mission was to stay in the game until the leader made Monaco, but the race’s ‘tail-end Charlie’ elimination rule put paid to that.

The next elimination happens 0700 hrs on Thursday 28 July.

 

25 July

Hi everyone

Well the last few days have been extremely tough and Pierre has been very ill.  Since the race doctor checked on Pierre on day 5, he has only improved slightly.  We spent the night in Brunico hoping that the extra hours of rest would help him, but it hasn’t really had a significant effect.  He seems to be fine for 6 or so hours and then just bursts into a fever, sweating and shivering.  This lasts for a few hours, he rests, and then all is fine again.

On day 6, we continued from Brunico and climbed up high above Ellen, to sneak in a glide over the back towards Brixen.  Most athletes walked round alongside the freeway (very scary with all those Italian drivers) so I think our route was far better.  Once Pierre had reached the summit above Ellen, the wind was in our favour and he managed an evening glide into town.

This valley was the same valley where the French pilot had crashed earlier in the day, after flying into unmarked high voltage power lines, spanning across the valley.  Pierre was luckier in that he managed to glide over them.  They are totally invisible until the last second, no bouys, no markers, no nothing!  The french pilot is okay, he threw his emergency parachute and landed safely into trees below.

All the lines on his glider were sliced in half, so that was the end of his participation in this year’s race.

Brixen is one of these historical towns where the buildings in the old city are like 700+ years old.  The street signs in Italy are very vague, the roads don’t have street names, numbers or directions, but rather the next town labelled on the sign board.  I’ve done all my navigation so far using google maps on my mobile phone, but even this proved difficult.  My gps had given me a route directly through the old part of Brixen, to get to Pierre.  Before realising it, the road I was on had become cobled, and I was navigating my way down one way alleys, between the old buildings, with only a few inches on either side of the van’s mirrors, herding tourists out of the way!  If I had reached a dead-end, there is no ways I would have been able to reverse; I would have kicked out the front windscreen to climb out (couldn’t open the doors) and sold the car there and then.  :-)

Once again, the rain came puring down and the thought of camping in a tent on the side of a busy road, just wasn’t appealing.  Lucky for us, Pierre had landed just up the road from a cheap hotel, so we checked ourselves in for the night, ate a real pizza, and enjoyed a shower!

From Brixen, day 7 was a very long and slow day.  Pierre, not feeling much better, was only able to cover a few kilometres, then rest for several hours.  The plan was to hike up to the summit at the end of the Varna valley, and bomb down the other side to Sarentino.  With no maps and no real plan, Pierre set off for the top.  At the top, there was another summit behind the first one, and yet another one behind that one!  He continued and eventually stumbled into a hiking hut at the last summit.  By then, the fog and rain had come in, so there was no chance of flying down.  Since Pierre had no money on him, I had to drive up to the top, with dry socks and cash.  We spent the night in the hut, a very pleasant experience, and planned to fly down to Sarentino in the morning.

Today, day 8, started with fog and snow!  Although a novelty for South Africans, snow weather is not conducive to good paragliding, and again, Pierre was forced to walk down the western side to Sarentino, whilst I drove back down the eastern side and bought a hiking map.

Although this is the direct route, it is extremely energy consuming.

Most of the other athletes continued on foot from Brixen to Bozen, alongside the busy motorway.  This is a very long strectch, about 50km, and a real unpleasant experience.  Since this route goes more south and brings the athletes closer to the turnpoint, our position has dropped to almost last now, a result of our slower speed and more northerly route.

The reason for us taking this route is two fold: firstly, it clears the Bozen airspace and secondly, from Merano, there is a huge valley with (hopefully) easy paragliding.  The weather really hasn’t been great for the last two days with a strong north foehn blowing.  It is supposed to subside tomorrow or the next day, so hopefully the pilots can take their gliders out of their bags for a change.

At the front of the race, the leader, Maurer, is almost 100km ahead of second position Coconea.  Maurer received a 24 hour penalty for infringing airspace, so he had the pleasure of a day off yesterday.

Now that he is just short of Mont Blanc, we’re hoping he flies very quickly to Monaco, within the next day or two, so that this epic and difficult adventure will be over!  :-)

Since we’ve had to slow right down, we’re in the back markers gaggle unfortunately, with five athletes more or less within 1km of each other, all on different routes.  The Japanese pilot was elliminated this morning, so the race only has 22 athletes left.  Our plan is to try and hang in there until Maurer makes the finish, then we’ll have to jump into the van and rush off to Monaco.

Pierre has just left now for another uphill leg, this time to the top of Merano 2000, the last peak before the huge Merano valley.

Hopefully we’ll get over it tonight, otherwise we’ll have to sleep up there and glide down tomorrow morning.  We’ll see in what shape Pierre is just now.

Despite Pierre’s poor health at the moment, we’ve had a good race and a great experience.  We didn’t really expect to get this far (hence we’re off our hiking maps), so we’re very happy with our improvement from the last one.  But, we’re planning to hang in there until the end.

I hope you are all well, thanks for the messages of encouragement and support,
Best regards,
James

——————————————————

21 July

Click here for live tracking of the race

Hi everyone

Well the last few days have had weather of all seasons and many changes in positions as well as several withdrawals and elminations from the race.

Day 3 started clear but with a strong wind forecast.  Honza and Pierre set off on foot up the Embach valley (parallel valley to Zell am See and the Grossglockner) but instead of following the path of the race leader, Maurer, they climbed up the side of the valley to try and sneak a flight to the top of the Grossglockner pass.  Unfortunately, the strong wind forecast was correct and shortly after, the wind was pumping down the valley, so once again, they were on foot, to the crest of the Grossglockner pass.  At the top, the wind was far too strong to fly (the pilots who arrived there earlier that morning were rewarded with a long easy glide) and so they had to walk down the otherside (again) and into the turn point cylinder.  By now, cloudy and wet conditions were rolling in.  Most pilots who were on foot, took the long route via Lienz to Sillian, However Honza and Pierre decided that the up and over route would be more adventurous.  They set off at sunset up another 2000m pass, and slept in a mountain hut on top.  This put them in a high position for a long early morning glide into the Kalz valley (one valley short of Sillian).

Day 4 started with cold weather that brought snow and rain, but they were rewarded with a very long glide towards Huben.  Pierre landed just short of town, whilst Honza landed half way up and relaunched from the summit, to extend his glide into the next valley.  And so they became separated.  From there, it was more miserable hiking in wet conditions.  Pierre took a forestry road up to the summit above Hofgaten which, if the wind had not been so strong, would have given him a long glide all the way to Sillian.  Honza took the long route around the mountain on tar.  Since Pierre was forced to walk down due to unfavourable conditions, Honza gained extra distance.  In this case our tactic had not worked despite it being the most direct route.

At Sillian, we met up with a good paragliding friend, Stef, who gave us dinner and a shower.  It had been a long day, and a much-needed shower did both of us good.  Our tactic to catch up lost time was to cut off the dogleg that the others had taken on foot, via Innichen towards the Tre Cime (TP4).  This meant a sunset hike up the mountain to the Leckfeldalm hut, high above Sillian, and within easy glide of the edge of the Dolomite National Park.

After a very cold night on top of the mountain, day 5 started with Pierre doing an early morning glide, over the Italian border, and over the heads of many who had been walking most of the night.  This tactic worked well and earned us positions.

From there, we were back in the race, with fresh legs.  The hike up to Tre Cime was quicker than expected.  The flying conditions were looking good and almost everyone took to the sky.  Each pilot chose a different route, some going south and some going north.

Unfortunately, the sky quickly over developed and storms forced the wise to land at about lunch time.  The weather to the west was far better and Maurer was now almost 100km ahead of everyone, on his way to Piz Palu (Switzerland) for TP5.

The heat and exhaustion started to take its toll, Pierre suffered heat stroke this afternoon and was told by the race doctor to stop and rest for 6 hours.  We are now in Brunico and Pierre is almost ready to start hiking again.  We have lost several positions in this time but we should be able to make them up.  Our plan now is to follow Maurer’s route towards Merano, which avoids the large airspace restrictions around Bozen.  From there, we’ll see what happens.

Several pilots have pulled out of the race due to injuries and fatigue, so I guess, to avoid the same fate, we’ll have to take it easy for the next few days, at the risk of losing some places.  In general, flying conditions in the western alps are better, so that will be a welcome relief.  The longer term forecast is also looking a bit more promising, with fewer strong valley winds predicted.  In the last race, about half the field retired before the end of the race due to injury or exhaustion.  The secret was to slow down but to keep moving, preserving one’s self for the full duration.

Thanks for all the emails and support, we thouroughly appreciate it.

Best regards

James

———————————-

19th of July

Redbull X-Alps

The Dachstein glacier from the north side

Well for those watching via the live tracking, it has been a very exciting race so far!  Sunday turned out to be a brilliat flying day, and about 25 out of the 30 pilots in the competition had a good flight.

After the start in downtown Salzburg, Pierre reached the top of the mountain amoungst the top three, from the back side.  And as predicted, there was mass confusion.  At the same time, two guys arrived from the northern side of the mountain, and mixed with thousands of spectators, the guys had to fight their way through the crowds to get to the turn point.  We had a minor tracking problem (subsequently many problems) so it’s not exactly clear who got to the top first.  The tracking devices use the GSM network to send coords (once per sec) to the website.  So poor GSM coverage puts a large delay on the data.  Also, these devices have a poorly designed battery case, so the batteries fall out without you even knowing it!  The race rules say that each pilot must have a backup tracklog, so it means another gps which we download daily.  The amount of batteries being consumed is unbelievable, the tracking device uses four AA batteries every 5 hours – the manufacturer claims 20 hours, but we’re getting no where near that performance – and we’re using good batteries.  At 5 euros per pack, for two weeks, that’s going to be expensive.

Most pilots managed to fly to the base of the Dachstein on the NW corner, despite the day deteriorating and the wind building in strength.  I really feel sorry for the handful of guys who launched, under pressure of a 1000 screaming spectators on the mountain, only to bomb at the bottom, 700m below, and then watch the entire field climb up to 2000m and glide 70km!  Needless to say, the flying leg separated the field between the base of the mountain at the start, and the base of TP1.

Those that landed near the Dachstein, including Pierre, pushed into the night and slept at a climbing hut just below the glacier, about half way up.  Pierre, in his true self, did the hike in the dark, without a map, and in shorts!  :-)  The climbing hut is fully catered and provides blankets etc, so the 10 or so pilots who stayed there, were well looked after.

Monday started with very cold and foggy weather.  The pilots who slept on the Dachstein continued up the glacier, in the fog, to the turn point at the top.  Here, a criticial decision needed to be made:

either wait for it to clear and glide, or climb down and run.  Half the field, including Pierre, climbed down the via ferrata and continued on foot.  The other half sat on top for several hours, bogged down by fog, waiting to launch and to glide down.  At 1500m above the valley floor, even a glide with no lift, will take 15km of walking off one’s feet.

The Polish pilot made a rather interesting move.  He phoned me (in the valley below) to check how high the fog was above the ground (approx 200m).  He then randomly programmed a position into his gps for a point somewhere in the valley, and promptly launched in fog, off a 1000m high cliff, and glided, mostly in fog, until he reached his point, where he broke cloud and landed.  Not exactly Visual Flight Rules!  But the rules aren’t clear: “we will check if you do cloud flying, but we won’t penalise you” ?!

Meanwhile, most sane pilots sat on top until about lunch time, waiting for the fog to clear.  One such pilot was Honza from team USA.  He then flew through a clear patch and landed about 2km behind Pierre, who had, during this time, run on foot about 15km!  Pierre and Honza were now more or less in the same position, but Honza had done 15km less on foot.  the pair have similar strengths and equal affinities for tea and chocoloate biscuits, so have been racing together since.

I think it brings to both of them, company and a driving force:

Niether slows the other down and they can discuss routes, etc.

The day cleared marginally but was still completely overcast, so most pilots remained on foot.  By the end of day 2, Honza and Pierre were still together and managed a late evening glide across St Johann, to rest their feet and cut a major dogleg out of the route.  Honza’s van started giving problems, so Dave (his supporter) has taken the van in for some rather urgent mechanical work.  In the meantime, Honza’s essential kit is in the back of my van.  So, it seems that Pierre and Honza will be together for a while.

The race leader has changed several times with the Japanese pilot Ogisawa, who lead the race from the start, now being disqualified for breaking the complicated airspace at Salzburg, right at the start!

Christian Amon, who passed Pierre on foot shortly after the via ferrata (we had made a nav error), has now injured himself again (the third time in three races) and is also out.  Maurer has snuck into the lead, and everyone is really just playing “follow the leader” at the moment.  Maurer is probably playing “catch me if you can”.  If he gets airborne, which I’m sure he will, he’ll start pushing far ahead of the rest.

Pierre is in high spirits and doesn’t seem to have any real issues at the moment.  Like all the athletes, all his limbs are in pain, but he has surprisingly few blisters and all is okay.  The race so far, has gone very well for him and I think he’s thrilled to be where he is.

He truly is a machine, and I’ve renamed him “Pierre Elliot Carter”.

For our SA friends, remember, Elliot is amazing!  :-)

I’ve posted many pics and videos on the diary pages on the redbull website, so apologies for not attaching any now.  The redbull website, for us supporters, is very easy to access, we simply photograph and film with our mobile phones and email it directly to the website.  So much easier than USB cables, laptops, etc etc.  So forgive me please.

Pierre and Honza are currently close to the Grossglocker, TP4.  This is the one that Pierre, during the last race, got lost in the dark, in the snow, in shorts.  Well, there’s still 8 hours of sunlight and they need to cover about 6km to reach the TP cylinder, so it should be easily possible.  They were playing to fly up the valley in the morning, but the high level southerly winds came down, and conditions are blown-out on top.  From there, it’s a long glide into the valley below, which should put them 20km closer to Monaco.

For me, I still need to do the 100km drive around to meet them later.

I had a much-needed nap.  sleeping in a van that’s 2 inches too short, on the side of a road, for three hours a night, is just not good enough for me.  :-)

Best regards to all
James

——————————–

Saturday the 16th of July:

Hi everyone

Apologies for the silence, Pierre and I have been in the Alps for one week already, but I have been struggling with internet access.  Not that there’s no internet access in europe, I’ve been trying to get a connection that will cover us across five countries, without having to purchase a 150 euro roaming stick.

For those that don’t know, Pierre and I are team South Africa in this year’s RedBull X-Alps race, a 1000km odd race across the Alps, from Salzubrg (Austria) on the eastern end, to Monte Carlo (Monaco) on the western end.  Athletes may either fly their paraglider or run/walk, also with their paraglider.  In essence, either they carry their glider or their glider carries them.  The race is tracked live via www.redbullxalps.com where the live position of all 30 entrants can be viewed.  We entered the last race in 2009 and did okayish for a rookie team.  The winner that year, five times world paragliding champion, Chrisitan Maurer, won the race in 11 days!

Each team has an athlete and a supporter.  Pierre Carter is the nut case in our team and I am his supporter.  All he has to do is to do the physical stuff, I have to do everything else: drive, cook, wash, clean, scout paths, plan routes, charge batteries, etc.  :-)

The usual faces are here, except Alex Hofer, who won the race several times in the past.  He had a paragliding accident whilst training, a few weeks before.  This year has 10 odd rookie teams, mostly youngsters, so it should be quite interesting.  At least we have some experience now, so, if we can remain injury free, I’m sure we’ll have a good race.  Most pilots have travelled the whole route (by various means: on foot, microlight, plane) at least once, so they know what they’re in for.  We’ve only had enough time to see up until the Dachstein and we know the way to the Grossglocker from previous experience.  We’ll have to wing the second half of the route.  :-)

Redbull X-Alps

The steep cliffs from the south side of the Dachstein

Every year, the rules change, and this year is no exception.  In the past, athletes were not required to rest, and many would push on for several days before stopping.  this year, they have included a mandatory sleeping time from 11pm until 4am, in which time the athlete may not move.  I personally think this rule has not been thought out very well and it will probably change in the future: one can’t expect someone free climbing a cliff at 11pm to just stop and sleep for 5 hours!  But that’s what the rules say at the moment.  A better rule would be to keep the 5 hours sleep per day, but make the time of that flexible i.e. any time of day for 5 hours.

Regarding gliders, they are even more dodgy than the last: the materials used are thinner, the lines are far less, and the harnesses are basically nothing.  They have been quite strict with equipment checks, anything not made in serial production has been very closely scrutinised.

Following the FAI’s ban (the international airsports body) of two-liner gliders (very high performance paragliders due to minimum attachment lines) following the deaths of pilots last week, Redbull made the same decision.  Since about 5 pilots are flying these things (super lightweight and even more flimsy than the originals), they objected and RedBull reversed the decision, then asking each pilot to demonstrate a full-stall and front-stall on their gliders over water!
This would have been very exciting to watch, how ever the pilots objected again (rightly so) and Redbull changed their minds again!   Now, pilots just need a letter from the manufacturer stating that the pilot is qualified to fly their glider – a real cop-out in my opinion.

Redbull X-Alps

All the lines on a two-liner glider

Interestingly, most pilots here who normally fly two-liners, said that the difficulty in launching them, landing them, and controlling them in difficult conditions, wasn’t worth the risk, so they are flying standard three-liner gliders.  In fact, Chrisitian Maurer is flying the exact same glider he flew two years ago, saying the risks are just too high.

This year’s route is fairly similar to the last race.  Attention / concern is on turn point 2, the Dachstein, a massive mountain about 60km into the race.  Unlike the other massive mountains which have large radii around them, for this one, the athlete needs to cross a 200m line on top of it i.e. they have to get to the top, whilst the others can be circumnavigated round the base.  The Dachstein has a huge glacier on the north side, and 500m+ sheer cliffs on the south side.  so getting up it (without a cablecar) is somewhat difficult.

Redbull X-Alps

The steep cliffs from the south side - Dachstein

The race organisers are (only) now concerned that 30 athletes may be climbing up a glacier, in the dark, possibly sleeping there from 11pm….  :-)  So we’ve all been restricted to one of two routes:

Either up a safe-ish 200m via ferrata (chain ladder) on the north side and then up onto a safe part of the glacier, or around the contour path on the southern side (much longer) and up another 500m vertical climb with a via ferrata on top.  Obviously, flying over is not a problem, but looking at the weather forecasts, I’m not sure that will happen.

Redbull X-Alps

Pierre launching over Salzburg

At Monaco, the course takes a different route to those in the past.

The original take-off at Mont Groz is now closed due to recent paragliding accidents.  Instead, a temporary take-off, immediately behind Monte Carlo has been made in one of the road bends (!!), so that pilots can glide down to the finish line at the beach.  However, since the whole of Montecarlo is covered with airspace limitations, the pilots have to fly three-sides of a box, to get to the beach!  The rules are rather interesting, pilots who are flying over the turn point at Mont Groz, must land there, walk to the new take-off, and launch again!  They’re not allowed to just glide over directly to the beach, with no airspace in the way.  The logic?  I don’t know: it’s far more dangerous to land on top of a mountain between houses, than to launch from there.  In this case, I think the logic is that, if someone does make it, they can tell him to wait a few hours until the camera men are ready on the beach – to prevent surprises like in the last race, where the winner beat the camera crew (in cars) by a whole day!  So in brief, the usual Redbull logic (or lack thereof) applies and some rules are somewhat vague.

The weather has been truly Austrian, sunny stunning day one day, and heavy rain the next.  The forecast keeps changing, and now it looks like race day will be okayish and the second day (Dachstein area) will be pouring with rain.  So there’s a good chance that 30 athletes will be walking, in the rain, on a glacier, and sleeping in the snow at 11pm.  :-)

Redbull X-Alps

Packing Gliders

Each athlete and supporter has a Redbull mobile phone that we use to take pics and videos, which gets posted directly onto the redbull website.  It’s the easiest way for us to send news (although somewhat difficult to type on), so during the race, please visit our diary and you’ll see what we’re seeing, pretty much immediately.  I managed to hack the phone (they were adamant that it could not be done) to get internet access on a laptop (so hopefully will have roaming access now) and will try type enroute through the course of the race.

Redbull X-Alps

Our little red fire engine van

Despite this event being a huge Redbull PR and marketing event, the atmosphere is quite pleasant and the athletes seem quite fired up and ready to go – that may also be because the campsite that we’re all crammed into only has two functional toilets, no rubbish bins, and the place is beginning to look like a squatter camp.  Pierre and I are quite relaxed.  Pierre is not expecting to crash this time and we’ve got our routes to Grossclocker well planned.

We just have to execute it now.  :-)  Some minor teething problems that need sorting out, then we’re ready.  Our little inverter in the van, used to charge everything, blew the comfort electronics in the van, so the CD player, aircon, etc stopped working.  All the fuses are fine and we’ve now hard wired the inverter directly onto the battery in the car.  Porche (VW) helped with the CD player, so that’s working again now.  :-)
The rest will have to wait.

Pierre is sponsored by First Ascent

8 Responses to Redbull X-Alps – Finish

  1. Justin Jul 19, 2011 at 1:08 pm #

    Pierre is currently in 6th position – 20Km’s behind the leader!
    Go Pierre!!

  2. Jacques Jul 21, 2011 at 9:41 am #

    whats been happening?

  3. Riaan Nieuwoudt Jul 21, 2011 at 10:51 am #

    Hey guys, good going, increadble following you on live tracking, ballistic, good speed !!!!

  4. ant Jul 21, 2011 at 1:31 pm #

    Thanks for the updates James!
    (I’ve been posting some pleb commentary on the forum from what I can make out from the little dots on the screen :-)

  5. Brad Jul 21, 2011 at 11:27 pm #

    What happened to Pierre, he was looking so good! He slipped down to 15?
    MUCH respect to these guys! As extreme as it gets imo.

  6. Buzz (Mark Busby) Jul 22, 2011 at 8:58 am #

    Hey! Nice going so far! Sorry to hear about the heat-stroke! Hopefully Pierre will get to fly more! ;-)
    It would be interesting to know a bit more about decision-making i.e. a couple of days back, Honza & Pierre walked past the Fin,(Jouni), who promplly took off and flew a huge distance – were the conditions really strong?
    I see Pierre decided to go more north whilst the other pilots went south, but you’ve now explained airspace restrictions ahead!
    You’re doing fantastically well!!! Keep the flag flying! We’re watching you!!!
    Buzz

  7. Justin Lawson Jul 24, 2011 at 12:10 pm #

    Quick news from the mountain:
    Spent the night in the mountain hut, snowing. Pierre is still sick. The plan is to keep going and try not be eliminated before Mauer finishes the race. The weather is miserable, so limited flying opportunities. Pierre is currently walking to Sarentino. Hope to make Merano by end of today.

    Report from Sam

  8. shorti Jul 29, 2011 at 9:46 am #

    Thanks for all the updates James! You guys did really well and I had a lot of fun following the race.

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