Friday 13th

Since I wrote yesterday, the forecast has got worse and worse every time we’ve looked. Now we have more than 30km winds at the summit. Even lower down on the Dome de Gouter it’s similar.

Sam and Jam setting off
Sam and Jam setting off in the dawn light this morning

We’re not going to be able to fly from the summit of Mont Blanc. We’re not going to be able to fly from the Dome de Gouter and we’re not even going to be able to fly from the lower point of the Refuge de Gouter.

So late last night, we had to make a very tough decision. And at 7am this morning, Sam and Jam left without us to climb Mont Blanc.

We’ll be setting off with Irwyn tomorrow morning to meet them at the Refuge de Tete Rousse. If we can, we’ll fly down from the Glacier de Tete Rousse at 3150m.

It’s a disappointment. But it’s the best the weather will allow. This is paragliding and this time, the mountain says: “No!”.

Déjà vu

You can’t fly from the summit of Mont Blanc in a westerly wind. It’s a well known fact.

Groundhandling the Geo ii
Thanks Ozone! Getting to know the Geo ii again 😀

But that’s exactly what Irwyn and I ended up doing last time we went up there. The forecast wasn’t straight westerly, but when we got to the summit, the wind was coming directly up the arête. We waited until the sunshine brought the wind up the southerly face and we were able to take off.

The last forecast showed the weather improving enough to make the attempt at the summit look sensible. But while the wind is dropping, it’s also turning westerly again. But this time, it’s unlikely we’ll be waiting around for the sun to do its work – while the temperatures are increasing, we’re still looking a frosty  -13C at 5,000m.

But it’s the best opportunity on the horizon, so we’re taking it and just in case the wind does exactly as forecast (for once), we’ll be checking out the terrain on the way up for a nice launchable westerly facing slope!

ITV Awak 2
Irwyn having a play with the ITV Awak 2 tandem

The last couple of days have been filled with preparing our kit – a job which seems to expand to fill all available time! I’m delighted that Ozone have agreed to sponsor me again with a wing. The Geo II behaved perfectly last time – just as well as the first chance I had to inflate the wing was on the summit. This time I’ve had plenty of chance to play with it on the ground and it’s just as I remember. It inflates beautifully in any wind strength, feels solid overhead even in gusty conditions and is nice and responsive on the brakes, so I’m confident that however challenging the climbing side of the adventure might be, the flying side should be trouble free.

ITV Parapentes in Doussard have been incredibly supportive with the loan of two lightweight tandem wings. Graham will be flying the new Skyman tandem and Irwyn will be flying the ITV Awak 2. At 5.8kg and 6.4kg respectively, either wing represents a considerable weight saving compared to a normal tandem wing, so will make a huge difference to Jam and Sam’s chances of making the summit. First impressions of both wings are good… now we’re off to put them through their paces and give the boys some last minute take-off practice over Lake Annecy!

Sam’s first flight

Graham and Sam sailing past the Aguille de Midi at dawn
Sam’s first tandem! Graham and Sam sailing past the Aguille de Midi at dawn

Meet Sam Forman and Jam Jones. A year ago they were sat in a pub in Vauxhall coming up with ideas for an adventure. This week, we met them for the first time in Chamonix to begin our training to help them fly from the summit of Mont Blanc in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support and the Alzheimer’s Society.

Sam has cycled from London to Chamonix, where he rendezvoused with Jam ready to climb Mont Blanc and fly from the 4810m summit. They haven’t let the fact that they’d never done any mountaineering or paragliding before put them off!

Jam's first tandem flight with Graham at Passy
Jam’s first tandem flight with Graham at Passy

Some people may see that as foolhardy. But the fact that they’ve got this far just goes to show what a can-do attitude can achieve. They’ve both been training for this for months, so are both incredibly fit. But as we discovered for ourselves recently, getting properly mountain fit is almost impossible in the UK. There‘s nowhere you can climb 1,000m in one go! And there’s definitely nowhere to get acclimatised to being at altitude – without that, just breathing at 4,800m will be challenging, even before you factor in the physical and mental exertion!

Dan Shane and Irwyn on the summit of Mont Blanc
Dan, Shane and Irwyn on the summit of Mont Blanc getting ready to fly

Within 2 days of Sam’s arrival a window of opportunity appeared for the summit seemingly out of the blue. From our perspective, this was almost the worst possible timing! Along with Sam, we had to sit by and watch our friends set off for the summit without us. Dan and Shane had been in Chamonix for weeks training and getting used to high altitude. Irwyn had joined them on many of their training expeditions and couldn’t resist it as a training opportunity for the forthcoming flight with Sam and Jam. Whereas we had just arrived from the UK.

Preparing for a dawn flight from the Aguille de Midi
Preparing for a dawn flight from the Aguille de Midi

But we made the most of the weather window anyway – Sam certainly didn’t get much chance to rest from his 1,000km bike ride! We headed up to the Aguille de Midi with Dan, Shane and Irwyn, put Sam on a rope between the two of us and headed down the arête then across the ice to the Cosmiques refuge. That arête was my first walk in crampons two years ago – and despite the experiences I’ve had since, it still scares me! So I can imagine how Sam felt – legs still quivering from his time on the bike.

Looking from the hut at the route to the summit, I was glad not to be going. We could still see the scars of the serac fall which had killed 4 people less than two weeks earlier. I’d seen photos of ice walls on the route which were certainly beyond my level of technical climbing skills. The guys set off for the summit at 2am the following morning. We got up at 5am and headed out into the dawn glow. At the bottom of the Aguille de Midi arête, Sam had his final briefing for his first tandem flight. Climbing kit and ropes in the harness meant it wasn’t the most comfortable flight ever, but there really can’t be many people who can say their first ever flight on a paraglider was off the Aguille de Midi at dawn – the first wing above Chamonix that day.

Landing field beers
Cheers Dan – the first of our gang to launch from the summit

While I was flying down soon after, I saw the first gliders launch from the summit. On landing, we all headed back to base to pick up Jam, just arrived from the UK, then back to the landing field with cold beer to meet Dan, Shane and Irwyn as they landed.

Since then, we’ve been doing something every day – getting up as high as we can, hiking, flying, drilling the boys on basic mountaineering and paragliding. Now we’re waiting for another weather window. Last year, there was only one day where it was possible to fly from the summit. Dan and Shane, who were here then, missed that opportunity because they weren’t yet acclimatised. Jam and Sam have worked incredibly hard to get this far, so we’re hoping the same won’t happen this year. But really all we can do it wait and hope and keep ourselves as fit as possible in the hope that our turn comes next week!

Sam is posting updates of their adventure at http://mtblanc2013.blogspot.co.uk – they’ve got some great pictures and details about how you can sponsor them.

Aerobics at 3800m

Star jumps at 3,800m
Star jumps at 3,800m
Star jumps at 3,800m
Star jumps at 3,800m

 

 

 

Yesterday we were doing star jumps at 3,800m. Two days ago, we were at sea level.

There was definitely a grin on our faces on Sunday as we arrived in our playground for the next two weeks. We had a great time back in Sussex. Both of us love teaching paragliding, and it was surprisingly difficult to drag ourselves away from the Fly Sussex gang when the weather forecast there was looking so good. But being back to the Alps is really no hardship 😉

We eased ourselves in yesterday with a cable car ride up to the Aguille de Midi at 3,800m. We’re both fit, so our priority is acclimatisation. Doing training circuits up there, we could certainly tell that the air was thinner than we were used to!

As we were panting for breath, we worked out that from when we’d boarded the ferry, we’d climbed an average of 100m per hour for 38 hours! Hopefully the change in altitude should be just what we need to get ourselves ready – in a few days we hope to be climbing to the summit of Mont Blanc!

For now we need to call on all our reserves for the hardest part of the game – waiting! Tomorrow looks flyable from the summit, so our friends who have been here training for the last few weeks are going to be heading up there. Obviously we’re not ready – we only got here from the UK! But sitting by and watching others head off for the summit isn’t easy! But we’ll set off with them today and go with them as far as we can. We’ll make the most of it as a training opportunity so when (hopefully) our opportunity comes next week, we’re ready to go…

Good luck guys – we’ll be in the landing field when you get there with cold beer!