Archive for June, 2008

Paragliding video

The summer school finished last Friday, and I travelled to Verbier where Paul is staying. I had booked a one-day introduction course to paragliding for Saturday. I was a bit scared about doing this, but it was lots of fun! We spent most of the day at “ground school” – learning to set up the glider and the harness, and how to take off (without actually taking off). In the afternoon I first did a short tandem flight – really great! And then it was time for my first solo flight… I was a bit nervous and I thought I’d be terrified through the whole flight but actually I didn’t get scared at all and was able to relax and enjoy the flight. It’s a great feeling to be flying on your own! It wasn’t very difficult as you are almost “remote controlled” – you have a radio and they tell you exactly what to do. The landing went fine, though I did fall over face forward – but the landing field has very tall grass and it made the landing very soft. Paul was able to take a great video of my flight, and because he had a radio on him as well, you can hear everything they were telling me…

The flight was only about 5 minutes, but it was fantastic and I am now very keen to take a course myself!! I didn’t expect I would enjoy it this much, I am usually quite a chicken and scared of everything… ;)

Paul is doing the last few flights he needs for his license at the moment, when he comes back we will leave for Vevey (near Montreux, at the lake of Geneva) until Wednesday. Paul has a lot of photos and videos of his 2 weeks of paragliding, so more soon!

Kung-fu Paragliding

Today is day 9 of the 14 day course and so far I’ve done 11 solo flights, some of them lasting more than 20 minutes. I can now launch the paraglider fairly reliably and land using a left hand approach. Sometimes I need a bit of instruction over the radio to ensure the final approach is at the right speed and height, but each one is better than the last. Before landing a paraglider it’s advisable to stand up in the harness and get ready to run, but initially I had a tendency to start kicking my legs considerably before landing, especially if the ground seemed to be approaching too quickly. People seemed to find this pretty hilarious, but fortunately I managed to stop doing it before anybody got a video.

Today, others stole the landing lime light though. One person landed on a parasol that the rest of us were sitting under moments before, and another landed so short that our instructor had to jump on his motorbike and speed down the valley to get a new vantage point to guide him in from! Most of us land in the field most of the time though!

From now on I will be learning to gain height by using thermals and to soar using winds blowing over ridges. These techniques need more specific weather conditions than simply gliding down from a mountain top, and I’ve had to sit out quite a few flights because the thermals or wind have been too strong for a novice pilot. It’s a little frustrating, but hopefully I’ll be going up rather than down for the first time quite soon.

Above are some pictures of a typical flight; The first shows people setting up their gliders on the mountain top ready for launching; The second and third pictures are taken from the launch site and show people who have been in the air for only a few seconds; and the last two pictures show the landing field. I haven’t taken any aerial photos so far as I’ve had to concentrate on maneuvering too much, but I’m getting more confident so I might take my camera up at the end of the course.

Hiking in Les Houches

The summer school is pretty intensive, but if you take a lunch bag instead of sitting down for lunch, there is enough time for a nice hike. These two photos are taken on one of those hikes:

On Saturday we had the afternoon off, and I took the cable car up with a few people. It was a beautiful day, and flowers everywhere, very pretty!

Me with Anastasia and Claire, and one of the views along the way…

In the photo on the left we are standing in front of the Mont Blanc!

While on that hike, Paul called me to say he was coming to Les Houches! It’s less than 1.5 hours to drive from Verbier (where he’s taking his paragliding course) to Les Houches, and we both had the day off on Sunday so this worked our very nicely. I waited for him at the bottom of the cable car, and we went to Chamonix for dinner. A very touristy place, but pretty too! And it was the 21st of June, which is Fête de la Musique in France – so there were people playing music everywhere and we enjoyed strolling through the streets and listening to the different groups.

On Sunday (today) we took the cable car again, and from there we walked to the next cable car. It was mostly downhill and not a very difficult walk, but it was very warm so we took it easy and spent lots of time taking photos. The amount of flowers up there is just amazing, see here…

These photos are taken in front of the glacier coming down from the Mont Blanc, great views!

This is one of the stops of the Mont Blanc railway, a small train that goes up to 2300 m. We later climbed a bit higher, and on the right you can see the spectacular view of the valley towards Chamonix.

And here’s a photo of Paul and the crazy car he took… He was going to rent a car but the rental company was closed and then one of the instructors offered him his car for the weekend… a very fun car in this weather!

Paul left for Verbier again in the afternoon, and we start lectures and tutorials again tomorrow. There’s 5 more days left in the summer school, we finish on Friday after lunch. I’ll hope to have time for a few more hikes though :)

The Views

The first picture below shows the main building of the summer school (Ecole de Physique). This is where we have all the lectures and tutorials, and generally hang out. Besides this building, there is a restaurant and several chalets where we sleep. The other photos show the view from in front of the main building at different times during the day… very stunning!