Paralpine: Guillaume Funck's Alpine Traverse
25-year-old Belgian mountain addict Guillaume Funck has spent the last few weeks on a big project: crossing the Alps from Slovenia to Nice, stopping on the way to climb some iconic mountains. He took with him a Base 2 Lite and an Anda.
6 June 2023
It's been almost a week since Tonio and I set off to cross the Alps. The weather hasn't been on our side so far. Fortunately, as soon as we arrived, a small window of good weather opened up and we took advantage of it to get to the refuge under the Triglav as quickly as possible. After a night on the bus, we started the climb at 5pm, just enough time to do the shopping, find out about the conditions and get to the foot of the mountain. Everyone discouraged us from attempting the summit, but it seems that nobody really climbs. It's more like a collective fear since one accident or another, they don't ask themselves what the conditions are really like. In the end, things went very well, even if we did sink into the snow with our soaking wet trainers. The circus of rock faces we were walking through was magnificent, and we'll have to come back and climb one or two of them. We finally arrived at the hut at around 10pm, which was a bit tedious after all.
We didn't know whether it was open to the public or not, so we wandered around the messy corridors until we finally bumped into the warden/meteorologist, who was taking a short pee break during the night. He's surprised to see us. He charges us for the night and says he can lend us an ice axe and crampons the next morning. Wake up at 5am, another short night. Not so useful to get up so early after all, because we don't get our gear until after 7am. We made our way to the summit and it went like clockwork, even though there was still a lot of snow. We're happy to have the alpine gear. The atmosphere is superb, with clouds rolling in all around us (see attached photos), but it also makes us want to take off as quickly as possible before things get out of hand.
We're back at the refuge by 10am for the deco. After a few unsuccessful attempts, we finally managed to get into the air. From there, we had a great flight to the plains. We landed 2 hours later in a small village on the border with Italy. We're euphoric, what a day! We found accommodation in extremis before the sky fell on our heads. The lady who welcomes us is really nice and cooks us a gullach with wild boar from the forest next door, great. At last we can get some rest.
The next day, there are a few slots that can be flown between the curtains of rain. This allowed us to reach Italy and land on a small mountain above Gemona! Tonio had to land earlier and he hitchhiked to meet me. We found a little chapel where we could shelter from the rain for the night and most of the next day. At last the sun came out and we took a short flight towards the Dolomites. Yesterday's weather was even worse, making it impossible to fly. So Tonio hitchhiked with our 2 big bags and I joined him, walking for a long time on the road to a pass above Ampezzo where we hoped to be able to fly today. Except it rained even more than yesterday. We still walked to the take-off point in the hope that it would open up. We had to face the fact that it was impossible to fly. We continued on our way along a path marked out in the Italian style, i.e. markings, but no path. It was a good site ???? This evening we booked accommodation in Forni Di Sopra to finally wash and dry our stuff that had been wet since Slovenia.
The good news is that we're now in the Dolomites, with just a few days to go before we join Eline for the Tre Cime di Lavaredo!
It's a good thing there's two of us, because it wouldn't be so much fun going it alone in weather like this. We're keeping our fingers crossed for a change in the weather ????
10 June 2023
After days of rain, the weather has finally changed a bit, and that's allowed us to take a flight to Auronzo, at the foot of the Tre Cime. There we met up with Eline, a climbing friend who was bursting with energy. We planned to do a big route with her. Our original plan was to climb the north face of the Cima Grande via the Comici, but the north faces are completely soaked after the last few days. So we decided to try a route on the south face of the Cima Piccola. It may be the smallest of the three Cime, but it's almost the most beautiful: a tall, slender pillar with a steep south face. Our route is called Gelbe Mauer ("yellow wall") and is a sustained 7a, almost my maximum climbing level. It's going to be a big challenge for my arms. Fortunately, the other 2 have a better level and will be able to take the lead. It's good to be carried along for a while. We're also joined by Lorenzo, our cameraman for the climb, who will be taking drone shots. He's really nice and competent.
Got up at 3:30 am to be at the foot of the route at sunrise. These days there are thunderstorms every day in the afternoon, so it's best to be back early. The route starts with a 7a that puts us right in the thick of things. I'm in energy-saving mode to try and survive the whole route and I don't hesitate to pull on some quickdraws. Still, I'm really proud to be able to link together a 7a+ and a 7a. Eline did the first 5 pitches in the lead without any problems, then Tonio took the lead for the rest. The pitches were magnificent. On the 5th pitch in 7a, I started to explode and from then on it was a case of "sauve qui peut". My biceps were cramping, my shoulders were weak and my fingers were struggling to hold the holds. The bad weather caught up with us as Tonio finished climbing the 9th and last hard pitch. There are 3 easy pitches left to reach the summit but it's starting to hail. We decide to head back down before it gets any worse. It's a shame about the summit, but we've done the hardest and most beautiful part of the climb, and we're already proud of ourselves. Our climb went like clockwork.
We'll have to come back to the Dolomites, there are so many incredible walls to climb!
Eline left us in the evening, and we spent two crazy days with her. Lorenzo was able to take some incredible pictures, and I can't wait to show them to you. Tonio and I are taking a day off before taking off again for our next objective, the Piz Bernina.
Tonio left me a week ago to return to Belgium.
A new chapter has begun!
The weather's been with me for the last few days, and that's enabled me to make a 4h40 and almost 100km flight from the Dolomites to Bolzano. It's great to finally be able to make a big flight and move forward! When you know that 1 hour in the air is more or less equivalent to a full day's walk, you're glad to be up in the air. The next day, the forecast was bad for where I'd landed, and good for Austria.But I still have 2 more passes to go...By car it would be 70km. It's now 5pm. Will this do for the next morning? With all my optimism, I climb the first pass as fast as I can, hoping to take off and land at the foot of the second. When I get to the top, the wind isn't in the right direction, so I keep going to get a better position. I take out my sail, then it starts to rain. Crap! I'm feeling a little blue that Tonio isn't here at a time like this. I wait, hoping it will pass. At 9pm it stops and I can take off just before sunset. An unhoped-for flight that takes me to the foot of the border pass. After landing, a guy approaches me, intrigued. I ask him if I can sleep at his place, and he welcomes me. We speak German in this part of Italy and his English isn't perfect, but we still manage to communicate, which is great fun.
The next morning, he wakes me up at 6:15 to have breakfast together. Ouch, I wish I'd slept longer! At least I'm on the road early to reach this famous pass. Once up there, I go from Italian fog to Austrian sunshine. Yes! I've made it.It's not an ideal place to take off, because there's a bit of a foehn effect, with the wind coming from Italy.As I have to take off into the wind, it's not great, especially as I'm "downwind" of the pass, on the turbulent side. I keep walking for a while and find a launch opposite the pass where I can take off and get away from the turbulent zone. I soon find a lift that allows me to continue. Before long, the wind coming from Italy is replaced by the breeze coming up the valley.
So much to analyze in the air, which makes flying intense and sometimes a little stressful.
It's far from being a contemplative activity (at least for long-distance flying). You have to have all your senses on the alert to observe the movement of clouds, birds, leaves and your own movement, and deduce what's going on in the air and where it might be going. Often it's shaking, shaking, shaking, until finally, bingo, it's rising fast, at over 5 m/s, towards the heavens. Sometimes it comes down hard, and you have to keep your cool and escape as quickly as possible to a more welcoming place. You have to draw on your mental resources. It's a real 3-D chess game, except that it becomes very real when you've played well or badly. In short, it's exciting and very gratifying when you find yourself catapulted into the clouds above the glaciers, when a few minutes earlier you were struggling at the level of the mountain pastures.
Anyway, that day I landed in Fiss, Austria, after a magnificent flight.
The next day, I set off again for St. Moritz. 80km to go. The flight wasn't easy, but I made it 60km before making a bad decision that forced me to land. I eat and then climb a more promising slope, and this time I reach Samedan at the foot of Piz Bernina, the highest peak in the eastern Alps (4049m). Here I meet up with Agnès, Élise and Albert to climb it.
Just before they arrive, a guy approaches me looking for a place to sleep. He's also a paraglider and intrigued by my big bag. We hit it off and I ask him if we could crash at his place. Jan, that's his name, runs a house for teenagers learning carpentry, masonry and so on, and he's got plenty of room in his house so he can accommodate us without any worries.Great! That evening, he organizes a BBQ with his youngsters and has plenty of leftovers that he passes on to us. So when the others arrive, I've got a real buffet to offer them, and accommodation, what a luxury!
My friends bring back the alpine gear.
We leave the rest of the gear we don't need at Jan's and head for the Tschierva hut. The next day, Agnès and Albert set off at 2:45 a.m. to climb the Biancograt at Piz Bernina. They say it's one of the most beautiful snowy ridges in the Alps, and it's probably true. We're having a bit of trouble with the altitude, but we're making good progress. On the other hand, it's quite windy and cloudy. I've packed a small paraglider in my bag, but there's little hope of taking off from the summit. The end of the ridge is still completely snow-covered at this time of year, which makes it impressive and a little tricky. The atmosphere is incredible as the clouds roll in around us. Agnès takes the lead on this part of the route and it goes perfectly. We finally reach the summit, which is also quite tapered.We then descend to the glacier via another section of ridge. Once out of the difficulties, the wind died down a little. Against all odds, it seems possible to take off. I pull out the glider and take off with the help of Albert and Agnès. What a feeling! I'm in the air in the middle of these ice giants and 23 minutes later, I land in the valley. It's just incredible. For their part, the others took another 9 hours to descend the interminable glacier. Well done!
We spend another night at Jan's before saying goodbye.
Another great adventure! It's really great to have friends joining me on the trail.
Now I'm off again, heading for the Matterhorn, the next summit. I was able to make two beautiful flights that took me just below Furkapass. This pass marks the halfway point of the traverse. Already 500km covered and 3 summits, there's just as much left on the other side of this pass. Plenty more adventures to come.
1 July 2023
The last 10 days have been intense. After passing the Furkapass and entering the Valais, the weather has been quite complicated. Lots of wind, which made flying complicated and even dangerous. So I did a lot of walking. It was a bit frustrating because, when the conditions are good, it's a very popular place for long-distance flying. I still managed to grab two small slots to fly and that's how I got to Visp, a small town at the entrance to the Mattertal, the valley of Zermatt and the Matterhorn. There I meet up with Damien and Alexis, my companions on the Matterhorn, and we take a day's rest at Agnès's, a friend who lives a few kilometres away and with whom I did the Piz Bernina. It's so good to have a bit of a break. I feel like I'm accumulating a lot of fatigue.
The next day, it's off to the Hörnli hut at the foot of the Matterhorn. The friends go straight to Zermatt, while I take off above Visp. I'm hoping to land right next to the hut, so I've taken all my mountaineering gear with me. It's quite a big bag with the paragliding gear. Visp is at an altitude of 600m, so the day starts with a big climb to reach the take-off point at 2300m. The day is forecast to be stable in the morning with an inversion layer. This means that the thermals are blocked by a layer of warmer air and can't go any higher. In fact, we can see a layer of mist in the valley which stops short at around 2000m and the sky is completely blue, with no small cumulus clouds on the horizon. This is not a very good sign for paragliders. We have to wait for the air down in the valley to become warm enough to break through the inversion layer. I keep an eye on the livetracking (a site where you can see other pilots in the air in real time) and wait to see if some of them start to gain more altitude before taking off. At around 2pm, I saw one of them reach 3000m. That's it, the layer has broken through.
I take off. The flight was complicated though. I've got all my mountaineering gear in my 'hold' and I feel quite heavy in the air. Even though the layer has broken through, it continues to slow down the thermals around 2000-2500m and by slowing them down, it makes them turbulent. I'm struggling to climb. After a bit of a struggle, I finally got above 3000m. Flying in the Mattertal is really impressive. In the Alps, it must be the closest thing to flying in the Himalayas. There are 38 peaks over 4000m in the valley (almost half of the 4000m peaks in the Alps!). The faces of these giants are made of huge walls of rock and ice. Several peaks exceed 4,500m. You might as well say that at 3000m you're still on the ground here. It's nearly 3pm and I'm still on the east face of the valley, the face that catches the morning sun. At this time of day, the sun is getting low and the thermals are weakening. So I cross the valley to follow the sun on the west-facing faces. As I do so, I lose altitude and end up quite low. I found myself in the valley breeze. It's stronger than I expected.
This makes the thermals difficult to use. On top of this, an airspace blocks the entrance to Zermatt. You have to be very high to get around it. I had no choice but to land a few kilometres before Zermatt. Crap. I still have a long way to walk to the hut where the others are waiting for me. I summon up all my courage and set off again for the 1,600m of ascent I have left. It's now 5pm. I hope to be there by nightfall. I still feel fit. It's just the last 400 metres of ascent where it gets really tough. With the fatigue, I can feel all the emotions coming back. I'm so happy to finally arrive at the refuge at 9pm, just in time for the sunset. I'm on the verge of tears when I bump into the others and we fall into each other's arms. What a day! 3300m of ascent with 25kg on my back, I'll never forget it.
There are 5 of us in the refuge. Dam, who I plan to climb with. Alexis and Quentin form another team. And Dom, a long-time friend who will be filming us. It wasn't long before we were off to bed, waking up at 3.15am. My heart is still pounding from the day's exertions, but I finally drift off.
The alarm goes off. Here we go again. We set off in single file along the Hörnli ridge. Alexis and Quentin spotted the start the day before and we're following "the mainsail" as they say. Dam warned me that he'd had some back and leg problems recently and was a bit apprehensive about the race, especially as he hadn't done any alpine climbing for a while. I kept an eye on him. At one point I ask him how he's feeling. "I'm not feeling very well at the moment. I don't think it's a good idea for me to go on". I was kind of expecting that, and I totally respect his choice.I'm especially disappointed that I won't be going to the summit with Dam.We've done so many summits together.It would have been nice to do this one together.He turns back here, there's still an easy ridge back to the refuge.
The 3 of us continue on the ridge. The other 2 have less mountaineering experience, especially Quentin for whom it's his first mountaineering race! At first, I thought I'd go solo to the summit, as it's not a very technical route, and let them do their rope-up in pairs. We ended up roping up as a threesome, which was much better. We reach the Solvay bivouac, perched at 4000m, where we leave some of our equipment. It's already warm and the snow is starting to soften. I'm a bit worried about the descent, but I think we've got enough time to get to the summit. We got there around 10.30am. We're all alone, which is great! What a first experience for Quentin!We came right back down.It's a very long descent in soft snow.It's a bit of a chamois terrain, and you need to be used to climbing with crampons and cramponning in different types of snow to be quick. We take our time to do things right. We finally arrived at the hut at 5:30pm.Another great day, thanks guys!
I took off again the next day from the refuge and managed to climb the flanks of the Matterhorn alongside a bird of prey. A magical moment. I say hello to some mountaineers before setting off for the rest of the traverse. Today, the weather wind is coming from the west, exactly the direction I need to go. This headwind makes flying very complicated. This time I called the Zermatt heliport to obtain authorisation to cross the airspace at the entrance to Zermatt. I managed to get back into the Rhone valley, but I couldn't go any further as I hit a wall of headwinds. That's where I landed. The next day, I hope to be able to get to Le Châble, where my sister lives, for a few days of well-deserved rest. I got up early for a take-off and made my first flight in fairly weak thermals: another layer of inversion today, typical of the heatwave. I'm very low at Cran-Montana, so I land and walk back up.
The airspace at Sion airport prohibits paragliders from flying all the way down the valley. I had to be higher up. I get back into the air a little later, the ceilings are higher and I manage to make a little more progress, despite the wind still being from the front. I ended up landing at the edge of the airspace, to get as close as possible to Mathilde's house. I've still got around twenty kilometres to go and 1300m of D+ to reach a take-off point from where I can fly to the sista's house. I'll give it a go, even if I'm not sure I'll get there before dark. On the last climb, I pick up the pace. It's going to come down to a matter of minutes. My legs are still going strong after the last few days, but my head is wondering why I'm doing this to myself. When I reach the pass, I keep running until I find a place to stop. It's now 9.30pm.
You're allowed to fly until 30 minutes after sunset, i.e. 9.55pm. I hurry to prepare my glider. The wind isn't great but it should do the trick. I manage to get into the air. I'm euphoric. All the hard work of the day makes sense in one go. I've done it. It wasn't an easy day to fly, I really wasn't sure I was going to make it. I landed a few minutes later right next to Mathilde's house. Wouhouuuuu!!!
This weekend I'm taking a few much-needed days off before Mont Blanc. The weather's not very nice, so it's perfect timing. We're hoping it won't snow too much and that we'll be able to do the route we've planned: a magnificent climb on the south face. Time will tell!
I'm writing to you from a cosy little refuge at the edge of the Beaufortain. Today is a rest day. The weather's fine but the conditions aren't ideal for flying because of the wind. I'm always a bit reluctant to continue when it's like this. I want to go on and on but right now I'm feeling exhausted. So I listen to my friends and take care of myself.
This crossing is physically tiring, but above all it's mentally tiring. I see it as if I had a limited number of life points, that's my mental reserve. When my reserve is full, I'm a warrior; I can fly serenely in turbulence, climb far above protection if necessary and walk into the night. When it's empty, I feel fragile, everything requires more effort and I panic more quickly. My reserves fluctuate as events unfold. I lose hit points if I fly into heavy turbulence or climb far above a point, all moments that require all my concentration and composure. The dozens of decisions I have to make every day - which mountain to go to for the next take-off, where to sleep, making sure my girlfriends are there for the next summit - all these things also draw on the reserve. So when it's empty, I need quiet moments to fill it up again.
I left Mathilde at Petit col Ferret, on the border between Switzerland and Italy. She accompanied me there and then we parted in the rain and wind. I continued on to a bivouac below Mont Dolent. Two climbers were already asleep when I got there at 7pm. I ate my meal in silence and went to bed early. The next day, after a short morning flight, I met up with Tonio and Gaspard, who were acclimatising to do Mont Rose, and Lolotte, with whom we were planning to do Grand Capucin. Our original plan was to go to Mont Blanc via the central pillar of Le Freney, a legendary route on the South Face with rock almost all the way to the top, but it's been snowing at altitude for the last few days and we've had to change our plan. I'm a bit disappointed not to be going to Mont Blanc, but I've already done it several times, although I've never been to the Grand Cap, this 400m-high granite monolith at 3800m in the middle of the Vallée Blanche. Its very steep east face was first climbed by Bonatti and Ghigo in 1951. It's their route that we plan to climb.
4am, we're at the foot of the wall. We attack the first pitches with the headlamp. The equipment on the route is "traditional" (trad for those in the know), which means that we place the jammers ourselves to pass the rope and belay ourselves, and that there are also pitons in places (which we're always a little wary of). The second climber gets all the belay devices and we don't leave anything in place. It's a very pure way of climbing, but you have to place the protection yourself. This means that if you're a long way above the last protection, you have to quickly find a crack where you can place a stopper, if possible in a place where you won't get too tired. If there isn't a suitable crack or you're in too tiring a position, you need to keep your cool and keep climbing until you find a better spot, or else de-escalate a little. When you're a few metres above the last point, you have to take it on board; panicking serves no purpose apart from making you even more tired. The belays where you meet up after each pitch are equipped with spits, i.e. fairly recent and very solid points. This may seem very dangerous, but in reality a lot of protection is used and the consequences of a fall are generally less serious than when climbing an easier ridge with a lot of space on either side (where less protection is used in practice and where the 2 climbers often climb at the same time).
We took it in turns to climb a pitch in the lead.
Quite quickly, I get the feeling that this isn't my day.My mental tank was already almost empty, and my arms weren't really strong after a month without climbing.I'm shaking in the 6a pitches at the start, while much harder sections await us.I'm scared of what's to come.Fortunately, it's easy to abseil back down if I falter.We did the first 5 pitches fairly quickly, which were in fact an approach to the "Bonatti" itself; the retreat of the glacier made us climb a little further.This is where the route really begins.At the 9th and then the 11th pitches, I fight to get to the end of the pitch in the lead, first on a very athletic pitch to get around a roof, then on a slab with tiny foot holds and a thin crack for my hands.My arms didn't respond any more, and neither did my head, which was drained. At this point, I'm despondent. Hanging in my harness in the middle of this wall, I really don't see how we're going to make it to the top of the next 9 pitches. Lolotte, on the other hand, is in great shape, managing each pitch superbly and looking like she's really enjoying herself. I tell her that in my condition I'm just not capable of leading any more pitches, especially as the top pitches are the hardest.
From then on, Lolotte completely took the lead, including on two very tough 7a's, while I tried to keep up, sometimes happily pulling on the points. Length after length, we continued like this.And then, finally, we reached the top.It was incredible.Hoped for.
I don't know how to describe this climb.To be honest, it wasn't all fun for me.Given the state I was in at the start of the route, it was one of the times when I had to dig deepest into my mental resources.I'm proud to have reached the top.I was convinced that I wouldn't be able to do it by the 5th pitch, when there were 15 to go. I'm really grateful to Lolotte for taking the lead, she was brilliant. She was brilliant. Thank you! With Guigui a bit fitter, it's going to be one hell of a climb.
The next day, I took off from the Italian side for an incredible flight on the South Face of Mont Blanc. What a sensation to fly over the Intégrale de Peuterey, the most beautiful route Loïc and I did last summer. I continued my flight as far as the Tarentaise then walked back up to the Nant du Beurre refuge where I'm now resting. The change of scenery is striking, from glaciers and sharp peaks to gentle mountains covered in flowers. It's great to be able to relax in such a peaceful setting.
My next objective is Mont Viso, which I'm now heading for.
I left my haven of peace in the Beaufortain with a rather uncomfortable flight that led me to land in Moutiers, the deepest part of the Tarentaise valley. After a rather sporty landing, I had to make a decision: where to go next to reach the Maurienne and then Briançon and the Viso? I decide to take the most direct option, but also the one with the most distance and elevation gain before I can take off again. I'm at the bottom of the valley and the first 15km back up aren't exactly idyllic. There are few hiking trails at this altitude and I find myself walking on the road for a long time. When I finally reach more pleasant paths, I'm approached by an English family.
- Are you going to jump?
I start explaining my trip to them, and they're super impressed and curious.
"Do you have a garage where I could put my mattress tonight?
"We even have a bed if you want!"
15 minutes later, I find myself showered, with a king-size bed for the night and a beer in hand.
What a pleasure after such a long day!I'm received like a king and we spend a great evening chatting.The next day, it's with some reluctance that I set off again early to take advantage of the short flight window that looms in the morning.Arriving at the pass that allows me to switch to the Maurienne, I'm a little reluctant to take off.There's quite a bit of headwind and the valley I have to cross is one of the worst in the Alps for paragliding, with power lines in every direction. I do spot potential landings, but I hope to be able to cross the valley without landing at the bottom. I take off and find a small thermal that I work with my body. It takes me to over 3000m, which should be enough to get me to the front! I transition to Valloire where I land. A short flight that saves me a long descent and a long climb - great!
At the next pass, I arrive in the Southern Alps and a short flight takes me to the Col du Granon, above Briançon.
I have a date with Sam the next day to climb Viso. I've got 50km to go as the crow flies.It looks feasible given the forecasts, but when I get to the take-off, 2 guys take off in front of me and do a masterful heap (in paragliding jargon, a heap is a flight where you can't climb and have to land directly at the bottom of the valley; a failure in cross-country flight).If I do the same, it'll be impossible to reach Sam today.I take off focused, determined to fly well.Barely in the air, I lose several dozen meters. Meeerde. Then I find the little thermal that lifts me up. I try to center the heart, the place that rises the most. It's all about sensation, since it's invisible of course. The beep-beep of my vario helps and encourages me, and then a bird of prey joins me in the ascent. There's already a fair amount of breeze for this early hour, then at a certain altitude, the wind changes completely, from an easterly breeze to a westerly weather wind. I try to stay as high as possible to get pushed by the weather wind and cross into the Queyras. A breezy thermal takes me to over 3000m. I pass within a few metres of hikers reaching a summit, we wave to each other, then I continue on my way.
I pass one last pass and I'm above Abriès. I land at the end of the road leading to the Viso refuge. Yes!It was a great flight.
Sam joins me a little later and we're on our way to the refuge.Our plan is to climb Viso via the Berhault traverse.Legendary mountaineer Patrick Berhault made it his first winter ascent during his great crossing of the Alps. From Triglav to Nice, he climbed 22 legendary routes and did the rest on foot or skis, in 6 months. Obviously, my own traverse was inspired by his, and ending with the Berhault traverse is a nod to his journey. The route takes in all the summits of the Viso N chain. It's a long ridge that usually takes several days to complete. We're planning to do it as a day trip, so we didn't pack much, just the essentials.
We leave the hut at around 3:50 a.m., heading for the first summit.
I've got a good feeling about today. In the mountains, it's all about emotions and sensations. There are days when you're not into it, when the mountain is scary and you feel a bit down at the thought of embarking on a big race. Then there are days when the mountain is joyful, when you're exhilarated by what awaits you, feeling good about yourself and everything around you. Today, it's the happy mountain.
You quickly reach the first summit.You can see what lies ahead, with Viso in the distance.We make fast progress in the half-light. It's relatively easy terrain, where we're both very comfortable, and we don't need ropes. It's a never-ending succession of climbing and unclimbing, always on the lookout for the easiest route. Physically, we can both feel the fatigue: Sam has just come out of the "mountain" week (which he passed with flying colors), an intense week that concludes the probationary exam to start the mountain guide course. After 7 hours of running, we reach the foot of Visolotto, the last summit before Viso. We get a little lost in the maze of corridors and spurs. The terrain starts to get very steep, so we take out the rope. We find a good route that takes us to the Visolotto.
Another hour of de-escalation and 2 abseils and we reach the pass just before Viso. We're both well into our stride, on the verge of hypoglycemia. We stop for a while to eat, drink and take a restorative nap. We set off again, in good shape, or nearly so, for the last part.We climb a more difficult rocky bastion on a tight rope before tackling the snowy sections that had scared me a little since the refuge.I only have one pair of sneakers with holes in them for the climb, the rest of my gear having stayed behind in the Mont Blanc massif. In the end, Sam goes ahead to take some nice steps, and we're at the summit in no time at all, 1.30 pm after leaving the refuge. Last summit of the Paralpine, it's incredible! Another great adventure, thanks Sam. The panorama is magnificent, with Italy bathed in clouds. You can even make out the Mediterranean in the background, the final stage of the trip!
After the Viso, I imagined myself reaching the sea fairly quickly. In one or two beautiful days of flight, I should have easily reached the sea. However, that was not counting on an endless period of strong west winds. Paragliders fly relatively slowly, at around 40 km/h. If there's a headwind of 20 km/h, we move only half as fast, meaning that to cover a certain distance, we lose twice as much altitude compared to a situation without wind. This becomes problematic for making the long glides needed to pass from one mountain to another. Even worse, if you find yourself in a narrow pass where the wind accelerates and suddenly there's a headwind of 40 km/h, you lose all forward progress... it can become very dangerous if you're in a location without a possible landing spot. Moreover, as the wind increases, the turbulence becomes stronger. In short, it's complicated to fly far and safely when there's more than 20 km/h of wind. You can potentially make short flights in the valley bottoms in the morning, in calm air sheltered from the wind, but no long-distance flights.
Right after leaving Sam, I had another long day to reach Martin, a friend who was doing a paragliding course in Ceillac in the Queyras. Once again, I ended up running to find a takeoff spot before nightfall. I managed to get airborne just in time. And there, surprise! It's still lifting, even though it's 9:30 pm. What an atmosphere at dusk! Ceillac is where I learned to fly. It's amazing to arrive there by flying, just before nightfall. I have a 2-day stopover there before heading south during a brief period of calm weather. A beautiful, albeit short, flight takes me to Barcelonnette. The forecast still calls for a lot of wind over the next 5 days. Too much wind to fly. Since I have friends on vacation in the area, I decide to join them while waiting for the wind to calm down. I really want to finish by flying, at least a part of it.
5 days later, I'm back in Barcelonnette, ready to reach the sea this time. I'm a bit discouraged by these challenging conditions, but I push myself to find a good takeoff spot for the next day. The day isn't expected to be perfect at all, still windy as ever. But it's the only somewhat flyable day, so I seize the opportunity. A nice bivouac in the mountains, and I continue my hike the next morning, before taking off from a ridge that leads straight south. It's a popular route for paragliders, yet I seem to be the only one today. I launch late morning on the completely shaded west face, but the wind is sufficient to keep me in the air and moving forward. Until the moment I need to go around a mountain upwind. It's a delicate situation because if I try to go around directly, I'll end up downwind of that mountain, in a descending and turbulent area. I might very well not be able to get around it at all and have to land deep in the valley. I can't gain enough altitude to fly around it, so I decide to land as high as possible to walk around it. Here, I make a judgment error by deciding to land in scree that looks "gentle." Of course, the closer I get, the more I realize it's not so gentle, but it's too late. My first contact with the ground is more like a crash than a landing. Damn it, what a stupid mistake! Shit. Shit. Shit. What a terrible decision. Am I seriously hurt? Everything seems to be okay. Oh yeah, a nice cut on my shin though. Well, it could have been worse. Oh boy, that was not smart. I try to recover my wing as best as I can. The lines are getting tangled in the rocks. My wing is a bit torn in one spot, but it should be okay for another flight.
I climb back up the scree with the wing bundled up to reach the other side of the mountain. The wind is blowing well. It must be around 20 km/h, with gusts at 25-30. This mishap has shaken me a bit; I'll take it easy. I refocus myself and take off. The rest is easier; I just need to follow the ridge. Near a summit, I fly over a herd of sheep, and 5-6 of them are separated from the others. Suddenly, one of them takes off, followed by a second and a third. I rub my eyes. Vultures! There are 6 of them surrounding me; it's incredible. They're huge! It doesn't last very long, but what a magical moment. I finally land near a remote village in the Alpes de Haute Provence. The forecast predicts a lot of wind in the coming days; that was probably the last flight of the journey.
I have 100 km left to the coast, and I'll cover it on foot. I pack away my paraglider for good, tend to my wound, and start walking towards Annot. The next day, it's Saint Auban and Col de Bleine, and then another day of over 40 km to reach the sea. Long days of walking in the Prealps of Azur, punctuated by pleasant encounters in picturesque villages. It's incredible how the landscape has changed since Mont Blanc. 15 km from the goal, at the top of the last mountain, I finally see the sea. Yiiiiiiihaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!! I'm coooming. As I descend, I enter another world, elegant houses and tourists in flip-flops heading to the beach.
I finally reach the sea. The beach is crowded. I weave my way through sunbathers. They can't possibly imagine where I've come from, the adventures I've had, the people I've met, who welcomed me, the moments I've shared with friends. What a journey. I shed my gear and run toward the sea for a well-deserved plunge. The memories of the journey have accompanied me through these last 100 kilometers. They have been, by far, the most intense 53 days of my life. At the beginning, it was a somewhat crazy idea that I wasn't really sure I could accomplish. But in the end, unbelievably true, I conquered these 6 peaks and got to know the Alps like never before. Even in well-known places, I took almost entirely new paths, both on foot and in the air. Now, I can mentally trace a route through the Alps, from Slovenia to Nice. These distant names have become tangible places associated with strong memories. It wasn't easy every day with the accumulated fatigue and rarely favorable flying conditions this summer, but what an experience for a first bivouac flight! The only issue is that I return with even more dreams of new mountains to climb and places where I thought, "I'll have to come back here."
A huge thanks to the friends who joined me on the journey. Without you, the trip wouldn't have had the same flavor, not to mention the logistical challenges!
We did some incredible routes that I never thought I'd tackle, especially on Tre Cime and Grand Capucin, where I had to dig deep mentally
Thanks also to my partners who made all of this possible:
• BGD, for their super safe and high-performing paragliders that accompanied me in all conditions;
• Petzl, for the support and top-notch mountaineering gear;
• Les Passagers du Vent, for the excellent piloting workshop that allowed me to have more technical margin under my wing;
• BogdanFly for their lightweight, sturdy, and versatile cocoon where you can fit all the mountaineering gear.
Finally, thank you for following the journey. Thanks for all your messages of encouragement; they touched me and motivated me during the tougher times!
See you soon,
For the numbers enthusiasts ???? The routes we did:
• Triglav - normal route (winter conditions) with Tonio
• Cima Piccola - Gelbe Mauer (ED-, 300m, 7a+), turned back after the 8th pitch (end of difficulties) with Eline and Tonio
• Piz Bernina - Biancograt (AD) with Agnès and Albert
• Matterhorn - Hörnli Ridge (AD) with Quentin and Alexis
• Grand Capucin - Bonatti-Ghigo direct route (ED, 350m, 7a+) with Lolotte
• Viso - Berhault traverse in a day (D, 3000m positive elevation gain), 13h30 from Viso refuge to summit (including a 1-hour break) with Sam
• 13 rest days (including 7 after Viso while waiting for the wind to calm down)
• 12 days for summit ascents
• 28 days of fly-bivouac
1350km in total:
• 800km flying (32 flights; shown in yellow on the map)
• the rest by walking (shown in purple on the map)
PS: What am I doing now? That's the big question! First, I'm taking a little break to rest and gain some perspective on all of this (in reality, it means I'll be paragliding ????). Then, I plan to create a film about Paralpine. It's going to be quite an adventure; I expect it will take me at least 4 to 6 months to try to achieve a result as close as possible to my vision. The goal will be to present it at mountain and adventure film festivals. Of course, I'll keep you updated when it's ready!