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Jul 8

Written by: Jeff Shapiro
7/8/2011 9:44 AM 

This place has been pretty epic so far. Don't really know how else to describe it. Fiesch is a ski and mountain town situated in the Swiss Alps, surrounded by flowing glaciers. The Rhone is to the N.West, the Aletsch to the North and the Unteraar in between the two. Huge mountains such as the Matterhorn, Eiger, Monch and the Jungfrau are all close by and make for post card scenery.

Feisch itself is located in a fairly tight and deep, green valley offering some of the most picturesque flying I've ever had the privilege of doing. The lift is strong (very strong at times) and has all of the elements of the best of big mountain hang gliding.

The view out our window here in Fiesch, Switzerland

Yesterday, we had a fantastic day with fast racing and intense flying. It was the first flight here for Dustin, Zippy and I (Derreck and James had a chance to take a practice flight a few days prior) and we were stoked that our gliders flew straight after the plane ride over from the States. There's a strong field here with many skilled and experienced pilots from all over the world. We are treating it as an opportunity to learn and to gain experience for the up coming Worlds in Italy. Zippy was on and finished with an impressive 3rd for the day. Dustin was 8th in and I was behind him after getting a little slow and conservative on the last leg. I finished 18th for the day but in a strong field, I was still fairly happy with my flight. Zippy made a nice video on the GoPro that was edited last night and should be up soon.

driving on the train that took us under the mountains

Today, we went up the Gondola for another task. The weather was supposed to be iffy and was looking wet (from the previous nights rain) with clouds forming far below launch and building quick over and engulfing the peaks. After the task was called (94 k's with 6 t-points) we were briefed on the weather which included up to 45k's of wind up high. The problem was that the clouds were not higher than the peaks yet and many were worried about over development.

Soon, we all punched off in a building wind and were struggling with punchy lift and low clouds toward the edge of the start cylinder. I got lucky with good position at the start and began racing down the range with Zippy and several others. Soon, the lift became extremely strong and turbulent with the glider being pitched past 90 several times. Problem was that the lift was, at times, quite close to the hill and it was hard to stay out of the clouds. Wire slaps and holding on tight became the norm on the way to the first t-point. I grabbed the t-point and started back up the range and into the wind.

Soon, I saw pilots start heading out into the valley and spiraling down to land. The clouds were darkening and the wind was strong. Most impressive though was the turbulence associated with the strong lift. At times, it was totally reasonable but at times, I was quite concerned about the possibility of a tumble. I must admit that memories of my tumble at King several years back were on my mind.

After some battle, I was about 12 k's from the next T-point when James came on the radio to let us know that Zippy had landed at the goal field and he was going to do the same. They felt that the conditions were unsafe and made the personal decision to land, feeling that the risk was not worth it considering the Worlds are a couple of weeks away. I was climbing in punchy 1200 fpm and after a good sized keel kick, considered doing the same. Derreck headed to the field to join the team and I turned back down the valley thinking that I would make the same choice.

On my way back, Dustin called a climb from behind that was out in the valley and, although strong, was reasonably smooth in comparison. I flew over and took a nice climb back to base and headed back on course (after a deep breath). Leaving that climb was the worst turbulence of the day for me. I was alternately losing 1200+ fpm and gaining 1200+ fpm from moment to moment and experienced several wire slaps that had me pretty tight gripped. Soon, I agreed that I did not feel it was worth it as the path to the T-point was dark and the wind seemed to be getting stronger. There was a Northerly component which made it so we had to fly into the lee of the range to get the t-point and my fear and doubt eventually won out. I turned around and flew back to the field from almost 10,000' and landed in "sporty conditions". Dustin soon landed behind me along with Gianpietro Zin, a very fast and talented pilot from France. We all agreed that for us, it was a bit too much. Several pilots did make the course and made goal with Primos winning the day. I felt good about our team's decision but I admit, it stung when gliders started coming in from final.

Ready to fly

Funny thing about "fear and doubt". There is a definite difference between "it" and "realistic danger". They can exist apart and independent of each other but at times, one is caused by the other. Decisions are made and when the conservative choice is made and the outcome is good, it can evoke the question of whether it was smart or just giving into the fear. My reality is that the line is often gray and can change from day to day. When I'm on the line of trying to tell the difference between "fear and doubt" and "realistic danger", I can feel one way one day and the opposite the next. The truth, or my truth is, that when the outcome is that I am in one piece and my glider is intact, it was a good decision. The difficulties for me lye in the inner struggle caused by wanting to self reflect and that reflection not having the outcome that I would prefer (making goal) because of my head. I question the reality of the danger and question if it was my head and not the turbulence (although today, there was plenty) that caused me to run. Either way, tomorrow is another day and another opportunity to learn and I'm thankful to have the opportunity to participate in this game of self exploration through flying in the big mountains. Win or lose, I feel very lucky and never forget how fortunate I am to be here, now.


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