My Longest Flight through the Austrian Alps

My Longest Flight through the Austrian Alps



Glider- check, harness- check, instruments- check...

Its the beginning of a good, but not perfect, XC (cross country) day. The equipment is checked and ready, so I put everything in the backpack and leave the house. On the way up to the mountain I'm checking again the latest weather forecast and wind data of the surrounding peaks. It seems a bit too windy for a new local record but I decide to fly the first part of the planned route to get to know the area better for the next time. So I close my eyes and fly mentally along the ridges, trying to remember important peaks and landscape features. The car stops, that means it's time to hike up the remaining 200 meters in altitude by foot to the take off. I use this little hike to get my head free from unnecessary thoughts so I can focus on the upcoming flight. Step by step, nearly in trance, I'm getting closer to the launch site. With many other "airtime hungry" pilots I start to prepare the glider and harness on the grassy field. Together we are waiting for signs of thermals; warm, rising air which we can use to get up higher and glide to the next one afterwards. At around 09:30 I'm inflating my glider and after checking again if everything is how it should be I start running into the place where humanity is dreaming of since the beginning; I'm airborne!

Now with air in my glider and a grin on my face I'm looking for this invisible source of energy we call thermals. Hence para-gliders dont have a motor I am dependent on uprising air to be able to stay airborne.

The day starts already with good climbs so the first part along the big valley on the eastern north side of the alps is easy to fly along. I'm checking my instruments: everything still according to plan. Average speed is around 30 kph which is great for a paraglider XC flight.


The first leg of the triangular course is completed, it's time to set the waypoint and continue to the south. Here is where the difficulties began. I have to fly against the headwind over the main ridge of the alps near the biggest mountain of Austria. Above the up to 3798m high peaks its getting really windy and the thermals are weak due to the snow covered fields and steep cliffs. As you can imagine landing there wasn't an option. So I keep pushing and I manage to fly to the other side of this amazing but scary part of the alps. Now I'm in a narrow valley surrounded by high and steep mountain faces, still fighting against the head-wind. This part of the flight is demanding all my flying skills to be able to cover distance to the next waypoint. I'm struggling to keep up a good speed against the strong headwind, therefore I reach the second way point too late.


Arriving a the second way point of the route. Mentally I'm already thinking about options of how I get home after bombing out because in the evening the thermals weaken so at some point I wont be able to stay up any longer. With little hope of coming home I continue to push the pace anyway. As predicted the thermals got weaker, but fortunately the same wind that slowed me down on the way to the south now pushes me to the north and helps me to cover more distance. It's also possible to find dynamic lift which is not dependent on the sun. So I am able use the steep rock faces to my advantage by soaring up in front of them in the still strong southerly winds. The last hard decision is when and where to cross the main ridge again, back to where I started my flight in the morning. I had planned this flight for more than a year, so I know where to go. Checking the map on the instruments helps me confirm my decision. The sun was low already when I crossed the alps main ridge a second time this day.

After nearly 12 hours in the air I touch down not far away from my take off. A look on my instruments confirms: I flew a new local record; 302km FAI triangle. The unthinkable was accomplished. All just with a piece of fabric and some strings. Isn't that magic?!

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