Day 12, 25/7: Maurienne - St Etienne de Tinee.
I woke up at 6′ the next morning, put on my shorts, jumped in my trainers, put my backpack on, and started to walk down the extra 10km that I did the night before. Walking downhill on the tarmac wasn’t the best for my inflammation, but surprisingly it felt OK … Also, I was amazed by how good my body was feeling. I felt like I had started from scratch (almost …), as if the past days hadn’t really happened!!!
I walked down to St Michel de Maurienne and took a path direction the village of Valloire. I was really pushing hard to try to reach the launch place, an East face, as early as possible. At 11′30, I started from Poingt Ravier and as you can guess, one more time my plan didn’t work : I did a top to bottom. This waste of time and energy didn’t upset me! In fact, I think my body didn’t let my brain b touched by one more failure. I packed and kept walking until the Galibier pass (2705m). At the top of the pass, the wind was a weak Northerly with some gusts coming from everywhere. My plan was to take off and glide on to the South side… If there is something stupid to do, I have to do it obviously!!!
While Nicky was filming, I waited for a good moment and launched… As per expected, after 2 seconds of flying, gliding down on to the South face (lee side) started the fight between the thermals lifting me up and the wind coming over the top trying to blow me down, the turbulence was shaking the glider… I ran away from this awfull place and went to Briancon. I realized that the wind was blowing strong SW in altitude. That wasn’t looking good at all in fact with such a strong wind and in that direction, I didn’t thing it will be possible to escape Briancon.
After that, I was patient, I worked hard to get over ridges and past peaks… The conditions were very strong, I had to work hard on the speed bar. The trickiest bit was getting past Mt Dauphin. This mountain is famous for making wave (lift) well known to the sailplane pilots. I came from the back of the mountain and somehow I managed to climb behind it and went through the lift to go on the good side of it. The hardest bit of the flight was done! After that, the direction to take was following reasonable looking mountains. That was it for the scary conditions!
I glided to Vars, paying attention to be as far to the SW as I could. I didn’t want to miss the glide and risk being blown to the East because of the strong wind. There was the Queyras valley: a valley you don’t want to even look at !!!
I glided perfectly to the resort of Vars and kept following the top of the ridge toward the pass. This was unexpected!!! I told Nicky on the radio that I would keep flying in the direction of Jausiers. So, from the top of the pass I glided badly with the sinking wind, further to the SE.
Amazingly, the end of day was brilliant : Every mountain facing W or NW, was giving generous and smooth lift. Any flying thing would have been able to follow the route I took!!! I was the lucky one still in the air at this time of the evening… I flew above the Tete du Siguret and told Nicky that I would glide and land somewhere along the road going up to the Col de la Bonnette (highest driving pass in Europe).
It was then that the most fantastic experience of the X-Alps happened…It was 8pm, and I was gliding amazingly well above a road, still quite high. In fact I didn’t loose any altitude, I even found a 2m up which took me above 3000m. That was the free ticket to fly through the next pass and to glide a lot further. The last 2 hours flying from Guillestre to St Etienne were the most enjoyable hours of flying in my entire life!!!
From the Col de la Bonnette I glided down a narrow valley, pushed by the wind. I did a couple of km, in this valley, going South until St Etienne de Tinee, where I landed at 8′30pm. I was home!!! I couldn’t believe it. 24 hours before, I had been at the bottom of the valley de Maurienne, my body had been completely run down, knackered, my motivation gone away, about to drop everything… and now I was almost in Monaco, I could feel the ocean, just there, in front of me a few ridges further South!
Started day at 6:30. Took off at 15:00. Finish day at 21:20
Total flying 5h25min, 110km
Total walking 7h20, 2300m up, 25km
Max altitude 3137m