UP International News

UP Team Pilots on bivouac tour with KANGRI X

Tuesday, 09 July 2024

We are delighted that UP team pilots Benno Schmidt & Max Lorenz have once again set off on a bivouac tour this year. This time with the new KANGRI X (EN/LTF B), which is characterized by its low weight and small pack size, combined with the best cross-country flying qualities for such adventures. They started in Annecy, France - wonder if they got far? The weather was mixed, but the two of them didn't let that stop them! Fortunately, because the tour was a complete success despite a few obstacles in the form of rain. You can read Benno's travel report here and follow him on Instagram via schmidtbenno.

UP Team Pilots on bivouac tour with KANGRI X

Day 1

This morning Max and I met up in Annecy. Over breakfast (route planning and weather), we quickly realized that flying would probably not be an option today. Föhn winds and severe thunderstorm warnings. The forecast was for 28 mm of rain! Add to that Sahara dust and it all comes together. So we had no choice but to walk, and that's what we did for 7 hours. We fought our way a long way south and have now pitched our tents here. Tomorrow we'll continue walking and hope that the weather forecast is less dire and we'll at least get a few slides. Highlight: A dip in the ice-cold mountain river!

Day 2

After a night with lots of rain (the clothes we had washed and hung over a fence to dry were wetter this morning than the day before), we broke down the tents. One dry muesli bar per person had to suffice for breakfast. The plan: from École we climb the Chalets d'Epilon https://maps.app.goo.gl/wfFVMbUoFNy87KD49?g_st=com.google.maps.preview.copy to at least be able to cross to the other side of the Isère valley. A hike up this mountain is 700 m, but a well-chosen descent could save us a whole day's hiking - even if we only cross the valley halfway! So off we go, our legs still heavy from the 7h yesterday... The ascent was one of the hardest I've ever had, I wanted to turn back several times. Mud, scree, super steep, I had exactly zero fun for 3 hours. But what goes around comes around. Once we reached the top, the wind wasn't clear but we decided to launch into the prevailing cross-regional W wind and were rewarded after a few minutes with the first beep in the vario. It worked! We were able to soar upwind from a cloud to above this cloud and began to cross the valley.Miraculously, we found two quite decent thermals during the crossing, which we patiently cranked up and were thus able to make the whole valley crossing with the additional height we had gained - ideal result! On the other side nothing was possible, so we landed. Hunger was now the predominant feeling. There was no restaurant on the menu far and wide, but after about a 5-minute walk we passed a private garden restaurant, which gave us a warm welcome when we asked and served us a big meal. Perfect! With our backpacks full and still buoyant from our good fortune, we start the next ascent, another 700 m to Champ-Laurent. Once we reach the top, we take a bath in a trough (it's soooo cold), wash our clothes and are just happy about the successful flight and all the exercise. The endorphins are working, probably the ice bath too. No restaurant in sight for dinner, so I rang a few doorbells to ask if we could buy some bread and cheese. The result of the raid: a bottle of excellent rosé, two sheep's cheeses, a sensational goat's cheese, bread and two beers. All for free, nobody wanted to accept any money! Merci la France! The sunset dinner was sensational. What a day!

Day 3

After yesterday's wonderful sense of achievement, we could afford to get up late - after all, we had already conquered most of the altitude meters and only had to climb 500m today. So, tents down, muesli bars in and off we went. When we arrived at the top at 11am, we couldn't find the launch site, just a meadow with birch trees. The launch site must have been out of use for years. There was no chance of taking off here, and there was nowhere else in sight from which we could have launched ourselves. So we had to descend again to our sleeping place. Because there was a launch site there too. But it was occupied by snarling sheepdogs and sheep: no chance and no desire for a dog bite. You can't joke with sheepdogs like that! By now it's already late, high time to start... So, let's descend further. My knees and feet are starting to really hurt, I've burst two blisters. The next possible launch site is only 300m above the valley and the valley wind is now whistling. When we finally arrive, it's already 3pm and we promptly crash after 15 minutes. Too blown, not centerable, borderline dangerous. So we land and contritely lick our wounds. Our feet are taped and we have another 2 hours on foot (ouch ouch ouch) to the next town. That's no fun. When we get there, all the restaurants are closed, no bistro, no café. After a long search, we find a bakery and consult the weather forecast. It's getting worse and worse on our route: thunderstorms, even more wind, rain. In Annecy, however, it was getting better and better and it would be good for flying and camping.
So we decide to make our way back to Annecy and continue our tour there. The mood is somewhere between relieved, contrite, meek, and looking forward to it. But after all, we are here to fly and bivouac, not to hike in the rain.

 Day 4 

Woke up at the campsite. Washed clothes, freshly showered, what a blessing! Our first act of the day was to go to the supermarket to stock up on provisions (cheese, bread, wine, we are in France after all!) and buy blister plasters. Freshly fortified and rested, we were finally able to fly, as the weather forecast was at least average. It was my first time flying in Annecy! It flew quite well straight away, so we were able to fly a short lap around the lake. It was also my first opportunity to really familiarize myself with the KangriX. Previously, there was hardly any time for this with the gliders. My impression: Everything is even better than the very good predecessor, the Kangri HPR, which I loved dearly. More compact, less aspect ratio, easier to launch. Glide is just as good, on a par with many Cs. What I particularly like is the very smooth-running C-steering, which gives you that two-liner feeling. The thin rods are also great and make packing a pleasure. The perfect wing for bivouac adventures and hike & fly with distance requirements! After the lake tour, which was now early evening, it was time to choose a spot for the night. Together with two large eagles ????, we sailed up the "Col du Varo". I came within a few meters of the eagles and was able to look them in the eye. Crazy! At the top we were at 2000m, a little below the cloud base and found a perfect spot: a hollow, big enough to land, without treacherous lee traps and above all - not so easy to find! - with a somewhat flat ridge. As it was still clear, we hovered over the chosen landing spot for half an hour, discussing the approach, possible sources of danger, abort scenarios and enjoying the calm, supportive conditions. A herd of 30 ibex grazed on the slope - huge animals! As the snow began to fall, we started to land and a few moments later we were both standing on top of the hill all alone. It felt like an astronaut touching down on an alien planet. We had our provisions for dinner, which we enjoyed in the company of a young ibex. The animal was completely trusting and approached us within a few meters - a crazy experience!

Day 5

Day five was quite unspectacular. We were waiting at 2000 m, our campsite was still above the clouds and so we had enough time to pack up our seven things, have a muesli bar for breakfast, take down the tents and get ready. The plan: a cliff launch directly from the campsite. Moments like this are always exciting and still get the adrenaline pumping, as it's hard to get to the start profession. All the better to be able to do something like this in pairs, to be able to talk to each other and to have a helper. At 10:00 a.m. the clouds finally cleared and we were able to start with a view of the lake. The easy launch behavior and the light weight of the Kangri X was a big plus here. We had actually only expected a glide, but were able to maintain our altitude and after about 20 minutes of scraping in the eastern flank of a mountain we found an elevator that catapulted us at 3-4 m/s above the clouds. Crazy! I would never have thought I could find such strong thermals here so early on! Our original plan to simply glide into the part for breakfast was therefore abandoned and we used our high altitude to glide north and fly a lap around the lake. The eastern flanks also worked reliably on other mountains, so we were able to enjoy a rare privilege: to be completely alone in the air in Annecy! The morning air was good and so we were able to complete the lake circuit by midday and landed at the landing site with growling stomachs. Rain was forecast for the afternoon, so that was the end of the day for us. The whole rest of the day I was accompanied by a feeling of gratitude and amazement. How can it be that such a light pack on our backs enables us to glide through the air like birds, gain height and land effortlessly on the highest mountains? We will probably never stop calling it a miracle that such a thing is possible.

Day 6

 The sixth and penultimate day of our bivouac tour promised to be the best flying day of the trip. Relatively little wind (10kmh NW) and a high cloud base (up to 2300m) made our hearts beat faster: Could it be that after all the rain, we would finally have a good flying day? We excitedly set our alarm clocks for 6.30am, as we still wanted to take down our tents, stock up on supplies at the supermarket, have breakfast and hike up the 800m to the launch site. The cold air was already noticeable on the approximately two-hour hike from the campsite in Doussard to the launch site on the Col de Forclaz; it had cooled down considerably during the night. A good temperature gradient should therefore also await us! Once we reached the top, our weather forecast was confirmed: Numerous other route hunters were gradually arriving, some equipped with high performance and submarine racing harnesses. A good sign! As we didn't know the area, we consulted a few locals who were happy to help us save the best route for this weather situation in our devices. The plan: a simple out-and-return from Forclaz to the north, towards Annecy, then the lake jump, and then along a ridge to the south-west, as far as Chambéry. From there it would be 100km back again. In the air, however, things looked a little different: as the launch site is on the western flanks and there were still overcast clouds in the morning, we couldn't take off until quite late. Some of the first professional pilots became impatient and took off too early, standing off. We had our hands full in the air: The cold air masses were torn apart by thermals that shot upwards into our sails like cannonballs. The thermals were narrow, undefined and often could only be centered by extreme bank angles and extreme steering inputs. Enjoyable flying is really something else! In addition, there was an inversion at 1700m, which was difficult to push through and regularly caused us to bump into this "lid". Perhaps it was because I was hardened by my many flying hours in Colombia (El Niño year!) this winter (conditions there were often similarly fierce!), but I soon managed to get myself into a tight and rough 4m/s beard and penetrate the inversion. At the top, the air masses were still mixed up, but at least the thermal tubes were wider and a little easier to understand. You're lucky if you get high once and stay high! Max, on the other hand, didn't really manage to gain any height and struggled for a long time below the inversion in bad air masses; I was able to observe a few collapses. This presented me with a dilemma, hovering alone above the crowd in more relaxed air: fly off and make distance or wait? I opted for the latter and, waiting for Max, extended the northern turning point towards Annecy as far as possible. At 1800m I found a magical line that allowed me to glide from Bluffy to Annecy almost without sinking. Meanwhile, the misery below me: Struggling, flapping and the fight to sink. Poor Max! When Max told me on the radio that he had landed safely, I was relieved, but sad to be flying on alone, to step on the gas and get on with the day's work. During the sea crossing, the Kangri X proved to have excellent gliding characteristics and was able to keep up with an OXA3 at half speed. Once low on the other side, the game of rough thermals, inversions etc. was repeated again. More than a few times that day I was glad to have done the tour with the tame KangriX and not with my hotter and moreover highly loaded TrangoX. With full confidence in myself and in the glider, I didn't hesitate to throw myself into the worst leeward turns and fling the glider around the turn, close to the stall, to position myself in the center of the tightest thermals. Would I have dared to do that with my racing sickle? I don't know... So I was able to cheekily crank out pilot after pilot and leave them behind me: First two C-gliders, then the OXA with which I had made the sea crossing and even a Niviuk Peak. Proof once again that you can be faster with a lower-classified glider - you simply have more confidence! The next part of the flight was rather uneventful: from Lac d'Annecy I surfed the ridge towards Sünden and everything seemed to work by itself. It was more or less just a straight and level flight, slowing down the climb and accelerating through moments of stronger descent. Speaking of acceleration: here I definitely notice differences to the Trango X, which carries a little better, is faster and feels like it converts smaller lift into height more effectively. However, these differences are only noticeable at 50%+ throttle! The first pilots approached me again from the south, all much lower than me. A WhatsApp from Max reached me in flight: he was following me in live tracking and was keeping his fingers crossed: "Staek Benno, keep it up!". As I was a little behind schedule due to waiting for Max and the ridge was so reliable, I wanted to make up time and decided to fly more aggressively: Less turning, more straight flight. After all, the goal was to reach 100 km and get home again! But, pride comes before a fall (well, not before *falling* but before sinking). As I didn't know the terrain, I got too low on a ridge, could no longer use the dynamic updraft and sank further and further. Before I knew it, I had to leave the ridge and look for thermals in the flatlands, but I was already too low and soon found myself on the ground. "Drowned before the southern turning point, what a bummer! Only 50km!" were my first thoughts. Stupid, actually, such a reaction. After all, I'd just had an eventful flight, wrestled with beastly air, won confidently and gained a lot of self-confidence and experience. You should be grateful for that instead of getting angry, of course. It's still not always easy for me, and I can imagine that many other ambitious pilots feel the same way. The way home was, as so often, a great adventure. Four rides (one of which involved me sharing a trunk with three dogs) later, I arrived back in Doussard at 8pm. Max was already waiting for me in a pizzeria and we talked about our experiences. My lesson: patience, patience, patience! Stay high, stay high, stay high! Maybe I'll write that down in my cockpit or, like Chrigel Maurer, on my gloves to remind me in future moments of overconfidence...

To be continued!