Red Bull X-Alps – would you do it again?

My fourth X-Alps campaign ended prematurely this year when I eliminated on the sixth morning. I could name as factors my ankle injury, bad luck negotiating airspace technicalities, the disruptions of the pandemic, or the other competitors just being too fast… but in reality the most important factor by far is the flying decisions you make. But that won’t stop me having a grumble about things I’d like to see changed, what has changed since my debut in 2015, and sharing some thoughts and gossip about what this most famous of hike and fly races is really all about.

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Brisbane lockdown

I’ve been living in Brisbane since the last xalps, and I returned from my last overseas trip on 6 February last year. I don’t remember the last time I’ve spent 12 months in once place, but I’ve been really lucky to have been relatively unaffected personally by lockdowns. I’ve been stuck in a place with year round flying and lots of other options. Half way through the year I decided to learn to fly gliders (sail planes). Like starting out with paragliding it has been a frustrating learning curve, back then it was with finding decent flying conditions (small hills in Australia makes starting the crux), this time it was sharing instructors with other students and having work get in the way. Luckily there was plenty of epic paragliding trips for that unbeatable sense of freedom and even emulating the convenience of gliding sometimes, by flying a complete circuit and avoiding hitchhiking. There was also a few trips to the sand islands, including sailing, and my mate is always encouraging me to use his kiting gear – I’ve recently got going on the foil board – it really is another form of flying.

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New Zealand 2020

My 2020 trip to New Zealand was somewhat disastrous, after saving my new sub three kilogram Ozone Zeolite just for this (flying around an old rag in Oz), I brought the wrong wing by mistake. It certainly made a difference for the first four day trip, and the rest of the trip was salvaged by the generous loan of a wings for the trip (thank you Brooke, also Josh for the tandem). When my girlfriend left the weather took a turn for the worse and after a few windy flights I was rained out. But all in all a lot of country covered, still with some new places mixed in. Notable this year was the snow stained pink by Australian dust and ash, the horrific bushfires helping accellerate glacial retreat.

Mt Aspiring (distant right) from the head of the Joe. 19 Feb 2020

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Paragliding in Pakistan

The mountains of Pakistan have been my holy grail (or should I say, Mecca!) for at least ten years. At xalps Antoine said they’d made it harder with permissions and you couldn’t get away with it as the authorities would follow you and be there when you land. So when I heard of a new competition in Pakistan, supported by the government, I thought I better take this chance while I can. The competition was in the “foothills” (still higher than anything in Australia or New Zealand) but of course my main motivation was to explore the bigger peaks.

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Winter in Brisbane

After the excitement of xalps, I’m now back to work, “on the bench” forecasting weather for the aviation industry from the new office in Brisbane. My shifts are day, day, night, night and then 4-5 days off, on a 9 day roster – so plenty of time off missions in southeast Queensland. I was denied a job in Antarctica due to staff shortages in my current role, but on the upside it’s not a bad lifestyle here – winter in southeast Queensland!

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