Red Bull X-Alps 2017 – Episode 6 Garda

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Brenta 🙂 #redbullxalps

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Day 7 saw me fly from the high cliffs of the Dolomites out to the Mediterranean air of Lago di Garda (the Monte Baldo turn point 5), and back into the deep mountains with the epic ridges and green lichen rock slabs of the Adamello massif. It was a classic X-Alps day with a variety of challenges and obstacles – time urgency ahead of building valley winds, scraping into land just above the bush line, delicate flying in some sections and just holding on in others, a beautifully stratified airmass and spectacular storms not so distant.
See the 9 minute video with subtitles

During the night or early morning a storm passed, and we woke up to heavy dew and fog. Otherwise it was a blue and sunny day, perfect for an early start on the Brenta massif. It happened so many times this race that, despite my preference for exploring new terrain, I would find myself in the exact same position as two years earlier. However I lost the footage last time so the revisit was welcome. Ben and Mum drove to the road end and walked up the last part with me to launch.

Early on the conditions were weak but I ahead of me were irresistible cliffs, and it only got better. As I cruised past the Brenta massif I kept a keen eye on the lakes, watching for any signs of a building valley breeze. I took a final climb and a long glide before an intricate section of flying beneath the inversion, with cliffs and a lot of shrubs and leafy trees. Flying as fast as I could I dangerously low, and I took a spur of the moment decision to land while I was marginally above bush line. The conditions weren’t better on the other side and I launched in the same place, but maybe it was during a better thermic cycle though. I was nervous that while everything was going well so far, I could easily botch things up, “there’s always plenty of chances to make an idiot of yourself in the xalps”.

I managed to scrape my way out of there though and soon I saw Manuel (GER2), returning from the Lake Garda turn point. We shared a thermal together and he wished me luck, saying something about me needing to land and walk up to the turn point. As I climbed as high as I could before the lake crossing, I eyed up a grassy spot beneath the turn point that would save me over 1000 metres hiking up through the forest from the lake level. I needed every metre.. although it was interesting when some other pilots passed in the other direction from after crossing with a considerable altitude! None of my business…

My day 7 route from Brenta to Lake Garda, past the Adamello massif and across the Adda river

I got a pleasant reception at the turn point (sensibly located at altitude, this time) after racing up on foot. A young girl handed me a cold bottle of water and local pilots offered their help. I took off and crossed the lake again with a noticeable increase in the valley wind, but nothing exceptional. This time I climbed on windward cliffs but still snuck over into the lee as I ascended over the summit. Further down the course I chased Seb (GER1), who had been delayed after crossing the lake too early that morning. There was some big air as we approached the Adamello massif. It was one of the most picturesque moments of the race when I climbed high before pushing over the critical pass. Beneath me shattered lichen covered granite, green valleys, and glaciers, and a juxtaposition of airmasses – valley inversions, humid clouds lapping against the ridge, and building storms.

The pass crossing as always was very close, and another highlight. It enabled me to stay high whereas the GER1 route further south punished him with a long descent into the valley. After I did my best to stay high as humid air lapped up against the towering rocky peaks. At one point I thought of pushing west early, which is the route that Paul (AUT1) took. I never really intended to push far north into the mountains but as events transpired I thought it was my best chance of staying up. This was after getting stuck in a side valley working weak lift for as long as I needed to for another skin of my teeth exit. Unfortunately after crossing the Adda I found the valley had been flushed by outflow from storms to the north.

Having said that it was great to land high and I would do anything to avoid highway bashing. I’m always up for the high risk high return option, especially if it’s along an interesting route in the high mountains. But ironically it had happened again – I’d followed the 2015 route despite the turn point no longer existing! As the evening drew out a storm lashed out and in the darkness I reached a pension full of screaming holiday kids and warm Italian hospitality. Mum was dead tired but ever so keen to help, Ben and I had a bit of a chat and swapped stories, while we reassured fretting relatives that we were comfortable and on top of things. 

yeah a bit of a breeze now Nick / yes it’s
looking nice I actually flew here the

last xalps and it was beautiful
and you can see there’s a few clouds on

the Brenta massif and we’re facing the
morning sun and we’re reasonably high

there’s slope landing options, we’ve felt
a few light breezes come up the face

so it looks good. So this massif
is gonna be like the last good stuff and

then after that it’s going to be tricky
figuring out how to push as far as I can

in towards the valley breezes and the
lake garda turn point

Most of his clothes are very wet with sweat by the end of the day

it’s 50% down, 50% salt

we’re fairly high and it’s pretty warm
so I hate to think what the valleys are
going to be like

There he is, wearing his boots
he was telling me just before that

it’s fairly unsafe to go landing in
these really high mountains full of

sharp rocks in jandals (so I believe)
Not recommended even by Nick

So there you go

there’s launch, you can see Mum and Ben
and I’m a little below it

So he’s still a little bit below our height
and quite a ways in the distance now

they can see me now. They probably would have been a bit worried because I dropped below the cliffs

the trees look pretty awesome
growing out of the cliffs

so I’m still struggling to get above launch height, I’m maybe 100 metres or so above

but what an awesome place eh? Incredible
we’ve got face landings here

and I’ve even made some good progress
all good

nice clouds. I need to get a bit of a boost to get over this part of the Brenta

you can see the clouds are lower on the other side

how good is this! you can see the Adamello, the Ortler

Brenta right below me

and we’re going! we are going

hopefully there’s lots more cliffs on the way to Lake Garda

it’s 10:41. I’ll try and push as far as I can to Monte Baldo
[turn point 5], still 42km away

I just had a hard decision to make. I could have crossed there and followed that ridge up

it would mean I don’t have to cross Lake Garda

maybe this option will be good. I can go further up the lake this way

and maybe if I fly really fast I can get up there before the wind on Lake Garda is too strong

so I have got to climb up here on the last of the Brenta before a big crossing

but it’s good to be in the air and not on the ground

let’s go let’s go

I could bust onto the next ridge but it’s a little bit gung ho

I think I’m gonna nip through this col

but I’m pushing my luck a bit, but I’ve got to be fast

oh it’s good putting on a show for the live tracking, anyway

oh my goodness

oh this is feeling good! this is probably got to be the best flight of [my] xalps so far

if it ends well at Monte Baldo that would be amazing

the suspense is killing me

too much is at stake
could be a waste of time

could have done a little bit better than that, but..

it’s just not quite sunny enough here

it turns out I’m going to launch on the same side
just above where I landed

you might say it’s pointless,
but hopefully it’s cycling a little bit better now

always plenty of chances to make an idiot of yourself in the xalps

Hey [to Manuel, GER2, as he returns from Garda turn point]

last climb before the lake Garda crossing

a couple of xalps athletes were coming past me, going the other way

but what an amazing thing if I can bag this one

it’s better than I expected

this is a big move.
Wish me luck!

pretty close, just made it


gorgeous spot, amazing. Big country

just arrived after crossing Lake Garda

this is the same mountain but the other side of where I got the thermal on the way over

I’m really enjoying this it’s just beautiful
These mountains are kind of awesome

a raging success so far
Just climbing up to cross here

and getting on my way towards Tirano, Sondrio

then I had a bit of bar on… and a massive unintentional wingover

I was pretty worried then, I was sinking like a stone deep in here

but just got this climb.
I don’t know if it’s good luck. I guess it is

windy down there

big country! Have I said that before today?

Adamello massif. Hazy Italian valleys again

and it’s Basti [GER1] up there

and I’m pretty glad I didn’t try and come this way


oh, I think I might be through!

oh my goodness – why is it always so god-dammed close!

alright. let’s continue

there’s two gliders over there,
and it’s probably the way to go

just wondering if it’s worth cutting the corner here
[would have been AUT1 route]

really interesting how there’s cloud at different levels.
So many different air masses meeting. You can still see the inversion down there

I lost quite a bit of height here, I’ve just regained it

I’ve spent far too long here now,
half the time in the shade

I’m through!

don’t know what’s going to happen now

I think anyone on live tracking
must think I’ve lost the plot here

I’m way off the route, middle of nowhere
this valley, thought I might get up

well, interesting day. Yeah it’s a bit annoying
I didn’t get the golden hours

it’s only 6:25pm now.. but I did what I could

thunderstorms here, and a bit of a gust front coming through now

About sharemyjoys

Nick Neynens
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