Monday, December 1, 2014

Early Snow

 I had a nice hike up the Pic de Chamatte today. I took the direct route up from Vergons and there was a little dusting of snow on the summit. It felt very airy and a foretaste of the coming winter.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Fall Colors

Fall colors here include blue skies, snow on the higher peaks, green pine trees and golden leaves and larch needles - all shown nicely in the sunlight. It's a lovely time of year. This photo doesn't contain all of these elements, but it conveys the atmosphere nicely. 

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Looking forwards and backwards

At the top, looking down
I had a nice mountain bike ride today that involved climbing up a mountain (the Lieye) then descending it via a nice trail under beech trees. The trail was a bit hard to see sometimes, hidden under the leaves. Anyway, I took a picture looking down from the top and one from the bottom looking back up.
Looking back up from the bottom

Monday, October 27, 2014

Paris Light

Just a picture of the Canal St. Martin in Paris. I walked along it the other day, going to the Gare du Nord to meet my fiancee. It's not touristy, it isn't famous but in many ways I prefer those bits of Paris (the 'real' bits) to the touristy parts.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Last Day of Summer Time

Even when I'm going for a long hike, I struggle to get out the door early - I like having a relaxed breakfast before heading out. So my hikes generally get a bit shorter in winter hours. Today was the last day of summer time, so I took fall advantage of the 'extra hour' and had a long hike along the Montagne de Chalufy (a ridge at around 2400m). Far below, I could see there were still sheep at one of the mountain cabanes, and I guess they must be going home in the next couple of days. 

Some pics.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Discretion versus Valour

At the col, looking East to the Lacs de Lignin
La Baisse du Detroit is a narrow, high (2500m) col on a hiking trail that can be crossed on a mountain bike. It's about 5 hours walk from any road. Today the temperature was just above freezing and the wind was very strong - I'd guess gusting to 100 km/h when I crossed the col. The route down is tricky and goes over huge boulders - if you fall, the only thing you'll hit will be rocks. I was by myself (though I had a SPOT locator and mobile phone) and fully aware the situation was as serious as soloing a climbing route in the Alps. 

If you fall from your bike and can't get up, you can't be rescued by helicopter (the wind is too strong). You'll have to wait at least 5 hours for assistance, and possibly overnight. If you're too injured to put on every layer of clothing, overnight survival is far from certain. Hmm...

Getting back on my bike after the tricky bit
Not a difficult choice. I walked my bike down the tricky part of the descent before resuming my ride.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Corradour Mountain Bike Ride

I'm slowly gaining competence on my mountain bike and going further into (and higher up) the local mountains. Sometimes this involves following an established mountain bike route, sometimes it means using existing paths and forest roads to make your own route. Sometimes it all works smoothly, sometimes you find yourself pushing the bike a lot. Today things went pretty smoothly - I was able to use a forest road to climb up to 2000m, then follow a relatively flat hiking trail to join the Transverdon (a long distance mountain bike route) for a ride through the mountains and a tricky descent back to valley level. 

Some pics

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Fete de la Figue

The fig is a very sensual fruit and it is celebrated in a few fetes in the south of France. We fancied visiting one and chose the fete at Vezenobres, a hill-top village in the Gard around 3 hours drive away. The village faces due south and bakes in the sun, so all sorts of unusual fruits can be seen growing in locals' gardens. There was a market for all sorts of food (including figs and fig based dishes) and in the evening we attended an Andulucian meal with dancers.

Some pics.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Moustiers Sainte-Marie

One of the nice things about living in the south of France is that there are lots of really cute villages around. It's a joy visiting them and it needs almost no planning - just jump in the car, go there, explore, have lunch, explore some more and come home. Today, we visited Moustiers; it's in the lower Verdon gorge, and built just below a cliff and is famous for pottery. We caught the market, had lunch and hiked up to a church in the cliffs above the village.

Some pics.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Three Churches at Vergons

Notre Dame de l' Assomption
Vergons is a small village at the foot of the Pic de Chamatte. According to Wikipedia, its population is around 125 today and had a high of 500 in the middle of the 19th century and a low of 72 in 1975. Its only commerce is a rather nice restaurant but it has all of three churches, two of which date from the 12th century. Today was Sunday and my fiancee and I had lunch in the resto before visiting the churches - all of which are wonderfully maintained. 

Pics here.


Monday, August 11, 2014

Windy Hike

Lac d'Allos from
Montagne de l'Avalanche
I had a nice, long hike in the Mercantour today and there were two notable things. 

The first was the wind - at 2300m it was quite strong (maybe 20kph gusting to 40kph) but just 300m higher it was scary (I'd put the gusts at around 100k). The soundings predicted a high wind day, but nothing like as strong as it turned out. 

Big crocodile climbing
Col de la Petite Cayolle
The second thing was the number of hikers. You normally don't see that many hikers in the Southern Alps but there were lots today. I passed some big crocodiles and said lots of 'bonjours'.  

Friday, August 8, 2014

Sport Climbing

Murray about to descend,
after leading a route
I rock climbed a lot until 1980 and back then it was all 'trad' climbing, meaning you had to find and place protection yourself. In trad climbing, the technical difficulty (how hard it is to get up) and the seriousness (how dangerous is it to fall) are independent attributes. It's an adventure sport, where a cool head is as important as talent.

Since then sport climbing has come along, and there all the protection is pre-placed. The risks are hugely reduced and it's a purely technical sport - more like outdoor gymnastics. It's also much more accessible and family friendly. Trad climbing is still a mostly male activity, it can take all day and involve a lot of hiking. You can do a few sport climbs in a couple of hours and lot's of kids and ladies climb. It's much more social, relaxed and scenic. 

Me struggling up...
Most rock climbing in Britain is still trad climbing, whereas almost all in France is sport climbing. I actually did my first sport climbs when I spent a couple of days with Murray Hamilton. I climbed with Murray a lot when we were younger and he's now a mountain guide at Briancon (in the highest mountains of the Southern Alps). Unlike Murray, I can't say much of my prowess remains from 1980, but I enjoyed the new experience and understand why it is so popular here.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Mount Pelat

Final scramble to the top
Mount Pelat is just over 3000m and is the highest mountain in my 'departement' (les Alpes de Haute Provence). It's a nice hike, with some easy scrambling near the top to arrive on compact (cozy when busy) summit. It's in the national park of the Mercantour and the climb is shorter in the summer months because a high altitude car park is open then. I had a relatively early start and was on the summit well before noon, before a more leisurely descent. 

A few more pics.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Lushness in the Mercantour

Cabane du Talon
I'm back home after a couple of weeks in Scotland and there has obviously been some rain when I was away. Today, I had a nice hike in the Mercantour national park; everything is very green and it looks more like Switzerland than the south of France. I avoided the tourist zone around the Lac d' Allos and only saw one other hiker in a 6 hour day.  

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

The West Highland Way

I haven't lived in Scotland for 34 years, and lots of things have happened since I left. One of them is the West Highland Way (WHW), a nearly 100 mile super-scenic hike completed by 30,000 people each year. Today my son and I wanted some gentle exercise (it was an almost unprecedented 26C / 79 F in Glencoe!), so we explored a part of the WHW. 

We started from some lovely woods of Scots Pines at Inveroran and followed the way for a couple of hours across Rannoch Moor, had lunch and came back. The route was very easy, it followed Telford's road, created in the early 19th century, still 'the road' into the 20th century and looking good today.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Agag's Groove

Etienne emerges from the top of Agag's Groove
onto the easy ground of Crowberry Ridge.
I'm on a break in Scotland with my family, and visits back home are always a little bit nostalgic. This was even more the case today. 

I took my son on his first rock climb on a mountain. We did Agag's Groove, a real classic route on Buchaille Etive Mhor in Glencoe - steep, exposed, sensational but not terribly hard. Forty years ago, it was one of my first climbs and I remember it very well. Revisiting it today felt strange and a little bit like completing a cycle. 

For Etienne, maybe (like me) it will be the first of many routes he does, but if he doesn't do any more rock climbs, at least he has done one of the best!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014


Life changes. Over the last couple of years, I've been flying less and less. It hasn't really been a conscious decision, it's more a matter of finding other things more attractive. And like many changes, it might reverse itself.

When I started this blog, it was very much about flying. I just checked and the first 20 or so posts were all flight related. But flying has become a smaller part of my life now, so what to do about this blog?

I'm currently minded to use it as a sort of 'public outdoor diary' - whether flying, hiking, skiing, cycling, snow-shoeing, rock-climbing or whatever. It allows me to look back at previous events (and to check details like how the scenery looked given the rainfall or when I did something). So that's my current intent! 

Thursday, May 8, 2014

My New Toy

I've got more free time and I've bought myself a mountain bike. It's a new experience for me and it feels a bit strange. I've been cycling for ages but that doesn't help so much when the trail gets technical. But learning is a big part of the fun...

Today I took my toy up a mountain I've flown over many times (and hiked and hiked+flown a few times) - le Petit Cordoeil. It took a long time to get up and I was down in a jiffy - a bit like ski-touring or hike and flies. I'm not sure if this is more or less dangerous than paragliding. In the meantime I remove my SPOT locator from my flight deck when I take my new toy out - just in case. A few more pics...  ...

Monday, April 28, 2014

Exploring Chalvet

Chalvet's summit, looking north
Chalvet is the mountain you launch from at St Andre. I must have been up it at least 200 times, but always to fly. Today was far too windy for that but lovely for hiking, so I explored some new paths and places on the mountain. My first visit to the summit and the Trou du Chalvet (a cave) - I've passed them so many times, but always been rushing to launch. I was really glad to see new sides to a familiar mountain.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Allos Quickie

A very fast flight to Allos - 30 Km in just over an hour, 5 thermals, buoyant glides under clouds. Some pics here - well, hopefully,I think it has taken me longer to upload 5 pics than to do the flight.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Spring in the high valleys

After some gentle rock climbing, I took a hike in the valley (around 1500m) of Chasse, surrounded my 2500m peaks. The snow is just melting, leaving snowdrops and crocuses. It's very scenic - green grass, blue skies, white waterfalls and all that jazz.

Sunday, April 6, 2014


Ever since moving to St Andre, I've been spoiled for LZs. My normal LZ is a bailout for sailplanes and I don't think I've landed in anything smaller in the last 4 years. Today was threatening to over develop, so I headed west and flew in the Tartonne valley until the clouds suggested landing was in order. Raindrops dissuaded me from my first (enormous) LZ, so I took my second choice (still huge). I packed up and noticed that it was used for a parachute drop during WW2. Given navigation instruments back then, 'size mattered' - so even my second choice LZs are 'substantial'.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Once you have tasted flight...

Leonardo's insight amazes me. He is predicting how an event 400 years in his future will change people's perceptions. And - of course - he's right. Just as a painter can't look at a color without wondering how to make it from a basic palette, a pilot can't look at a cloud without considering flying conditions.

Today was never a flyable day, but it was interesting seeing the foehn cloud and gap caused by the wind (the Mistral deflected by the local valleys) passing over the Montagne de Coupe.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Rough Ride at Greolieres

The flying at Greolieres is on the S side of a big E-W ridge (the Cheiron). The meteo wind (especially aloft) is normally from the N but lower down the anabatic breeze, valley winds and thermals usually overpower it and give pleasant flying (which can sometimes get bumpy when you get up to ridge height). Sometimes, though, although the forecasts look fine, it doesn't work and it is just too bumpy to enjoy the flying.

Today was such a day; I took off with about 6 pilots from the Nice area. Climbing up was easy but it was very bumpy; I had no collapses but just keeping the wing open was hard work. Maybe early in the season you don't want to turn down air-time, so I waited a little to see if things would improve. But there isn't really anywhere else you can easily go to at Greolieres (airspace kinda traps you there), so all I could do was to try a few different altitudes but they were all unpleasant. So just shy of an hour I joined the other pilots in the LZ (they had all come to the same conclusion as me).

I had lunch, drank some tea, did some kiting and went back up for an early evening flight. By then things were a lot more comfortable and I flew with a couple of locals. Normally you rocket up the Cheiron in a thermal but we very slowly ridge-soared upwards and had plenty of time to enjoy the scenery.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Snowshoe Hike

Blue skies, high pressure, low winds, sunny, warm days and cold nights. That's the weather pattern here for the last week and it's predicted to stay the same for another week or so. The flying is good but it isn't great. Up aloft, there is a strong stream from the E or NE, and once you get above 2000m things become a little bumpy.

After flying yesterday, I decided on a snow shoe hike in the medium mountains (up to 2200m) today. Very pretty, though the snow was a little bit soggy. Glad I put on lots of sunscreen!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Spring Flying

Coming back to the main ridge from Sapee
After lots of hike and flies in December and January, February turned out to be a no-fly month. Most forecasts were encouraging today (RASP was the exception), so I was keen to get into the air! I guess I've been spoiled hiking with lightweight gear this winter - my normal XC gear seemed very heavy. The snow got deeper as I got higher and I was glad when I finally got up to launch.

Over St Lions, looking towards Barreme
I changed my socks for some dry ones on launch and layered up before taking to the air. Lots of punchy thermals gave plenty of lift. As usual on a decent winter's day at St Andre it was very cold higher up. I did some goldfish-bowl flying around launch (with trips to the Allier, Sommet de la Sapee, Mouchon) before landing back at La Mure after 2 and a bit hours as the batteries in my gloves died.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014


I'm just back from a 2 week visit to Shanghai for work. It's a fascinating place and it's changing very quickly; I was last there around 7 years ago and I think they had 4 metro lines - now they have 14. It's also seems more accessible for westerners - more signs include English or Pinyin (Mandarin in Latin characters). Some more pics.

I'm back home now to the peace of St Andre. The weather is lovely and and I'm looking forward to some outdoor activities.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Hike and Fly Season 2013-2014

Grim weather conditions on launch
Except for a couple of months in the heat of the summer, all my flights here start with a hike up to launch. But in the depths of winter, the hiking becomes more important than the flying. I go for a hike up, hoping to fly down, rather than a flight where I have to hike up. Equipment weight becomes more important than performance. Stable conditions and low winds become desirable, rather than a problem.

This has been easily the best hike and fly year since I've been here with lots of low winds, sun and very little snow. I've had lots of standard hike and flies - a lovely hike, a big run to get airborne, no vario beeps and an equally big run on landing. But I've also had soaring flights where I've just managed to stay up - either with ridge lift or thermals - and eventually had to land when I got too cold.

Today was a lovely day and firmly in the second category. I had a nice hike up with Merlin, Carol and Nigel and just managed to stay airborne before landing with frozen fingers.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

The church at Vergons

Vergons is a little village - almost a hamlet - a couple of hours walk from St Andre. I had a snowy hike there and back today. It was a Sunday and the church (l'├ęglise paroissiale Notre-Dame de l’Assomption) was open but deserted. Absolutely stunning, a real gem!