Flying high @ Castelluccio di Norcia & Lago di Garda (Italy)

September 20. – September 27.

My flying school offers a flying trip to the flying mecca Castelluccio di Norcia. Tomas, a friend with whom I´ve been flying a lot and I decide to join. I have a little doubt because I am used to travel alone and going in a group of 9 (8 guys and Silvia, the girlfriend of Hans who is running the school). Its an incredible opportunity to experience one of the flying meccas in Europe. 9 people in the vw bus with all the luggage is thight from the beginning but the ride passes quickly over night and we arrive in Castelluccio Monday early morning. We are tired like hell but “fortunately the weather is shit and the wind to strong so we can rest most of the day.

Tuesday morning looks way better and we are out early morning. Clouds are covering the valley of Castellucio making it an amazing sight, the little village just sticking out of the sea of clouds in the morning. Soon the clouds rise and we can do our first real flight here. In the afternoon the conditions are even better – hardly any thermals but a nice laminar wind which is lifting us up the surrounding mountains making it harder to get down than up. Unfortunately I miss the top landing because of a wing collapse which cost me about 20m in height while approaching for landing. I turn around and land at the car ten minutes later – no second try to land up there…

In the afternoon we go soaring the exercise hill – a height difference of less than 70m between top and landing…. I ground handle my wing up the hill and then keep soaring in the laminar winds on the hill for nearly three quarters of an hour. Soaring, sometimes so close to the hill that I can even touch the ground if I stretch my arm is neverending fun – and even though its the most dangerous way to fly (if something happens ten meter above ground there is no chance to react or throw the reserve so you would fall on the ground like a rock) it feels way safer than hundreds of meters up. I love it and its the most fun flight I do in here.

The group is amazing – even though I find myself being rather alone sitting somewhere and watching the scenery than with them when we can´t fly my concerns prove to be nonsense. Even though we have a shared room for all of us everything works out way better than I had expected. Unfortunately the weather turns worse again after those amazing flights on Tuesday. Thursday afternoon when looking at the forecast in a little restaurant while drinking cappuccino I find out the weather is predicted to become even worse in the days to come.

Now that is one of the points why I love travelling alone so much. I would pack my stuff within seconds under these conditions. I show the forecast to hans and he makes an unsatisfied face. Until the evening we decide to leave and a little after midnight we are sitting in the bus heading to lake Garda. This group is amazing – most of them are no travellers at all but from me they all get the traveller honour medal. Awesome guys, with that decision you really surprised me – I wouldn’t have thought this quick decision is possible in a large group like this!
We arrive at lake Garda early next morning. The conditions are great, the landing area looks like a lost stamp between lake and bank and everybody is required to wear a life jacket as strong winds parallel to the lake make the landing a hard challenge on such a tiny piece of lawn. The view at the take off site is stunning – once started it takes about ten minutes until I am above the lake. Height difference between top and landing is about 1800m making these flights quite the opposite of soaring the practice hill in Castelluccio….. and even though its way saver because you have several hundred meters to react if something happens (and you would fall in the lake where safety boats are waiting) its quite scary.

Markus (Silvias son) and Jakob ( a great photographer and friend of Markus) are experienced Acrobatic pilots and show several fast descending techniques like big ears and steep spiral. Doing my first steep spirals is really spooky. In fact the wing is vertical and I am circling around it being exposed to quite a lot of G force. Tomas who is sports student and has a lot of experience in jumping out of planes and from rocks and bridges with parachutes and bungee ropes makes a very good progress while I try to get confident with the steep spirals – I have to admit I am a little jealous with him! On the other hands I am a little more relaxed and do not so many flights as he does – the landing area is nice to chill and take pictures and I don’t want to hurry all day long.

Evenings we spend at the very touristic Malcesine, very beautiful place, great food and way cheaper than Castelluccio. I love this place.
That was really an amazing trip and fortunately my concerns had been nonsense! Thank you, Hans, Silvia, Karl, Kurt, Wolfgang, Tomas, Markus and Jakob for this amazing trip!
Enjoy the pictures!

learning to fly

Learning to fly!

Soon after coming back this year I am sitting at home being pretty bored…. I need a new challenge! In the recent years I met several people who are paragliding. I have already been fascinated by this sport since I saw people flying in the alps when I was a child plus one of my best friends has been doing it all his life. I asked him several times already to show me how to do it not knowing nothing about it. This time after seeing so many paragliders in Nepal I am kind of hooked. And, honestly, we all have been dreaming about to fly since we were children, haven’t we?

After doing a little research I find a flight school not too far away from my home. I call them and immediately like Hans, the owner of the school I am talking with. A few days later the weather seems to be perfect and I go to flying school for the first time. I spend a very exhausting day “ground handling” which means trying to control the paraglider standing above you in the wind – not even coming close to take off.

Second day I am way better, and try the first short flights at the practice hill. I never go higher than maybe 20m and don’t fly further than 200m but I love every second from take off to landing. When you start you lay down the glider behind you – then you pull the “A lines” to fill it with air and rise the wing above you – you break it so it will not overtake you then make a few steps down the hill to accelerate. Your feet lose ground and slowly you are lifted into the sky – its incredible!

After some more days at the practice hill I do my first altitude flight in Plankenstein with a height difference of 340m (which usually takes about 5 to 7 minutes). My first flight was in the evening with the air being very calm but enough remaining thermal to keep me up pretty long. I just fly into the setting sun and enjoy – this is definitely one of the best things I have ever done.

From now on I spend every second I can flying. Soon I learn how it is to fly rough conditions. In thermals rising me with more than 5 m/s I get my first front collapse. Still I am trying, everything is new and its very hard to control the glider. I have to think about every action I take and it reminds me a lot of learning to drive a car. You need to think about thing like clutch, gear, brake,…. Before you do something. Flying rough conditions is exhausting and scaring but I learn very quickly. I fly many different spots and soon experience conditions when it is harder to sink than to rise.

Hohe Wand in the south of Vienna is a place like this. It’s a 400m tall, several kilometers wide rock wall facing the flats to the southeast. Another place I fly a lot is Oetscher mountain in the Mountains of lower Austria. Another amazing place where one time I share a thermal with an eagle flying next to each other eye in eye for several minutes.
After around 80 flights I slowly get a feeling for the paraglider. Like when driving a car I do not feel so much separated from the glider anymore – we start becoming one step by step. I slowly start reacting without thinking and during my best flight yet I make 40km (circling and soaring in a laminar wind which blows up the hillside) for a little more than an hour and then land for a break on the spot where I started! And all this within less than 3.5 months after my first flight. By now I own my own wing of course and go flying pretty independent. Though its always scary to be the only one starting out I enjoy exactly these moments most: alone or together with a good friend up in the air and getting blown away up!

my flying school close to vienna