Paragliding Lebanon NOT

Next morning the sky is blue and hardly any wind, I look up to the cedar take off which is a 1.5 hours drive away but visible from the rooftop. I can’t wait, take my stuff and leave direction Bcharre at around 7.30. Alan is flying at Miziara which is a little further than Bcharre so I call him to get me a clearance for cedars to make one flight there on the way to Miziara where I want to meet him. The view to Bekan Valley is beautiful and I enjoy being alone for the first time for a week a lot. At 1850m above sea level patches of snow appear next to the road. At 1990m the road is blocked by snow! Fuck! It’s April 14., and I’m in Lebanon!

I turn around and go to the next mountain pass further south – Tarfaya. Alan suggests Beirut which one more further south. I am horrified by the traffic of Beirut and think when Tarfaya is blocked too I will not fly today. Fortunately Tarafaya is open. It’s like starting in Pakistan (people spak arab and are armed – honor counts more than law), passing Austria (the skiing regions up in the mountains) end ending up at the French Riviera (French is spoken and the landscape looks a lot like Cote d Azur, Ferraris are a little less than in France but visible on the streets – churches instead of mosques).

Jounieh take of is empty when I arrive. It is incredibly amazing and I can’t wait to fly down to the Mediterranean Sea. There is a gentle lift close by the mountain and the flying conditions are perfect for a nice flight enjoying the fantastic view. Alan had suggested to come here as Miziara is at least another hour driving and its past 1pm already. I have to be back for dinner at Alis place at 7pm – we are invited. I am in contact with Farah because of my Army clearance for the flight – Alan is flying and Farah asks me to wait a little as there are problems with my clearance. He promises to keep calling them while I wait. Suddenly a few cars arrive. The first guy jumps out of the car towards me and asks me what I do here. I’d like to fly I answer. He asks me whom I asked for it, if I have a cellphone and If I am in contact with somebody… “Secret army”? I think when he recognizes my face and starts laughing. He shakes my hand, kisses me and introduces himself – “Omar, acro pilot”. I give him my phone and tell him about the situation: no clearance yet. I watch them take of twice and at 4pm I give up.

I write a message to Alan and leave. Alan texts me back and invites me for coffee to his place which is not far away – of course I go. Alan is a very nice guy and tells me about the current situation. The army is very strict about flying at the moment as there has been intelligence reports about terrorists who want to attack using paragliders! I wonder what the Austrian air force should do in Lebanon and how they should get there – but maybe there are other groups using paragliders who have more than rocks to throw. Alan is very sorry that I can’t fly today and invites me for dinner. I would love to stay but have an appointment at “home”.

The situation about flying will probably change again very quickly and I consider what happened incredible bad luck. Lebanon is just amazing to fly and at the moment all military restrictions find an end it will be possible to travel the whole country by paraglider. Where else can you do something like this?

Aurora Borealis – the paragliding/geomagnetic storm video!


I finally did it! After travelling the north 4 times within the last 20 months and taking more than 20.000 pictures I was able to choose the 9000 best ones and create a time lapse! A short video of me flying the northern lights with my paraglider is also included at 1:30.

The story and some pictures of the flight you will find here.

youtube link in case embedding does not work

Soundtrack by Suduaya:
0:00 – Snow and Stars
8:30 – Scent of light

Must see:
1:30 – Northern lights Paragliding
12:25 – Geomagnetic storm at Oksfjord

0:00 – Ivalo, Finland
0:48 – Vadso, Norway
1:15 – Inari, Finland
1:22 – Sommaroy, Norway (cabin balcony)
1:26 – Abisko, Sweden
1:35 – Hilleroy, Norway
2:46 – Sommaroy, Norway (cabin balcony)
3:20 – Norskehavet, Norway
4:06 – Karesuvanto, Finland
5:25 – Sinetta (Rovaniemi), Finland
5:45 – (near) Tromso, Norway
6:40 – Langfjordbotn, Norway
8:28 – Jokelfjord, Norway
10:27 – Langfjord, Norway
12:25 – Oksfjord, Norway
13:41 – Langfjordbotn, Norway
14:48 – Langfjord, Norway
15:05 – Ivalo, Finland

Into the black

Monday morning! According to the forecast tonight is the last chance to have an Aurora flight for several days. I need some help to collect my camera after I started and to illuminate the landing area. Anders is of duty today and the staff of the hotel is incredibly busy with thousands of guests who came by the weekend. I try to find somebody all day but not really successful. At the evening its windy and cloudy so I go towards Kiruna with some other guests where we enjoy a pretty nice show in the sky. When we come back later the sky is clear at Björkliden – but no Aurora. A little later the Tirolean guys who came yesterday arrive, we have a short chat, they help me and we go to the upper end of the skiing slope between reception and camping area – 100m elevation only – but enough in a pitch black night.

When we arrive at the launching area there is a light breeze from the back coming down the mountain, hardly any Aurora visible…. I wait until the wind is a little less and start. Its an amazing flight in the dark, no problem at all and I feel totally secure. The landing site is full of light and I come down without a problem – I am only unsatisfied because I hardly saw any Auroras while flying.

Next day morning I check out. I start to really love this place but I’ve been here too long already. Arriving people believe I am hotel staff which is a proper sign to go. I contacted some paragliders in Norway who helped me a lot finding better chances than last night. Especially one guy in Tromso was very helpful and told me a site about 25km west of Tromso – without light pollution and far away enough from any airport to make it perfectly legal to fly there at night.

All the way it snows a lot, all is white and there is nothing else but white. No shadows, no contrasts only red sticks make the side of the road visible for much of the way. When I arrive at Tromso I am done. First choice of lonely planet is full and another hotel recommended by them either. Staff of the smart hotel in Tromso is very kind and tries to find a place for me. “Do you have a car?”. A little later I drive to the west, to a small island called Sommaroy where they have a room for one night. Approaching I unexpectedly see the first stars.

Road map

When I arrive at the hotel I quickly move into an amazingly beautiful room with huge windows. I test the bed but as soon as I switch of the light I see Auroras dancing in the sky. Time to explore the Island. Being maybe 500m in square Hilleroy the neighbor Island where I am when I step out of the hotel is pretty easy to be overviewed. The flat north part is protected from the light pollution of the village by a mountain, a hill, actually by a huge rock rising out of the north Atlantic. Just water between me and the North Pole!

Its totally dark but there is one small road with strong street lamps on the island – straight for about 200m leaving a flat space of maybe 20m to the sea – perfect for landing at night. The hill seems to be flyable either… Before I go to bed I have a little talk with Evva, the kind receptionist and tell her about my planes, asking if there might be a possibility to stay more than a night (“I have a Yogamat and a sleeping bag, I just need a warm place”)– she promises to check until next morning and I go to bed.

Wednesday morning the flag in the garden is hanging down 45 degrees, it seems to become a sunny day and after a little breakfast I check out my room and make ready to fly. Before I leave Evva tells me she has found a solution, one of the fishing huts for two days, same price. Its an amazingly beautiful place I move in, I just don’t really recognize at this second because in my mind I am in the air already.

The rock seems to be perfect with starting possibilities to all directions. 200m elevation are possible to be done as there is a rope to handle up all the way, still only for people who have alpine experience. Up there I see the low sun to the south and the cold, clear, blue and beautiful sea to the west. Wind is NNW so I start pretty much towards the open sea. The flight is just beautiful! It is February, I am 350km north of the Arctic Circle and paragliding at the edge of the continent, the low sun is shining in my face and I don’t feel cold at all in my 7 layers of clothes.

After landing I meet Gökay who is here from turkey and made an amazing slow motion movie of me flying. Tonight is the night and I ask him if he can make a movie at night too – he can. In the afternoon I talk to Kjell who seems to be a manager here – we have kind of the same hair style and travel habits, we like each other immediately. When chatting with him in the afternoon I miss the time and am late to get up the hill.

At this point the contact details of this place as it is for sure one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen! It must be an amazing place to soar the rock in the midnight sun of summertime as well as to fly in the northern lights… and for sure it is for fishing, hiking, kayaking, whale watching, … even diving in summer time between colorful coral reefs of a crystal clear sea! Ah the contact: and of course they have a facebook account!

Little wind, clear sky, Aurora is starting to dance. When I arrive at the climbing path next to the tunnel for the military to drive up the Aurora is dancing in the sky. I hurry and when I arrive at the top a stiff and cold wind from the south is blowing in my face. I didn’t look for southern starting possibilities at all but manage to find one. Wind from the south means its blowing out to the sea….hmm.

At the first attempt to get out the wing the wind takes it and several lines get tangled. I have taken wood with me but think the wind will be less very soon so I don’t make a fire. I am busy to untangle the lines anyway which keeps me warm. When I make a break I take a drink out of my bag, drink half of it and by then the other half is frozen. All over my stuff ice crystals are forming and everything turns white.

Above me the Aurora is dancing while the wind keeps blowing, I should have made fire! I keep in contact with Gökay via phone and tell him every now and then how the things are. Around two hours after my arrival on the hilltop the wind calms down, The Aurora is dancing beautifully and I put my headlamp in my pocket as the batteries suffer a lot from the cold, the Gopro remains an ice block doing nothing but some beeps like crying for help. I will be in the warm car in 5 minutes is pretty much all I can think when making last preparations to start and two minutes later I’m airborne to enjoy the most incredible flight ever!

Its even more magic than I have imagined, I don’t feel cold at all anymore, as soon as I am away from the mountain I switch of the head lamp which is getting already lower again by the cold and just enjoy the unbelievable scenery! Much too quickly I am landing but this experience I will for sure never ever forget. I am done but overwhelmed, get the stuff together and go to the hotel.

At the reception I meet Gökay who seems to be a little shocked because he has lost sight when I switched of the headlamp in the moment he dropped a battery. I try to calm him down, fortunately all the others were not so shocked as I had appeared pretty quickly. What can I say…. YESYESYESYESYESYESYESYESYES! DID IT!!! YEAH!

This flight is dedicated to the starman – David Bowie (before watching the pictures please click the name)

Lebanon VI – Arrested by the military for Paragliding!

November 20. 2015

Beautiful weather again today. Its less windy so we can start from the top – there are no clouds coming from the sea! We quickly make two flights each in the warm sun and get a coffee then. When we have coffee we notice a truck parked in the direction up the mountain. You can take us up? Achlanuasachlan – you (we) are welcome. Half way up to the intermediate we see another pilot walking up the road. The truck driver stops and takes him too. We all go up to the Top and Tomas and I enjoy our first flight together. No ascending still so its not lasting forever but still amazingly beautiful under the blue sky. There is a Video of this flight if you CLICK HERE.

In the meantime a friend of the other pilot has arrived who would take us all up again – so finally we have our amazing day and the possibility to fly together. We wait for them to pick us up for maybe 20 minutes. As they don’t arrive we decide to proceed like before so it was on me to take Tomas up. When we approach the military checkpoint between start and landing we see the car of the Pilots friend and stop right behind him. I didn’t even see the guard pointing me the way to stop. We have been passing this checkpoint maybe 20 times by now and today have been joking all morning. We expect the other Pilot to be chatting with the guards when suddenly one of them asks me for my passport. At the first moment I believe he is joking and smile at until he repeats a little less kind.

I still think it is kind of a joke or like one time they want to check who we are but after waiting for nearly an hour they tell us that they will take us to an army base – one of them driving our car. Two guys with hand cuffs have arrived which makes me a little nervous. The only guy who speak English only keeps telling us “no problem in 5 minutes you go”. We can’t think of anything we have done wrong. I have called the Lebanon embassy two weeks before I left Austria asking them if it is safe to fly at Bcharre and they told me it was no problem. At the immigration the officer asked me what I want to do in Lebanon and I told him “Parapente – Paragliding in Bcharre” – “You are welcome”. We asked people in Bcharre, same answer, passed the military checkpoint many times while one of us flew above them – always smiling faces! So what the fuck?

They take our phones from us (which usually is a very bad sign for me) and then we go. There is an Army Base just around the corner where I believe they will take us but they don’t stop there. We are placed in the back of a Pick up, the two of us, the other pilot and his friend and four guys with Kalaschnikows. We finally stop at an army head quarter half the way down to Tripolis. There is a safety warning out for Tripolis which scares a little – big cities always seem to be more scary for me. In a Muslim country at the moment somebody invites you, you will most of the times be perfectly safe – but to guarantee that is easier in a village where everybody knows each other and has the same religion than in a city like Tripolis. However the Officers here are very rude with us. They completely search our car and ask not only for the driving license and the passport but also for the Paragliding license. Austrian driving license is valid without the international one. Paragliding license isn’t. In the car I already said I want to call the embassy.

I get my cell phone back and call them. A very nice and helpful lady picks up the phone. She sounds extremely concerned but still it feels good to talk to her and calms me down a lot. She asks me where I am but she does not get a clue when I try to repeat what the army guys around me are saying. They tell me not to be allowed to talk to her which she says is bullshit. I believe her. Somebody said we have been arrested by order of ministry of defense because of Paragliding (?). Still we have no clue what really is the problem. While I talk to Mrs. D. at the embassy they suddenly say they will bring us to Tripolis to a huge army head quarter. Mrs. D promises to do everything she can do and ask me not to turn of my phone. After talking to her I try to just put the phone in my pocket and I am lucky – nobody notices it.
So the journey goes on to Tripolis. I slowly start to worry if we will be able to catch our planes in maybe 36 hours. At the moment, and because of the rudeness of the people here I am afraid this might take a few days.

After maybe an hour drive we arrive at a huge army camp somewhere in Tripolis. After arrivel we are led into a room where on one side there is a kind of a fish tank with a guy who is writing down our names and our time of arrival. On the other side there is a huge cage which is locked with a padlock and many people inside. We are put in the cage too. By now both of us are really impressed not to say a little scared as you probably can imagine. Some time later they open the cage for us and ask us to wait in a tiny garden. (I believe this is probably because Mrs. D cleared the situation for us a little bit. Much more comfortable than in the cage but here we see how they treat the people who will stay. Not nice – everybody has his shoe laces and belt removed and they put it into an envelope with all their other stuff. The guys have to stand in a row facing the wall and wait for their names to be called.

We have been told that some intelligence officers will ask us a lot of questions but we are only asked for our names and our parents names again and again. Everytime it seems to take one hour before they are able to write them properly down. They take fingerprints and shit but I feel lucky they don’t check the millions of pictures on my computer for any pictures of military whatever. I don’t take pictures like this as a matter of principle but searching for them would probably take days. One of the guys who took us here gives me a sign that we will be free to go today. It still takes an hour before we get back our passports and as soon as I got mine I become a little more honest. I keep asking myself if people who put us in a cage are joking when they ask how we like Lebanon… What kind of answer do they expect? After we got back our passport it takes more ages because they need them again to make more copies blabla.

When we are finally free to go we still don’t have a clue what we did wrong and nobody can tell us. Even the local Pilot who was arrested with us seems not to know. Its just crazy but this is the middle east. On the way out we get lost inside the army village again before we finally find the exit. Nothing than away from here we think. I have promised Ali to come back today to spend another day with him before we leave so I put his address into the GPS.

Once we are away from the military place I take the first opportunity to stop and call Mrs. D to tell her we are out. I either tell her that we still don’t know what was the problem and she explains there is a sensitive area and an army offence somewhere. She ask where we are and where we are planning to go. We are planning to go back to Ali in Balbek and when I tell her this she is laughing like I just made a good joke. I ask where the offense had happened as I don’t want to run into it on the way to Balbek but she tells me it is happening in Tripolis.

We are in Tripolis it is night time already and we never had the feeling this is a good place to go. Mrs. D asks me why the hell we are coming to Lebanon for paragliding. I tell her because its beautiful, she replies “Indeed, very beautiful”, and both of us laugh. She wants us to go to Beirut but I had promised Ali that I would be back by Friday and its late and we are far away. Either Alis place is the only place in Lebanon where I feel 100% secure and after this day we want a cosy place to sleep. She tells me that if they go to Balbek it will only be possible with a tank escort but some people say its no problem. Guess I am one of those who think its no problem. I never had real problems with locals – if I have real problems in foreign countries its usually with the authorities like today.

Anyway Alis place is not directly in Balbek but a few kilometers before so we don’t need to pass a real critical area between Bcharre and Balbek. We finally arrive at Alis place around 11pm and there were no problems on the way. At the army checkpoint where we have been detained the guys are smiling again and apologize for what happened. It feels like they are really sorry for everything but they had got a phone call with an order to detain us. Never mind it is your job guys.

When Ali opens the door I see the worries in his face because of us not coming yet. But just for a small part of a seconds as his face relaxes and starts to smile immediately. He is as happy as I am to see me again. I really love him!

Lebanon V – flight with an eagle

November 19. 2015

Again the sky is perfectly blue when we wake up (a little later than yesterday). We go directly to Cedar Top at above 2700m – well at least we try too. There is snow on the road this morning and the bug gets stuck. Sun has just began to shine on the street so it might be a matter of minutes. The summer tires are running out of profile but a little later we enjoy an amazing view! Everthing is frozen up here and a strong wind is blowing into our faces. We stand between two summits so it is supposed to be strong here.

I walk down a little to find the actual launching pad but still the wind is too strong. Tom is chatting with birdhunters at the top who would interrupt the sound of the wind with a noisy BOOM every now and then. I walk further down where the slope is becoming steeper, the rocks bigger and the wind less. I try to put out my wing but either the lines get stuck between the rocks or the wind would just tangle everything. Its freezing cold – the humid wind comes from the sea and is forced to go up along the mountains. The humidity condenses all around me and clouds arise around me. I am at around 2700m, got a cold and a strong and cold wind in my face – the wing is tangled and every move is a pain in the arse. Half an hour later I manage to get my wing together and move further down. Same shit happens there but another half an hour later I am surprisingly ready to start.

I pull up the wing and take off immediately. The wind is strong, I go up AND back. There are not many things that are more dangerous than being drifted into the Lee of such a mountain like this one – well maybe the Syrian border which is just on the other side of the valley below… But don’t worry, big ears and accelerator get me out of the situation quickly. Unfortunately the accelerator gets a little tangled in the hectic actions and little later at the soaring hill I wonder why the wing is so unstable and the ascending is so bad. Approaching the landing I find out about the problem but can’t solve it quickly enough. Fortunately the wind is strong enough even down here so accelerated landing causes no problems.

Tom tries to start from the Top too but within minutes after I leave him the whole summit is covered in clouds. I pick him up again sounding the horn all the way up to let him know I come and where I am. All the other flights today we start at the intermediate again – clouds being sometimes less than 100m above us. Toms flight is either fine, strong ascending sometimes (the clouds suck) but again, like yesterday the clouds are too low to really benefit from it. Surprisingly, even though there is strong as- and descending all day and the clouds look really scary some of the time the air appears to be pretty calm compared to where we usually fly.

After a coffee we go up again. My turn. The wind became stronger making it a challenge to start (again). Without the help of Tomas it would be impossible: After a little accident when the wind caught my wing unsuspected, he takes my wing, holding it together (and down) so only the 3 chambers in the center can get air. I look at him skeptical but behind him there are some locals taking pictures. Looks fine I think and give him the signal while pulling the A – lines. In a part of a second the wing unfolds and I brake a little to prevent him from shooting in front of me.

Same second I make a jump back but don’t touch the ground anymore. I go straight up! Again, ears & accelerator – no problem and with all in its place I can play a little at the soaring hill before I start to freeze. Going down very slowly I suddenly see an eagle close in front of me – ascending. I fly there and suddenly am sucked up by a dark cloud! Enough now – again e&a (even though ascending more than 1m/s for a short time) and just a little later I come down at the landing site. What an amazing flight – I love it when eagles fly together with me!

Tom has another go but goes down as soon as he is up. No soaring so I just make it to the landing site before he is there. Spirals, up, down, ears, accelerator…. Finally he reaches the ground and we decide to take a brake to maybe have calm gliding conditions for a nice descender towards evening. During this brake the clouds look really bad. It seem to be crazy to even think of flying. But maybe one and a half hours before sunset the clouds suddenly look a little less scary. The wind has calmed down noticeable so I give the sign to quickly pay and go.

When we arrive at the intermediate take off the wind has nearly stopped and as this has stopped humid air from approaching the clouds have nearly totally vanished. Surprisingly I have to make a few steps before I take off and then I enjoy an amazingly calm flight in perfect evening sun. Definitely the best flight of today! After landing I hurry up to get Tom up one more time too. He enjoys his flight as much as I did. The sunset here is just unbelievable incredibly stunning!

Lebanon IV – Take off at cedar mountain

November 18. 2015

When we see the blue sky this morning nothing can stop us. We have coffee, take our stuff and leave well before eight o clock. At the landing site at the Bcharre side (north of the mountains) all is frozen and there is not a bit of wind. We decide to get another coffee here and then have a look at the south side where we expect thermals early in the morning already.

Up on the mountain pass we find out there is a nice wind blowing from the north. South side looks challenging but is too dangerous obviously. Even though it would be nice because in the south the clouds seem to be about 1000m lower which would give us the chance to fly above them – from the north there are more clouds coming and the base is between intermediate and top launching site. We decide to do our first flight at the intermediate facing north.

There is hardly any traffic on this (main!) road connecting Muslims and Christians so hitchhiking is out of question. So there will always be only one able to fly while the other one has to drive the car down the hill. Never mind – the air is cold and our first two flights are just calm descenders. Tom takes his second flight from the top launching site as the bas is lifting for a moment. Again a calm descender. Next turn is mine again and the clouds have sunk again.

I start and in the second I am in the air start ascending. Within second I take the ears in not to be sucked into the cloud above me. I go a little down and then up again – its perfect! I just play around under the clouds – sometimes up sometimes down – everything under control. The only disadvantage is the freezing cold. After 20 minutes I cannot feel my fingers anymore and land – what an amazing flight in this incredible scenery!

Unfortunately the bug (that’s how we call our rental “car”) finally runs out of petrol for the first time since I picked it up at the airport. We quickly go down to the village to get some and then up again. After one more awesome flight each we are freezing and besides pretty tired already. We could do one more each but decide to let it be for today. On the way home we stop at the pharmacy. We get the oil heater turned on and relax in the soon to be warm living room. Life is amazing!

Lebanon III Arrival at the flying area!

Nov. 16. – 17. 2015

We leave Ali just after coffee and hit the road towards the highest mountain of Lebanon. 60km by road and less than 20 if you would fly there straight. In fact I was able to see the launching place from Alis rooftop. At the military checkpoint they just check our papers and wish us a pleasant journey. Soon the appearance of the villages totally changes as we arrive in a Christian area now. Houses are a little more like in Europe and there are churches everywhere!

Soon we climb up more than 1000m in altitude via just a few serpentines. You will be easily able to spot them if you check out the map. If you are a Paraglider you will certainly become nervous when taking a closer look at that map. At the mountain pass at about 2700m above the sea we could easily either see the sea and the border to Syria if there were no clouds. The mountains surrounding us are up to more than 3000m high. After coming down the other side we soon arrive in Bcharre. It is some kind of a middle eastern St. Moritz and now its absolutely off season.

We spot a big sign post which has seen better days offering room, food, wifi for just 28$ per room. That sounds worth it so we decide to have a look. The room is as huge as the empty hotel and looks luxurious. The hotel is called Hotel Alpine and tries a lot to copy Austrian style – for us it feels more like in “the Shining”, empty, huge and endless hallways. Even though the price is so scary we ask for the price. 125$ per night plus $28 per person if we want food.

While searching for a room a thunderstorm happens. Two hours before we were thinking about to maybe fly today. Well done we didn’t.

The second place we look at was recommended by the guy at the first place: Bauhaus Hotel. Once in Bcharre it is hard to miss the Bauhaus and we can get a little room with three beds for 31$ per night. But wait, its off season. Our room, and four others enter into a big living room, kitchen and bath attached – 24h wifi, electricity and hot water and an oil heater on demand (we are at 1500 above sea level and its below 0 at night). We rent the room and use the whole floor – what an amazing deal!

It takes us some time to find a place where we can eat. There are restaurants all over but…. Off season. We find a place where we get a kind of Pizza, get some more food at the supermarket (got a kitchen) and soon go to bed. Both of us have a bad cold!

Next day in the morning its rainy as predicted. We discuss a second if we try to fly at the sea or take the day just to explore this perfect looking place here. Minutes later we are on the way to the launching place. Clouds are low and there is fresh snow at the tops of the mountains around us. We stop at possible launching places and explore landing sites we could use. Watching the clouds rising up the mountain sides looks scary – its raining every now and then. We don’t even think of flying in these conditions but we get quite a good idea of the area. In fact the bad weather was good luck for us and tomorrow its predicted to be a perfect day to finally take off!

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