Sun Salutation - A Mini Vol Biv From St Andre les Alpes
I am starting to make my own forays into the world of vol bivouac. At quite the opposite end of the inspirational long excusions others have made across huge mountain ranges this is just one night out and returns.
Even so there's something quite delightful about travelling under the power of the sun, soaring over the mountains, landing high and then watching that very same hot ball of energy that drove your journey set in a blaze of colour and then rise the following day.
So this is just to share some thoughts and observations for others that might also be begining this journey.
I would love to have all the latest light weight kit before starting all this but since that would require me having a full-time job and then have no time to do this stuff I simply make do with what I have! So my advice would be do the best with what you have got. At the worst it will mean if you have to walk out you you will be a bit slower and sweat a bit more than the other guy with all the light gear.
So I fly with my trusty Nova Mentor 4 and Gin Genie lite harness.
The harness is too heavy really but I can cram stuff under the seat and in the back storage.
I use a small tarp as a tent propped up on my walking poles with string and 4 pegs!
I have cheap foam mat to sleep on. I pack additional clothes rather than a sleeping bag and I use my wing as sleeping bag which is surprisingly warm. (carefully folded with all the lines inside and held loosely together with straps).
I take a small gas cooker for a brew and to heat up ready cooked rice meals (Uncle Bens is my favourite) which only need 2 minutes on the gas and if worse came to worse can be eaten straight of the packet. a A few snacks and musli for breakfast. A 2 litre water bag seems to be sufficient.
Safety equipment consists of a spot tracker, 2m radio, maps, phone, battery back up, torch, first aid kit and tree rescue kit.
Have a plan for your route and thinking about your biv location based on easy landing, access to water, has somewhere flatish to camp and access to a good morning take off. Its unlikley you will find these all in one spot. You may have to land and then walk to your bivi location or in the morning walk to a better take off.
Landing and take off in remote locations is probably the most hazardous part of the adventure so don't land / take off somewhere stupid to save yourself an hours walk. Its just not worth it. So think about the wind and the terrain you are landing in. High alpine meadows are preferable to top landing on windy rocky ridges!
Try and get a decent weather forecast each day to keep track of changing conditions.
If conditions aren't right then decide early and bail to a large populated valley. If conditions have detiorated overnight you may have to accept walking down as the best option.
Who knows what your doing and where you are going? Have some system of checking in each day with someone who knows what to do if you don't check in!
Well the flying is much the same as any other time although I have noticed if you pack heavy stuff too high in you harness it can change the angle of your seating so do a test hanging from a tree first. Take care not to pack stuff in so hard you compromise the release of your reserve.
The route does not have to be epic! You can have a great adventure whilst only flying moderate distances, you dont have to be aiming for your longest flight on your first vol biv.
Having said that I find being able to land anywhere and sleeping takes some of the pressure of out and returns or declared flights where you are under pressure to get a a particular spot by the end of the day. So be willing to adapt your plans. Good days go further, poor days scale back.
So on the last trip I had hoped to make to to the Col de Vars - somewhere I knew had wide open grassy slopes. I didn't make it that far but had spotted another suitable high landing which with simlarly high pastures. It was a perfect spot. Landed at about 2200m. Walked for an hour picking up water on route and camped high for the views at about 2500m. Set up camp, sussed out morning take offs and watched sunset. Cracking spot.
Here's the link to the gps track
In the morning I changed my plans and walked through a bizarre mountain tunnel taking me through the Grand Pic du Parapillion to the sunny morningside. I wanted an early start but this was not to be. When I did manage to launch winds and thermals were strong and I did little more than get hoisted up to 3000m and then drilled down to the valley floor through rough turbulent conditions.
So it was a trip of two halves.. a perfect first day and short scary second day with a long hitch ...but I still want to do another! Interested?