My supporter Alex and I left Geneva on Saturday morning and are driving the first half of the route backwards to the start. We checked out the "South" route via the Sondrio valley and the Nufenenpass that Alex Hofer took so successfully in 2007. It's a commiting route, and we both have renewed respect for Alex's tactical and flying ability. The valley floors are low and the tree line is high, and with many peaks below the tree line there are very few potential launch sites. Landing fields are very scarce in many places, there are far too many vineyards, orchards and power lines. All in all it's a very committing route: if you can fly it, as Alex was able to, then it's almost a short cut, but if the weather's not so good or you make a mistake and land early it can be a very long walk to the next take off.
Today we drove through the Dolomites. The scenery is simply incredible. Once again there are a multitude of possible routes. Here there is no lack of take offs and landings, but the valleys are as narrow as the mountains are steep, which is to say very. There are several high passes to cross, which makes adds up to a lot of height gain and loss if you're stuck on the ground due to weather. It's definitely a section that you'd rather fly than walk! Martin Muller explained to me that to fly successfully through the Dolomites you have to stay high. In the French Alps where I've done most of my mountain flying getting low is not a problem: you can use the regular pattern to valley winds to find ridges facing in to wind and so find a thermal back to cloudbase. The Dolomites are different: the valleys are tight and windy and if you get to low you simply get flushed down to the valley floor. To make progress you must stay high, jumping from peak to peak.
Right now I'm typing this in Leinz in Austria. Tomorrow we'll check out the most likely route past the Grossglocker turnpoint and then up to the Watzmann and in to Salzburg. We have to be at Race HQ in Fucshl am See on Wednesday for several days of briefings and pre-shoots before the race start on Sunday morning.
I don't think that I really realised the scale of the challenge that is the Red Bull X-Alps until Alex and I started driving the route. It is simply a gargantuan challenge. But this will be the subject of a future blog post.