Biwakfliegen / Fly-Camping – Paragliding Zugspitze-Königssee (1/2)

The Zugspitze, almost 3,000 meters above sea level, is not only the highest mountain in Germany, it is also a mountain of temptation. The stunning mountain summit attracts half a million visitors every year … … on the top of the Bavarian Alps. For two paraglider pilots the summit of the Zugspitze is the starting point of an impressive trip. Ewa Wisnierska and Oliver Rössel want to fly from here to the Koenigssee. I have never flown here before, never had a ride up with the cable railway. I have only passed it in the air once. The scenery is tremendous. The clouds are still low. To take-off here – that is: Wow! I am excited. Ewa and Oliver flew as World Cup pilots on places all around the globe for many years. Both have won the World Cup. An exciting, but also stressful life. This trip is supposed to be a fly-camping journey. For that, time and speed doesn´t matter. What we find really great is that we take-off somewhere and not have to return to the starting point, but land somewhere in nature, sleep there and by this way … … experience nature very intensely. And the next day we just go on flying. Appears to be a good plan – but the weather doesn´t allow them to put it into reality. We wanted to take-off towards the southwest, but we currently have winds from the east. We hope that the wind direction will change when the sun moves to the west. But currently the wind is rather getting stronger. The weather forecast predicts that it is turning to southwest. But as the nature of weather reports is, they are not always true. The two paraglider pilots don´t want to give up. To be ready for take-off, should the weather improve, they are looking for a take-off site. This is not easy in this high alpine terrain. Briefing in 3,000 m / 10.000 ft above sea level. Today, the two want to fly to the Achensee. Distance 50 km / 30 NMI. We are right here. This is the Zugspitze. Here we drove up. We want to fly alongside the Wettersteingebirge, fly to the Hohe Munde. From the Hohe Munde over the Seefeld Plateau on to the Reiterspitze. This is our key point for the whole flight, because this is a flat area. And then – this part you know already from the Bavarian championship, since we have been flying there – over the Hafelekarspitze … … to the Achensee. The destination is determined by the pilots. The exact routing has to follow nature and weather. Olli wants to take-off first, but the weather conditions are very demanding. The wind would be OK. If the visibility improves, when the clouds rise, it´s OK for take-off. I think in half an hour or so. A short time later winds and visibility permit the take-off. But the small take-off site and the steep cliff in front of it are very demanding – even for a world-class pilot. I’m not really nervous. I’m just focused and respectful to the situation. But I think this is necessary here, because here you simply should make no shit. Now it has to be fast, because in just a few minutes the cloud layer could be closed again. Once in the air, Olli can rely on his experience. But he believes that the weather conditions at the take-off site will now be getting even worse. Olli, how is it? The flying conditions are relatively demanding, also for the take-off. So, I would advise you not to take-off. Olli says that the conditions are quite demanding, quite bumpy, and that the clouds are low. That´s what we see. I’m going to get ready and wait a bit. If it’s OK later, then I will take-off. And if not: Tomorrow is the next day, and then we’ll see. Olli wants to wait in the air for Ewa. In vain. Ewa has aborted the take-off preparations. I would have loved to fly up there today, rather than now driving by car. But the conditions were not safe enough in my opinion. And so I didn´t want to take the risk. There is good weather predicted for tomorrow and for the day after tomorrow. Then I can fly. It doesn´t have to be today. While Ewa is traveling by car, Olli is progressing quite well. I am now on the way to the Hohe Munde. Beautiful flight so far. The working altitude is a little bit low. That is to say: the clouds are not as high as we thought. But the thermals are very, very good on the other hand. I hope that the wind carries me up on the other side of the valley. Meanwhile Ewa hopes, that she doesn´t have to just driving a car today. The clouds have become less. By radio she told Olli that on the Hafelekar mountain in Innsbruck, halfway of the planned flight route … … she wants to try to take-off again. Say, where are you? I am now just 10 km / 5 NMI to the Hafelekar. That’s perfect. I am already at the take-off site. Then I’ll get ready, and then we just meet in the air. Meanwhile, the cloud level has increased, so that the mountain peaks are free of clouds. Good thermals and a light west wind could ensure … … that the two paraglider pilots will make it to the Achensee. I have found a nice thermal here. A thermal is an up-draft. Warm air rises up, and I am flying in it. Raptors do exactly the same. By flying circles I’m trying now to gain altitude. Crazy! Quickly the two reach almost 3,000 m / 10,000 ft altitude. With 20 km/h / 10 kts tailwind they have a good ground speed towards their destination. We are currently over the Nordkette. Innsbruck lies far behind. Soon we will see the Achensee. The target is getting closer. I am positive that we get there. Five hours flying time for Olli … … three hours flying time for Ewa, when the two land together at the Achensee in Tyrol. On the first day the two have experienced, how eventful and exciting fly-camping can be. At the Zugspitze, I thought: Well, the day does not look particularly good. But later the sky became clearer, and especially over the Inn Valley, the weather conditions … … became beautiful. There are always surprises. One must not give up, but just needs to look at where there are new opportunities. Can I just take-off somewhere else? And then you will be rewarded. As for Olli, it was a very special experience in the air, too. I did not expect it. I was quite surprised when Ewa called me on the radio, when I was just before Innsbruck, that she is now on the Hafelekar, taking-off to join me. It was great, when we met in the air and flew here together. Paraglider pilots are esthetes when they are in the open sky. The beach of the Achensee is a 5-star camping site. For Ewa this trip is even fulfilling a long-cherished desire. For me fly-camping means: back to what I had at the beginning. At the beginning I was flying with no pressure – just for the enjoyment … … and that has changed my entire life. I have quit my old life and dedicated to aviation. I started flying competitions, but I realized, there’s more and more pressure, more and more expectations. And so I decided last year:
I do not want that. I want to fly again as in the beginning. Just for me and for the experience. Now I have it again. The next morning. Although the two know that the weather conditions won´t be good before noon, they get up early and take the cable railway to the Rofan – the prominent mountain next to the Achensee. It’s a beautiful morning. Ewa and Olli want to take plenty of time for their breakfast. The flying colleagues join the breakfast. To go with the flow is part of fly-camping. For the preparation, however, you must consider certain rules. I can not take a lot of things with me, of course. Something to drink, something to eat, the basic stuff. Then, what is important: communication. You should carry a cell phone. just in case anything should happen. A T-shirt, a toothbrush and that’s it. Well, and if there is still some place left, maybe I’ll take a small bottle of wine with me. So I can drink a little bit of wine after landing up there. Flight instruments are very important for making larger distances. We must pay attention to certain altitudes when flying. So for example, when we flew here from Innsbruck – since there is a control zone, in which we may not fly into. And that’s why we need to know what our altitude is. This is my flight instrument. Basically it shows what my altitude is. There is an air pressure sensor … … and when the instrument gains altitude, the air pressure changes clearly even at this low altitude difference. So basically it can measure every single meter. I can also see the altitude. So here we are at about 1,800 m / 6,000 ft. When I climb, this number increases, and I can see what the altitude is. Although the air still appears to be relatively stable at noon, Ewa and Olli want to take-off. If they’re unlucky, the thermals are not strong enough. The two paragliding pilots take-off for their second leg, hoping the weather conditions are good enough. By the evening they want to reach the Wilder Kaiser mountain.

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