St. Andres les Alpes – Failed Vol Bivy

Before Covid 19 …

The plans were made back in 2019. My paragliding buddy of 20 years, Dangerous Dave, and I were planning a two-week flying and camping (vol bivouac or vol biv for short) holiday starting from Nice, France and going as far North and East as possible through the alps.

I had spent months mapping out possible routes to fly as safely as possible and setting waypoints for places high up on the mountains where we could land close to water – which is one of the biggest restrictions of vol biv flying. You must manage your equipment weight very carefully. You can’t carry much in your paragliding harness and if you are too heavy for your wing’s safety margins, then you risk serious and dynamic collapses in turbulent air which can make recovery difficult if not impossible. For those interested, here is how I divided up my weight:

Item

Weight (Kg)

Weight (lbs)

Flight – paraglider, harness, reserve parachute

7.95

17.49

Sleep – sleeping bag, tent, sleeping mat

2.66

5.85

Clothing

1.83

4.03

Cooking – pot, stove, fuel

0.84

1.85

Electronics – phone, flight instrument, external battery

1.91

4.2

Miscellaneous – 1st aid kit, hiking poles, repair kit, important papers

1.83

4.03

Food – mostly oatmeal, ramen noodles, breakfast bars, mini-tortillas

3.28

7.22

Water

3

6.6

Total

23.3

51.27

My total weight came to just over 23 kg (51 lbs) including my harness, wing, and reserve parachute (8 kg total (17.5 lbs)).

This is where the Six Moon Design (SMD) Haven Tarp and Haven NetTent shine. As far as comfort, room, ease of set up and light to carry bivouac gear SMD answers all my needs.

In the past I have used SMD’s Lunar Solo SE which is an EXCELLENT single man tent with nice vestibule space. I will continue to use the Lunar Solo for short quick packs and 2-4-day vol bivs. But when I want comfort on a longer trip and room to keep my glider and full kit dry inside with me, then I go for the Haven and Haven NetTent combo

What I particularly like about the Haven is that you can set up the Haven tarp in about 3 minutes and then, if needed, you can work under the tarp to set up the net tent and keep your equipment dry if you’re setting up in the rain.

Purists who do vol bivouac, only hike or fly. But I am not a purist and happily took the train from Nice, France to St. Andres les Alpes where I planned to start my trip. I took a small train into the mountains through steep gorges with a mountain river running through it. It was a beautiful 3-hour trip.

Dangerous Dave had to backout at the last minute because the UK changed its guidelines requiring 2 weeks isolation upon entry into the U.K. from France. He couldn’t miss work. But for me, working from home, this was not an issue.

Day 1

I arrived at St. Andres les Alpes and stayed at Camping Municipal Les Iscles. I intended to stay 2 nights there before beginning my vol bivouac trip. I wanted to do a “test” flight with all my equipment to be sure I had the balance correct and the weight well distributed.

Day 2

I caught a lift to take off with the local paragliding school. When I got there, just before noon, most of the pilots had already taken off and conditions were getting very strong. Paragliders have a very limited air speed and can only take off when conditions are just right. I took off in 20+ mph winds and was thankful for the extra weight of all my gear so that I had extra speed to penetrate forward rather than be blown back into the trees.

Conditions continued to be strong throughout the day, but I had a beautiful 27 km flight.

Day 3 The next day over developed. In other words, the weather was too strong to fly safely. My planned route would have been around 1200 km (over 745 miles) over the two weeks. In the end, due to a family emergency, I booked a return flight home and returned to the U.K. the next day. I’m disappointed of course, but my family is my priority. And I still have the well laid plans for next year! Here’s hoping. Thanks to Six Moon Designs for the Haven Tarp and Haven NetTent.