Vol Bivouac; Chamonix to Doussard

Chamonix to Doussard

1-4 July 2019

Day 1

After arriving in Chamonix and setting up camp in Camping Glacier d’Argentière there was a huge rain and wind storm that shattered lots of trees in the area and blew me and my tent down. Thankfully it wasn’t torn. I laid it out on the next day to dry while I went for a local fly – Plan Prax to Sallenches landing in the valley (33.4 km). The wind is always strong in this valley and a lot of pilots land by Lac de Passy (then go for a swim). I had a collapse low down as I came in to land. I recovered but came in fast and hard on my butt. It tore my harness (which only had my sleeping bag and clothes as back protection). I don’t advise landing here, I’ve done it several times over 3 years of flying in the Chamonix area and it’s always strong and rough. I have since been told that with the strong valley winds, it is safer to land in the Plaine Joux landing fields further East in the valley after the wind has split in 3 directions.

Approaching Pointe de Plate above the Servoz

Day 2

I started in Chamonix again and flew from Plan Prax to Sallenches, this time making the crossing and landing above Sallenches (23.8 km). I had intended to land higher up and camp close to Refuge Restaurant de Mayères, but I could see rain ahead of me on the Aravis as I made the Sallenches valley crossing. So, I made a quick landing (again on my butt further tearing my harness). I couldn’t find the Refuge de Mayères on Google Maps but found Refuge de Doran on the back side of Les Quatre Tetes. So, I hiked up and around to it.

Landing in the rain
Refuge de Doran
It was only 3.93 miles (6.32 km) to Refuge de Doran with an elevation climb of 655 metres, but it was quite steep at the end. Thankfully it was lightly raining and kept me cool.
I had a bowl of soup and a chunk of cheese at the refuge as well as a beer and set my tent up by a chapel on the hill above the refuge.
Camping beneath the cross at the chapel by Refuge de Doran

Day 3

The next day I had to climb the ridge on the back side of Les Quatre Tetes, probably less than a mile and 309 m to reach a good launch. Les Quatre was in cloud and so I couldn’t get above it and had to fly along the ridge until I could sneak over the Col de Niard between Tardevant and Croisé Baulet.

Day 3 Launch, looking at Les Quatre Tetes before it became covered in cloud.
Flying along the ridge approaching Col de Niard
I quickly sank out after going through the col and had to land after only a 12.3 km flight.

The winds were W to WNW all week and so I was flying the lee side of the Aravis chain which wasn’t a problem as the winds were fairly light between 1 – 3,000 ft. But the cloud base didn’t get above the Aravis until after I landed.

After landing I walked 3 km to Le Mègevan Chambres et table d’Hôtes et Camping where I had a beer, a nice shower and a flat place to pitch my tent.

Le Mègevan Chambres et table d'Hôtes et Camping
I’m convinced that you can “Vol Visa” your way through the Alps without a tent and sleeping bag.

Day 4

The next day I had a 5 km walk to the Col de Aravis where I hoped to be able to fly from the Western side of the col. This was a fairly gentle walk along a well gravelled road with only 155 m climb at the end to get up to the col.

I saw paragliders launching from the South Eastern edge of the Aravis, above the col, but none of them were staying up, and I couldn’t see exactly where they were launching from until I had passed under them and had already gotten into the col.

Arriving at the Col des Aravis after a hot climb.
It had been a hot few days (just after the X-Alps heat wave) and I was a bit discouraged. I contacted my friends who were flying in Annecy. They offered me a place to stay with them in Doussard before we all went down to the BGD weightless competition.

When I got to the Western opening of the col, there was no place to launch so I hitched a lift thinking of going to Doussard. Thankfully though, my lift was only going as far as La Clusaz. When I got out of the car I looked up, and there was a chair lift going back up the mountain in the direction of the Col de Aravis from which I had just come. At the top of the chair lift there were a dozen or more paragliders skying out and cruising the whole chain de Aravis! I immediately got on the chair lift and went up.

I launched at 16:00 and immediately thermalled up to 3000 m (the Aiguilla de Borderan (above La Clusaz) is at 2492 m). The whole chain of the Aravis was open to me. I debated whether to fly North to the Northern end of the Aravis before turning South again to see how far I could go before the day shut down, but my friends were expecting me and I didn’t want to get stuck someplace where I couldn’t get in contact with them. So I flew South.

I crossed over the col and headed down the Aravis and then West towards Montagne de Sulens where there was a large cloud that I thought I could climb out on and then get over La Tournette and land in the main landing field at Doussard. But it was after 17:00 and it wasn’t working, at least for me, and I was in the lee of de Sulens. So I went on full bar and glided around the Southern end of Crêt des Mouches, landing just short of Doussard – 27.5 km.

I called my buddies and they came and picked me up. So that was the end of my 1st multi-night vol biv. It was an amazing experience and I can’t wait to do it again.

Day Walking Flying
Day 1 33.4
Day 2 6.32 23.8
Day 3 4.3 12.3
Day 4 5.0 27.5
Subtotals 15.62 97.0
Total 112.7