Vol-Biv 2019 – a paragliding trip across the alps


The Plan

The idea was simple: to either use my legs or my paraglider to get from Salzburg to lake Garda across the alps.
I started walking on June 8th. After 1 hike, 1 flight and 1 night on a mountain top I decided to stop (due to bad weather for a week – all the time I had for my plan).


Livetracking

Follow me along live here (tip: switch to “Stamen OSM terrain” map in the top left corner for better visualization. You can find it just below the + – buttons).
I’ll try to have one continuous track per day.


What is Vol-Biv?

The phrase is French and literally means fly-camping. So, a paragliding pilot covers a certain distance in the air or by foot and spends the night out in nature, carrying all necessary equipment with him. His mission usually is to launch in the mountains and fly as far as possible using thermals, landing at the end of the day close to a suitable launch from which the expedition may begin again the next day.

There are a few pilots out there who inspired me with their expeditions and I’d like to share some of their stories with you here:

Benjamin Jordan: he did a few interesting solo-expeditions, check out his website and his upcoming documentary “the endless chain

Nick Neynens: very nice how-to site

Robert Blum: Nepalese vol-biv adventure

Dave Turner: sadly his website is down at the moment but I remember it has great content. I’ll leave the link in case it goes online again.

Paul Guschlbauer: Austrian X-Apls pilot who shares 5 tips for a multi-day hike & fly adventure

Guillaume Broust: Vol-Biv in Tajikistan

Bendicht Erb: massive tour through the alps

Olga von Plate: german girl on a solo trip through the alps

Alex Düren: nice list of ultra-light hiking equipment (not specifically for paragliding, still very interesting how to optimize weight)



The Route

I wanted to start from my hometown Salzburg and fly south across the alps, crossing the main alpine ridge. My first goal was to top-land on “Marmolada”, a 3343m high peak in the dolomites. Then I figured if the conditions were right I could probably make it further south and chose to head for lake Garda in Italy. So I planed out this 360km long route (click to view).
It is a mix of analyzing skyways and thermal maps (both on xcplanner), my personal estimation what should work and choice of nice panorama during flight.


Equipment

When I chose my equipment I tried to keep light while still retaining high functionality. The only item I am not very happy with in terms of weight is my glider – the Sigma 10. It is my wing of choice in the air but I did not find a light version in the C-category that suited my needs as an alternative. Going up to EN-D was not an option for safety reasons and I decided to rather carry a little extra weight than loose performance and switch to an EN-B wing.



Paragliding

Glider: Advance Sigma 10 25 (4.85kg)
My current glider of choice, sadly it’s not very light.

Glider Bag
: Advance Compressbag light (155g)
I originally wanted to bring the XCertina Lite Bag M (280g), wich is a very nice and super light tube-bag. Because of volume-issues I chose to go with the Advance Compressbag light – which is fine, only packing the glider is much easier with a tube bag, especially in rough terrain.

Harness: Advance Lightness 2 L (3.05kg)
I removed both protectors and replaced the bottom one with my tent, sleeping bag and mat as well as clothes to reduce weight.

Helmet: Salomon MTN LAB (330g)
A relatively light and comfortable helmet (keeps the ears warm).

Vario: XC Tracer Mini II GPS (34g)
Best vario on the market, hands down: small, light, solar-powered, instant acoustics without latency.

Navigation: XCTrack on Huawei P20 Pro (180g)
I like XCTrack for its clear display plus I safe weight by using my cell phone for navigation which I bring along anyways. In addition there is a free live-tracking option in the XCTrack beta version which lets you see other pilots on your map.

Live-Tracking: livetrack24 using GPSLoggerFlight
Reliable low-power consuming free app for android that runs in the background usind the livetrack24 platform.

Backpack: Skywalk hike 80 (520g)
Light backpack designed for hike & fly with 80 litres volume and great wearing comfort. I actually wanted to get the russian Splav Hike&Fly 80, unfortunately it was out of stock.


Camping

Poles: Leki Micro Vario Carbon (234g)
I like to use poles when I hike to take some weight of my legs and have more balance. These carbon Leki are not only super-light but also they fold to a very short length.

Tent: Black Diamond HiLight (1.42kg)
Not the lightest tent on the marked but fast to set up and very comfortable single-skin construction with a huge window that makes sunrises even more enjoyable.

Sleeping Bag: Cumulus Light Line 400 (400g)
Cumulus produces some great quality equipment for a reasonable price. Also 400g is quite ok in terms of weight for a sleeping bag with 2° comfort temperature.

Sleeping Mat: Exped SynMat Hyperlite (454g)
Small, light, warm – the only downside is the price.

Water: Camelbak 3L + BeFree filter flask 1L
There are a few options how to deal with hydration: mechanical filters, uv-light filters, chlorine tabs and fresh water sources. I decided to try to find fresh water sources and if in doubt have a filter flask that I can drink from or refill my 3L reservoir with it.

Gas cooker: Lixada (25g)
The weight says it all.

Camping pot: Primus Alutech (233g)
I can put my gas cartridge as well as the cooker and a fire-steel lighter inside the 1.2l pot.

Food: Travellunch (1.800g)


Electronics

Solar Panel: X-DRAGON Solar 14W (480g)
I used to use a larger solar panel but thanks to Benjamin Jordan found out that this one does the job and keeps my equipment charged: the 26.800mAh power bank, a second 5.000mAh power bank, my cell phone and my GoPro 7. I clip it on my harness in front of the cockpit during flight and put it on top of my backpack when hiking to harvest as much sunlight as possible.

Power Bank: RAVPower 26800mAh (456g)
I chose a rather large power bank to be sure to have enough extra-juice in case I catch a few rainy days. Also it has the important pass-through function which makes it possible to let the solar panel charge the powerbank during flight while the powerbank charges my cell phone.

Camera: GoPro HERO 7 Black (116g)
Best action cam. I used it in 2.7k wide angle at 30fps; going above 2.7k doesn’t make much sense.

Watch: Garmin Fenix 5 Plus (86g)
The maps come in handy when hiking up new mountains.

Headlamp: Black Diamond (100g)
Small, light, cheap.


Total weight: 24.5kg
This includes 4l water, as well as 12 portions of tfood (1.8kg total)



Considerations

I like being outdoors, I love paragliding and because I enjoy these beautiful sunrise and sunset moments vol-biv seems like a great way to combine these things. In addition it feels like going on a multi-day paragliding trip is one of the last few remaining adventures you can do in our civilized world, althogh it’s a quite controled one. But before jumping into such a journey you should consider a few things:

  1. Skill level: be sure you know what kind of environment you feel comfortable to fly in and stay in your comfort zone. This includes considering wind speed, lee-flying, strong thermals, somewhat less than perfect launch sites, narrow landing spots and long flying hours. Also chose a wing that will never challenge you but rather feel like your old air buddy that you can rely on.
  2. Weather: have a few sources of reliable weather forecasts that let you plan your day and maybe the next one or two.
    1. meteoblue: good for a general overview. Not precise enough for wind speed.
    2. paraglidable: relatively new ai-based overview-map for paragliders.
    3. windy: I use the NEMS model for accurate wind forecasts.
    4. wetteralarm: föhn-overview
    5. DHV: good forecast for the alps
    6. austrocontrol: provides accurate and reliable information (thermal quality, operation height, föhn) for the alps.
  3. Fitness: when you take a look at the world top pilots they almost always are very well trained in terms of physical fitness, especially endurance. It obviously helps with long hikes but also to keep your concentration high during long flights over new terrain under sometimes not ideal conditions. I tried to do a lot of hike & fly to prepare myself.
  4. Planing: as you can see I did a lot of planing in advance. I did this to be ready, know the terrain and to be ably to deviate from my route if needed. This gave me a sense of mental freedom because I knew what would be next and if it didn’t work out I had plan B right in my pocket.
  5. Flying style: If you want to fly far, you have to fly fast. This is common knowledge and also applies to vol-biv flying. But, and this is a big but, in my opinion it is far more important to stay in the air as long as you can since you are at least 4x faster when flying compared to walking or hiking. Therefore I tend to fly very conservatively and always make cloudbase and use thermals I usually would skip because they are not strong enough. A second choice one should keep in mind is weather to maximize your glide distance and land in a valley or to topland and basically camp on your lauch site for the next day. This requires enough water supply or a water souce as well as enough food or a food souce close by.
  6. Gut feeling: last but not least I believe you should trust your gut when you find yourself in a tricky situation. I try to chose the conservative path to stay safe and be able to continue this sport for many years. Sadly I’ve witnessed many friends who got injured, in one case a deadly accident. So always remember that whatever choice you have to make – it’s never worth your life or your health. To always remember this I keep a picture of my fiance on my cockpit.

3 years ago…

The first time I attempted a vol-biv journey was back in 2016. You can check out the Facebook Album here or just watch the video of our 4-day trip below.

About the Author:
My name is Kurosch Borhanian and I am a photographer based in Salzburg, Austria. I am a surgeon as well but I love beautiful things and enjoy capturing them - this is why I got into photography. When editing, I try to let the picture and its inherent feeling guide me. I don’t have a standard way of doing things, because each shot feels different and thus needs a unique developing process. When I started paragliding in spring 2013 I quickly had the urge to share the beautiful views from up above. So I regularly take my camera along for aerial shots, which are one of my personal favorites because they remind me of the feeling of ultimate freedom & serenity I experience while flying.


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