Journal du Firefly - Huitieme Numero - Special Annecy


Annecy du Lac, et ses Environs

1999 - Douze Jours sur Treize

2000 - Six Jours sur Onze

Un Reportage sur Les Decollages 'Interessants'

Index de la Luciole

Quelle jolie voile!


Welcome Back! Well, after a year's break Firefly finally returns with the promised Annecy Special. Since I started penning this (in January 2000!) I've actually spent another holiday above and around the famous lake - which is probably a good job as, although the weather wasn't a patch on '99, most of that year's piccies were crap :-) (although murky air and the grandiose scale of things were contributory factors: like the song says - "The photographs came; you couldn't see us; we were lost against the mountains like specks of dust")

As the dramatis personae are going to be fairly limited in number, I'll depart from my usual habit of using nicknames throughout. This is also for the benefit of those of my non-flying friends who asked me to shut up about Annecy and do a page like this about it instead :-) (and the Nova readers who haven't a clue who you're talking about - Ed.)

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Annecy du Lac, et ses Environs

So, where the hell's this Annecy place you keep rabbitting on about?

Annecy is a large city on the western edge of the French Hautes-Alps, an hour's drive from Chamonix; closer to Geneva. Running SSE from the city for approx. 15km is an S-shaped lake, the middle section being a channel little over a km in width, and the depth of which sufficiently varied to allow you to both stand in the middle in places and almost drown when you dive in at the edge!

It's one of Europe's true free-flying meccas, having a number of well appointed take-off sites, of which the two most used are on the Eastern side of the lake, in the wooded clearing at Planfait and the new, PWC-inspired one at Montmin, above Col de la Forclaz (of Tour de France fame).


Looking towards Annecy from Montmin take off
Looking towards Annecy (top right) from Montmin take off.

The whole place is pretty geared up to free flying, particularly around the Perroix landing field. For the enthusiast there are equipment shops where you can borrow demo gliders and buy kit at economical prices - you can even get your wing fixed at Rip Air. (The Sapeurs Pompiers feel the need to have a station here too, for some reason!) There's also a navette back to take off from the landing field at the Southern end of the lake, not that you should need it as not only are there plenty of pilots and partners continually on their way to launch but the locals' attitude makes the area one of the most hitcher-friendly you'll come across.

Looking north-east from over the top of Le Lanfonnet
Looking north-east from over the top of Le Lanfonnet
(a.k.a. Roc Midal)

On non-flyable days the old quarter of the town (sometimes known as Le Vieil Annecy and not to be confused with Annecy Le Vieux) is a delight for the casual stroller amongst its restaurants and shops, or you can try your hand at something aquatic - it's all there. Jump in the car / on a bike (of whatever variety, but the term 'push-bike' may become very apt in this terrain!) and you can also tour some spectacular scenery. If you're taking the family, there are plenty of friendly campsites and all the facilities you need. Your more adventurous companions can easily get a tandem flight too.

From personal experience we'd strongly recommend Camping L'Horizon, at the top of the hill above Talloires, right next to the Perroix landing field and the hitching point to the main launches.

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1999 - Douze Jours sur Treize

The four-strong Avon group who ventured to the Alps for a fortnight in 1999 were:

Who needs a cabin on a night boat?! Sleeping bags on the afterdeck of Brittany Ferries' finest will do nicely, thank you, and so we arrived early at Cherbourg for the long drive ahead, Charlie and Simon sharing duties in his Type 2, Marcus and I trying not to fall asleep in the pursuing Panda. Lolloping your way across Normandy, down the A6 and then East to Annecy is perhaps not the most effective use of 15 hours and, whilst the total outbound journey time was similar to this year, it's definitely not the best use of your wonga.

A first taste of the nightmare that is Annecy rush hour gave way to a pleasant drive up the eastern lake shore to Perroix, where we couldn't find Marcus' previous campsite, so trundled onto the welcoming Camping L'Horizon, finding ourselves two of the only flat pitches for the van and tents. We found ourselves close to a group of Dutch Nationals pilots, including the reigning champ, Vino, and his huge dog, Cai. Time to erect the tents then rest, acclimatising to the heat whilst watching sundry pilots descend from Planfait launch to the landing field, before venturing up to have a look ourselves.

Despite being the most current, it was with some trepidation that I laid out when we returned to Planfait the next day (Monday). The small, barely-sloping mat; the gap in the trees and its almost sheer, wooded drop; the rocket thermals waiting to rip your wing from you - apparently; the trees just everywhere, conspiring to entrap you after the slightest mistake. Half an hour into the flight though and it all drops away - the thermals aren't *that* fierce, the ridge can almost be flown as such and I fancy trying to make it back onto the 6000' Dents du Lanfon. (Tip: scoot round the corner to the right, across the first gully and into the second, steeper one - from here you can climb up the side of the Dents; straight over the back of the front ridge the trees plateau and you'll be very lucky to make it.) My main impression is that there are gliders everywhere (but most look reassuringly tiny) and I hook a thermal with a red and yellow Sigma tandem (so this is where all the decent colours went!) that takes us most of the way up.

The Dutch Nationals hurry down to the Perroix landing field ahead of a cu-nim
The Dutch Nationals hurry down to the
Perroix landing field ahead of a Cu-Nim

Then the scale really hits me - climbing the last thousand feet, that I had thought were only a couple of hundred, close in to the almost sheer grassy slope near the base of the cliffs, screaming in awe up the rocks themselves and flying out as soon as I reach the top, elated but slightly perturbed. This is flying.

The next three days are not as good and we spend Tuesday discovering Montmin launch and the middle landing field (halfway along the lake, conveniently next to a bar serving fresh pizza), the others getting soaked on a walk on the Wednesday, flying being curtailed by a cu-nim that has me running to Perroix in advance of the Dutch Nationals, and Thursday dealing only a trip to Planfait and back to Camping Du Lac. On Friday the real fun began...

North of the Dents, about to use that cloud to get to 10 grand and then drop onto La Tournette
North of the Dents, about to use that cloud to
get to 10 grand and then drop onto La Tournette

The Petit Tour is basically a trip around the southern half of the lake. Mine started in slightly unorthodox fashion when I took off from the back of the Montmin mat to find a totally unprepared SIV student, complete with life jacket, arseing around with his harness, right in my path; a brief shout of 'attention', a swift kick up the posterior and a further cry of 'pardon' and I was safely off and flying, leaving the bemused nonk face down on the mat contemplating SIV lesson No. 1 - the importance of keeping a good lookout in all directions. Gaining height on the Rochers du Roux you then traverse across Lanfonnet and the Dents, needing to be at the top of the latter before flying out towards the lake, over the castle at the foot of Veyrier and then the wooded golf course that sticks out above the lake's kink.

The first time you commit to the glide across the lake to the Roc des Boeufs is pretty intimidating but I arrived safely and quickly gained height along the spine-back. After an almost vertical ascent, just before the second power tower, I turned to make the glide back to Montmin and hit 12-down sink (quite normal, I assure you), leaving me scratching low back on the other side. I believe people count completing the tour as getting back to the bottom landing but you know me - determined to regain launch, after some serious treetop kicking I was elated to finally corkscrew up in front of the permanent audience at the Forclaz bar, before flying all the way round to Perroix for good measure. Cool!

That long weekend was the highlight of the trip, despite spending much of it chasing around Annecy checking up on the state of Simon's van, which hadn't appreciated our taking it to Montmin the previous week. Marcus did the Petit Tour on Saturday, whilst I played around on La Tournette; I completely lost my rag in the landing field on Sunday after the most ludicrous bunfight on the Planfait ridge, with people launching blind into two already dangerously congested circuits of gliders - no surprises there then; Monday saw the best day of all, three of us seriously contemplating the Grand Tour (around the whole lake), Simon contenting himself with the Petit version in the end. I clocked up something like 40km in 4 hours, 3 of them spent above 5 grand asl, including a very special encounter with La Tournette (see right and above). There's something quite surreal about soaring along the top of an 8,000' + mountain, chatting to people who've spent hours climbing it, then doing most of the Petit Tour again on a glide to the landing field.


Gliding down on to the top of La Tournette - reason enough to visit Annecy in my book
Gliding down on to the top of La Tournette
- reason enough to visit Annecy in my book

Even the rest of the second week was eventful - Charlie completed the set, doing the Petit Tour on the Tuesday; Wednesday was - Shock! Horror! - unflyable!; Thursday Marcus demo'd a Flying Planet Syrius, didn't particularly like it and thoughtfully booked it for me the next day! Friday was hard work on the demo - my log book reads "Heavy, no weight shift, twitchy, pitch unstable and then tried to kill me"!! - and Saturday was rough as ****, including a comical thermal on the front ridge that was so small I was getting two outside collapses per 360 (and you know how tight I turn!) and severely outclimbed/outballsed a hangy.

One of our Dutch friends, Marc, won the Nationals but they were so disgusted with the standard of the comp that they seriously debated flying out over the lake and dropping the overly ostentatious trophy into it; as it was they left it on his car overnight but were disappointed to wake in the morning and find that no-one had stolen it! Further indignity was suffered when they ran out of, er-erm, 'supplies' and had to scrounge off the English :-) And then Simon, Charlotte and I had to go home (after watching the thoughtfully-arranged firework display with the Condors), leaving Marcus to stay on for a week with Bob Drury and then the British Open. I knew I'd be back.

Footnote: The Piper would like to thank the RAC for being generally about as much
use as an ashtray on a motorbike and costing him a fortune in mobile 'phone calls.

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2000 - Six Jours sur Onze

This year's roll call for Avon Go Mad in Annecy 2K (or something!):

After a frantic, fruitless search for my raincoat, The Piper and I started with a tour of airport pubs (all imaginatively named The Shakespeare!) as not only had the Stealth Camper taken a fair hammering last time (and wasn't yet ready anyway) but it was considerably cheaper to fly EasyJet to Geneva and hire a car (a gutless Megane, which endured much mocking), even counting the 15 quid it cost Simon to get his glider bag pocket sewn back on. Having spent the night attempting to ignore the monotonous recorded tannoy announcements in Luton, peals of laughter went round the departure lounge when a conflict between the two PA systems led to the warning that 'Passengers with infants and children under five will be removed by the security section'. Mind you, Bristol Bus Station almost managed 'National Express are pleased to announce the late departure...' :-)

Looking down on Lanfonnet (and other people)
Climbing up from Lanfonnet (and other people)

I'd already booked the same campsite and we arrived after a quick alcohol (okay, and a couple of other essentials) purchasing spree in town to be led to our pitch. If we'd known how bad the weather was going to be we would have flown but we were both knackered. As it was, by the time we went to fetch Mike from Geneva airport on Tuesday (in a torrential thunderstorm) we'd managed one extended TTB (and a psychedelic helmet) between us - and only after I'd blotted my copybook with a farcical attempt to launch with twisted brake lines. After each having short flights on Wednesday, Martin & canopy went down the front of launch on Thursday. Friday it rained again. I still didn't have a raincoat. Hmmm.

Saturday we got just right. Arriving at Montmin around eleven, we decided to take a (very muddy) walk to the top of the ridge to the right of take off, towards Les Rochers du Roux - hopefully presaging a later flight. As luck would have it, hardly any of the showers that were still passing hit the tapis directly - just a short sprinkling. We reckoned it would take half an hour to be flyable but it soon became clear that it would be half that and we immediately rigged and launched. An hour's fun flying ensued, taking the usual tour around Roc Midal and the Dents before landing at Perroix just in advance of the next thundershower, which promptly set in for the evening. Hardly anyone else flew. We went into town again.

Sunday was the best day of the visit, although it required patience, perseverance and a sufficiency of couilles :-) A light North-Easterly meant an hour working Les Rochers du Roux, watching others getting trashed in the Lanfonnet lee and aborting five attempts of my own to cross the col in front of the Auberge at the foot of La Tournette. Finally Lanfonnet and the Dents came into sun and the Passagers du Vent tandem and I both got in close to the rocks on the other side, stopping to deal with a nasty collapse before finding an elevator to the first cloudbase of the trip (involving paragliders anyway!). Yippee! The only question now was where to go next...

Sitting on launch I'd discussed a few options with a competent German pilot and decided to follow the loose plan and head off across the lake, where there would be more headroom, as base was only 7,000ft asl.

Looking South across Montmin take off (middle of shot, a third from the bottom)
Looking South across Montmin take off
(middle of shot, a third from the bottom)

I almost didn't make it. From above the Dents, I lost a full four grand on the crossing and had to fight my way onto, let alone up the Roc de Boeufs - only a Brit would have made it as no-one else would have trusted a 1-up over the far edge of the lake and a pilot who went straight for the ridge found nothing and went down. Once towards the top of the ridge it became easier, although it was with some trepidation that I crossed the second set of high voltage lines, as the wind was being drawn SW along the steep cliffs. A seemingly inexperienced pilot had been left behind by a group that had drifted off to the South and proceeded to attach her glider limpet-like to mine as I made base again and then carried on down the farther, shallower parts of the ridge, leading to the confluence of five valleys above Le Chatelard.

My favourite mountain - La Tournette
My favourite mountain - La Tournette
(about 1000ft is still in cloud)

Finding ourselves low I again trusted my UK skills and headed towards the town of La Motte en Bauges, with the Flying Planet wing still in close attendance. Thermal; get almost back to base; try to push up the ridge a little; WHACK! I have never seen another pilot fly away from me as fast as she did after I had that, even worse, collapse! (More horrible than the complete disappearance of my wing in the Club Challenge Final last year but nowhere near as unreasonably scary as the Syrius.) Okay then - we'll carry on in the other direction :-) The air continued to be 'interesting' as I caught another thermal above the Dent de Rossanaz and then left, relatively low, pushing across to the Dents d'Arclusaz, climbing along them and scooting through the Col du Frene as soon as I had enough height, as the shallow, tree-covered slopes were producing none too friendly, trashy lift.

Out in the Albertville valley I felt that after over four hours in the air I couldn't guarantee my arms or brain handling any more rough stuff and, having played with a flatland thermal for a thousand feet, I left it and spiralled down to a sports field in St Pierre D'Albigny. It then took me ten phone calls (all to answerphones in the UK) to get a message to the others as to where I was! And then I found Simon's mobile number scrawled on the back of my map from last year...

The rest of our time was unfortunately largely uneventful, although Martin made a valiant attempt at the Grand Tour on the Monday whilst I messed around above Planfait, and I enjoyed demo-ing an Octane on the Tuesday, despite an almost total absence of thermals. With the forecast no better for the next few days, Mike and I decided to cut our losses and return early, leaving Simon to see out the rest of the fortnight alone - I really hope you didn't mind, mate - it was totally doing our heads in! I'm still intending going back though - probably take a couple of Bandits this time...

This Year's Quotes

'I think he's talking to the elephant behind him' - Martin commenting on an overweight tandem passenger

'I know someone who was killed in that but she's dead now' - Mike

(Whilst trialling the Octane I did quite enjoy a small contretemps with one of the ruder tandem guys, actually - unaware that I understood everything he was saying he suggested (amongst other things) to one of his friends that 'Il attend les thermiques de minuit' whilst I was waiting in vain, early evening, on a nearly empty mat for a cycle to come through. Eventually I took off anyway, flew out, lost some height and then found that elusive thermal. As I climbed back up past launch I couldn't resist loudly exclaiming in his general direction that 'Les thermiques de minuit sont arrivees!')

P.S. Firefly finally found his crumpled raincoat in the seat pocket of his harness at Mere in September - where it'd been all along

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Un Reportage sur Les Decollages 'Interessants'

As much chance of launching an old mac...
This canopy was so porous you could see,
let alone breathe, through it!

Now, excuse me, but I thought Les Rosbifs were supposed to be the ones who couldn't alpine launch for toffee?? Well, the relative lateness in the day of the best conditions at Annecy gives plenty of time for observing the launch 'styles' (and mat etiquette, or lack thereof) of the other pilots, and it's jolly good fun too - when it's not frightening, that is...

For a newcomer, perhaps the most frightening thing is making the mistake of laying out just before a gaggle of tandem pilots and their associated passengers, passengers' families, photographers etc. descend upon the mat. Don't get me wrong - most of these guys are excellent pilots and polite with it; unfortunately they are let down by a minority who I can only describe as trous de cul who give the sport a bad name. You don't have to launch in the middle of them though and I'd recommend you avoid it at all costs.

The French Guide to Alpine Launches

  1. Never reverse launch, even when the wind is constantly over 10mph; make sure students don't learn either
  2. Lay your canopy out at least 30 degrees off from the prevailing wind, which almost never changes
  3. Wait while at least two perfectly usable thermals pass through, then launch into a lull
  4. Run until the wing is above your head, then stop all forward momentum while you look at it
  5. Drag any part of the wing that is miraculously still flying forward through the air
  6. On the few occasions that you get this far, pump out the inevitable collapse caused by wind coming from 30 degrees to the right
  7. Jump into the air with the wing still not flying properly, despite the massed chorus of people shouting 'stop'
  8. Take out two or more spectators whilst dragging your arse sideways across the last few feet of the mat
  9. Spend an hour retrieving self, belongings and glider from the mass of felled trees below take off

How it should be done
Dunno who this is but it looks very professional :-)

Quelle surprise
The long-suffering Alain comes to the rescue with his
climbing rope (no, Simon, not that sort) ... again

The Firefly Guide to Annecy Launches

  1. Reverse launches are quite possible most days - they may even encourage you to take off at the most opportune moments
  2. Check your canopy and do all your other prep. behind the mat area; only go onto the mat when you are ready to launch
  3. On Montmin use the top take off and lay out near the back of the mat, on the left, pointing diagonally across towards Talloires
  4. You'll normally have time to study the day's thermal cycles before taking off - use this opportunity well
  5. Don't take the piss too mercilessly out of the admittedly appalling general launch standard - we all know what pride comes before
  6. With forward launches you need a committed run - but don't over-commit - there's a big drop in front of launch
  7. Be especially aware of the tandems when taking off - they all come back across launch for photo-opportunities
  8. Concentration in the minute after take off is critical - this will often decide whether you spend the rest of the day in the air or the bar

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In The Next Issue

Spring thermals - Firefly's guide to appropriate levels of mirth during collapses

The Scottish British Paragliding Endurance Rally Cup

How to wait so long to take the pilot exam they change the paper

Getting your vario fixed - places not to send it

(De)Parting Thought

When I die, I want to die like my grandfather who died peacefully in his sleep -
Not screaming like all the passengers in his car.

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