Flight: Switzerland: A Requiem for Larch Trees

Since most people probably do not know what a larch tree is, I will explain. It is a pine tree where the needles change color in autumn, fall off, and grow back again in spring. Most pine trees are not larches; they are ultimately a minority and found in unique locations, such as the northern Rockies, and the Alps. I’ll get in to some common locations another time.

For some bizarre reason, I have had this overblown “spiritual” connection to them, if anything because they are eternally out of reach and represent that which lies over the next hill, where I currently am not. Anyhow, I had a mental note that sections of the Alps have quite a few, and I wanted to make sure I saw them.

I also had another objective on this flight. My grandfather had passed away the week prior, and I was due to take a long flight back to the Pyrenees with the Cub a week later, before our immigration allowance went kaput in Switzerland, which happened to coincide with a notorious seasonal turn in the weather. Since proper airmanship involves a continuous monitoring of one’s mental and physical health, a recent loss tied so close to aviation is something that requires controlled re-introduction, so I took this local flight in Switzerland to see how I felt, without the pressure of a six-hour flight involving three countries. Although my wife got me to agree “not to fly around Mt. Blanc” on this flight, I summarily wedged myself in a bunch of tight Swiss valleys, chasing dying pine needles and loving every second of it. In a nod to my grandfather, he never could understand why the grieving process should last more than a day, so…suck it up and get back in the plane?

Pierre Avoi

Veysonnaz, with west end of Sion runway on the right side down in the valley.

Val d’Hérémence, birthplace of European witch trials! 

Dent Blanche with some orange trees beneath it and an intrusive shadow in the middle. 

Dent de Perroc. 

Mont Collon and the deceased Glacier d’Arolla beneath it. I would not fly here in a faster aircraft as its rather tight. Glad I am not doing anything dangerous.

Bottom of the north slope of the Grande Dent de Veisivi.

Somewhere above the Rhône River valley.

Rhône River valley, filled with autumnal haze spewing forth from Lake Geneva. Sion Airport (my origin and destination) is down in the murk.

Vineyards getting in on the action.

Flight: Switzerland: Oberland, Interlaken, Grimselpass, Jungfrau

Chronicles of Existential Dread: Volume VIII: The Witch Trial, a Celebration of Human Stupidity

As promised, the “rant of all rants” …

This flight was the pinnacle of all that I could have imagined. Weather and visibility were exquisite. It was autumn in the Alps, with a “Colorado blue” sky, light fall colors, and epic terrain, flying over Interlaken and other destinations, fulfilling dreams I have had for well over a decade. Little did I know, during that very flight, my grandfather (who restored the PA-11 and is the source of my aviation inspiration) would be spending his last day at home before heading to hospice that evening and dying the next morning. I wrote a moving piece on AOPA about the flight and my history with my grandfather, the part of the story that is touching and most would like to hear. I suggest reading it here and enjoying some of the photos. I will include photos below that I did not include on the AOPA post, following my esoteric posting schema.

One may wonder why I was wandering around the Alps, having the time of my life, while my grandfather was being carted off to hospice.

This is where it gets interesting.

Sparing the mechanics of how I found out from a friend of a friend of a friend that he was dying (as opposed to hearing the news from those who occupy the family tree), one must dial the story back about a year. I called my grandparents for one of my many regular calls, and instead of the typically brusque handoff to my grandfather, my grandmother informed me:

“I don’t want to talk to you. You said something bad about the church.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“You wrote something bad on that internet thing of yours.”
“I have no clue what you’re speaking of.”
“Pat told Eileen that you said something bad on that internet thing about the church.”
“Grandma, I don’t write about religion on the blog, so it’s impossible I bothered to say anything at all about the church.”
“I don’t want to talk to you. You’re an apostate.”

Little did I know that the above statement was the pre-tremor for a temporal time warp, where I would find myself transplanted to Taliban-administered Pakistan, just prior to being stoned for blasphemy.

In the ensuing month, her iPad mysteriously broke, and it was determined, as proof of my Satanism, that I conjured the Devil, from Spain, to break it from a distance. Any doubts or misinterpretations about the content of my “internet thing” were confirmed as abject practice of Satanism when I broke her “internet thing” using the power of my mind. The fact that it was taken to church authorities for an evaluation and exorcism, and they determined that it was not affected by demonic activity, meant nothing.

The thing is, my grandmother has elected a faith that is, well, rather enthusiastic about things, including an under-penalty-of-death prohibition against lying, but what else is new, that part was apparently a symbolic interpretation. In the ensuing months, I would attempt, clearly in vain, to correct this dose of craziness, and the antics for which phones would get slammed on the handset, and religiously-infused epithets would get hurled would be analogous to grandma’s fervent love for the Christ. Although church authorities blessed the iPad as free of demonic influence, this quite resourceful matriarch managed to find some church friends to impress Apple’s functionality into the service of the Lord, blocking my incoming texts. While I am not convinced of her mental equilibrium, one must give her credit for resourcefulness in waging war with the Devil.

As one could imagine, talking to my grandfather got more and more difficult, though I did the best I could. We last spoke some months before he died, for which my forensic investigation after the fact indicated that he was not feeling the greatest and likely gave up. While he didn’t support my grandmother’s…..ahem….enthusiasm, I don’t fault him, as he was literally spending the night sleeping in the same bed with a maniacal fire-breathing zealot.

It didn’t occur to me the apparent supernatural power that was in my possession until talking with someone else about the whole affair. I casually mentioned that I must be the Antichrist, for merely hearing my words would result in the conjuring of Satanic powers and the destruction of the faith of the godly. This person looked at me in horror and proceeded to undertake a confirmation that I wasn’t in cahoots with Satan, lest said individual would suffer the same fate.

It then occurred to me: just because someone else thinks I have the power of Satan…..suddenly gives me the power of Satan. This is incredible! I wish I had figured this out before, as I could have had hours of pleasure toying with their minds.

What I couldn’t get my head around during this episode was the fact that, because “Eileen said that Pat said that…” it was enough to convict a [purportedly] adored grandson of heresy, without any official proceedings. This faith is one that has a rigid sense of judicial order, for which all sins are to be confessed, categorized, and adjudicated based on severity. Literally, one person had a tryst with a sea cucumber (!!!) and it was referred to higher tribunals for evaluation (bestiality, excommunicated). Another poured honey on his nether regions and obtained a large quantity of ants to crawl around (???) for apparent pleasure (masturbation, slap on the wrist). How is it that “Pat” suddenly can send someone to eternal damnation, without any elaborate ecclesiastical proceedings?

Basically, what I had experienced with this unfortunate episode of social excommunication was a modern-day witch trial. When we start talking witch trials, then a remarkable chapter of European history opens, for which I can re-interpret my adventures here with a historical summary of abject and unintelligible hysteria, insanity, stupidity, and bloodshed. I invite you to join me on a tour of European idiocy, for which my grandmother paid memoriam to, by subjecting me to it in the 21stcentury.

It all starts with kicking the tires in the Val d’Hérémence in Switzerland. My wife and I were thinking, briefly, about living somewhere around there, and my findings on Wikipedia indicated that the first witch trials started in the 1300s in that valley, later spreading to the entire continent. We decided not to live there.

Before one begins to think that massacres are restricted to northern Europe, one must note a sign that I have seen on the French side of the border, on the Mediterranean motorway, that says “Pays du Cathars” (land of the Cathars). In the 1200s, certain lovers of Jesus (Catholics) didn’t like other lovers of Jesus (Cathars) and decided to kill them all….roughly 500,000 of them. It was particularly pernicious that the besieging forces ordained by the Vatican had difficulty discerning who in the Languedoc was Catholic and who was Cathar; thus, the policy was to kill them all and let the Lord sort it out. This holocaust took place all the way up to where we are in Cerdanya.

Now, one might presume that we can blame the French for all of this silliness. After all, the Val d’Hérémence in Switzerland is in the French speaking area, and the mass slaughter of the Cathars was mostly in France. Let’s not let the Spanish off so easily. At the Council of Lérida (64nm away, landed there in the Cub) and later the Council of Tarragona (75nm away, landed the Cub there also, terrible airport), the Catholic Church under the Aragonese monarchy made a series of determinations, based on the heresy of the Cathars, that created the structure that led to….the Spanish Inquisition.

The Spanish Inquisition had many faces, though devolved into an elongated witch trial that lasted for centuries. While there was technically a theological structure to the proceedings, accounts indicate that events differed little from my experience with my grandmother. Two neighbors might dispute, one storms off, and two hours later, a thunderstorm roars up “from that direction” and messes up the other neighbor’s vegetable patch. Wailing accusations of witchcraft to the local church, the person would be carted off for interrogation, where they would summarily be brutally tortured to extract a confession. Even though all accused witches would be executed, the confession route was a bizarre fetish, for which it was also a requirement to name co-conspirators, of which all witches apparently had. They were offered two options: confess (naming guilty accomplices) and be strangled; fail to confess and be burned at the stake, while techniques to extend life and suffering while on fire were employed. Naturally, one found that “witches” nearly unanimously had conspirators (who were then interrogated and executed – how did Europe survive?). If it were me, I’d name the jerk of a neighbor that made the accusation.

In the middle of the orgy of death in the Middle Ages, a French bishop wrote a treatise identifying the potential for a conflict of justice, as there was incentive to falsely name conspirators that may not have existed, for the sake of a more amicable death. He later confessed to witchcraft, naturally practicing his Satanism with the aid of others, and was executed.

I noticed something interesting about witches and witch trials. The witch is generally someone ugly, socially non mainstream (“cat lady”), and disliked. The accusation was absurd. The community didn’t like the person. Result? Kill him or her! Win-win for everyone (except the poor bastard that gets burned at the stake).

As history showed, the people did get sick of the vestiges of the Holy Roman Empire and theocracy, particularly after the printing press and Martin Luther showed up, the heretical act of translating the Bible into local vernacular having been committed in Germany. After all, if we give the power to the people and let them interpret the Bible, that takes the Church and its miscarriages of justice out of the picture.

Well….not quite.

Enter Münster, Germany, 1528 to 1531. In a fantastical, hilarious, absurd story, a washed-up Dutch actor turned street preacher stirs the locals into a frothing religious hysteria, fed by this newfangled document called “The Bible” (in German), formed a good old pitch fork and torch mob, and kicked out everyone from the walled city except their crazed brethren. What then results is the street preacher steals all of their money, has sex with their virgin daughters, runs naked through the streets screaming that the end is coming, and it all comes to a head in a local Armageddon, where the feudal lord’s mercenaries get completely drunk, try to storm the city, and lose to the naked lunatic street preacher, who now ends up heralded as having divine power. The feudal lord gets new armies, storms the city, nails the street preacher’s genitalia to the city gates, and everyone dies. Little did the Branch Davidians know that the first Waco, Texas raid actually took place 465 years prior.

Now, why would I bring this up?

I could refer to the masthead of the Aspen, Colorado newspaper, “If you don’t want it written, don’t let it happen” (my grandfather loved the quote when I told him about it). It’s more fun to point to a sidebar from the Münster story, as we can’t forget Mr. Luther, who was being protected by Reformationist nobility. Church authorities wanted to “speak with him,” for which his benefactors furnished abundant consternation by denying access. That was something the Church could handle except “he has a printing press!” Luther was printing pamphlets that stirred the locals into more of a religious frenzy and made the whole situation worse.

If it wasn’t bad enough that I am the Antichrist, can destroy faith with a mere look, and can conjure Satan to break iPads from a distance, I have a blog (“internet thing”). If I can eviscerate someone in literature publicly, what sane person…..never mind.

This lends to a greater philosophical question about sanity. I recently had an amusing semi-ferocious spat with a genius, and after commenting on the irrationality and senselessness of the discussion, it was proposed to me that “humans are not rational, so why should you expect anything other than this kind of issue?” After some deliberation, it is a stark realization to evaluate and accept that mankind is glutted with bizarre, irrational, seemingly insane behavior. Western culture has somehow carefully packaged our public presentation of self into socially acceptable, polite, professional, legal, and “normal” ways of interacting with one another, while crime, nearly pathological information biases, and periodic spurts of abject bloodshed burst forth, catching us by surprise…repeatedly. What is our answer? Outrage. Public displays of indignation at statements and actions that do not fit into a carefully crafted mold of socially acceptable public interaction are met with public howling….which does very little, unless you’re a politician caught in the act doing whatever is the latest thing that would result in removal from office. In fact, modern judicial systems are designed to be insulated from public pressure and political influence, expressly due to the propensity of the public to have rapidly changing senses of vengeance, punishment, and justice. Outrage is a relatively powerless response, and we continue to practice it, seemingly incapable of accepting the nature of our existence.

My grandfather frequently commented on the sheer stupidity of humanity as a whole, solving the problem as best he could by finding underpopulated counties to live in, with abundant space between him and the nearest neighbors. It was a pragmatic fact-of-the-matter that proximity to humans meant proximity to mental under endowment, and it was best solved with open space and reduction of human mass. I must say, he was on to something.

Rest in peace, grandpa.

Gordon Fisher, Sr
1931-2018

Vaudois Oberland, en route to stop in Gstaad.

Le Rubli, south of Rougemont.

Thunersee.

Interlaken.

Brienzersee.

Grimsel Hospiz & Grimselpass (2164m / 7100′).

Fietschergletscher. Glad the engine kept working, though I did swoop down and fly 500′ above the entire glacier multiple times on a previous flight. If the engine quit, well, that would have been that.

Between the Scheuchzerhorn and Oberaarhorn, over the Finsteraargletscher.

Upper Oberslchmeer, below Finsteraarjoch and Agassizhorn.

Aletschgletscher.

Aletschhorn.

Upper Aletschgletscher.

Jungfrau, from the north.

Äbeni Flue

Kanderfirn, from Morgenhorngletscher.

Somewhere beneath Blüemlisalphorn.

Descending to Gstaad again.

Vaudois Oberland, on way to Sion.

L’Argentine, before crossing the Bernese Alps to Sion.

Some sort of rock while crossing the pass.

 

 

 

Flight: Switzerland, France, Italy: Vaudois Oberland, Chablais Alps, Mont Blanc Massif

*For new blog subscribers, there are always pretty pictures at the bottom of my long-winded essays.*

Chronicles of Existential Dread: Volume VII: Spectrum of Known & Unknown vs Spectrum of Lies

So, yes, maybe “the spark has become the trend.” That which is unique, interesting, and worth pursuing, previously an outlying act, has now possibly moved into the normal, thereby ruining everything. After my previous manifesto, an ever so tiny shred of sympathetic synapses began firing, leading me to ponder why hordes of hapless fools have decided to normalize ruining my day with their selfies and vapid travelogues.

While it may appear that I have the personality of a plastic bag when around people, I do, in fact, actually speak to humans every now and then, if the person in question doesn’t have the personality of a cardboard box. What I tend to find is a combination of hopelessness at present malaise, with a glistening hope when hearing of my poorly thought out wanderings. I then get indignant, reminding them that such incompetence on my part hasn’t necessarily resulted in a better outcome, and I am told, again, that my life is a continuous orgasm. Since this conversation has happened so many times that I question my own intelligence for continuing to have it, I decided to flip things around a bit.

In a nutshell, the barista I am usually rambling to is stating that my life is better, while meaning that the ability to try new things is in itself the ticket. Sure, that which I try may or may not work, but at least you don’t have to deal with [insert banality here]. Hmmmm.. there is sociological diagnostic potential in that concept. I decided to craft a handy graphic to describe what is happening:

In a nutshell, day-to-day life is about as exciting as minimum-security prison for many people. Anything outside of the philosophical confines of such fatiguing boredom must be good simply because it’s not the misery in front of them. Actually, it can get a lot worse, just look at the third world, or talk to the billion people on earth who live in extreme poverty. But anyway, this blog is apparently about elitist, out of touch issues of superlative self-actualization amongst a world bent on crumbling against itself, so it’s time to practice the fiddle some more before Rome burns.

The question is why the unknown, particularly expatriate and travel-related unknown, becomes the default answer as a counter weight to the doldrums of suburban and middle-class imprisonment. If someone is “traveling the world,” he or she is [unbeknownst to me] in a state of ongoing auxetically climactic bliss. Enter the Scale of Lies:


The Scale of Lies is merely a chronological iteration of a similar theme, magnified in concert with the mechanisms for which humans have technologically interconnected. Our minds are associative machines; if we see a photo of people happy doing something, we assume we will be happy if we do that thing. Even worse, we often feel as though we are missing out if we fail to participate. I could throw another dimension here to confuse things: wealth as a social construct. Dating back to British aristocracy, travel as we recognize it and glorious destinations were the sole domain of the extremely wealthy, making the prospect a dream for the barista of yore. I am too young to understand how the average person, if presented with the chance in the 19thcentury to travel the world, would have felt. Would it truly have been an internal experience versus a social demonstration? Probably, though I can’t prove it. Anyhow, enter the silver screen, and now our dreams become mass marketed fantasies. Regardless of what the wealthy actually do, some of their extroverted habits, or at least the habits we know about, have become enshrined as a gold medal in the Olympics of social imitation, teaching us that the things wealth brings are the happiest things on earth, that we would be happy doing them, and our dreams should be filled with aspirations to find ourselves in that position, regardless of the soundness of our economic plans to achieve a quantity of wealth necessary to support such apparent bliss. The associative machine upstairs has now conflated the products of wealth with alleviation from insipid quotidian acedia.

The Scale of Lies shows how it gets worse. If it wasn’t bad enough that we have been duped by tinsel town, a long line of tour operators and capitalists follow behind, selling vacations, products, “experiences,” and illusions, allowing us repeated doses of illusory crack. Social media has merely inserted a coefficient in front of a continuously fermenting brew of delusion: we become the stars, showing off manicured and completely inaccurate perspectives of how happy the social media personality is doing the thing that was sold to him or her, which was learned on the silver screen, which was a product of raging jealousy at antiquated Edwardian wealth inequality.

Here is the conceptual dichotomy endemic to these scales of disinformation: would a person elect these activities, travel to these places, and take selfies in front of these monuments, if a photo had not been presented showing it as desirable beforehand? Further, if a person desired to depart their life filled with a fattening midsection while sitting in traffic in a debt-financed minivan, what plan would an average person devise, in line with their realistic income potential? Of course humans would love to have vast sums of financial resources in excess of their current position; who wouldn’t? Absent a plan to get there, why spend an allotted annual vacation hopping on a plane to act, for a brief moment, like a long dead wealthy aristocrat, merely to return to the doldrums and whine about it?

There isn’t a straight answer to the equation. In many respects, it embodies eponymous philosophies about journeys and the meaning of life. It would be useful to remove repetitive headbanging against the wall and avoid trying the one thing that is certain to not work: traveling to places completely decimated by tourist overload while expecting to discover something significant and meaningful.

Now that I got that out of the way, this flight was the day after the prior one. I was going to skip it, except the next blog post is extremely important, is a rant to top all rants, is directly tied to the flight that happens after this one, and needed to be in chronological order, so I used this flight as fodder to create chronological space before I gear up for the big one. It’s a fitting flight; after all, I took the Cub around a mountain range visited by 120,000,000 people each year and inhabited by notoriously wealthy people while bashing the concept of visiting popular places, as I wrote it while sitting in the most visited country in Europe.

Rhône River, just south of Bex, looking north.

Grand Muveran

Tête à Pierre Grept

Dent Favre

Slopes of Grand Muveran

Villars-Sur-Ollon

Lac de l’Hongrin

Montbovon

Swiss Riviera

Rhône River valley, looking SE.

Chablais Alps with Lake Geneva behind.

Les Cornettes de Bise. France on the right, Switzerland on the left.

Avoriaz, France on the left.

East of Samöens, France.

Pointe Rousse des Chambres

Le Cheval Blanc

Mt. Blanc, with Chamonix lurking below behind the rock in the foreground.

Southwest end of the Mt. Blanc Massif. Italy in the foreground, France in the background.

North side of the Massif. Back in France.

Aiguille du Midi, with Mt. Blanc to the right.

Lac d’Emosson, Switzerland

Martigny

Grand Chavalard

Haut de Cry

Flight: Switzerland, France, Italy: Spine of the Alps to Parc National des Écrins

Chronicles of Existential Dread: Volume VI: Antisocial Media

This is not a rant against social media. That would have to be written as “anti-social media.” This is, instead, “antisocial media.” For those who actually read these illustrious tomes of epic literature, one will note that I serve dishes of misanthropy, iconoclasm, self-deprecation, sardonicism, and yes, antisocial thoughts. After some dinner conversation with the person who mysteriously chose to engage in the seemingly irreversible confines of wedlock with me, the thought hit me (rudely not related to anything we were talking about): “antisocial media! I love it!”

While I can glibly prattle on about the silliness of social behaviors, there is a philosophical undercurrent that rides through life, particularly through the spirit of my isolated, society-loathing flights in the upper atmosphere. Loosely related to, and a cover for, the pursuit of meaning (I am not going there), I find a certain segment of society that is excited by the thought of finding a shortcut in the system of life. I do not mean something so banal as winning the lottery (or for hipsters, forming a startup and selling it to Google); I refer to the concept of taking a simpler shortcut, bypassing material, social, and otherwise superfluous obligations imposed upon us by social trend and finding a more immediate, freer, nuanced, interesting, and exciting way to go about life.

Therein creates the monster.

Yoga and eastern spiritual thought were cutting edge in the 60s and 70s for those looking to escape the confines of western tradition. People literally went to Asia in a time when exoticism was orders of magnitude greater than it is now, shaved their heads, and sat before gurus and monks while seeking an enlightenment, at least that which didn’t exist back home. Now? Oh hell, now everyone does yoga! Quoting one’s guru is common at a cocktail party. What happened? What was once unique became trend, and to many extents now becomes the very societal norm that one wishes to escape. Does fulfillment lie by adding yoga to a suburban commute?

So, off the antisocial individualist goes, looking for something that hasn’t been found. What is particularly confounding in our modern era is the combination of an interconnected world, cheaper air travel, growth of travel as a portion of GDP, and Instagram. What would have been found in a dusty university library in 1970 as a source of inspiration and enlightenment now spreads and trends very quickly. Where does that leave us now? I am not sure to be honest, only to say that it completely changes the character of those with the “spark” looking for a way to hack societal norms to find fulfillment by shedding anachronism and obligation. Perhaps even the “spark” has become trend, and maybe we’re completely screwed. It feels like it sometimes…..

As for the flight in question, it took place in autumn, heading from Sion down the spine of the Alps to the last peaks over 4000 meters for a project of mine. The texture was admittedly spectacular.

Charrat and Fully, Switzerland

Le Catogne

Glacier de Saleina

Tête de Ferret (foreground). Switzerland immediate foreground, Italy on leftward descending slopes, France on the ridges and over the other side.

Looking in the direction of Grand St. Bernard. Switzerland and Italy in the image.

Grande Rochère, Italy.

Mt Blanc from Italian side.

Looking toward Aosta, Italy.

Above La Joux, Italy. It gets to be a pain in the rear to find names for this stuff.

So Google has precisely no label for this glacier or the peaks above it. Its like a black hole of geographic nomenclature. If you’re anal retentive (and/or bored) and must know where it is, it is between Bonne, Italy and Montvalezan, France.

Bellecôte, France.

Google is playing hard to get. It will label the passes left and right, the refuge below, the lake on the other side, and not the peak. Its above Méribel-Mottaret, France.

Barre des Écrins

Le Vénéon river valley.

Lac du Chambon

Brèche des Grandes Rousses

Aiguilles d’Arves

Croix de Têtes, among other things.

Fine. “Above Col du Bonnet du Prêtre.”

Lac de Roselend. According to Google Maps, there is a Crédit Agricole bank branch in the middle of the water behind the dam.

Megève altiport with Mt Blanc lurking behind. Its a one way runway. No go around.

Climbing out from Megève.

Mt. Blanc.

Pointy mountains above Chamonix.

Glacier des Bossons.

About to cross into Switzerland.

Martigny, looking down the Rhône River valley toward Lake Geneva.

Grand Chavalard.

Flight: Switzerland: Flying across Switzerland

Chronicles of Existential Dread: Volume V: Pissing in the Fountain of Youth

While I spend enough time dismantling the fantasy of travel, it’s time to move on to smashing other dreams. Here in the land flowing with milk and honey, I find that the milk has gone sour and the honey is being swarmed by angry bees. The Promised Land is fatiguing.

It’s not surprising that those who market properties in various Promised Lands present a place as being superior than it is. Economic development organizations do the same thing, as do tourist boards, and in some cases, entire nations that wish to hoodwink foreigners into spending their money (and being taxed) there. The curious thing is not those to whom obvious economic benefit derives from spreading near evangelical enthusiasm about new Promised Lands; rather, it is those who fall for it themselves that presents a mystique.

I cannot claim innocence. This blog is a testament to my completely deluded notion that Germany, the Fatherland, was somehow Jerusalem. We know how that ended, with my tail between my legs as I fled like a wanted fugitive from the police into France and on to Catalunya, only to piss off the locals with my outspokenness. Well, there is that, and the fact a family member did some genetic testing and found out that, well, maybe I am a lot less German than I thought. Poland….how you’ve always enchanted me, you sexy, stubborn, cantankerous, Slavic, pierogie-laden mistress….

The thing is, I haven’t been able to go to a location and not hear someone telling me about how this location now represents the location to which Jesus, or Buddha, or anyone else superlatively divine is going to literally descend from the heavens and turn everything into gold.

I could go on about the psychodynamic motivators behind such confirmation biases, and I don’t want to. Where does that leave me? For one thing, annoyed that there are treasure maps and bread crumb trails to real estate Jerusalems in all directions. On another, my usual sardonic self. And yet curiously on another, driven to decode the rubric’s cube of life and find another way to crack the puzzle. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, here is a glorious flight crossing the Swiss Alps from west to east and back, which is really quite amazing. I would say it’s the Promised Land, except the landing fees are too high.

Serre. Not the Promised Land.

Got shoved close to terrain to avoid the Swiss military, which was shooting armaments into the air. I love how neutral and peaceful Switzerland is.

Italy. Definitely not the Promised Land.

Back in Switzerland.

Italy again.

Back in Switzerland. Vadret de la Sella. Italian border is on the other side of the peak.

Piz Bernina (4049m / 13284′). My wife has a Bernina sewing machine…..

Vadret Pers (background) and Morteratschgletscher (foreground).

St. Moritz. It would be the Promised Land, had the Russians not invaded and made it the most expensive Alpine destination in the whole of the Alps!

Taking off from the highest airport in Europe. I do like the place…..

Albulapass.

Piz Ela (3339m / 10954′)

Some nice textures. Central Swiss Alps.

Switzerland then Italy then Switzerland then Italy then Switzerland again. Look at a map. It will make sense. Dufourspitze (4634m / 15203′) in the background.

Lago de Narèt, Switzerland, looking toward Italy.

Passo Della Novena, Switzerland. They speak Italian on this side, and German on the other.

Landschaftspark Binntal. Clearly I have crossed over to the dark side where German is spoken. Textures are nice.

Aletschgletscher. 

Above Brig.

Bietschhorn (3934m / 12906′). I feel like the Alps are flipping me the bird.

Joligletscher. We visited a village on the other side, they had these abominable snowman looking dolls on the shelf of a restaurant, and we asked what they were about. The guy explained that there was a legend that, back when the glacier filled the entire valley, these people from a nearby village crossed the massive glacier and killed everyone in the other village. Very nice light lunch conversation. I further find it enthralling that it is memorialized into children’s toys. The guy then changed the subject to bemoaning that the [neutral, peaceful] Swiss Parliament had just voted to allow the manufacture and export of some egregious armaments.

Getting close to where French is spoken.

That cloud is dust from a rockfall.

Flights: Switzerland, France, Italy: Summiting Mont Blanc

Mt. Blanc is something of a personal achievement. I had been planning for it since the notion of moving to Germany materialized in 2015, and it hasn’t escaped my notice in the intervening time period. Prior flights in Switzerland showed I could get pretty close to the summit, though always from below and on the north side. Summer clouds, restricted areas in France, wind conditions, and summer heat meant I couldn’t quite get it up.

I finally took a shot at the nefarious south side, in Italian airspace, hoping to catch some rotors. I got most of the way, though not enough, and went home dismayed. Then I talked to a Swiss pilot, who looked up the French restricted area, only to find out that it restricts ultralights and gliders in July and August. So there basically is no restricted area for my aircraft type. In the USA, a restricted area is pretty much black and white: its restricted or not. The French version is more nuanced.

With that problem out of the way, I made another shot at it after a flight to Gran Paradiso in Italy. Coming over a cloud from the south side, I caught favorable winds, and up we go….16,000 feet, just enough to sneer at the summit beneath, though not quite enough to beat my [at the time] altitude record of 16,300’. After three years of fantasizing, it has been accomplished!

The approach to Mont Blanc looks like this. Roughly 10,500′.

Typical view of the summit (15,774′), below and to the north. 

Better, yet a bit repetitive. 

Tried the south side in Italy. View from 13,200′. 

Another day coming from Gran Paradiso, Italy. Clouds mean rising air…

…which meant success. Looking down on the summit. France in the background.

Flight: Switzerland: August Snow

Why would I write about August snow, in late October?

There is something to be said that it substantially hadn’t really snowed since this mysterious August event, a product of an extended Swiss Indian summer that defies one’s normal expectations of what one thinks when they hear the word “alpine.” Then there is the matter that, as I write this right now, snow levels are roughly at 2000m in the Alps with a cold rain down here where mere mortals live. Back in Spain, it is expected to have light accumulations below 1000m, which by all definitions is early. So, on one hand, we have an interesting August snowfall down below 3000m, a strange total lack of anything wintry until practically November, and then a bit of an unusual early Spanish snowfall all the way to the valley floor.

European weather continues to confuse, as it sits there doing nothing exciting for weeks to months, and then the atmosphere splashes an unexpected phase of moisture at seeming random. And when it does spurt something out of the sky, it does it without any fanfare. Clouds ooze in. The temperature slowly slides down. Something begins to gently fall out of the sky. All aforementioned factors incrementally intensify, and I find myself writing about something I deem unusual, though it has been building up at a snail’s pace. In North America, a significant weather change is preceded by apocalyptic wind, angry thunderstorms, some sort of vicious something, and then the atmosphere rages physical matter out of the sky that lands on the ground, which gets Instagrammed as though it never happened before, with a quippy self-serving hashtag accompanying such meteorological ephemera.

In the case of the flight in question, I was hiking the day before at about 1200m, and it was 45 F/ 7 C outside, in August, with a cold rain. I knew enough about the feel and smell of such rain to deduce that it was snowing higher up (this reality confirmed in Colorado, Wyoming, and Spain). The next morning, I could see snow on the north side of the Massif du Chablais, so I saddled up the symbolic steed of economic inequality to chase it before it melted under summer sun.

Just exiting Class D controlled airspace. I love Switzerland.

Bietschhorn. Note light snow on the north side of the ridge.

Bietschhorn again.

August snow. Tyfelsgrat in the center, Breithorn to the left.

Beichgletscher.

Äbeni Flue (3.962m / 12,998′) & Äbeni Flue-Firn. Ie, glaciergasm.

Jungfrau! (4.158m / 13,641′). I am now officially satisfied with how high I am flying.

Gletscherhorn (3.983m / 13,067′), with a light dusting of snow on top of glaciers and ice caps. Amen.

Eiger. (3.967m / 13,015′)

Mönch (4.107m / 13,474′).

I have no clue what this is. It is big and precipitous, though.

Fietschergletscher.

Aletschgletscher. This is half of it, from one mile above it. Its the largest glacier in Europe.

Some glaciers. 

Gspaltenhorn in the foreground. One can see the roughly 3000m snow line clearly.

Doldenhorn (3.643m / 11,952′). Now we’re getting down into low country….

Canton of Bern in the foreground, Canton of Valais over the ridge with light snow. Bietschhorn on the right horizon (flight path en route to high terrain).

Bernese Oberland. While it looks like gentle knolls from up here, if taken in isolation these highlands would be considered noteworthy.

Bernese Alps with Plaine-Morte Gletscher in the background. August snow is clearly visible next to green grass below.

Arpelistock (3.305m / 10,843′), among other things.

Snowfall melting in afternoon sun. 

Les Diablerets.

Col du Pas de Cheville.

I think this is the Grand Muveran.

Roc Champion

Mt Blanc, sneering at me after I already spent my fuel chasing other things. She shall have to wait until another day.

Grand Chavalard above, Rhône River below.

 

 

 

 

 

Flights: Switzerland, France, Italy: Demystifying the Upper Atmosphere

It’s not like I haven’t been here before with the Cub. When I was a student pilot, I took the airplane to 7,500 feet, came home, and told my parents about it proudly. My father’s response was, “DON’T EVER DO THAT AGAIN!” My reply to his little tantrum was to take it to 14,000 feet the next time I went flying. There I was, overhead my grandfather’s airstrip at 1,280’ elevation in upstate New York, above incoming airliner traffic to Buffalo, with no radio, looking north of Toronto Canada 75 miles away. I was 16.

Perhaps that moment could have been highly instructive as to how I ended up here a bit over 20 years later.

Anyhow, not too long after moving to Colorado, I took a flight in a snowstorm at 12,000 feet over Fremont Pass into Leadville, to move the airplane to the highest airport in North America at 9,927’ elevation. Two flights later, I was cruising around at my present altitude record: 16,300’, with a passenger.

Now, connect that to 300 hours of flying in the high country of Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, and Utah, to hundreds of hours in the Spanish and French Pyrenees, and I somehow got my undies in a bunch about flying in the Alps. Granted, Mt. Blanc exceeds the highest peak in Colorado by 1,400’, but it’s not like I haven’t gone higher.

There is the matter that I would be starting in Sion at 1,582’ instead of at 10,000’, though refer to my teenage miscreant misadventures, and clearly the airplane could do it, even though I hadn’t figured out the mixture control at the time, so the engine coughed and sputtered its way to 14,000’. I would eventually figure out on my first takeoff run at 5,400’ in Boulder, Colorado that the engine needs to be leaned at high altitude, as I was rotating for takeoff with a curiously partially operative engine. “Maybe if I pull this lever a bit.” [engine roars to life] “Simple enough. Rockies, here we come!”

Anyway, I digress. What is the point? My ass has gotten a bit bigger. You know, middle age (it’s all muscle, I swear). That has lent to a nagging suspicion that a quick jaunt to 16,000’ might be a bit more complex. It was with such a fear that I chose a hot day in late June in Spain to make a detailed record of how long it took to climb from 3,609’ to 16,000’. 56 minutes. And then somebody crashed a plane and I got distracted jumping in to help confirm the wreckage location (he survived), so that supplanted non-emotionalized data consideration (okay, okay, I am just convoluting the large ass thing).

56 minutes is from almost 4,000 feet, not 1,582’, and I have 3 hours of fuel. How would this work?

It didn’t help that an astonishing 28 people died in airplane crashes in the Alps in the week of my arrival to Switzerland, inclusive of another crash in the vicinity of Sion, while I was in the air (again). Nonetheless, if one wants to fly around mountain peaks, getting in and figuring it out is the most expedient way. As the pictures will show, I was just being a wimp and its fine.

Climbout out from Sion, wondering how this all is going to work. Rhône River below.

At this moment, I was fairly certain I would end up above the clouds. Sembrancher lower right.

Pierre Avoi. 8113′ elevation. We’re getting a little somewhere.

Absolutely heading above the clouds.

In the Pyrenees, this would be impressive. Switzerland, its the warmup exercise.

Glacier du Gietro, Switzerland.

And Grand Combin (14,153′). At this moment, I decided I don’t give a crap and I am heading in…

…even if it involves some creative flying.

Grand Combin mixed with clouds.

Mont Vélan, with Italy lurking in the background. On this side of the line, they hoard cash. On the other, they spend it (and everyone else’s), threatening to take the Eurozone down with them. Its amazing what a mountain range will do to the development of culture over millennia.

Grand Combin again.

Glacier de Valsorey, Switzerland.

Some glacier in Switzerland, looking at Italy. At this point, I was somewhat starstruck with glaciers everywhere I looked.

Glacier d’Otemma, Switzerland.

Glacier du Mont Miné. By this point, I realized that whatever mental track I had of what glaciers existed was completely wrong, and there were far more than I recalled.

The Matterhorn (14,692′). Italy foreground, Switzerland background.

Why not get closer?

Dufourspitze, the highest peak in Switzerland (15,203′).

Ice cap on the Italian border. An ice cap differs from a glacier in that an ice cap is frozen to the bedrock, whereas a glacier moves as a river of ice.

Matterhorn again, from the north.

Glacier de Molry.

Col de la Dent Blanche.

A mountain range lurks in those raised clouds. The path back to the airport is in the hole to the center left.

Some good old cumulo-granite….

Circling down…

On final to Sion. Obviously all of that was senseless bluster and there is nothing complicated about it.

Book #17: Winds of Change: An Aerial Tour of Rocky Mountain Forests

Well, this is something new. The book went live on Amazon a few days ago, and here I am blogging about it!

The project was an interesting story. Up until I saw a forest literally on fire on the Wyoming/Idaho border, I hadn’t given the idea any consideration. With flames bursting into the air, important business awaited, which was flying around plumes of smoke photographing the scene. About a week later, I saw a mushroom cloud over the border in Idaho, visible from the house. Like a normal human being, I saddled up the PA-11 and took off in the direction of a smoke cloud extending a mile into the atmosphere, chasing more fire. Pyromania aside, there is a theme about western forests, even when they are not on fire. Beetles have ravaged many forests, though not all. Some have burned; many have not. More importantly, for those who haven’t visited the West, the place is not a uniform forest. Density varies tremendously as the West is relatively dry. Its a complex picture, and I realized I had a few pretty pictures that would tell the story rather well. I must also mention that I really enjoyed the process of putting the book together, as it was like flying all over the West again – the scenery is quite moving.

Flight: Switzerland, France: Lake Geneva, Chablais Alps, Mont Blanc

Haze is a known construct in Europe in the summer. A difference between Switzerland at 46 N latitude and Spain at 42 N is the introduction of more summer low pressure zones and fronts, where like the mid-latitudes of the United States, crappy air gets blown downstream occasionally. That being said, the weather kindly did not offer an initial window of nice air, so I decided to accomplish two things: get over all of my reservations about flying here (having to submit an avis de vol to airport authorities before flying, deal with refueling, a new hangar arrangement, Class D controlled airspace, being in the Alps) and secondly, deal with the fact that Lake Geneva and the Chablais Alps sneer at me in the chalet. I can see a two dimensional outline of these mountains across the lake, know that they are rich in texture and dimension, and day in and day out, I cannot see them any better from the same vantage point. So, like a Scottish Highland war cry, it was time to dive into the haze and conquer.

Completely unexpected was the fact that Mt. Blanc (15,774’) was gleaming in the sun, so I went over there afterward.

Above Ardon. Still in Class D controlled airspace.

Looking up above Saillon, having just exited Class D.

Massif du Chablais. That snide peak looks down upon me while driving. 

Mountains across the lake, said lake on the right horizon. Over Aigle, Switzerland.

This dust cloud is an apocalyptic curiosity. Beneath it in Villeneuve is the shopping plaza where we go to the big box stores. One can see a stone quarry towering up the mountain, and after some deliberation, I postulated that they just push the rocks over the edge and let them tumble 1,000′ or more down. While in the parking lot another day, I could hear the thunderous sound of rocks careening down with billowing clouds of dust, while the locals pretended like it wasn’t happening. 

Swiss motorway alongside Lake Geneva. The penalty for speeding is death.

Lake Geneva and Villeneuve, Switzerland with Saint-Gingolph, France on the horizon. This infamous little hamlet is the site of my upcoming thwartation of the entire European online-industrial shoe selling complex, where the only vendors in the entire continent that sell my shoe size are “third party sellers” on Amazon, for which they refuse to ship to Switzerland. I concocted a way for the French Poste to hold it for me just across the border. Reviews indicated it is “a nice post office, except lines are long due to Swiss people picking up Amazon packages.”

Lake Geneva foreground, Lac Léman in the middle. Yes, the French own 40% and picked a different name for their piece of it.

Lake Geneva (no Lac Léman in this picture) and the Vaudois Oberland. Once crossing a magic like into the Canton of Bern, it becomes the Bernese/Bernois/Berner Oberland, depending on the language. “Oberland” means “highlands” in English. Once translated, the exoticism diminishes a bit.

Le Grammont, Switzerland, Lake Geneva/Lac Léman to the right.

Les Cornettes de Bise, Switzerland looking at France.

Les Cornettes de Bise, France looking at Switzerland.

Massif du Chablais, another range that sneers from a distance at the chalet.

Looking down below on the valley that I flew toward Lake Geneva, introducing the “snide peak that looks down on me while driving.” While I’d like to ask who as the last laugh, I’ll be dead and rotted and this mountain will still be sneering for a very long time.

Glacier du Mont Ruan, Switzerland.

Looking at Martigny from the Massif du Chablais. One can note the haze.

Aiguille du Chardonnet, France. 

Les Droites and Aiguille Verte. Santé merde!

Risque du mort. 

Glacier de Talèfre.

North slope Mt. Blanc, in a t-shirt with the window open. I didn’t expect to come up here.

Glacier du Tour terminus. I am not sure if this is “calving” or “ice fall” or what. In any case, the ice was part of the glacier and it fell off the end. Note to self: don’t hike here while its warm out (trust me, I want to).

Plateau du Trient and Glacier du Trient, Switzerland.

Mont de l’Arpille looking north along the valley to Lake Geneva. I originally flew that way, then back toward Massif du Chablais (left side of image).

Chamoson, Switzerland, back inside the control zone. Swiss traffic patterns are a lot of fun, wedged between terrain. It is not considered unusual for pilots here.