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.

Flight: Spain, France, Switzerland: Flying across France to the Alps

While I am in the mood for a torrid fusillade, the photos will have to speak for themselves. That, and I already wrote a torrid fusillade about this flight for AOPA. Below are the photos that comprise the rest of the story.

Crossing over Carcassonne, France with rather thick morning Mediterranean haze.

Parc Natural Regional du Haut Languedoc. I could smell rich forest scents over this hill.

Montlaur

West of Millau.

Unsurprisingly, Millau.

Tam River Gorge.

Mende.

West of Mont Gerbier de Jonc, flying at almost 5,000 feet above sea level. This is the highest part of the Massif Central that I crossed.

Beginning descent toward Rhône River valley. 

Rhône River (right side), north of Valence. It was infernally hot.

Isère River near Le Port.

Lac d’Aiguebelette

Chambéry.

Lac du Bourget.

Parc Natural Regional du Massif des Bauges. “Pre-Alpes.”

East of “Roc des Boeufs” (Beef Rock).

Doussard et Lac d’Annecy. Still in the Pre-Alps.

Pointe de la Beccaz, flying at 5,500 feet.

10,000 feet, west of the Mt. Blanc Massif. Here we finally are, the beginning of the Alps!

The glaciers here are a bit serious.

Up to 12,000 feet now, looking down at piddling 10,000 foot mountains.

Piddling little airplane getting looked down on by big mountains. Mer de Glace, Chamonix, France.

Pointy mountains. A friend noted that it would amusing if I somehow found a way to impale myself on one of these rocks. 

Base of Glacier du Tour, looking toward Lac d’Emosson, Switzerland.

Aiguille du Tour with Switzerland to the rear left.

Martigny, Switzerland – birthplace of Swiss banking.

Priory of Sion, Switzerland – you know that whole Knights Templar / holy grail thing that went on for centuries.

Western approach to Aéroport de Sion, where schoolchildren will read in 800 years that Garrett Fisher kept his Piper Cub there for awhile.

Flight: Spain: Western Pyrenees, Sierra de Guara

One of my many projects under development is a book containing photographs of the “3000ers” of the Pyrenees, which are 129 peaks over 3000 meters (9,840 feet) in height. Yes, it is an arbitrary list; however, it is one endorsed by other people who spend time browsing the internet (and maybe even climbing some of them). The Appalachians feature the “Southern Sixers” (peaks over 6,000’), Colorado has its 14ers (peaks over 14,000’) – both of which I have done books on – the Adirondacks have the 46ers (46 peaks traditionally viewed as over 4,000’). For some reason, I like this sort of thing.

The problem is that I am on the eastern side of the Pyrenees, and most of these peaks are in the central and western side. To make matters worse, I got pretty close to the western ones in my first flight over there in February 2017, though I had no clue I was going for this list, so I missed about 10 of them, near Vignemale (10,820’), which is the highest peak in the French Pyrenees.

I opted to get them in summer as I have enough of the big peaks in winter. This year it is quite green, so the tones were nice.

On the way back, I went a bit south to the Sierra de Guara, north of Huesca, a section of terrain that has demanded some push pins on the map. I must say I was pleasantly surprised by the explosive flowers and severity of terrain.

So now I have photographed all of them – just need to write a book.

Flight path. Blue pins are the 3000ers.

Serrat de la Mainera

Northwest of Cabdella.

North of Sin, literally.

Rio Bellos. One may note that I am avoiding showing too many mountains. Its not like they haven’t been seen before on this blog, so I am showing the view away from the Pyrenees.

Ok, some mountains. Monte Perdido, viewed from the northwest outside of the fascist restricted area. Note the yellow flowers in the foreground. These flowers will make an appearance later on in the flight.

Rock patterns to the west of the Rio Ara.

Vignemale, from the Spanish side.

Google Maps says Balaïtous (10,315′ / 3.144m), which is the French name. Spanish is Balaitús. Apparently there is a language called Aragonese for which it is named Pico Os Moros and while we’re at it, there is Occitan, where it is named Vathleitosa. It is on the border with France (Spain left, France right), and both obviously have regional languages in this neck of the woods, though unlike Basque Country to the north and Catalunya to the south, everyone seems to get along here.

I am unsure exactly where this is.

Somewhere near Astún.

Astún ski area.

Pico Aspe.

Climbout from Aerodromo de Santa Cilia, after refueling.

Anzánigo.

Pico Peiró.

Flowergasm north of Arguis.

Looking the other way, Embalse de Arguis.

Gabardiella.

Tozal d’O Borón, among other things.

Tozal d’O Fraxineto.

Unnamed hill.

Cañones de Guara.

Tozal d’As Forcas

Castellazo.

Embalse de Mediano.

I have no clue what to name this, as there are a bunch of tiny village names all over the place. Shove Lascorz in there if you’re hell bent on finding this on Google Maps.

Something else that defies nomenclature. Near Bacamorta.

Turbón, with more yellow flowers.

Pantà d’Escales if you live on the left side (Catalunya). Embalse de Escales if you live on the right side (Spain). 

Magnum Opus: #16: Glaciers of the Rockies

In keeping with my procrastinatory tradition of waiting a few months to announce the publication of a book on the blog, my magnum opus arrived in May: Glaciers of the Rockies. Borne of a deluded fixation to photograph an impossible list of things wedged into a brief summer melt season (which got choked with smoke for half of it), I viciously attacked a massive geographic expanse in late 2015 before packing the plane up and running to Germany. In fact, I was fatigued under my own fanaticism and was considering getting the Montana glaciers in 2016 until the Germany “opportunity” presented itself in the middle of the glacier project, which caused a domino effect where I realized the glaciers would all melt by the time I got back with the Cub when I would be fat[ter?] and middle aged, so no time like the present.

I can finally state that I am current with blog announcements of books. #16 is the latest release, though more are in progress. I have four projects swirling in my head derived of my Western USA flying (still, three years later). As for Europe……this is hard to put into words. The 16 + 4 books are derived of 30% of my photography stock. The remaining 70% has been taken here in Europe, and each time I sit down to work on something, I look out the window, the sun is shining, and I hop in the plane instead…….

I will put a sneak preview in here of some flying last week, demonstrating that the glacier theme is not done.

Glacier du Tour, Argentière, French Alps 

Click below for book page.

 

Flight: Spain: 2 of 2: Madrid to Cerdanya

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Push Pins. Episode IV. Stereotypical Delusions

In my previous rantings against the Social Media-Travel-Industrial Complex, the subject of Europe vs America was featured as a differential comparison to rail against vain and simplistic perspectives on traveling here. While that is most certainly true, it belies a deeper philosophy that is applicable irrespective of location.

When I chat with Americans about life over here, their eyes glaze over, heads tilt a bit, and they gaze off toward the horizon, akin to nun in a moment of religious ecstasy. It is as though I am describing the Promised Land, when I am merely referring to an interesting experience that involves a dirt road, a sheep, and a redneck Catalan farmer. How is this such a transcendent experience compared to wandering how a rural road in Appalachian Ohio? Something is seriously off about these spiritual elevations that I am capable of bestowing upon happenstance individuals that I talk [brag] with about living here.

One has to ask if the person finds the dusty Catalan sheep enviable, or if said person wants something new and different from their dull and pedestrian existence. I would venture to guess the latter, that the state of being while exploring something new is that which people wax poetically over, while getting confused and fixating on the location.

This supposition is confirmed by a spatial reality: move somewhere “exotic” and after a while, the exotic place becomes normal, which leaves the person living in an exotic place looking to go out and explore, as the new normal gets boring. Uh oh. Nobody bragging on Instagram talks about this curiosity. Wait. I should stay quiet and keep feeding carefully curated pieces of marketing meat to my blog readers instead….

Photos are the second half of getting the plane from Portugal back to Cerdanya.

Prior evening flight to Toledo, beginning with some glorious Spanish housing near the town of El Álamo. This is not an Alamo that I would suggest remembering.

Holy Toledo! This was a phrase oft-used by a rather crass semi-Polish woman that lurked in my childhood. For those that don’t get the double entendre, the photo is a church in Toledo, Spain.

Toledo, the not as holy part.

On the way back to Casarrubios. Someone educated me that the clouds on the horizon are “real clouds” and that the cirrus clouds above are chemtrails, though I was not educated on the particular agenda of these “chemtrails.” I adroitly noted that such clouds would represent an astronomical quantity of chemicals to have been slipped into the upper atmosphere without anyone noticing, and his reply was “now you’re getting it.”

The next morning, on the way to Cerdanya. Poppy field.

We could do this two ways: “Some fields in Spain” or “near Colmenar de Oreja.”

West of Huete.

East of Huete.

Further east of Huete.

Sheep. Not Catalan though.

Somewhere near Valdemoro-Sierra. It looks sexier from the satellite.

Near Teruel.

East of Teruel.

West of Cirujeda. Looks like wood grain though its just dirt.

Almost to the Monegros Desert.

Monegros Desert. It went from about 55F (13C) to 82F (28C) in 15 minutes of flying.

Mequinenza Reservoir.

Boat.

Mequinenza Reservoir, in a section without silt from recent rains.

Peach trees in Aitona, Catalunya. Visca la revolució!

Nefarious section of Catalunya that has an inversion for half the year.

Approaching the Pre-Pyrenees. It feels good to be back!

Flight: Portugal, Spain: 1 of 2: Atlantic Ocean to Madrid

It was roughly as complicated to get the airplane from the Atlantic Ocean back to the Pyrenees as it was to get to Portugal in the first place, such that it was broken up into two totally separate trips, with the plane stuck in Madrid for a week. I wrote extensively about the story for AOPA on the following post; therefore, I will offer extra images here and go light on words.

Crossing the Tagus River, Portugal. A bit of fog below.

Not too far from the Spanish border, still in Portugal.

Cattle grazing amongst flowers, with an interesting cloud shadow.

Dark red soils southeast of Badajoz, Spain.

Watershed east of Aeródromo El Moral.

I believe these are cork oak trees, with spring flowers beneath.

Near Don Benito.

Rice patties east of Don Benito. The rice has not grown yet. When it does in the summer, it will be a powerful green. Right now its just flooded with water.

El Campillo de la Jara.

Field textures.

About 30 miles west of Madrid.

Quismondo, with the Extremadura Highway. We would drive this very road 5 days later, and the weather was exactly the same in each respective place.

Almost to Casarrubios for the night after just over 5 hours in the air. Too bad weather wasn’t as nice for the eastern half of Spain.

Flight: Portugal, Spain: 2 of 2: Andalucía

I suppose I could write about the flight(s) in question every now and then. This I did for AOPA, enumerated in this linked post, which also talks about my continued vain attempts to fly to Morocco. Below are many additional photos about this amazing section of Iberia.

Somewhere near Isla Mayor.

Somewhere else near Isla Mayor.

Greenhouses near Mazagón.

Isla de Saltes.

Shrine to Christopher Columbus, Huelva. Something makes me think he set off for America from here. Oh, if he only knew the Pandora’s Box he’d open, or that 525 years later, Garrett Fisher would discover Spain from America in a Piper Cub.

Rio Pedras.

Salt marshes near Huelva.

Rio Tinto.

Salt evaporation ponds.

Rio Tinto again.

North of Lebrija.

North of Jédula.

Between Chiclana de la Frontera and Medina Sidonia.

Medina Sidonia.

North of Los Naveros.

Cabo Roche.

Conil de la Frontera.

Faro de Trafalgar. Morocco on the horizon, over the Strait of Gibraltar.

NW of Cantarranas.

Charco Dulce.

Field of yellow flowers.

Field of purple flowers.

Somewhere west of Arcos de la Frontera.

East of urbanization “Kuwait Dos” of El Cuervo de Sevilla.

River on the way to Portugal.

Downpour over the Portuguese Outback.

Wildflowers under oak trees.

Tagus River, Portugal.

Back to the Atlantic Coast. Note the well timed rainbow, a sign of the nonsense weather I had to fly around with a sore ass from too much flying.

 

Flight: Portugal, Spain: 1 of 2: Andalucía

One may wonder why I write the Spanish version of Andalucía, instead of Andalusia, as written in English. I fall back on a movie scene, Mask of Zorro or something like that, which takes place in Mexico during the Spanish Empire. Katherine Zeta-Jones has a line where she says, “In Andalucía, I would ride my horse on a full moon night…” As one would expect, it was said in full accent, with loads of sensuality and flare endemic to most Spanish interactions. That is about the only takeaway from the movie, such that I when I finally did fly to Andalucía, I kept hearing her voice in my head, even while in the cockpit on a sunny day. When I was standing on a balcony with a 50-something year old male friend of mine, literally on a full moon night, in Andalusia, it was “a full moon night in Andalucía.” He’s not as attractive as Ms. Zeta-Jones, unfortunately.

Be that as it may, Catalans do not have such a sensual perspective of Andalucía. Whatever negative that occurs in Catalunya (that usually happens all over Spain to some varying intensity), Catalans are the first to brush off anything I say about it with a “Well, in Andalucía…..” In other words, “you haven’t seen anything yet.” Well, I went to Andalucía and found the people to be the most generous, kind, and laidback subculture of Spain yet. Go figure. And nothing I was told would happen down there did end up happening; really, it was the opposite.

As for aviation, I was trying to fly to Morocco again. It didn’t work, though I did get a bunch of local flying done in that neck of the woods.

The Portuguese Outback – Much of it looks like this.

Évora

My first view of flowers in bloom in the Portuguese Alentejo.

Zoomed out perspective of some of these flower fields. Also a bit hazy on the way down south…

Near Alqueva, Portugal.

And the 590nm infrared version…

Aqueduct just over the border in Spain, near El Granado.

Deer.

Closeup on a river.

Just east of Mafé Aerodrome, Spain.

Rio Tinto.

Tilled field near Trebujena.

Solar installation at Sanlucar de Mayor.

And the death ray…

Somewhere in vicinity of Jerez.

Wheat fields.

The significance of this could go a few ways. I find the flowers rather intriguing.

Salt ponds near Cádiz.

“Salinas” & marshes near Cádiz.

Caño de Sancti-Petri, with Atlantic Ocean on the horizon.

Punta del Boquerón.

This looks like a painting to me. Canal water mixes with various tide cycles to create such different colors. I have seen variations like this, though not as intense, in Portugal and North Carolina.

Avenida Via Augusta Julia, Cádiz.

Cádiz, Spain.

Puente de la Constitución de 1812.

Wheat fields en route toward Trebujena from Cádiz.