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.

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).