It’s almost 9 in the evening, I run sweaty at 2,500m altitude on rocks with the backpack, sun is closer and closer to the horizon, no headlamp, phone with the last little battery. Shivers are running down my spine, one reason is the cold and wind here, another reason is my expectations. After the GPS beep I was dreaming of signalling reaching the turning point I unpack that tiny piece of fabric, my Hero and jump into the harness… one deep breath and start into the rotor, the wing is immediately tossed to all over, I fly below it like a cloth, dangerously close to rocks…, I’m everything but not calm, BUT I DON’T WALK DOWN THE MOUNTAIN!
The biggest competition challenge of the year is over. The whole Pyrenees, walking with the wing on my back or flying, hanging on few lines under that piece of fabric what I was carrying up the hill the whole morning…
This time, my team grew to three people, namely Maťo Muhelyi, Jakub Beňo and Samo Somora. We pack also bikes, climbing stuff, sleeping bags, MARVA and wings and let’s go 3,000 km in the night to Spain, specifically to the old port Hondarribia on the Atlantic coast. That’s the place where the fourth edition of the extreme contest X-Pyr was starting. The rules are pretty simple, with the wing on your back walking, or with the wing above your head flying – cover 566 km along the whole mountain range from the ocean to the sea as soon as possible. Eight turning points on the route made the navigation interesting and gained respect, mainly the far point in France, Pic du Midi di Biggore.
The whole one-week long torture is divided into three parts, since everything at once would be too much.
We slept in a caravan provided by Slavči and I’m extremely grateful for this (and not only me). Hot shower, electricity, table and soft bed!!! Awesome!
After two years, I’m standing again on the hot sand of the Hondarribia beach, together with other 34 freaks, who came here to fight with mountains in all kinds of weather. Shivers are running down my spine and I’m quite afraid, mainly because of all the expectations of my friends. I’m bit cleverer than the last time, but anyway, this year we have here a bunch of whizzes like Coconea, Freydman, Vurpillot, Pinot, Williams, Rodriguez… difficult turning points don’t make it easier either, so my heart is somewhere in my pants. Once again I’m the youngest one… well, we’ll see, the motto is clear: fly to live, live to fly, do or die!
Joyfull meeting of friends, put together by common misery. Many familiar faces, as well as many new ones. Maurer and Inigo got also some souvenirs from Antarctica. I advised Chriegel that the stone will work the best in his shoe we had a good laugh.
Three-two-one… wuaaaa! We’re running to reach the first turning point La Rhune that is 23 km far and it’s almost thousand meters elevation. All the time I’m running on the asphalt, Samo is chasing me with the iont drinks and so I’m quite keeping up with the first group. Lesson learnt from the last time – I don’t want the fly alone at the start. We launch the wings together with Chriegel, Pinot and Mayer heading east.
Surprisingly, it works quite well; we get approx. 10km and then bomb out. Support is with me straight away and we’re struggling to the saddle above us to launch again. After one hour I’m there and it’s taking me up. However, my joy doesn’t last for too long. I’m flying exactly in the place where the sea breeze meets the wind, so very soon I’m in a lee that forces me to land.
Another climb up the hill in the heat follows and I launch form under high-voltage transmission lines joining some vultures bored with soaring. I manage to get to 1,200m and set off for a jump into the wind across the ridge. After a while it pushes me to the ground, I fly across a saddle where and old couple was camping, staring at me watching me to land, with the wing over my head running to the lee side few meters and then “adios amigos”! This is great about the hikefly contests, landing is not the end of the day; if it helps you overcome a problem, no time to hesitate.
From the east side I’m lifted by a gentle thermal. Long shadows make the flight a pure romantic delight. I’m breaking through the strong wind quite successfully, maybe 25 km until I manage to land directly on a road close to the saddle from where I fly down in the evening and reach a pond. We camp together with the Czech team, somewhere on the sixth place. Nice day it was! And quite successful, I managed to get 15 km farther than I thought.
Walked 35km, climbed 2,200 m elevation, flown 45 km tracklog
I’m waking up absolutely fresh considering the distance I made yesterday. Good boots and supplements made their share, together with a massage and great food. In the morning I make it to the saddle, no idea what its name is, something like Col de Bagargiak and together with Kubo continue to the TP2 Orhi, the first two-thousander of the Pyrenees from the west.
During the walking hellish wind starts blowing, probably of a foehn effect. Kubo falls and dislocated his shoulder. At the top, pretty big bunch of competitors meet and we’re waiting. The wind is strong and cold; we build the tent and wrap up in all we can. Around noon, at last, the whole group, Keller, Mayer, Coconea, we take the plunge and fly down maybe 8km, then think a little bit about what to do next and fly down further. 2pm is approaching; we have to start taking it seriously and fly some real thermals. With Mayer, Gray and Coconea we climb a hill, steep like hell from the north side.
All of them want to fly north – windward. I don’t like this version at all, since I know that the French side is always a “laundry”, wet, with the ceiling somewhere under the table…
I stick to the group, climb the base in 1,800m just under the saddle, where we all, but Gray, bomb out. Landing in a rotor is nothing nice. Wings over the shoulder and we climb up the hill to a meadow, where we can launch again. Along the way I get the message through inreach that Maurer flies south and has over 3,000m and we are here crawling.
Sure, I go back 15km, will fly south. I tell Standa about it. It seems a better decision to me because one thing is that it’s so slow here and second thing is that high mountains with strong wind are ahead of us and I have to land outside the prohibited area and continue on foot. Farther are very poor possibilities for launching again.
I launch, climb and return like a rocket until I reach the saddle where I try to jump to the south, very hasty. After few hundred meters I’m stopped by wind like hell, I’m nailed down like a paper by the Thor’s hammer. I’m landing on the steep counter slope covered by rocks, few meters behind me is a forest and I have to do my best to keep the wing in a flyable position. Everything is OK, though, so I pack everything with my heart beating and run down. Later from the valley I see clouds rolling over – a clear sign of foehn. Angry that I let myself fool like this and lost the group I walk to the camp in Zurize, drinking one beer after another.
Climbed 1,900m, walked down: 500m, walked 32km, flown: 55 km.
The plan is clear, in the morning reach the launch under the white rocks (last time I launched here as well, Kubo in the previous editions, too :D) so the way is well known. The temperatures in the morning are really nice, so we go like well-oiled machines.
There are also Jose Ignacio Arevalo, a Spaniard and another pilot, but they chose another spot for launching. I unpack the instruments, stuff myself with some food and lie down. Meanwhile Kubo watches out for the clouds starting to grow below the launch. That is more than worse.
Around half past ten he wakes me up, hey man, let’s go. When I launch, I plane the rocks, heart in the pants. I just simply couldn’t rise. After all I manage that, but only to 2,000 m and nailed to the rocks I fly east.
I’m quite worried about the first jump since I can’t see any landing possibilities and I’m afraid that I will fly below the rock and it will lay me down. However, this worse scenario doesn’t happen and I’m doing my best. One stopover and I move to the saddle which was unable to fly over. From there, together with Ignacio, we fly towards the third turning point Pic Du Midi d’Ossau. Beautiful, pyramid with a fantastic shape which I admired already in 2016. We return to the front rocks where I land, pee and eat MARVA and one whole hour struggle in complete dark. When I get some altitude I fly on, the weather is starting to come, clouds quite high, beautiful, one behind every hill and tailwind. Bang, full speed east!
It’s a ride until Pena Montanesa, just turning and pushing. The mentioned Pena is a rock like hell, though, I’m separated from it by a valley, headwind and I have to fly around a prohibited area and the altitude is poor.
With my heart in my mouth I fly before Ignacio. I’m bombing out, closed in the valley under the mountains, river under me.
I’m so low that I have to drop the gear, when I have an idea – try the transmission lines in the lee.
And the decision was good, with my eyes on the wing I was lifted by a poor two-three. BPM 200, I got it! And Coconea, whom I saw raised the dust with his boots, can only swear. The gained 200m enable me to stick to the slopes of Pena Montanesa and a six lifts me back to fresh 2,500m amsl. Phew, that was close.
The next turning point Turbón is safe, but I’m thinking what next. The most difficult part of the route is ahead of me – the main ridge with headwind to France. I managed to fly to Castejón de Sos, where the guys are hugging me with joy.
I’m burnt but happy as a fly sitting on a shit It was a beautiful flight full of views and awesome hills, ruled by Pic du Middi de Bossau (google it). And mainly, I moved quite forward without having to walk that much.
Elevation gain: 1,100, walked: 6km, flown: 142 km.
In the morning, when I see the mountain I have to climb, I’m done. The road is winding like a snake and it’s unbelievably hot in the sun. After an hour or two, it starts to blow from NW, the clouds are running from behind the mountain. The first flight is not worth much, I’m bombing out, it’s too early. We flew with Kubo into the seddle and gained another 300m on foot to the launch spot with a whirlwind, we are on the corner with the tailwind and the thermals are from the front. I’m lifted and set off, the first jump pushes me into the valley, and it takes me long time to get out from there. Ahead, clouds like hell are growing, in the evening there will be thunderstorm for sure.
Under the cloud base I fly towards the ridge that makes the border with France, but I’m pushed down by the strong north wind. I decide to land in the lee, quickly I pack everything and run through the snow, gravel and III terrain. I don’t know how, but I manage to find some grass and launch! Fly again, this time in France!
Strong north wind kills all thermals and an extremely forested valley lies ahead of me, which of course has north orientation, and the already strong wind is getting even stronger. Fortunately I have such an obedient wing, I push it through the lee along the rocks “ala Maurer” to the windward side and turn as much as possible. Jump into the next lee is rewarded with an absolutely awesome altitude up to 3,000m, which is more than incidental and surprising since all the clouds condense 500-1,000 m lower than that mine!
Ahead of me lies France and clouds drop to 2,000m. I’m pushing along the marked route north-west under these clouds which support me some more kilometres.
Not far from Lac d Oulé I’m forced to land because of a thunderstorm like in Mordor. I climb one more hill, fly down into the lee and don’t have to walk down 300m. Down there there’s a mountain hut, where the manager cools down my enthusiasm.
“X-Pyr? Christian Maurer was here… two days, three days ago?!” :D
“Well, thanks a lot!”
I talk to her about my plan to cross the mountains, go off the trail in the saddle to make my way shorter through the free terrain. She’s a bit sceptic, but when she learns that I’m a climber as well, she says that I could manage that. The thunders make the background.
Well, it’s the highest time to sweat a bit so I step on it full speed, make my way shorter across stone fields, jump over torrents and behind my back watch the clouds rolling over the ground and listen to muffled thunders… it’s like to catch a storm in Tatras, you don’t want to experience that! (also the mountains with their shape and granite look like Tatras). Moreover, it’s pretty late, I don’t have a poncho or headlamp and the road is far.
Close to where I wanted to leave the trail in the saddle with a complicated name “Hourquette Nére” the storm catches up with me. I can barely see two, three steps ahead. Fortunately it is getting clearer in the other side so I can see what to expect. While descending I ski a bit, then I ascend to the ridge through the free terrain, it looks like saddle Prielom, no chains, though. In the ridge, there’s a hole wide exactly as me, beautiful, fantastic and magic place. Up it was quite easy, but down the hill is always a hell. Steep, 70° rocks, snow and underneath fog. I ski a bit on my boots, but one also has to walk down the hill. The whole valley is flooded with fog so thick that I almost fall into a lake because I can’t see a thing :D
Unbelievably fresh, I reach the road at half past nine in the evening. My supporters tell me stories of how they almost fell off the road with the caravan into a gully. Until evening we make it into the saddle right below the TP5 Pic di Middi di Biggore, which I hope I will fly down from tomorrow because walk up and even walk down is not Koreň style.
Walked altitude gain 1,700m, walked 16km, flown 35km. Not much, but the worst, the highest, the most deserted and the most exposed terrain, the jump over the main ridge to France is over!
The sunrise brings us amazing views of the mountains of which we had yesterday no idea. The valleys are filled with fog which slowly raises its white endless surface higher and higher. Three blokes, one with a bike, another one with a huge backpack and the third one with a small backpack walk toward the massive rock pyramid called Biggore; Kubo carries in his backpack everything I don’t have to. We struggle through snow and scree like greased lightnings hoping to fly down.
Samo is on the bike carrying all he can, mainly hydropacks.
On the summit the moment is magical; we are above all, high over the foggy sea. We almost think we can see Paris! Weak north is blowing, so no hesitation and let’s go for it until it closes.
The flight down is 10 km long- Under my ass; I’m watching the fight between the white mass and islands of mountains, which slowly lose.
I’m landing in a saddle close to the fog, in two minutes I’m closed and at that moment a wing whooshes over me. I’m bit startled as Gray is landing next to me.
We pack the stuff and march together along the contour line chatting about. In the saddle after few kilometres Gray’s supporter catches us, I got bread with peanut butter and honey, nice combo. Thanks!
We decided to wait a bit and launch into a window so that we don’t have to walk down.
We manage that but meanwhile it started to blow like hell, foehn style from north. I rather land, pack and march into another pass, moving is the main thing.
The sun is burning in the east side of the saddle from, but I miss it while I’m walking, I just fly down and land. The clouds fell down to the third of the mountains; therefore I can’t do anything but walk. My supporters are with me, we talk and the walk passes by. We call my brother and he mentions that today it’s 20 years since our first flight. 20 years… and flying is my and Cyprián´s life, living and also passion. Dad, what did you do to us? Because of that single flight on the last school day I’m now fighting with Pyrenees, bro makes our common ideas real in the form of harnesses, backpacks… In combination with mom’s lead to sport, hiking, skiing or rafting, the results was pretty clear :D
I have time for thinking and remembering all your ideas, designs and megaprojects… I realise that thanks to both parents I am what I am, a skinny guy dreaming of big things and thanks to them and their lead, I think, that I’m quite good
In the evening we reach the bottom of the valley, where we camp in the caravan. Massage, food, plans… it looks like that if we are lucky enough I can make it to the goal within the time limit, however with the legs worn up to the knees. Never mind, the motto is clear, do or die…
Altitude gain 2,400m, walked 38 km, flown 25 km
Over Vielha, we are climbing the mountain together with Kubo and Samo, talking about future flying partisan plans and the number of meters is increasing. At the launch, the wind blows from the hill, but I manage to launch in the interval. I’m planing the ground for quite a long time until I gain a bit of altitude. I fly towards the saddle Puerto de la Bonaigua and I have no idea that it is unflyable. I decide to land and wait for better conditions = more sun. In the moment when I want to land between 400kV and 220 kV transmission lines with a gap of maybe 30 m, it starts to take me up directly into those lines. Damn it! On the hill it takes me maybe 2 hours to figure out how to get through the saddle. When I look back at it, I should have made it north as much as possible over the mountains or simply land and walk it. I would have been faster for sure.
However, I decided to fly so I struggle with shade, valley wind and poorly oriented slopes. From the south huge clouds are approaching and the wing turned to S – SW. Finally I fly down from the saddle hoping that the valley wind will support me. I fly along the rocks and trees so close that while starting to climb I was almost propped against them, the forward speed is lousy but I’m struggling forward. And there it comes, finally a usable thermal, fully focused I’m climbing and don’t even notice the Romanian legend Toma Coconea, with whom I’ve been chasing for three days and who flies over me in 3,500m. My wing helps me in my fight and together we gain altitude until I reach the ridge, where I’m for the first time, for sure not for the last time, “chewed”. I was turning the thermal in the lee no wonder.
During entering the “orbit” at 3,000 m I see a storm along the route, not even 30 km ahead of me. Never mind, I fly straight ahead and see a wing in front of me. At first it’s falling in the storm in the style of a “thrown stone” until it stars to climb in a “space shuttle takeoff” and disappears in the rainy veil… well, this contest is about who is up to what and mainly who manages what.
I’m not very good at flying with headwind into the storm so I’m thinking and studying the map on my CAT phone. I land just at the border of a meadow, maybe 100 m from a national park (prohibited area), until I walk into the saddle to restart my flight. The storm is blown away and I’ll have probably another half an hour for flying until another one comes.
But before I land, the wind prepares for me some nice and spicy moments. The meadow is divided by the prohibited area, so I have to land at its border but the wind is pushing me into the forest. Phew. Full speed, flailing my arms, finally I make it with my heart beating. Few minutes after I pack the wing, drops are falling on me and the trees are tossing like in the opening scene of Hobbit when the dragon Smaug is flying in. Today, the shit is getting real!
During walking up, the sky opens and the storm is blown away to Andorra. Coconea, from 3,500m managed to fly into the storm and he landed. In the saddle, from where I want to launch, the wind is blowing, I mean, like really blowing, and it seems that regularly. Trees are bent into the right angle. Wild horses are staring at me while I’m preparing my HERO just above the shrubs. I grab the As and fly, of course with full speed, barely moving. I climb and happy as a clam fly away. It seems that the next storm won’t be formed that quickly, so I have time! In the strong wind I climb as much as possible, not much though, because I fly over the places where it was raining an hour ago. I jump over next valley eastwards, but I feel that something wrong is coming. I stick successfully to the slope, it’s taking me up like a piece of cloth and I have to make it one ridge farther because I’m in a lee a bit. Flailing my arms as if I was cooking a goulash from the whole army, but I manage to reach the edge. There I get a high fine into my face when I jumped form the lee to the windward slope, but the worst is over. I climb as much as I can and with half speed I’m moving 25km/hour through the valley. The wind offers me the possibility of taking a ride along the ridge up to the hills, but I climb as much as possible, just in case. And good decision it was, since in 5 minutes I’m stuck against the slope and fall. No idea from what kind of shower somewhere on the other side of the ridge where I can’t see it, the wind turned and I’m again in 10m/s lee. I manage to land on the counter slope and climb happily up the roaring mountain for a restart.
The sun is getting lower and I'm unpacking my wing in 2,200m; happy, planning for flying down to the valley, where after the whole long day I'll get good, coocked and warm food. I jump in that and in calm but strong south wind I soar eastwards. After a short jump the wind seizes to blow and I'm descending into the valley. I'm landing at approx. 1,700m. I just throw the wing over my shoulder and walk quickly along the road to make my very last flight of today from the saddle down, almost to Andorra. In the saddle I meet two older men enjoying the setting sun and staring at me how I unpack my wing in the nettle.
I ask them Spanish if they have something to eat, and they say they don't. Well then “puta mierda storm coming, adios amigos!” and I start running through the nettle...
The fligh down is beautiful and calm, only for the landing in the rain. It starts drizzling and the last strom misses me only so so. I pack my stuff and walk until ten along the road toward the turning point 6, Pedraforca. I overtook some competitors and I can still nake it to the goal, tomorrow it should be the Hammertag!
Walked: 28km, elevation gain 1,700m, flown 55km.
The last day is has come, the final spurt and last bold deeds are ahead of me :D with Amon Amarth, Valhalla awaits me in my headphones. It helps quite a lot to get motivated and start running as fast as I can. At the border of the town La Seur del Urgell Kubo joins me and we make our way shorter across the forest because 17km and 1,400 climbing is ahead of us. Talking and sipping water makes me feel ikt is quite short. The last part we walk togerther with Ignacio, Spanish competitor who, I hear, knows every stone here. At the launch in 2,000m it looks awesome, wind for my wing and clouds jumping into the sky.
Right after the first thermal I think I will use the clouds, which just occurred, and fly towards the turning point 6, Pedraforca. It's quite good until the next jump, maybe 1km from the circle I'm stopped and for half an hour I'm cursing and chasing weak thermals until it makes me take the traditional way, into the lee. I lost minumum half and hour of prescious time, damn it!
My intruments show me TP 7 and I see Ignacio who managed to fly quite a lot while I was being stuck under the clouds. Never mind, I do it my way and I soar the ridge until I reach the saddle which I found in the map like El Collonada, the wind is blowing there and the jump prepares me some tough moments, I have to use the blown zero. I stick to the slope and it takes me up.
I reckon, it's 10ms and after a while there is the first problem, big ridge, which I can't get over in the stable air and it's blowing along the ridge. I land, walk those 300m in the lee, jump and fly... problem solved.
Next is Puigmal d'Err, in Catalonian denoting something cruel and evil. It's blowing terribily, no wonder, I'm planing the stone fields and thinking about what to do. I decide to jump into closed but high mountains, since the thermals are already switched off and the wind is realm it could support me over the ridge and in the case of bombing out around the last turning point I could land on the slope.
The flight will be probably slower, though.
The views now in the evening are marvelous, long shades and high, almost three-thoudanders make the already great flight even better. Now and then I turn a bitm, now and then I soar a bit and I slowly make my way eastwards until the ridge starts turning a bit and I have to land in the slope only 7km from the turning point. I'm packed in a sec draining the last bits of battery in the phone to plan what to do. No time to lose, quickly I have to run to 1000m and launch at 21:15 latest, sicne it is allowed to fly only until 21:30, otherwise you'll be penalised. But I don't walk down the hill!
Nine o'clock in the evening, sweaty I'm running at the altitude 2,500m on the rocks with my backpack, sun is approaching the horizon, I don't have my headlamp, phone with the last bits of batery. Shivers running down my spine because of the cold and wind and also because of the things ahead of me. After the GPS beep I have dremaed of signalising reaching the turning point I unpack the small piece of fabric, my Hero and fasten into my harness... one deep breath and running into the whirwind, the wing is immediately tossed to all sides, I fly underneath it like a cloth dangerously close to the rocks... strange feeling, BUT I DON'T WALK DOWN THE HILL!
Harsh flight, tinged with tiredness and fear, but I managed to land in the strong lee of 5-6 km on the first hill possible with extremely strong headwind. Via Inreach (god bless this thing!!!) I send a message to the contest director and to my support that I'm finsihing the competition. It's a pitty because I could have flown further, my altitude was almost 2km, BUT I was afraid that I will not manage to land on time on that wind. I had only 7 more minutes.
Well, and now only into the valley, where I fly over 70km/h, bang! I'm trying to descend for almost 20 minutes to a meadow next to the village and it's quite difficult, since such wind is blowing that without the speed I'm moving backwards. Luckily, after long begging Aiolos has mercy with me and I'm landing and kissing the ground...
walked: 28 km, elevation gain: 2,300m, flown: 91km
FINISHED, DONE, we can go home!
After I turn on my phone I receive messages like: Well done... and from Maurer's supporter I got a message: “don't fly, in the valley it's blowing 70km/h!!!”
With this bold flight, all of sudden, I moved two positions to the overall 7th place. During the whole race I had no idea about my current standings because I was focused on my performance. Unpluged and offline from everything, just a tunnel eastwards! And that is the reason, why these blogs are not so spicy, I didn't pay attention to truly unique beauties which Pyrenees are full of, but this is what the copetitions are about.
My thank you goes to everyone, who were involved in this business: my support, Maťo, Samo and Kubo, who were willing to come with me, slep a little, drew a lot, cooked, washed the clothes and walked. Without you it would have been impossible. Thank you, Slavči, for the splendid caravan that enabled us to sleep comfortably, recharge our devices and in general, it gave us comfort that I could never dream of, I really appreciate! Thank you to my sponsors for equipment, AIRDESIGN for my wing HERO which enabled me to fly in conditions, where others walk, ZAJO for clothes and other equipment, GARNMIN.SK for a perfect communicator INREACH, which keeps me company in remote places, CAT PHONES for the phone keeping up with my advetures from Himalayas, through Antarctica to Pyrenees, PETZL for the best climbing equipment in the world, MARVA for musli and raw bars which are really tasty and really quality, AQUACORE for nice ferrous mineral water Korytnica that I was sipping on my way. And a special thanks goes to the LAA taking patronage over paragliding in Slovakia and help me in every possible way in competitions all over the world.
And of course, thank you to all of you who bougth some T-shirts, took tandem flight with me, or just like that sent few bugs to make all this happen. And thank you, Katarínka, who managed it again, to be alone for few days, no phone calls, no messages, only watching the live tracking. And thank you, Inigo that you as the organiser selected me to take part in this awesome race toghether with other 39 teams from all over the world.
Awarding ceremony and the closing party in El port de la Selva was tough, sea, yachts, cervezas, cruel, painful or fearful memories, calluses and happiness that it is over now. Nice talks with Maurer, Keller, Jessie, Gray, Ignacio... It was great! So see you again in two years. And I hope that I will manage it to the goal. I missed exactly 60km from 566 overall. 7th palce overall from 35 who didn' t break something before the contest... and we overtook Coconea.