Trans Alpine Vol Bivouac Expedition

Living the journey - Chris Scammell's account of his record breaking journey

The Route

About Paragliders

An introduction

International travel has never been easier, buy a ticket then step aboard a high tech tube with wings and enjoy the “in-flight” entertainment. Surely nothing could be simpler. A single personal test remains to thwart the traveller, the one that taxes our personal resolve to remain seated buckled-up for as long as it takes. Freedom is only restored after the ‘crew have switched off the “seat-belt” sign at the terminal building. Somehow the sensation and exhilaration of manned flight has become completely sanitised. No longer a journey to live long in the memory nor an experience to savour merely a form of travel that has to be endured.

Chris Scammell has put his spin on international travel. He will embark on a journey that must be lived by savouring the experience of free-flight. Chris Scammell intends to traverse from west-east the entire length of the Alps during an unsupported bivouac expedition by paraglider.

Chris' journey will start amongst the scented pines of the Alpes Maritime where the mountains dip their toes in to the Mediterranean Sea along the chic French Riviéra and the Côte d’Azure. From this province nestled into the corner where the French-Italian border meet the sea, Chris will catch a giant wave of rock that abruptly rises to over 3,000 m (10,000 feet) in 50 kms (30 miles). This tectonic wave sweeps northward to crest on the glacial white plumes of Mont Blanc at 4,807 m (15,771 feet). Here the wave breaks right in a majestic easterly arc floating the great European Alpine wilderness over the Silvretta and Rhätikon ranges, mountains that form Central Europe’s major watershed. This giant bulge of peaks and windswept crags divide the restless Alpine rivers between the mighty Rhine and Danube. Rolling onward the wave almost imperceptibly eases as it fans out both south - towards the troubled Balkans and ever eastward. Where it gently tapers to lie softly under the vast expanse of deep dark conifers that are the Wienerwald - the Viennese Forest. Finally the wave floods onto the vast Hungarian Plain close to the placid waters of Neusiender See and journey’s end, Vienna. To reach this point Chris will have soared over 1,000 kms (600 miles) of the great Alpine wave whose crests form the ‘Roof of Europe’.

Chris must self-navigate the course with map, compass and GPS over a route that traverses virtually every major Alpine mountain range to complete their journey. Massifs studded with mountains that are both the cornerstones and touchstones of modern mountaineering. Mont Blanc, Matterhorn, Eiger are mountains amongst many whose names' conjures the full gambit of emotions within the non-climber and climber alike. It was here cradled in these mountains that the Alpinist and alpinism were born and nurtured.

Chris is an experienced climber and it was during his time in the high mountains that the new sport of paragliding first fired his imagination ten years ago. At first Chris'l paragliding was simply a means of descending rapidly from a large mountain. An expedient means that lead to a longer session by the fire in a local pub with a well earned beer or several as the end - the classic end to a cracking day in the hills. The last four or five years have seen great advances in paraglider design that have introduced phenominal improvements in flight performance and safety. Developments that have radically altered the potential of these ‘wings of change’. A sophistication that still retains the fundamental concept that requires the whole rig to pack neatly into a rucksack for an easy carry comfortably on a pilot’s back. Naturally a complimentary evolution of pilots’ expectations and demands has moved in-concert. The flexibility promoted by these aircraft-in-a-backpack has prompted a small yet growing number of adventurers to access and explore the remotest of the World’s wildernesses. Today Chris spares no time for rock climbing, preferring to focus all his energy on the next flight. Although Chris promises to make a return to climbing one day the hypnotic lure and scope of free-flight for personal exploration are temptations too powerful to resist.

The Alps are a small mountain chain by Himalayan or Andean standards and they are shared geographically by seven European countries - France, Switzerland, Austria, Liechtenstein, Germany, Italy, and Slovenia. Alpine inhabitants are ethnically very diverse and yet through the seasonal cycle of mountain life they have more in common with each other than with their lowland countrymen. Continued economic pressure is forcing rapid change on each alpine berger. Traditional agrarian lifestyles can no longer compete with lowland economies of scale. Tourism has effectively brought a form of reprieve. An economic respite that has in turn impacted heavily on today’s much sought after Alpine wilderness. Sadly in the wake of this overt commercial pressure many local habits and customs have paid a heavy price and are now sadly lost to posterity. Living their journey Chris will hopefully discover some of the mellow flavour of the original Alpine way of life beyond the gaze and reach of the “I want it now” culture.
Throughout the journey Chris will be totally exposed to the elements and unquestionably at the mercy of the weather. In the nature of the sport and of expeditioning, the journey will place enormous mental demands on them as individuals and collectively as a team. Not withstanding the many objective dangers to be faced enroute Chris must chart a safe course between the savage crests of a turbulent emotional maelstrom - a virtual storm driven purely by the circumstances of this endeavour.

The successful completion of this route or one with a similar content will rank as a World’s first by capping the “CAP 1111” by paraglider. A “CAP” is a designation given to those vol bivouac flights that satisfy some basic criteria; a paraglider or hang glider and on foot are the only means of travel - with a 10% upper limit of the total distance that may be travelled on foot. The route travelled may be re-crossed once and the whole journey must be completed without organised support.
Conventionally CAP flights follow staged flight / journey distance that begin with the CAP 111 and a journey distance of 111 kilometres. In turn this has been followed by the CAP 222, 333, 444 etc. To date only a single CAP 1111 has been completed and that was made by the late Didier Favre - the sky’s most natural vagabond. In making his CAP 1111 Didier Favre, a hang glider pilot, journeyed from the South of France to Slovenia during the ‘93 summer season. In paragliding the renowned Pierre Bouilloux, one of the fathers of vol bivouac flight, has so far made all the CAP distances up to and including the present paragliding benchmark - the CAP 555.
Most CAP pilots prefer to ensure they actually fly their chosen CAP distance by making up for any distance travelled on foot. To a CAP pilot journey times are irrelevant and form no part of the experience. These pilots are not racing, savouring their journey is the only pre-requisite.

Chris Scammell