Euro 2011 - Day 4 - The High Alps


Follow our flight with the photo journal below, however, to find out what Dan got up to "exploring" the local mountains, click on his diary

Getting ready for our first launch out of Sondrio, we could see cumulus forming above the peaks in classic alpine fashion


There was an area just large enough to fit an EB28 while preparing all our gizmos. Unfortunately it had been recently manured. Fortunately, the sun had dried it out enough that it didn't stick...


It was nice to have 1200m of smooth tarmac virtually to ourselves

The airfield was embedded in a golf course which was pretty, but had limited landing options - I felt safe as Robin had already been checked out on fairways from a trip some time ago

The valley breeze effects were quite marked as it was fairly narrow in the area around the airfield with the mountain sides rising up out of the flat bottom


Having climbed away to the east of the airfield, we headed west to the hills on the end of lake Como, where we eventually picked up a windshadow climb


The sky looked reasonable, with 3-4kt climbs to 10,500-11,000' and we worked our way westwards past Locarno


We ended up in the Masera valley but the cumulus were becoming more ragged as the NW wind picked up and we could see there was a much greater amount of cloud towards Switzerland, of the stratocumulus variety


We were discussing what our next move was going to be when the thermal we were climbing in not far from Masera strengthened near cloudbase and put us in contact with a wave system


It looked much better from 17,000', so we made a plan to go in the direction of the Matterhorn, passing Monte Rosa


The wind at 16,000' was NW at 40kts+, so we crept gently round Monte Rosa and the Breithorn, just keeping clear of Swiss airspace on the (relatively) clear Italian side


The strong wind was creating banner clouds on the downwind side as moist air from the valleys was brought up behind the peaks

We got the odd brief glimpse of the Matterhorn

But there was a fair amout of cloud running up the Swiss side and spilling over the top into Italy


We tried to climb downwind of Monte Rosa but it was rather weak so ran the front edge instead


We were treated to a scenic run along the crests in fairly smooth air


All of the major peaks had there own little cloud forming behind

Especially the back of Monte Rosa
We hit a much more open patch of sky which allowed a run along the high crests
Until we got to within about 2km of the Matterhorn where it became pretty rough
There was a mix of rotor and who knows what, which proved very difficult to climb in

So we moved round onto the windward side where it was much smoother but with fairly weak lift

We tried to work the wave but the cloud amounts were increasing
Until only the tops were poking through
Eventually we'd had enough so returned to the front face of the Matterhorn
Where there was actually some decent lift

Looking westwards, there was a lot of "cumulo granitus", we'd need to get well above that before doing anything else


There was a nice patch of air just in front of the west face that took us to over 16,000' and a view of Mont Blanc, which became our next objective


There was decent primary wave in the Val Ferret behind the Mont Blanc massif

Which allowed us to fly round to the NW face of Mont Blanc itself
We spotted several climbers trudging up the snow ridge towards the summit
It was blowing 45kts, so must have been quite a job to stay on the right line
On the SW side, we could see air being pulled up from the valley below
And to the NW, it looked like a reasonable cumulus day 10,000' below!
There were incredible icefalls and hanging glaciers
Which were producing so much light and contrast that it was suprising the camera coped

We did a pass of the snow dome on the summit, at 15,783' and 7"


There was a group of intrepid climbers, bent against the wind, nearly at the top

The NW side of the mountain fell away into the Chamonix valley

We returned to the hotspot downwind of the ridge line and took it up to FL195


We saw an Easyjet pass not that far above but Robin was too late with the camera!

We then turned for home after taking a few more shots
With quite an impressive groundspeed... As well as 8,000' over glide from 210Km out
We flew back past where we had worked our way up earlier
With just the odd pull-up in the strongest lift
Monte Rosa came and went at warp speed
We had a brief view of the Dom, at just under 15,000' one of the highest alpine peaks
Then overhead Masera, running east still

We eventually returned to the convective layer and the Sondrio valley. The southern side was producing a good energy line and we followed it east until we were just in the Bolzano valley. Looking north we could see the high peaks in the Stelvio national park


The pass Tonale, quite flat on the top, actually has an airstrip on the watershed

Looking south we could see Adamello and the national park associated with it
There was still a good line of energy, even though it was early evening
The low sun was creating a lot of contrast between the snowy tops and the shady valleys
We managed to do another 250km without circling
Running to the end of lake Como and back to Sondrio
To be met by our ground crew who had also been dicing with death in the mountains with the car, unknown to us...