Peter’s Paragliding Nomadness

Paragliding the Dolomites

October 7, 2007

The Dolomites is the Mecca of paragliding in Italy, perhaps the world. The jagged limestone peaks rise like broken teeth from the green valleys below.

Langkofel is 3,181 meters (10,436 ft) high, Marmaléda is the highest mountain in the Dolomites at 3,340 meters (10,964 ft) and has a permanent glacier down the north face.

In summer, a funivia (aerial tram) runs from the village of Campitello to the Col Rodella. The journey takes 5 minutes. It is a direct route from the landing zone (where I camped for 5 nights) to the launches on top. Every paragliding site should have one of these.

I arrived on Sunday afternoon at 5pm. By 6pm, I was standing on the west launch, ready to fly. The first flight was a gentle 850 m sled ride by the light of the setting sun. A lovely introduction to this very special site.

Monday's conditions were spectacular. The air was crisp and clear. Visibility was unlimited. I hung around the launch for a while, waiting for some solid cycles.

Once in the air, it was a struggle to maintain altitude around the launch. Maybe this would be another sled ride, like yesterday. But eventually, conditions picked up a little and I was able to work my way up the Col Rodella. Once I got over the top, I decided to try for the Langkofel. I arrived there low and scratched around for a while with little success. An old orange wing below me was really scratching low. This wasn't working. I hit the speed bar and zoomed back to Col Rodella. I do love the way my new wing accelerates on speed bar.

It didn't take long to work my way back up the Col Rodella and over the antennas. Way over the antennas. From 500 meters over, I headed back to the Langkofel to try again. This time, I arrived with lots of altitude, and it was easy to climb the rocky face to the summit.

As I cruised along the rock face, just below the summit, a lone mountaineer was making his way up an icy crack in the mountain. He turned to look as I passed a few meters from him. What a crazy way to get here! It was very tempting to top land and welcome him to the top.

Above the summit, the air was smooth and the lift was plenty. I cruised to 3500 meters, higher than the Marmaléda across the valley. I gazed around in awe. As far as the eye could see were snow capped mountains and glaciers, separated by green Tyrolean valleys under a dark blue cloudless sky. It was the most spectacular sight I have ever seen. I just kept looking around and gasping at the incredible beauty of the world. This was the moment that made the entire trip worthwhile.

I attempted to take some pictures, knowing that they wouldn't really capture what I was seeing, but the camera was as cold as my hands. The lens refused to open, and shortly after I managed to get it working, the camera shut down because of "low battery", undoubtedly a result of the cold. I wished I had warmer gloves, my hands were also telling me that it was cold up here.

I cruised back across the valley and floated over the lush green peaks on the southern side of the valley. The blue-green glacier of Marmaléda seemed not far away, and I was sure I could make it if I wanted to. But I was getting cold, and it seemed a good time to head for the LZ. It wasn't the longest flight of my life, just 2 hours, and it wasn't the highest, but I felt it was the most beautiful flight ever. Despite being back on the ground, I was high for days on the experience.

I am convinced that this may be the most beautiful place to fly in the world. The vistas are incredible, and the flying conditions make it possible to climb in relatively smooth air to the summits and beyond. Every pilot needs to come here once in their lifetime.

On to Slovenia

There are more pictures in the Photo Album

Peter Jennings