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Hunting for glaciers

I have a personal protocol that seems to have developed over time. When I must move the PA-11 to a new location, I put my “cross country” hat on, even if that means flight literally crossing into other countries, pick a good day, avail myself of planning and resources, and execute a point A to B flight, with some photos taken merely to augment the transportation narrative taking place. Once I get to a new location, I then start “nibbling,” taking progressive flights of increased perception of danger, visiting peaks and terrain in a growing radius from the new home base.

I have often found this concept somewhat odd. When the “cross country” hat is on, I will seemingly valiantly fly grand distances into unknown areas, relying merely on my flight calculations as a basis for making it happen. When safely settled in a new area, I then see nothing but danger, and take a more iterative approach, even though I am closer to resources, my home base, comfort zones, and the like. I later came to understand that this protocol applies to mountainous home bases. For the occasions where I have based on the coast, I tend to be less cautious and just go flying.

Nonetheless, I decided to turn this approach on its head when I came to Switzerland last year. No longer would I valiantly plunge into the heart of the Alps on my first flight, only to recoil and treat every successive flight as though it was the working of some miracle. I decided to attack an accepted list of the highest peaks in the Alps first, and then nibble at lesser-known things later. I seem to have failed to take into account that I waited until basing in the highest, most vertical, most glaciated mountain range that I had ever flown in to turn caution upside down. What is the human mind but a thing of irony?

Well, that project is done, which left me searching for motivators. I took two flights that defaulted to my protocol of basically covering ground and seeing an area, for the sake of exploring what is there. I wandered over to Geneva and in areas visible from the chalet, and that just wasn’t cutting it. Then a switch went off in my mind: “You like glaciers, and summer is the time to see them without annual snowfall.” How many ways can I emphasize “duh?” I had this information last year, and it didn’t seem to sink in.

That set off a full-on assault. I elected to restrict my wanderings to the Bernese Alps, as they are the closest to the current base, happen to be mind-blowingly vertical and tall, and happen to have the largest glacier in Europe, along with the most glaciated section of the Alps. In examining in greater detail what I could find on satellite images, I noticed that I missed quite a few massive glaciers in the eastern Bernese Alps, as they were covered by annual snowfall in the image, and I failed to appropriately zoom in to notice glaciated texture.

What I found in the last month was an overwhelming playground of glaciers upon glaciers spilling down from towering peaks, hiding in shadows, or hiding in plain sight. When one thinks that everything has been seen in an area, just fly around the bend or over the next ridge, and another basin or cathedral opens, filled with jaw-dropping scenery. I also bothered to read the Swiss VFR Manual, and found that one key restricted area is subject to activation, which means that it’s not restricted most of the time (I had been avoiding it altogether). That contained another treasure trove, some of which appears in a video below.

The weather turned already, with temperatures down at 2,000 feet msl down in the 50s Fahrenheit (13 degrees Celsius) for a high, with brooding Pacific Northwest skies and rain. Webcams indicate snowfall almost down to timberline, so perhaps summer glacier flying is over, or maybe it will warm back up and I’ll be back at it.

I seem to have figured out how to get a successful HD video from the Cub. It has been a year of tinkering and aggravation, though I think the output is worth it.

Saanen, Switzerland, along the north side of the Alps to the Triftgletscher, Rhône Glacier, Uri Alps glaciers, then the eastern large glaciers of the Bernese Alps. 43 min HD, glaciers begin at 11 minutes.

Saanen, Switzerland, south to the Bernese Alps, east to the Aletschgletscher (largest in Europe), and west along the Alps. 27 min HD.

And some photos for good measure…..

Eiger, Mönch, and Jungfrau, from the northwest. White “snow” in the distance are moderate-sized glaciers. Much larger ones lurk on the other side of the peaks.

Blechgletscher


Series of glaciers beneath Nesthorn. It was slightly vertical in here.

Gauligletscher, one of them classically “hiding” under snowpack satellite shots.

Rosenlauigletscher

Triftgletscher—flows to the Rhine.

Rhône Glacier—over the pass from Triftgletscher. To the left are the headwaters to the Rhône River, which terminates in the Mediterranean. 


Bietschhorn. The glaciers beneath this peak are so dwarfed by nearby ice masses that the mind determines it is not even worth noting when looking at satellite shots.


Unders Mönschjoch, at the top of the Ewigschneefäld, which feeds the Aletschgletscher. 

Äbeni-Flue, looking toward the Oberland and Swiss Plateau. Flight altitude is 12,500 feet, with a nearly vertical drop off in excess of 6,000 feet on the other side.


The aforementioned dropoff….


Aletschhorn with clouds from a low pressure zone over northern Italy.

Tschingelgletscher

Garrett Fisher is an aerial adventure photographer, having photographed some of the most rugged and wild terrain in America from his 1949 Piper PA-11. After living in Germany with the Cub, he recently moved to the Spanish Pyrenees to continue the flying adventure. He has published six aerial photography books covering the Colorado Rockies, Wyoming, high terrain in the Southeast, and the Outer Banks, with more US and European books in the pipeline. He blogs regularly about his flights at www.garrettfisher.me.

Switzerland

We decided to head to Switzerland again for the summer, which presented the obligation of flying the Cub there. The first weekend I chose had the unfortunate reality of being infernal heatwave in Europe, where temperatures in France reached 113F and 102F in Cerdanya, exceeding the previous high that I had experienced in the Pyrenees of 95F. It is generally a temperate place without extremes, so this was pretty warm. After my punishing trip to Texas in the heat, humidity, and thermals of an early Southern heatwave a month prior, I wasn’t in the mood to repeat myself, so I delayed.

A window showed up to go a week later, with sunny weather in the Pyrenees, France, and the western Alps, so I took my chances, even though it was supposed to be warm.

As the day approached and I undertook flight planning exercises, I noted a trepidation brewing, which caused me initially to do a thorough check of the airplane a couple of days before leaving. Was this some sort of deep intuition about a problem that I was ignoring? On careful examination, it occurred to me that I had pause crossing France, which I didn’t understand, as I had done it five times in the past. One factor is that, each time, I insist upon going a slightly different way, as the southern half of France features a wide variety of things to see in a narrow band of 75 miles. That adds technical burden to the flight, some of which I forget about each time, inclusive of a French fuel card, special military zones to be checked, flight plans, a byzantine web of restricted areas unlike anything in America, fuel status of airports, landing and handling fees, language restrictions, and a flight plan for customs clearance into Switzerland.

Now I knew what my problem was: crossing France is a tremendous amount of work where lots can go wrong. One could easily find himself marooned at an airport with no ability to fuel and not enough fuel to make an alternate, meaning an early night in a hotel.

The departure out of the Pyrenees was interesting, as a morning inversion developed, which I could clear easily, only to plunge into MVFR Saharan dust that was in a layer 6,000 feet and higher, a first where the haze is only at high altitude. At one point I was concerned it would go IFR, and then it suddenly cleared to a hot and hazy summer day over the French foothills. Proceeding north, it was quite hot, so I stayed up at 5,000 feet, descending slowly once I got past some Mediterranean hills. As I approached a control zone, I asked for clearance from flight following to get through it (something they usually will relay). I was handed to Rodez Info, who told me there “is a strike today in Clermont-Ferrand, so there will be no Info service.” I tried calling the tower and was too far away, so I ducked under the cake, now tossed around in heat and thermals.

This went on awhile as I approached the highlands of the Massif Central near the Cantal Mountains. It is a dormant stratovolcano which has partially eroded away, creating some interesting faux above timberline terrain. Since Info service was on strike, I couldn’t get status of the restricted area, which meant I couldn’t quite see the peak I wanted to overfly. Hot and sweaty after my low altitude jaunt around Rodez, bumped by thermals, wishing I was at my destination, I began to lose faith in the gospel of aviation that ‘more flying is better.’

Fuel was at Saint-Flour, then off to the eastern Massif Central timberlands, down to the Rhône River for my ceremonial crossing, a reflection of past stories while sneaking by Grenoble’s airspace, glancing at fertile farmlands that I recall distinctly from the flight down from Germany in 2016.

Cantal Mountains, France. Maximum elevation 6,086′.

Timberlands in eastern Massif Central. Trees look quite healthy and there is some logging activity.


Crossing the Rhône River.

Farmland in the Rhône River valley.

Fuel was a GA airport outside of Chambéry, choosing a non-controlled field to avoid the mile walk required to pay a 5 euro landing fee at the larger airport north of town. Instead the field was a “French only” airport, a reality one must contend with in places in France, where all radio communication is strictly in French. It was a poor day to arrive, as gliders were swarming like gnats. I waited until traffic subsided, slipped in for fuel, noticing a very specific indifference by individuals on the ground, and after 15 minutes of glider winch activity and landings, found a window to takeoff for the final leg into Switzerland.

My questions about whether I was enjoying myself went away once I began cruising in the Pre-Alps a few minutes later. It is technically a separate mountain range that looks like the foothills of the Alps. Elevations tend to top out in the 4,000’ to 8,000’ range, with thick pine forests, exposed rock, and occasional ridges that look like the Alps.

The Pre-Alps gave way to the Chablais Alps at the border of Switzerland, and my disposition went from fatigue to pure joy. Vertical spires of rocks, small glaciers, remaining June snow, and thunderous waterfalls abounded. I climbed to about 8,000 feet to swing by the Massif du Chablais, a ridge that taunts us from the chalet in Switzerland, and from there swung by Les Diablerets and made my cruise into the Bernese Oberland, to land at Gstaad Airport, where the airplane will spend the summer.

Col de Bornette in the French Pre-Alps. I came from the left and crossed this same pass when flying to Switzerland last year.

Mont Fleuri, France, still in the Pre-Alps (8238′ / 2511m).

Mont Blanc in the background.


Switzerland, how I love you.  Les Dents Blanches (8533′ to 9042′ / 2601m to 2756m).


Massif du Chablais.

Bernese Oberland.

I was extremely content with my choice of location, and after literally “planes, trains, and automobiles,” I was back in Cerdanya the next day, and we drove to Switzerand the day after that. A few days after arriving a nice day was forecast, at least with respect to the fact it is sunny. I am still trying to figure out why one front means clear air, or another means a sunny day with incredible haze, or it means haze in one elevation or area, yet not in another.

Anyhow, I hoped to photograph Lake Geneva in summer light angles, though the morning showed sunny skies with horrific haze. I decided to go up anyway and “swing by the Jungfrau but at an altitude that isn’t 14,000 feet.” Given that it was to be sunny, I figured I could get some angles that never really made sense to try while based in Sion, as terrain is something quite severe and takes a lot of fuel to climb Sion over the Alps, back down to where humans live, then back up over the Alps, and quickly back down to normal elevations.

It didn’t take long in the air to decide I needed to clear the clouds over the Oberland, which I did in a hole over a massive waterfall in Adelboden. From there, the clouds were 50% coverage and clearly went to 11,000 feet, so I’d have to clear them. I wanted to see the Jungfrau, and it would be even better if it was sticking out above the clouds. Snaking east, I climbed as I went, hugging terrain, avoiding clouds, and thoroughly enjoying myself. Eventually I popped out at 12,000’ north of a sizable glacier, noting that the clouds were effectively piling up on the north side of the Bernese Alps and getting pushed to higher altitude, drying out on the south side. I finally did get to see the Jungfrau, after climbing to 13,500’, staying on the north side due to a stiff breeze. The air at altitude had perfect visibility, and stunning views.

On the way back west along the ridge, I noted that the clouds had thickened significantly, with less holes and higher heights. It was still clear to the south via the passes, and north out of the Oberland. Eventually I found a hole between Adelboden and Frutigen and corkscrewed down 3,000’ and popped over the pass towark Lenk-Simmental. Humidity and haze had increased greatly under the cloud deck causing carb ice at cruise RPM, though it was restricted to where it piled up against the Alps, indeed an interesting microclimate, as things were dry on the other side in the Rhône valley near Sion and drier 10 miles north of the base of the Bernese Alps. Anyhow, I cruised along the menacing looking ridge before slaloming around Oberland peaks and finally joining the circuit over a rather vertical rock just north of the airport.

While the first flight was one of technical requirement, to get from one point to another, it turned out to be the best and the worst at the same time. I think I can, at this point, finally declare that I do not like cruising at low altitude in thermals on hot summer days (it has taken long enough to cement that preference) yet alongside that displeasure I find the utter transcendental bliss of flight above glaciers well above 10,000 feet, which is simply the most enjoyable thing I have ever done in an airplane.

Rüwlispass (5636′ / 1718m).

Waterfalls above Adelboden.

Gemmipass (7447′ / 2270m).

Hockenhorn, hiding in the clouds (10803′ / 3293m). I gave up trying to climb over it, went to the right in the lee of the pass, and climbed above the clouds in the distance.


Et voila! Üsser Talgletscher. 

Same glacier, looking the other way.

Eiger (13024′ / 3970m). So much for the plan to “photo from below on a clear day.” Its not like I find this disagreeable.

Jungfrau (13642′ / 4158m).

Bernese Alps with clouds backed against them to the north.

And down through the hole above Adelboden.

Cruising along the ridge, where my O-200 turned into an ice machine.

CFIT poster.

Beneath Les Diablerets.

Entering the pattern for Saanen. Standard procedures call for flying above an enormous rock, then making a square pattern around Gstaad. Its a wild airport.

Garrett Fisher is an aerial adventure photographer, having photographed some of the most rugged and wild terrain in America from his 1949 Piper PA-11. After living in Germany with the Cub, he recently moved to the Spanish Pyrenees to continue the flying adventure. He has published six aerial photography books covering the Colorado Rockies, Wyoming, high terrain in the Southeast, and the Outer Banks, with more US and European books in the pipeline. He blogs regularly about his flights at www.garrettfisher.me.

Build an aviation support dream team you can’t live without

One of the many blessings of preparing for this polar circumnavigation is the aviation support team I have the privilege of working with. These people have made my flying safer, more enjoyable, and more abundant. Building this team hasn’t been easy and has created many moments of frustration and soul searching that have left me scratching my head and then needing to course-correct more often than I care to remember. But, with persistence and a relentless focus on our mission of “One Planet, One People, One Plane: Oneness & Humanity” and the strengths needed to realize this impossibly big dream, these challenges and relationships have taught me many things, made me stronger, clearer, and I hope a little more “Zen” in the process.

I would like to share 11 “Zen Lessons” I have learned and introduce you to my team and their strengths so that you can build your own aviation support team with greater ease, grace, and enjoyment. Knowing you have a solid, caring foundation of earth angels will allow you to be your absolute best in the air and on the ground.

First and foremost, find people who share your passion for aviation 100 percent and focus your energies on them. In a time when we can have 5,000-plus Facebook “friends,” I’m here to tell you just the opposite of what you might expect—to do the impossible you only need a handful of true supporters you trust to get started and keep going. Imagine a small circle of people gathered around you with their arms outstretched, hands on your shoulders, championing you and your ideas without exception. The energy of that circle transforms into an upward spiral of momentum and at times, cheesy as it may sound, becomes the wind beneath your wings.

Accept only 100 percent integrity from your team and yourself every time you interact with them. You want people who will lift you up and not dilute your energy. Mindfulness coach and author Mary Marcdante is one of these people for me. She is my sounding board, a mentor, wise editor, and kind friend to me. She is the person who asks me questions like, “Are you in 100 percent integrity with your values and your word? Are you living up to your branding of being a “Zen Pilot?” Is this how you want the world to remember you?” She asks me the hard questions, inspires creative solutions, and keeps me pointed toward my True North.

Surround yourself with people who are willing to make time for you. Some will share they are too busy and don’t have the bandwidth. Don’t take it personally. Let them pursue what they are passionate about and use your energies on attracting people who share your life passion of flying. Mike Jesch is one of these people for me. Mike is a master CFI, airline pilot, kind soul, speaker, and so much more. He has always been supportive of me, makes time for me, and helps me find answers. We are currently trying to establish the amount of time and fuel needed to climb to altitude in Citizen of the World when the aircraft is fully loaded with fuel 935 extra gallons of JetA1. This information is currently unpublished and unknown but critical to the success of my pole-to-pole mission.

Find people who will speak on your behalf and hold you in their thoughts. Anne Anderson is one of these people for me. An international GA pilot, Ninety-Nines chapter president, business owner, and supportive friend, Anne has reached out to media outlets, potential sponsors, and aviation organizations for me. She sends me information that I need to see and would otherwise miss in support of my trip. Anne has on occasion reminded me that I need to do a little more of that “Zen” stuff I’ve been talking about when things get tough. Anne’s delivery is always gentle, which allows me to hear what I need to hear and shift my energy quickly.

Find people with real world experience who are concerned about your safety and go beyond acceptable to extraordinary. Tim Kneeland and Jennifer Gamon of CAPS Aviation are my safety angels with huge hearts. Jennifer recently offered a free day of survival training to the entire Ninety-Nines organization of 5,000 female pilots throughout 44 countries. I attended the first of many of their survival training courses and instantly fell in love with both of them. I thought I had such a kick-ass survival kit—even AOPA articles have been written on it. They pretty much threw the entire kit out and started over, building me a custom survival kit for the 26 countries I will fly to that leaves me awestruck. The kit includes organized spread sheets with expiration dates; the latest technology; and all of it with a consideration for weight, energy conservation, safety, and rapid response.

Have a few dreamers on your team that will help you expand your life and flying experience. Ron Hulnick does this for me. Ron is a pilot and psychologist who has been teaching Spiritual Psychology for over 35 years. He has dedicated his life to making this world a better place. When I started planning my first circumnavigation along the equator in 2014, I went to him and told him of my interest in supporting a cause. He said, “How about World Peace?” I laughed when he said it, and he chuckled as well. I later came to realize he was serious. At the time I wasn’t ready to take on a project that “impossibly big.” Several years later, the support and inspiration I felt my from team gave me the courage to take this huge bite out of life and dream up our “One Planet, One People, One Plane: Oneness for Humanity” mission.

Have people on your team who are wise enough, strong enough, and loving enough to stand up for you and to you; tell you when you are wrong; and then help you get back on track. Susan Gilbert is this person for me. Susan is the person who told me “No” five times in one meeting on a topic I couldn’t let go of. She also first inspired me to fly and keeps me and my aircraft soaring. She is my chief tactician, mentor, and, really, the brains behind much of what we do. She is an expert in social media, publishing, and life. Susan is the first person I thought of and called after my single-engine Piper Malibu, “the Spirit of San Diego,” failed 14,000 feet over the Strait of Malacca and not knowing if I would live or die, I dead sticked 19.6 nautical miles over the dense jungle of Malaysia into a busy international airport. She truly is the wind beneath my wings and the ground beneath my feet.

Have people who are smarter than you. Astrophysicist Brian Keating, Ph.D., is my top science advisor, has been nominated for the Nobel Prize, and has microwave telescopes at the South Pole and on mountaintops in Chile and Bishop, California. He is the one who understands the movement of the magnetic poles, optimum times for crossing the poles, and has connected me to the NASA experts who designed a legacy experiment for Citizen to carry that will also ride on a NASA mission in 2059! Brian is one of my best friends; he’s an inspiring, generous friend and has a cosmic perspective that helps me to see bigger and dream impossibly big.

Have people who support you with global connections and resources and whose loyalty and love of aviation is greater than their love of the paycheck they receive. Meet Eddie Gould. Eddie loves aviation more than almost anyone I know and truly cares about my wellbeing. He is the guy who stayed up all night watching my flight over the Indian Ocean and almost lost his mind when I arrived two hours late because I had incorrectly transferred avgas to the wrong ferry tank and needed to slow down to conserve fuel. He bent over backward to get me oil, fuel, lodging, a haircut, and data chips for my airplane on the dark side of the planet on my first circumnavigation in 2015. He has proven his loyalty 10 times over.

Be your own best teammate to yourself. You and your team must be strong enough to change and evolve with the times. This means letting go of who and what doesn’t work to make room for new people and new experiences. It’s OK if some people are with you for a short time. Not everyone is intended to be with us forever. The saying, “People come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime,” applies here. Having a loving, evolving support network in alignment with you and your vision and values will help you reduce your stress and sleep better knowing that the weight of your mission is shared and doesn’t just rest on your shoulders.

Remember to give back to your most cherished team. Go to your personal limits in loving them back as well as supporting them on their personal journeys. After all, the best teams feel valued and respected (love in action), and the best journeys are shared.

For detailed bios on individual team members, go to http://flyingthrulife.com/pole-to-pole/the-team/

Robert DeLaurentis is a successful real estate entrepreneur and investor, pilot, speaker, philanthropist, and author of Zen Pilot and Flying Thru Life. A Gulf War veteran, Robert received his pilot’s license in 2009, completed his first circumnavigation in 2015, and is currently preparing for his South Pole to North Pole expedition in the “Citizen of the World,” taking off November 2019 with his mission, “Oneness for Humanity: One Planet, One People, One Plane.” For more information, visit PoletoPoleFlight.com.