You cannot sleep – not so much because you are sleeping in a humid tent, on a stone-covered field that’s tilting 15%, with a highway as your next-door neighbour. Nope, all that is just fine. It’s actually because of the epic adventure that awaits.
The adrenaline pumps in your veins!
You are definitely not cold – but that is just plain weird because it’s near-freezing here in Chamonix and you are always cold in the morning. Especially when getting out of your warm and cosy sleeping bag.
Nah, it’s the adrenaline talking!
But it’s not until you arrive at the cable car, and see your pilots waiting with more gear than they can carry, that you realise what you are about to do. You have to swallow the big lump in your throat and hide your excitement behind the biggest smile you can muster.
You are almost crying, don’t worry, not from fear or discomfort, but from pure excitement! That’s something we have never tried before… Or at least not since we skydived over the Palm in Dubai. We survived that experience, so either luck is on our side, or we’ve used it all up.
We’re about to find out.
The cable car ride feels an hour long, but it’s probably closer to 15 minutes. Time is moving in slow motion. Reality, and whatever it is that is going on inside of your head, doesn’t really add up.
As you emerge from the cable car, into thin air at 3,800 meters, you feel light-headed. Is it the altitude, or is it the prospect of the adventure you are about to gulp down for breakfast? There’s no going back now though, you know that much. You recall your skydiving experience in Dubai, where the plane took you to 4,000 meters. You’re at about the same height now. The excitement builds…
You are led to a small opening in the wall, and on the other side of the hole, all you can see is snow and mountain peaks. “We are heading out that way,” Francois said, who would be our mountain guide for the day. He was responsible for taking us safely down the glacier, to our take-off point, which in the summer-time is particularly exposed. The sign on the doorway said: “Mountaineers only“.
He then tightens your crampons and harness, straps everybody together with a rope and off we go onto the glacier.
You see Mont Blanc on your right, the tallest mountain in Europe. It seems so close, you can almost touch it! Suddenly you understand why so many people feel intrigued about climbing it, hell, now you want to climb it yourself. It looks bad-ass, and today you feel bad-ass! You know you could handle it!
Descending there on the slippery ice of the glacier, you daydream about summiting that beast of a rock. That should definitely be the next cool adventure you embark on – it sure seems like the perfect follow up to this. But you still haven’t even tried “this” yet. You have no idea what you are walking into, but you are about to get a whole lot wiser.
The hike down to the designated take-off area is probably one of the most adventurous things you have ever done. Still, somehow you know that what awaits will be even more awesome. You cannot stop smiling! You are finally doing it! You have been hoping and waiting for this moment for quite a while because the weather has to be perfect. And today it finally is. You couldn’t have asked for clearer skies!
You join your pilot by the canopy, laying neatly arranged, looking particularly colourful in contrast to the bright white snow. This soft “wing” will be carrying you down the mountain, not the cable car. It’s almost unthinkable.
You trust the pilots completely, doing whatever they ask without hesitation. Like you’re a soldier being ordered around by your generals. No questions, you just act. And then again, it is nothing like being a soldier, because you have absolutely no idea what you are doing.
The only thing you know for certain is that you will have to run off the edge of this massive, snow-covered cliff and that there is a 1,000-meter vertical drop directly behind it. Yeah, you definitely know that!
You just about have time to enjoy the view. But before you manage to take it all in and realise what you are about to do, your pilot notices the wind is just right. He quickly straps you onto himself and the canopy and utters:
“Run, run, run.”
“Don’t sit down, don’t sit down.”
Of course, you obey. In fact, you run for dear life! An instant later, you are airborne.
Surprisingly, it feels effortless. Smooth, like nothing you have ever experienced before!
You glide through the air, lifted by your big blue canopy. You are suspended in your harness directly below it, by what looks like a million wires, but are sitting securely and comfortably. There are no sounds, except the gentle wind which adds a pleasant warm sensation to your face. For some reason, it isn’t cold today, even at 3,700 meters.
You are closer to the mountains than you imagined possible. Yet, it feels calm. You are sure this is exactly what it must feel like if you could fly yourself.
Sitting here, awestruck, you cannot help but imagine the possibilities if you could fly on your own. You would be king of the world! Travelling wherever you wanted, seeing everything you dreamt of from an aerial perspective. Wouldn’t that be amazing?
You realise then and there that you simply have to learn to paraglide yourself. That would soon allow you to take flight on your own and a lifelong dream would come true! That’s a nice thought, but for now, you enjoy the serenity of the moment. Gosh… you almost can’t believe where you are or what you are doing!
Everything you have ever heard about paragliding, about it being dangerous and risky, couldn’t seem farther from the feeling you have right now. You are gliding peacefully around the tallest mountain range in Europe, and there is not a shed of fear in your mind. Below you, glaciers rush past with crevasses several hundred meters deep. But the sight doesn’t scare you, it amazes you. Just like the mountains beside you, which are so close, you feel you might be able to reach out and touch them. It sounds like a lot of action, and that’s what you expected beforehand. But in reality, you just feel a deep sense of tranquillity.
The longer you fly, the closer to the ground you get. Alas, the flight must come to an end eventually. There is no propeller attached to the canopy, so you are completely at the mercy of Sir Isaac Newton. The town of Chamonix, which about a half-hour ago looked like a small dot in the distance, is getting ever bigger beneath you. All the places you have explored on foot still seem very small from the air, but they are slowly growing bigger.
“Do you like rollercoasters?” Christophe, the pilot, asks. Even though rollercoasters usually make you sick, you hear yourself answering: “Of course, who doesn’t?”.
He drags the suspension lines powerfully from one side to the other, and right away you feel the g-forces. Your cheeks start blubbering. It is SO MUCH FUN. You feel it in your stomach as well, but it’s nothing like a rollercoaster. It’s so much more and so much better!
Just before you land, you start running in the air. It must look foolish from the ground, but your mind is entirely free from any and all such concerns. It’s like your mind has been cleansed. All it can think about is flying.
You touch down. It is a soft and elegant landing, and as soon as you stand there with your feet on solid ground, you can’t help but wonder when your next flight will be.
Hopefully soon, you think to yourself. The rest of the day you walk around with a smile on your face, and you know, this is not the last time you’ve been paragliding.