Saturday 4 June 2022


taking off from the top of the Grand Serre, 2141m

WHY : Running and paragliding make for a perfect combo! Gliding down saves smashing your legs and it provides you some time and a seat from which you can really savour the views.

WHAT : The concept was to see how much vertical gain I could accumulate in a 24-hour period, hiking up and flying down.

WHERE : I chose the race route of the Grand Serre vertical kilometer. It's very steep and it has nice take off and landing opportunities. The only downer is the shape of the valley can often make for some strong winds. This was the case on Sunday morning.

WHEN : The flying regulations sensibly dictate that to fly through the night you need to be within a couple of days of a full moon. It also made sense to go for a relatively long day, and ideally one which shouldn't be to complicated weather-wise. So I aimed to find a slot close to the full super moon of mid-May 2022.

one of the early climbs - this was the flat bit

Mini résumé:

What an experience! As the final days and hours counted down, the idea of running and flying right through the night did become a little daunting, as does embarking on anything physical for a full non-stop 24-hour period. But the excitement of the whole concept totally counterbalanced any tendency for pessimism to creep in! As with a long running race, the beginning was easy - the legs were good, and the fatigue towards the end was also relatively easy to deal with - as the finish line was in sight. It's always the middle bit of these long, silly challenges which are hard, mainly mentally, as the muscular wear and tear starts to creep in, yet you're aware that there's still an awful long way to go. I listened to a bit of music for a couple of lonely climbs in the night, and observed the insect life taking over the forest floor, but mainly just the thrill of knowing where I was going and what I was doing, and the whole uniqueness of it all, made the adventure quite a pleasant one!

I was extremely lucky to have so many factors align for the weekend. I'd got the permit, but it wasn't flexible. The full moon wasn't going to hang around for the following weekend either. The forecast on Sunday was touch and go, so last minute I pulled the start forward by 6 hours, to start midday Saturday. The wind was ever present and it moved in direction, meaning a number of different take-off points were used throughout, but it was always quite a gentle wind, meaning the take-offs were simple (bar one, for which a tail-wind picked up:-). Down at the landing zone there was often quite a bit of wind, but that made for some relatively straightforward near-vertical landings. In the between time I had about ten minutes, to sit, to eat, to enjoy the views,.. I'd usually do a few 360s and sometimes fold the tips of the wings in, to gain a couple of minutes on the downhill, but often it was nice to use this phase to soak in the views and recover.

Packing my glider into the bag after the very first landing I noticed that one of the middle lines had snapped - it turns out I'd caught it on a rock on the very first take-off. I swapped it for a spare I had and fortunately had no further technical incidents!

On Sunday morning, the moon set, the sun rose, and I started working out how many more loops I could get in. Just before 8am I reached the top for the 15th time, and I could feel the wind was strengthening. It was ok though. The flight was fine, I landed and started making my way back up for number 16. I was now confident that 17 loops would be possible. Nearing the top of number 16 though I could feel the breeze really picking up. Matthieu confirmed my fears at the summit, "it's too windy and gusty, it would be dangerous to fly now". A strong southerly had built up, which was interrupted by regular easterly gusts, bubbling off the sun-clad slope of the steep east-facing ridge. I got the glider out nonetheless, waited for a break in the wind. I waited. But it never came. Glider folded, I ran back down, making my 16th descent of the Grand Serre, but my 1st by foot. It was a slightly frustrating way to finish, but all things considered - everything else went perfectly, so no complaints! I guess it just means that the record is beatable, and maybe I'll have to have another go, one day ;-)

Matthieu - who spent the entire night on the top of the hill, advising me on take off directions
and occasionally attempting to hook on for a ride down

checking the gear before take-off

enjoying the ride

As for the stats :
HIKE : 38km | 16976m | 16h14

FLY : 67km | 2h25


stats summary

the path

hiking and flying makes you smile

Many thanks:

Scott (kinabaluRC shoes and RC racing T + shorts)

Ozone (XXLite2 16 and F*Lite harness)

Impossible without good quality, confortable and very light kit!

And my friendly crew and helpers :

Matthieu de Quillacq

Martí Pérez

Tayla Strauss

Iris Pessey

Christophe Clerc

Jérémie Marcuccilli

Bruno Aloïs (some of the beautiful pics above)

Yann Audouin (some of the other action pics, and video coming)

Nicolas Rovira