skwalk team pilot Adrian Keller is a passionate Hike&Fly pilot and was selected for the X-Pyr 2016. Adrian used the chance and achieved an excellent 7th rank in his debut!! However, the conditions were far away from easy, in his report Adrian describes his experiences:

“On January 31, 2016 my efforts and sporting endeavors finally paid off! I was in! The written confirmation of my participation came by email early on a Sunday morning. After nearly seven months of organizational preparation and physically disciplined training, I was ready to go.

Day I
On July 17, 2016 at 11:00am the starting shot was fired on the beach of Hondarribia… with high humidity, a temperature of 35° C and a good weather outlook for the coming days, all 31 athletes from 17 nations headed out in the direction of the turnpoint La Rhune. 27 km, 1100 vertical meters and four hours later, I launched on my first flight, which earned me a good position in the field.

Day II
The day began at 5:30am with a 50 km foot march to turnpoint Orhi. I quickly noticed how the weather was deteriorating – the opposite of what was forecasted. Unexpectedly high winds of up to 60 km/h put an end to my flying plans. For all who arrived at the Orhi ridge after 2:00pm, flying was all but impossible. This gave the first group of three athletes a solid lead while the rest of the pack was left to walk in bad weather. Despite very difficult conditions, I managed a flight in the evening over Orhi to El Mina. After landing there, I had no mobile phone reception and bad GPS data, so I waited, wrapped in my glider, for my supporter to find me.

A very long day on foot through high Alpine terrain without a chance of flying weather due to high winds aloft. Despite all adversities, I managed to reach the turnpoint Anayet after 4000 vertical meters and nearly 70 km of hiking.

Day IV
At breakfast, we are greeted by the first drops of rain. As the pounding of the rain grows in intensity, I decide to bury my hopes of flying. But I still had five pairs of dry shoes! Late in the afternoon the rain let up somewhat, so I started to hope for a glide-down into the valley. When I finally arrived at the ridge, the next line of thunderstorms was visible. After short consideration, I voted against my sore feet and packed my glider in its sack again. Less than five minutes later we found ourselves in the middle of a hailstorm with thunder and lightning!

Day V
Because I was unable to stop right on time at 10:30pm due to the unexpected sudden change in weather the day before, I received a six-hour penalty for the following day! So my day started at 11:30am with the advantage that I had time to dry my equipment and repair a torn jacket and rain poncho with paraglider repair patches. Feeling more fresh and rested than normal, I rejoined the race. After a three-hour climb, I was finally able to fly again. Against expectations the weather was relatively good but sporty with a 30km/h southwest wind, but it was flyable! After two low saves and with the wind picking up even more (7 hPa south pressure difference), I decided to land after 3.5 hours in the air. Here I was standing at 1800m MSL in the middle of nowhere, directly below the main ridge of the Pyrenees – the border between Spain and France, and right in front of me I discover a 5-star hotel!

Day VI
Feeling good from a hot shower and well rested, I left the next morning at 5:30am to the sound of thunder and raindrops with the goal of reaching turnpoint Céciré. Unfortunately, it began to rain hard after 30 minutes and it didn’t stop the whole day. After a 15-hour hike in thick fog and rain with thunder, lightning and hail, we managed to scale the Céciré where it was finally dry. As a reward or maybe because they were worried about us, two members of the race committee were waiting for us at the pass. We enjoyed a beer together in the rain, then finally put on dry clothes! Because the tracker had reception and network problems in the border region, my GPS transmitter hadn’t worked the whole day. Fortunately, I was able to save a backup of the route on my Garmin watch.

The final day started, as usual, with rain… in the meantime we were close on the heels of two competitors, and the race for seventh place had begun. After a two-hour descent followed by a four-hour climb up the other side of the valley, I managed a long glide between rain clouds to the next valley. That put me 15 km in front of my two pursuers, which gave me time for a short break to rest and eat. After that I continued at a fast pace to Vielha and along the road to the pass Port de la Bonaigua at 2072m MSL. Via livetracking, I kept a close eye on the two behind me. My fear that a window of opportunity might open up behind me, proved false. The last few kilometers on the pass put all my strength and motivation to the test. When I arrived at the top, my two friends from the race committee were waiting for me – naturally with a beer! To secure my seventh place, I ran a few hundred meters down the pass. After a short team briefing, we all congratulated each other and gave the race committee our final coordinates. With that, the race was over for us.

After a good night’s sleep we set off at 8:00am and drove to Port de la Selva for the awards ceremony. After four hours and just over 300km of driving through the mountains, valleys and national parks, we arrived just before noon. It was very interesting to compare my own experiences with those of the other athletes. After the awards ceremony and an aperitif, we set out on the 850km journey home! The week was an unbelievable adventure with lots of new impressions and new friendships. Thrilled with making seventh place, I’m now looking forward to new adventures!”

Many thanks to my sponsors who have believed in me and for the support:

  • skywalk Paragliders
  • Gyso AG
  • Spies Hecker GmbH
  • Carrosserie Keller & Co
  • Roger P. Frey
  • Michael Maldini

Adrian Keller