A flying hike

THE rules of the Red Bull X-Alps challenge are right there on the beverage maker’s website: Go to Austria’s Dachstein Glacier. Fly a paraglider west as far as possible in the turbulent air high over the Alps, land wherever you can. Walk most of the night carrying a 45-pound pack containing paraglider gear. Hike a mile up the nearest peak with the glider on your back, take off, and repeat until reaching the beaches of Monaco, 528 miles away.

For two weeks beginning Aug. 1, 16 paragliders flew against prevailing winds and braved hardships that included hiking through snowstorms at midnight over Switzerland’s Furka Pass at 8,000 feet for a shot at paragliding history.

Averaging four hours of sleep a night, the pilots flew as much of the course as they could, then landed and walked or ran as far as necessary to find a suitable launch site. On average, they covered more than 24 miles a day on foot.

Although not permitted to use alternate forms of transportation, the pilots were allowed to have a support person who could use any means of transportation except for flying. The supporter was allowed to supply food, equipment and information.


Kari Castle, right, was the only American and one of two women to compete in the event. Although Castle, who trains in Bishop, finished last, three competitors were forced to withdraw.

The winner was Alex Hofer, a Swiss physicist. Hofer completed the course in 12 days, landing on a pontoon boat hardly bigger than his glider, just off the beach in Monaco.

One participant, Aidan Toase of Great Britain, drew particular notice for finishing seventh even though he traversed 90% of the distance on foot, rather than gliding.

Toase walked more than 60 miles in one 24-hour period. Given a choice, he would have preferred to run.

“I couldn’t run as much of it as I wanted,” he says. “My knee gave out and I could only walk. If I could have just left the paraglider behind.”

The reward? Five thousand euros and a bird’s-eye view of summits such as France’s Mont Blanc and Mont Gros and Zugspitze in Germany.

-- Janet Cromley