As life passes us by all too often we are consumed by the everyday mundane things like shopping, washing the car, and catching the soaps on TV. We get so absorbed by every individual step we sometimes forget just how important it is to remember the journey we embarked on. We start to focus too much on the little things in life – which ketchup to have on our Burger or which department to write to at the council when our wheelie bin isn’t collected.
To that end it came as a shock when at the Caravan Show Martin Colson from Swift Motorhomes announced that my European Challenge for 2016 would be Paragliding off the Eiger mountain in Switzerland.Why a shock? – well for one I was expecting a gentle cruise around Spain in a Swift Escape……….. and two I’m properly scared of flying. Heights are the one thing I genuinely fear – Well, not so much heights more the fear of flying in all forms. I cannot get pasts how on earth you stay up 1000’s of meters in the air and that things go wrong theres normally only one outcome!!. In the 2000’s when I flew out to Egypt for Winter windsurf Slalom training my wife would come along simply to errr…..hold my hand on take-off.
My Challenge was to take a 2016 Swift Bolero 744 down to Switzerland across France then into Germany before heading south down to Switzerland before pitching camp close to the famous North Face of the Eiger mountain – made famous (or infamous) by the deaths of over 67 climbers over the last 100 years. One as recently as 2006, Mathew Hayers fell over 2000ft to his death whilst accending the Upper Ice Feild when his climbing companion slipped and fell pulling him over the edge. A Channel 4 crew were filming for a documentary at the time………
We were to take 4 days to get there, spend 2 days on and around the Eiger, then return through France enjoying the Champagne region and sail via Calais to Dover for our final leg of the journey.
My preparations went well and come the day of departure myself, Sara my wife and her twin sister Sallie felt confident we were ready to embark of this most unusual of road trips. The Swift Bolero consumes miles like its on rails. I have said before how I’m a big fan of the FIAT cabs on motorhomes as they are basically designed with motorhomes in mind far more than other manufacturers. The seats are recumbent and you feel easily able to remain in them in comfort longer than some other cabs. The Fiat 3.0 TDi just wafts you along the road returning a very impressive 29mpg – that much for a motorhome which is 26ft long and weighs 2.6 Tons. We covered a decent 479 miles on day 1 which considering the Ferry crossing ain’t ar’f bad, free camping just outside Nancy, France for the night. The Maxview Precision satellite dish was deployed and entertained us for the evening with delights such as Coronation street.
The next day the Bolero guided us into Germany and down into Basel ,Switzerland. The first thing you notice with Switzerland is just how clean it is. Not a scrap of rubbish anywhere to be seen and even the rubbish is neatly stacked up outside the City’s houses for collection by the bin men. The other thing you notice after spending a few hours in the Country is just how they love rules!. In truth its not such much rules but systems – everything, every process, every public amenity has been automated beyond necessity. And whats more astonishing is that ALL Swiss people love having these controls and actively encourage all visitors to abide meticulously with them.
The weather had been wet and windy through Europe but once in Switzerland it turned to bright clean skies and temperatures which sawed to 29 degrees at Midday. As we drove the single lane roads closer to the Eiger we noticed everyone was mowing their lawns – no – I mean everyone!
Upon enquiry we later found out that it had rained in this area for the last 6 weeks and folk were glad to cut their grass. We checked into Grindelpatz campsite – a site with stunning views of the Eiger Face in the distance. You really don’t get views like this from a hotel. Lush green meadows with a stunning backdrop of the the valley ending with the North face of the Eiger looking straight back at you.That afternoon we headed to Grindelwald to try and source a pilot to paraglide me to certain death off the Eiger!
Outside the Victoria Hotel, a beautiful Elizabethan hotel made famous by the royalty who regularly frequented its rooms to watch doomed mountaineers fall to their death at the height of Eiger fever in the 1920’s. There we met David, a French Paragilding champion and friend who takes classes in the sport as well as competing around the world. We agreed to meet at 4.30PM for the last flight of the day. This I wanted for two reasons: 1: – I wanted to get my skyfall over and done with so my wife could plan my funeral….. and 2: – Its was a ‘no wind’ day which I guessed meant safer flying conditions.
I wont bore you with the car journey up the side of the mountain or the hap-hazzard way David checked his paraglider before flight, but will say that due to thermals etc we were required to take-off from a mountain adjacent to the North Face and fly across to it over the valley before catchings its thermals and ascending the face. We ran like crazy to take-off, and as the lush grass slowly fell away from under my feet I didnt feel any fear at all…… thats was not until we then cascaded over the precipice and suddenly had 3000 mtrs of air beneath me!!
The flight lasted 20 minutes which was 20 minutes too long in my view – don’t get me wrong this place is the most beautiful place in Europe to paraglide and the view of the North Face is stunning but would I do it again – not in a million!! Its funny how after launching 3000mtrs up in the valley, 500ft above the town strangely becomes a doddle…… I kissed the ground when I landed – oo..errr!
That night we celebrated by drinking wine outside the Bolero in the warm evening sunshine in the company of some lovely German and Italian couples we got speaking to on the caravan site earlier in the day . I was soaking up the rather smug feeling that had come over me after conquering my biggest fear – My fear of flying ………well for 20 minutes anyway! Our Duverlay beds called us in around 12.30AM and we snuggled up for a great nights sleep in the Bolero.
The next day was about taking the Jungfrau train up the inside of the North Face to relive the moments when the rescue teams took a special train which tunnelled its way through the mountains core and had small windows cut out from where the rescuers would climb out to gain access to the stricken mountaineers.
The trip which takes 5 hrs and costs €180 each takes you right from the green lush meadows of the valley up to the tunnel station where you change trains and board the much smaller train that will burrow its way right through the Eigers belly up to the Highest point in Europe. The Jungfraujoch weather station which featured in the james Bond film ‘You only live Twice’ is perched on the tip of the ridge of Piz Gloria as if balanced in this ice world one third of a mile into space!
The air is so thin up here you feel your brain slowly starving itself of oxygen resulting in a feeling I can only describe as a mix between headache and dizziness. I caught the photos I needed as the snow reflected the light from the clear blue sky. It was then my eye caught a guy crawling up the side of the ridge of the mountain 500ft away from the weather station. I watched him as he opened his rucksack and pulled out a……. OMG!!! He going to paraglide of the ridge!!! NO……..
The guy took some 20 minutes to gather the nerve to jump but jump he did – straight off the face of the Eiger’s summit…… 3751 mtrs up with notorious up draughts which scoop you off the ridge to your death in 1 second! This really is a place everyone must add to their Life bucket list as its a stunning location in itself, but on the right day with the sun shining this place is simply awe-inspiring!!
As we left the starkness of the ice and snow which caps the mountain tops an returned to the 31 degrees of heat and lush meadows of the valley of Schilhorn you get an overwhelming sense you have experienced a place that may not be open to the public in 20 years due to the Health & Safety Police.
Back at the caravan site we settled back to cooking a Lasagna with salad. the Stoves cooker is really simple to use and the heat within the oven remarkably even cooking the contents just like at home. After another great nights sleep in the rear single beds we set off for the 700 mile drive home which passed without drama, diversion or discomfort
The comfort of the Bolero is often overlooked. Its simple functionality and germanic efficiency would lead you to believe this was a motorhome with a price tag way above its station. It consumes miles like a GT Tourer and with comfort close to a GT tourer as well with its special comfort seats upholstered to match the rest of the interior. Yes, there are rattles in transit but not half as much as previous vehicles I’ve used in the past. I’m really quite taken with this Bolero. Its luxurious enough, big enough (for 3 adults), manoeuvrable enough and fast enough. In fact its not just ‘enough’ but ‘more than enough’ for the money in my opinion.
My next Challenge is February 2017 taking the NEW Swift Basecamp caravan out onto the slopes of Scotland – look out for the story to come…..