10 Years Ago: Didier Favre

Tuesday 7 October, 2003

Didier Favre on a 444 km hang gliding migration. The film is 24 mins long

Stephen Winkworth remembers the hang gliding CAP 1111 – the great trans-Alpine flight of the poet-vagabond of vol-bivouac, Didier Favre. Published in Cross Country 2003

In June 1993 Didier Favre sets off from Sospel near Monaco for the vol-bivouac journey that was to end on September 2 in Jesenice, Slovenia. The start is inauspicious.

Forced by low cloud to land in a plum orchard, he takes a taxi back to collect a forgotten nose cone. Next, a quarry worker finds him, dozing in the riverbed of the Var. The worker asks if he is hurt, and Didier explains that, no, he was just having a little sleep before carrying his glider and gear up the mountain opposite (the T’te de Travers, 1413m). Horrified at the idea, the worker goes back to the sweat and dust of his quarry.  In ten years, reflects Didier, he’ll still be there, yet the thought of my few hours of gear lugging upsets him.

Didier empathized with shepherds. He often slept in their mountain huts.  They would be left open, while hunters would lock theirs against intruders.  Before long he is in the magical Lavecq valley, where the shepherds work on horseback.  Here he meets his old friend Yannick, who taught him to play blues on his harmonica – which Didier delights to do as he soars the inaccessible mountain peaks leading from Allos north and east to the ski resort of Les Arcs.  Here the inimitable Didier meets one of the last Beaufort cheesemakers, and spends the night in the cheese room next to an enormous cauldron.

By the end of July he reaches Val d’Isère, and finally leaves France. The thermals take him past the glacier seracs of the Gran Paradiso to a cluster of beautiful lakes and a mountain refuge. On the other side of the Val d’Aosta he circles with three eagles, and finally crash lands just short of the Grand St Bernard pass, bending two uprights (he carries spares).  Next, he manages to land in a field of white mushrooms which he gobbles up raw, arriving just in time to gate-crash a Swiss milkmaid’s birthday party in a tepee.  A peace pipe is passed round, and he falls blissfully asleep watching the shadows of the fire on the white canvas walls.

On August 17th, flying precariously over the tiny stream that later turns into the Rhine, he soars on towards a cabin at the foot of a glacier that marks the Swiss-Austrian border.  Here he again crashes, this time into some cables, and decides to carry the mangled glider over the pass into Austria. He fails, and after some dangerous struggles on the steep mountainside, spends a wretched night. Bivouac flying, he reflects, is often more dangerous on the ground than in the air.

But it’s part of the game: the time and energy spent here is insignificant “compared to all the time in the world I actually have to spend.”  He then loses his beloved red cap (“night cap, cold cap, sun cap, water cap, radio carrier, good luck hat, eye protector, nose protector, friend and witness to all my adventures”). He had placed it on a rock to photograph it, and a nasty wind blew it away.

Now into September, after further adventures, including a donkey ride up the Lanza Pass near the Italian border with Slovenia, Didier takes off near Tarvisio, is nearly forced down, goes back in search of a thermal, finds a boomer and crosses the border – singing at the top of his lungs.

The nasty wind that swept away your cap, Didier, was the bad omen you took it for, and your time in the world was soon to end. The following August 5th, this poet-vagabond of sky and mountain flew his last and fatal flight.

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