The weather cleared and Jon asked Barbara and Mary Jo if they would like to go on a "short hop" which ended 5 1/2 hours later when we met them at the Saanenmoser ski area parking lot (shades of Gilligan's Island!)..
Well, so much for the short hop! It looked like a wonderful day for a flight, somewhat overcast, fluffy clouds above, called the tower for launch as they gave us approval to launch, they told me the barometric pressure for setting the altimeter. This is somewhat of a challenge with the barometric pressure is 1017Hpg meaning 1017 hector pascals. Of course you need to quickly converter that into inches of mercury which indicated that there was a low pressure building over the valley. Climbed up to 1200 alg with a westerly flow towards Monteboven. Knowing the airflow through the mountain canyon to the west was not sufficient to carry us over Monteboven through the cut to the canyon to Gruyere, we continued to climb through 3600 feet catching an easterly flow back over the field headed to Rougemont. The plan today was to fly for about an hour with Barbara and Mary Jo and land, change passengers and PIC "Pilot in Command" to Patrick. Well sometimes the best laid plans go array and someone else has a different plan for your flight today. Continued up towards Rougemont and found a gorgeous valley to land in with beautiful chalets but no place to land since the snow level was up to the top of the chalets and no one had been into these buildings since the beginning of winter.
What a flight and a great adventure. Who knew? You could not only balloon through clouds but also enjoy hiking, snowshoeing, snowmobiling, a geography lesson and a helicopter ride all in the matter of a few hours? We landed on a mountainside just below a snowcat trail on Hornberg mountain above Saanen and Gstaad. It looked like the best option we had as we were in close proximity to a large chalet that might be accessible by road and power lines on the other side. Not so much! After landing on the mountain, I was blessed with a couple of gallons a fuel left to stay inflated so the crew could find us. I had not seen the crew or a road for some time. The Hotel Hornberg by the Hornflug is a group of large chalets that are open year round but are only accessible via auto in the summer. In the winter, you must use the cable car to reach it.
Mary Jo and Barbara got out of the basket and attempted to put on snowshoes to go to the Hotel for assistance while I tried to stablize the balloon and continue to think about deflating on the side of the mountain and what that might entail with retrieval. They found the snow too deep so they hiked and used the snowshoes as poles to get up to the snow cat walk. Actually, I think they just wanted to make reservations for a summer trip back to the Hotel Hornberg! We could communicate with the crew which were just down the mountain in Turbach but with no means to reach us. We soon were greeted by a Swiss German fellow on a snowmobile who assisted me and my passengers. He indicated that he could get a snow cat up to us but it only willing to move the basket and envelope a short distance. Since the sun was setting and it was getting much colder, I called the tower to send a helicopter from Chateau d'Oex to retrieve us and bring us "gently back into the loving arms of Mother Earth" as the Balloonists prayer suggests. I spoke with the helicopter via aircraft radio and they wanted to take the "survivors" first! However, when they arrived with a much blinding prop wash, they decided to cable up to the basket burner uprights that I had prepared for the lift out and envelope. It only took a few short minutes for the lift out up and over the mountain down to the parking lot below.
We met the crew at the bottom of the Saanenmoser Ski Area parking lot around 6 pm, a bit cold but in good shape. Silas told his grandmother that he was soooo jealous of her flight! He is hoping that his flight over the Alps is at least as eventful (the Crew isn't!)
Pierre and Magali were indispensable, as usual! We could not have done it without them. And need I mention that Gina's German was almost automatic when we pressed her into service in Turbach! See, it is just like riding a bike! The restaurant owner was so kind and helpful (and the hot chocolate was not bad, either!) Al is our hero since he can turn a Honda and trailer around on a dime and stop just inches from a Mercedes SUV that is coming the opposite direction on a one lane road! Patrick was our communicator and coordinator! Great job guys!
Monday night is the Pilots Dinner at the top of Chateau d'Oex ski area. We got back to Chalet, cleaned up and dressed in our finest cowboy duds only to find that they closed the tram to the top of the mountain minutes prior to our arrival. Oh well, we will have to wait till next year to join in the food fight!