Fight and Flight

Last year I sustained some serious tendon damage to my right hand meaning that I was forced to take 12 months out from rock climbing. At first I was understandably devastated as rock climbing brings me so much happiness and fulfilment on a regular basis, but it wasn’t long before I opened my eyes to the opportunities that came hand in hand with this set-back.  Because I wasn’t going to be able to rock climb I figured I may as well dedicate myself to learning a new skill which one day could compliment or even enhance my climbing exploits. So that’s the back story to how I got into speedflying.

This spring’s expedition to Greenland opened my eyes to the unbelievable fun that can be had when combining mountaineering and speedflying. My mission now is to really push this discipline, which I’ve named ‘Speedwing Alpinism’, to a whole new level.

A few weeks ago I drove out to Chamonix with my alpine climbing buddy Wilki to explore the possibility of foot-launched speedwing alpinism. Up until now all the alpine launches I’ve done have been on skis, but this itself precludes you from climbing particularly technical routes (climbing with skis on your pack and ski boots on your feet isn’t fun). So our question was this: when attempting a flight from a snowy alpine summit, can we run fast enough to launch our wings by foot?
——————-Wilki flying on our training day.  Wilki flying on our training day

We intended to climb the North Face of the Grandes Jorasses and launch off the top, but a heavy dump of snow and a Northerly wind put an end to that plan. There are no North facing launch sites on the mountain, and the South side would have been dangerously avalanche prone meaning that we would have been climbing into a trap where we could neither fly off nor safely descend on foot to the South. So with only two days of good weather to play with we picked out the Eugster Direct on the North Face of the Aiguille du Midi.

——————-Approach 1  Finn and Wilki Eugster

The climb got off to a bad start as I was hit in the shoulder by a head-sized lump of granite which had fallen from 20 metres above me. The impact knocked me off my feet leaving me hanging upside down from my ice-screw and ripped a hole through three layers of clothing. At least it didn’t hit me in the face! Adrenaline got me through the rest of the day as my shoulder slowly stiffened up.

——————-Finn McCann climbing the Eugster Direct  Wilki climbing the Eugster Direct

The rest of the route went wonderfully smoothly. The route was in pretty good condition with only a few sections of very thin delicate ice which had to be climbed with great care, despite this we climbed fast and topped out onto the summit ridge before 3pm.  Out came the wings and we scouted out a good launch area. Wilki drew the short straw and launched first, then it was my turn. I must say it felt amazingly un-daunting running off the edge of 1000m mountain face! The views were spectacular and I didn’t want the flight to end, but 8 minutes and 2,700 vertical metres later Wilki and I simultaneously touched down in Chamonix.

——————————————–Wilki Eugster Direct  Finn McCann high up on the Eugster Direct

—————— Wilki Eugster 2  Finn McCann on the top pitch of the Eugster Direct

——————-Wilki Summit Flight 1  Wilki Summit Flight

——————-Finn McCann looking down the North Face of the Aiguille du Midi  Finn McCann Summit Flight

So, the experiment worked. Foot-launched speedwing alpinism is a goer! Now let’s see where we can take it!

Arctic AIR

It’s been some time since I last uploaded a blog entry onto here, so it’s time to remedy that! I’ll be writing a few times over the next few weeks with various updates, but to begin with… What happened in Greenland?

Well, in a nutshell, we had the adventure of a lifetime. Having picked out the perfect base using satellite imagery, Niall and I flew out to Kulusuk on the East coast of Greenland with the task of finding our way out to our intended camp.  We finally made it by means of snowmobile, boat, and a long ski down a frozen fjord. Our base camp was perched on a steep sided moraine in the middle of a gargantuan valley, the scale of which we never quite got our heads around, with monstrous peaks rising thousands of feet out of the sweeping white and blue glaciers. Totally surreal, and we had the place to ourselves.

                                Niall McCann en route to our base camp  Niall McCann man hauling on day 1

                                Base Camp  The Foxes Jaw

Over the next ten days Niall and I basically just ran around having as much fun as we could. We summited two beautiful, unnamed peaks and flew off the very tops of each with our speedwings. We had three more flights from high mountain slopes, which proved to be rather more dramatic than we had planned. We made the first ascent of a 100m ice cascade which we named ‘The Ephemeral Avalanche’ and went at around Scottish V/VI. And we spent the rest of our time downhill skiing, kite-skiing, eating Haribo, and exploring the local ice caves!

                                Fox's Jaw Approach  Finn McCann on 'The Ephemeral Avalanche' Pitch 2

                                Niall and Finn McCann climbing a new route  Niall and Finn McCann on an unnamed summit

                                Finn McCann flying  Niall McCann flying

                               Fox's Jaw Climbing  Niall McCann on an unnamed peak  Finn McCann climbing a new route in Greenland

                                Polar Bear tracks  Niall and Finn McCann

If you’d like to read a more detailed account of the expedition follow this link to an article I wrote for UKClimbing: http://www.ukclimbing.com/articles/page.php?id=6773

Below is the trailer for ‘Arctic AIR’ which will be released in the next few months. Huge thanks to WillCopestakeMedia who produced the film and to Tom Adams for providing the most beautiful soundtrack. Whack the volume up and enjoy it in full HD.

Need for Speed!

Hi everyone! It’s now less than two weeks until Niall and I depart for our big Greenland expedition and the planning and preparation is reaching a state of fever pitch! This is going to be the first of two blogs that I write over the next week; my aim today is to introduce the third and arguably most exciting component of our upcoming expedition… speedflying.

Before I describe what exactly speedflying is, I quickly want to explain why it is that I’ve decided to introduce a new discipline into my trips away at all. So, I can basically attribute it all to picking up an injury seven months ago, not an exciting injury as such, but one that meant that technical, tips of the fingers climbing, has been out of the question. Basically, I trained a little too hard and developed acute tendinitis in my right hand which resulted in severe pain whenever I tried to use one finger in particular. On picking up the injury, I was immediately aware that it was going to take a while to recover, so I decided that I could either sit at home doing nothing or I could learn a new skill.

As it was, because of the awful weather we’ve had, I pretty much did just sit at home doing nothing… but in between work and bad weather I have managed to get out enough to feel that I’m now ready to use my new found skills in anger!

So, speedflying is basically paragliding, but with a wing that has just a fraction of the surface area.  The result of this is that a) it weighs next to nothing, and b) you go really fast. Basically the perfect combo for descending off a mountain that you’ve just climbed. The speedwing can be launched on foot, or on skis; the latter allowing you to rapidly descend terrain via a combination of skiing and flying. Awesome!

My training started by sneaking around the Shropshire hills, hurtling off the slopes and trying to avoid getting caught by land owners. By far the most valuable training though took place in the Chamonix valley under the incredibly capable supervision of my good friends Tag and Elling from Norway.  These guys are helicopter pilots by profession which basically gives them loads of free time to get outdoors and scare themselves silly; they are both incredibly experienced skiers, climbers, windsurfers, BASE jumpers, sky divers and most importantly… speedflyers!

Below are a few shots from the trip courtesy of Tag, and some screen grabs from my head cam.

          

Tag and Elling  Tag skiing the Midi Ridge

Muzz Skinning in the Vallee Blanche  Muzz and Tag on the Midi

Finn 'skiing'  Finn giving a perfect demonstration of how to descend a slope with skis

Elling launching  Finn flying towards the Mer de Glace

Finn flying in the Vallee blanche  Screen grab from Finn's Vallee Blanche flight

On returning to the UK I immediately downsized to a smaller wing, basically so that I can go faster, and hooked up with Niall to have a play back in the hills around Shrewsbury.

Niall leading the way  Finn on the new smaller wing

Finn (green) and Niall (orange)  Finn (green) and Niall (orange)

The wing is currently in the repair shop as a result of a frustrating incident that occurred last week on the summit of Snowdon, but will be packed up and ready to rip up the Greenlandic skies in two weeks’ time!

I once again want to draw everyone’s attention to the fantastic charity ‘Climbing Out’ who I’m raising money for in memory of my Dad. Please donate what you can for a fantastic cause at www.justgiving.com/Finn-McCann.

Huge thanks must go to Tag and Elling for being legendary mentors, Muzz for his awesome company as always, and lastly UK Airsports and NEO for their flying kit contributions.  Stay tuned for a short film documenting Niall’s and my training over the past few months.

Mammut

‘Climbing Out’ in memory of my dad

It’s been a tough six months to say the very least. Our Dad passed away in late November, just six months after topping out on El Capitan; an enormous achievement for anyone but a feat of superhuman strength and determination for someone in such an advanced stage of a terminal cancer.

His life was more of an inspiration to me than I could ever express in words, and his inspiration will live on in the countless individuals that he impacted during his lifetime.

Alongside my mum, he gave us boys a real appreciation for how amazing life and the world around us can be, and instilled a strong passion for adventure which brings each of us massive fulfilment. Although it’s felt like life has been somewhat derailed over the past few months, it’s time now to get back on track as I enter into another year of expeditions and adventure.

The year has gotten off to a rather cushy start as Rory and I were asked to speak on a cruise ship in the Caribbean; we reluctantly obliged and spent a week sailing around the Eastern and Southern islands.

I’ve just had a great weekend filming the last few bits and pieces for our Cirque of the Unclimbables film with my fantastic team mates Wilki, Sam Hamer and Murray Smith. The film is due to be completed by mid-March.

The BIG trip of the year will be taking place in April when Niall and I will be combining a number of different disciplines in the remote, rugged, and relatively unexplored mountains of Eastern Greenland. Mammut, the official kit sponsor for the expedition, have pulled out all the stops once again and provided me with an insane selection of cutting edge equipment from -35 degree sleeping bags to ultra-lightweight ropes, top of the range avalanche rescue technology, Mammut Eiger Extreme mountaineering boots, and much more.

Watch this space for more updates about our upcoming Greenland Adventure…

Lastly, I want to use this upcoming expedition as a vehicle to raise some funds and awareness for a fantastic charity that I’m now involved with. ‘Climbing Out’ does invaluable work with young people who have suffered from life changing illnesses, mainly cancers, running residential programmes aimed at enriching these young people’s lives through adventure in the outdoors.

Please do visit my JustGiving page www.justgiving.com/Finn-McCann and make a donation in memory of my incredible Dad.

Some of the new kit that's recently arrived for the upcoming expeditions.

Mammut

Unclimbable Trailer

Here’s the first trailer of our Cirque of the Unclimbables trip. There’ll be another teaser coming soon before we release the full length film. Don’t ask me how long the final cut will be… I’ve had no role in the production of these films! A big thumbs up to Muzz and co. for all their great work! If you have any issues with playing the video follow this link to the vimeo site: http://vimeo.com/73786253

Mammut

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