The airfield lies in a valley at about 790m (2600 feet) AMSL. It is surrounded by mountains with peaks to 4300 feet directly to the south and about 5300 feet to the north.
Ursula and her aunty dropped me off there where I met Siegi who was to take me for a fly. Siegi spoke a little English and I spoke a little German so we just about managed.
After signing the obligatory blood book we got ourselves ready and were towed away by an American (!) registered Pawnee. An odd experience to be towed up about 2000 feet and then still be able to buzz over the roof tops of a group of holiday cabins just before we released.
We didn’t have a real plan, other than a gentle jaunt out to the east and possibly back again to the west if the day held.
I am familiar with some of this mountainous area of the Steiermark as we had visited Ursula’s family a number of times and done the sight seeing stuff from the ground. This usually involves driving along the valleys to the place of interest. It was a new perspective to see how physically close some of the places were to each other, often only a few kilometres apart, but in valleys on opposite sides of a mountain ridge, so, usually impossible to travel directly between them.
After releasing we worked the lift from the valley slopes to the north of the field. There were a number of other gliders from Turnau there with us. When we gained sufficient height using a combination of ridge lift and thermals we pushed out to the east heading along the alpine mountain ridges.
I don’t think Siegi took any logger along for the flight, but by having a look at my photos the trip went approximately like this -
We initially went north east, I recognised the Neuberg as it has a large church monastery, the “Muenster”, which I had visited a couple of times with Ursula previously. Staying high we followed the mountain ridges until they started to run out. This placed us in an area more than half way to the large Austrian city of Wiener Neustadt. From here we were above the eastern extremities of the European alps (I flew in the western extremities of these same Alps in France back in 2006). We could see where the mountains ended and the flat land stretched out toward Wiener Neustadt and beyond into Hungary. Turning around, our path took us over the Rax Alps, the most eastern point of the alps above 6000 feet. We ran along the ridge of the Heukuppe at 6500 feet which was mostly clear of snow although there was enough that I could see tracks on some of the steeper slopes which showed skiers had been there not that long before. Hikers were out along the trails and waved to us as we went past the large square stone cairn at the highest point.
From there we continued back towards Turnau, but got low in a valley near Veitsch. We were down to about 4000 feet, but the valley floor was at 2300 feet so we had to start thinking about what to do next. Landing out on the tops of the hills is totally a non option as they are covered in forest and there are no flat areas or roads. The only reasonable places are in the narrow valley bottoms which typically have a river or road winding along them and small fields either side. That is, providing there aren't small villages or farms restricting any potential landing area. The fields are typically 200 to 400 metres long and a few tens of metres wide with strong slopes across them. In any case we were able to finally scratch away and returned to Turnau. The flight so far had only taken about an hour and a quarter so Siegi decided we should gain height again up the face of the northern slopes of the valley and head north west into the more remote parts of Styria, the Hochschwab mountains.
We got to the highest point on these mountains, which is itself called the Hochschwab, at about 7500 feet. There was still thick snow in large patches on the mountains, even in late spring.
The Austrians tend to put markers on all the high peaks of mountain ranges, like the cairn on Heukuppe, and the Hochschwab has a large iron cross, six metres tall, erected in 1950. I was able to show my poor quality pictures of the summit to Ursulas mum who was most impressed as she was born and grew up at the foot of those mountains.
On a large plateau, 500 feet below the peak is a large alpine “hut”, the Schiestlhaus, which is used by hikers in summer and as a refuge in winter. The hostel can only be reached by walking or helicopter (that included the building materials of the house too!). A cableway which was built in the early 2000s was blown away in less than one year by the 200kph winter winds that occur there in the mountains.
We left the high mountains and headed towards a large open cut mine, the Erzberg, which made a good landmark and turn point. We didn’t quite get there, we turned a few km short. On the way there I spotted two other places I was familiar with.
The first was the tiny village of Sankt Ilgen. Easy to recognise because we had visited it many times to light a candle for Ursula's mum's older brother, who died in the 1918 flu epidemic and who lies in a now unmarked grave in the churchyard there.
The second place was the Gruenersee. A large alpine lake which we visited a few days before this flight. It is normally a small lake with a park around it in summer but during the spring, as the mountains thaw, the water level rises to completely inundate the park. It then becomes a mecca for scuba divers who dive the clear mountain lake and swim around the park benches and amongst the trees! (do an image search on Google, it is amazing)
From the Erzberg we started our dog leg final glide, first toward the larger Mur River valley where we could see the large town of Leoben, then direct from there north east back to Turnau. Overflying Ursula’s auntie's house on the way.
Overall the flight was 2.5 hours and we covered somewhere between 150 and 200 km over areas of Austria which are both spectacular and usually difficult to get to.
By the way, the slogan on Siegi's shirt;
"Bodenallergie. Da Hilft nur Fliegen" - Ground allergy. The only relief is flying.