4.15 am, the alarm goes off once, then again, a second and a third time. Time to jump out of bed. A quick cold shower, hoping it would help me wake up faster. On my way downstairs I grab a prepared breakfast at Naturhotel Miraval, and I greet my travel companions. They’ve been impatiently waiting for me to start the day, afraid to miss the sunrise at the Gran Cir. Off we go! 

We start our climb in the dark, with dawn just lurking around the corner. As we gain height, the sky starts to wake up too, becoming more colourful. The grey becomes blue, then turns to red and pink as we climb higher and higher. You can feel the excitement of a new day beginning. We literally have not a minute to lose, so instead of a hike, it turns into more of a trail run. Why did I let myself hit snooze so many times? We make haste, attaching and detaching ourselves on ropes that are mounted into the rocks to make sure we don’t slide down the steep mountainsides. We gasp for air. We were supposed to do this in two hours, yet here we are three-quarters of the way up in just 35 minutes.  Almost there. Near the top, it becomes very steep with virtually no trail left. I have to jump from rock to rock, trying to balance myself on the edge of the cliff.  

I detach myself one last time and run behind our mountain guide as the sky turns violet. In spite of the steep climb and the rush against the morning light, he hasn’t taken his hands out of his pockets once.  I take the final steps as a cross looms up in front of me, a sign we have reached the top of the Gran Cir. My heart is still racing, but the sun rays start gleaming, and I savour the feeling of warmth on my face. Time to dig into this breakfast I have in my backpack and add some energy to my body while I take in the beautiful landscape. 

This must have been, hand on the heart, the most scenic hike I have done in my life.

 What Comes Up Must Come Down 

Spoiler alert: you can’t actually fly down from the  top of the Gran Cir. We walk down, which unsurprisingly is a lot easier than going up, but no less dangerous. I slide down for a few meters but am able to keep my balance. Sam drops his bag with his camera and tech gear, but it luckily survives the fall. We stop at Jimmy’s hütte for a well-deserved second breakfast, which is more of a lunch for us, even though it turns out to be only 10 am. 

After a few phone calls, my heart starts racing again, this time not because of the effort but because of the excitement. It appears that the flying conditions that day are perfect. I realise that in less than 30 minutes I’ll be hanging in the air, with only a parachute and the elements deciding my fate. I meet the instructor, a big man who explains that I need to start running as soon as he gives the sign. So we wait for the right gust of wind. The instructor points at a flag which signals the optimum conditions. Honestly, for me the flag is just waving in all directions,  I can’t make any sense of it, so I have to put all of my faith in him. Then, all of a sudden, he says RUN. The take-off strip isn’t more than 10 meters long, so I start going for it. I’ve no idea how hard I need to run, but it doesn’t matter in the end. After just three steps my feet leave the earth, and I’m left dangling like a puppet, the only sound being the wind whistling past my ears (and me screaming with joy and excitement). We fly across mountain tops and over forests to the other side of the valley. We let the warm air currents take us back up and down again. It must be how it feels to be a bird. I sit back, relax and enjoy the flight.