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Dave Turner, the lone wolf adventurer
Self-styled 'lone wolf adventurer' Dave Turner has clocked plenty of mountain miles. But when it comes to competition he's still a rookie. Will it be enough to achieve success at the Red Bull X-Alps? Well, he does have a secret weapon...
American wildcard entry Dave Turner has flown over 5,000km in training over the past two years, including big trips in the Alps and his home mountains of the Sierras. What makes them different? They were flown almost exclusively solo. The big-wall endurance climber takes self-supported to a whole new level. We caught up with him (it wasn't easy) to get a learn a bit more about his exploits leading up the the 2015 Red Bull X-Alps.
You've never done a race, but you're no stranger to adventure...
Nope. I've spent entire seasons climbing in Patagonia, ski tours, and big flights across mountain ranges. I hold the California distance record at 278km over 7.5 hours, over 4,000m the entire flight. Our peaks are higher and packed tighter – more turbulent. Of all of our big-air spots, the Sierra are the most violent.
But never a race - how will you adapt?
That is definitely going to be new for me. Organized competition is new for me! I've only done two competitions in the US (and I did really well). But traditionally I've always climbed, flown, and skied alone. It's going to be stressful for me because of my solo style – people call me a lone wolf. With Red Bull X-Alps, I'm going to have a tougher time with the media hoops and the on-camera attention! Not the pressure of run now, launch now. I'm just ready for the race.
What's your secret weapon?
My supporter, Krischa Berlinger. No one but the Swiss ever win in Red Bull X-Alps! As a Swiss German, he was hiking and climbing the Alps, and more recently flying. So he knows the countries too. My secret Swiss weapon.
Skills-wise, how are you set up?
I love flying in turbulence – and I know endurance. I've done a lot of long distance endurance climbs, ski routes, and ridge traverses. El Cap and Half Dome in the same day. That's 1,700m of climbing, over 55 pitches of technical climbing. I've done that three times, as quickly as sixteen hours.
What are the challenges for you?
I don't do big trips with a bunch of different people. I always fly alone. I do things my way. I don't like media, rules or airspace [restrictions]. But it's great to race 32 other top pilots. The best thing I like to do is fly across the Alps every summer.
I don't have a black and white strategy – I want to try and stay in the front. It's easier to stay in front than try and catch up – it only happens when leaders make mistakes, and that won't happen with this field.
Will your big-mountain experience take you to launches other pilots won't touch?
It might not give me a downright advantage, but it lets me feel comfortable on exposed cliffs or steep terrain.
Take shortcuts, or haul ass on the super highways?
In my circle of friends, I'm known as comfortable in stressful situations with wings, weather, and topography. I'm a little more prone to flying bold and committed. I'll take opportunities that involve commitment and risk assessment – whether it's top-landing a glacier or getting pinned in a mountain valley doesn't really concern me. I've spent the last two summers three months flying the Alps, so I know the valleys. Once I made the risky choice to fly over the Matterhorn. Didn't make it! Had to land in the tight valley. Last year, Martin Muller did that same thing – flew down the Zermatt valley, and couldn't get over the Matterhorn. Had to fly all the way back to the Rhone valley. But there's definitely times where I've taken risks and squeaked through a 3,500m pass with 100m to spare. Making the risky decisions sometimes pay off.
Will you maintain your budget vol-biv style?
I won't have an expensive RV. I'm used to small, self-supported trips. Krischa and I are both young climbers, not businessmen! We'll camp. If I have 45 more minutes before the day's time is out, I'm not going to stop in a hotel, I'll take strategy over comfort, hike up and be closer to the launch in the morning. We're going to try and keep it vol-biv style – have fun and not worry too much.
You've flown a lot around the world, and in the Alps. What's your thoughts on flying our mountains?
Flying the Alps is a pleasure. Cloudbase is 3,500m, 6m/s thermals… The thermals, the base, all very straightforward. The Alps are complicated but what worries me is valley winds. I've had many good flying days in the Alps but landing in the strong valley winds. I've definitely had to land backwards a few times. The Red Bull X-Alps is about going forward!