Flying and hiking across the Alps - how else to appreciate the world's most gorgeous mountain range?
When mountaineers talk about an enchainment, they're normally referring to a few peaks that can be linked in a single outing, offering spectacular views and quality climbing.
The Red Bull X-Alps takes the concept of the enchainment to a whole new level, linking dozens of alpine mountain ranges like a children's 'dot-to-dot' game across the whole of Alps.
It's easy to forget what an amazing range of mountains the Alps are. They stretch for over 1,500km in an arc from the east of Austria to the French Cote dʼAzur. They are one of the most popular mountain ranges in the world, attracting 120 million visitors a year.
Yet they are not really a single entity at all but rather a series of inter-linking ranges, each with its unique characteristics, customs and languages, even in the same country — as anyone who's tried to understand Swiss German will know. They're a melting pot of cultures from the Bavarians to the Tyroleans to the Savoyards, each with their own fiercely proud identity— not to mention wine and cheese.
The mountains themselves vary hugely from the dominating limestone spires of the Dolomites in northern Italy, a world heritage site, to the familiar chocolate box icons of Switzerland and France.
Crossing the Alps is something that fires the imagination. Hannibal and Napolean famously led their armies across the Alps — the Napoleonic troops consumed 22,000 bottles of wine at the St Bernard Pass. (They also left without paying — the bill was eventually settled in 1984.)
The athletes taking part in the Red Bull X-Alps are likely to have more 21st century hydration solutions. And their crossing is not a mere north-to-south.
The actual route of the Red Bull X-Alps varies with each edition. But in 2013 it begins in Salzburg, Austria as before, and heads south-east to the Dachstein glacier before turning towards Wildkogel, one of the most beautiful regions of Austria.
After that, it's across the Karwendel to the Zugspitze, Germany's highest mountain, then south-west towards Sulden, just inside Italy. The Ortler region is a breath-takingly wild nature reserve, but there’ll be no time to enjoy the views. Interlaken beckons.
Afterwards, it’s back into the wild, with a really difficult (for most, impossible) crossing south over the Bernese Oberland to the Matterhorn (4,478m), before athletes push for France and Mont Blanc. From there they blast past St Hilaire, the spiritual home of paragliding before heading across the Alps Maritimes to the French Cote dʼAzur.
There is no race quite like it — athletes fly thin, fold-up wings over the rocky pinnacles of the Alps, then hike till they drop, exhausted, in the valleys. And they do this day after day. It's the ultimate enchainment.
Follow the athletes in real time on Red Bull Mobile Live Tracking.