Man crosses Alps using helium balloons tied to a chair

Clearly taking his cues from Pixar’s Up or the lesser known Danny Deckchair, American adventurer Jonathan Trappe found a unique way to cross the Alps. Last week, the 38-year old from North Carolina, strapped 54 helium balloons to a chair, took flight, and soared high above the iconic European mountain range.

Trappe began his journey in the town of Gap, located in southern France. Setting out before dawn, he quickly gained altitude, climbing as high as 15,000 feet, and drifted over the snow capped peaks, while the sun rose in the east. He continued on for 12 hours, before slowly descending into the village of Andezeno, on the Italian side of the Alps.

Floating above the remote mountain tops in the dark was probably unnerving enough, but the scariest moment of the flight came when Trappe narrowly avoided hitting a mountain. While drifting towards the border between Italy and France, he nearly collided with Monte Viso, a 12,602 foot high, pyramid shaped peak that towers above the surrounding summits. Fortunately, he sailed safely past, even if it was a little too close for comfort.

The successful crossing of the Alps is another first for Trappe, who last year became the first person to cross the English Channel by helium balloon as well. No word on what he’ll try next, but something tells me he hasn’t finished seeing how far his balloons will carry him.

So what’s it like to float above the Alps in a chair suspended by helium balloons? Check out the video below to find out.

[Photo courtesy of Barcroft]

Cluster Ballooning Requires Balloons and Bravery

Cluster ballooning is an extreme form of ballooning in which a single balloonist is attached by a harness to a cluster of relatively small helium-inflated rubber balloons. While the joy level of dangling from so much eye-popping color might be high — so is the danger level. Unlike traditional hot-air balloons, which possess vents for altitude control, cluster balloons rise uncontrollably, expanding as they go, forcing balloonists to cut balloons loose to maintain altitude and descend.

The most famous cluster balloonist must be Larry Walters, who, in 1982, without any prior ballooning experience, attached 42 weather balloons to a piece of patio furniture and lifted off. (Though he intended to rise only a few hundred feet — he soared nearly three miles into the air!) Today, the most prominent cluster balloonist is probably John Ninomiya — who we’ve mentioned before — and who is currently on a mission to cluster balloon from all 50 states. John, please come to Florida!

If you’re interested in learning more about this colorful hobby, check out Ninomiya’s website, which provides an introduction to cluster ballooning, explains how Ninomiya got started in the sport, and showcases his wicked octopus balloon. If you just want to watch him lift off in 2007, you need to be in the following locations:

  • May 5: Old Timers Balloon Rally, Roswell, NM
  • May 19: Collage of Culture, Madras, OR
  • May 26: Arts and Air Festival, Skowhegan, ME
  • June 9: Great Plains Balloon Race, Sioux Falls, SD
  • June 16: Quechee Balloon Festival, Quechee, VT
  • August 17: Buffalo Trace Balloon Race, Maysville, KY
  • August 24-26: Lifting Kids Up Hot Air Balloon Extravaganza, Joplin, MO