Upper MacKenzie Pemberton to Lilloet, June 25, 2022

 June 25 was one of those rare "red alert" days, where the weather lined up (light winds, high base) coupled with the fact that it was a weekend (= lots of retrieve options via the public) and it was late June (= lots of daylight hours to go XC).  In fact the longest day of the year had only been a few days before!

Weirdly enough, a lot of the "top guns" who would have been salivating at such a day were otherwise occupied...finishing up at Chelan comp #1, on their way down to Chelan comp #2, or traveling in Europe.

I had noticed the upcoming conditions the day before and had made a tentative plan to fly to Lilloet via the Duffy Lake Road, and even onwards to Cache Creek if the day allowed.  I announced my intention to some pilots at launch and had some interest, although there were other pilots interesting in flying to Whistler, to Squamish, or to Gold Bridge.  But I had a few people interested in coming along.

Light winds, high base, what's not to like?

Launched early, before noon, and was able to get up on the SE side near the towers.  It was a pretty easy climb out and I could see nice cu's forming and no overdevelopment in the Kamloops area or the Chilcotin (yay!).  However there was a rather unwanted east wind, and we were only getting to 2700 m or so, which made the idea of flying to the Duffy Lake road a bit less interesting.

We were a gaggle of 6 pilots, milling around behind launch, when, after some radio chatter about what to do, we opted to fly down the Anderson Valley to D'Arcy, since that was the alternate route to Lilloet as well as an alternate route to Gold Bridge and Bralorne.  Now, we don't often fly this valley for 2 reasons:

1. It's a narrow windy valley.

2.  It's full of power lines.

Neither feature make it an enjoyable valley to fly in regularly, but with the light winds, the fact we weren't planning to come back via the same valley, the fact cloudbase was supposed to get higher (the prediction was 3500+ m), and the fact we actually had a gaggle (= safety in numbers) to help with the transitions and finding lift, made flying this valley possible.

Once you get to Birkenhead Mountain, you actually get the odd "safe" LZ, but I was feeling good and staying high, and I knew from previous trips to Birkenhead Provincial Park that up ahead were really nice LZ's (off the main road, but on the way to the Park, which on a weekend would have lots of cars going in and out, so lots of retrieve options).  The clouds were still behaving, cloud base was getting a bit higher (I was getting to 3100m at Birkenhead Mountain), and I could see the route to Lilloet was looking good from a sky point of view.

From a LZ point of view: not so much!  After D'Arcy, you pretty much lose all LZs, and Anderson and Seton Lake have no LZ's and the surrounding mountains just drop right into the water.  There is a railway along the west side of both lakes, and in a real emergency, you could *maybe* put it down on the tracks (fortunately the train is very infrequent), but then you'd be faced with a multiple hour walk out along the tracks, either backtracking to D'Arcy or continuing to Seton Portage or Lilloet, depending on where you ended up on the tracks.  But it was the weekend (!) and there were oodles of boats on Anderson Lake.  I figured if I ended up on the tracks, I could probably get a boater's attention and then get a boat ride back to civilization.

The first jump to the north from D'Arcy was the scariest with leaving the safety of the LZs as well as losing a good chunk of my gaggle...we ended up splitting in half with the others saying they were going to fly to Gold Bridge, and those sticking with me (Chloe, Kiwi Tom, and Lorne) had never flown to Lilloet either.  So it was the blind leading the blind.  But after the first couple of jumps I was getting more comfortable and the skies were still looking great (we were getting to 3300m by now), and we were staying so high that the lack of LZs was more of "background noise" than a full-on concern.

The east wind we had experienced back at launch had never gone away, so even though the west side of Anderson Lake (facing east) was not the "standard" side to fly along, the east wind meant the thermals were actually flowing up that side of the terrain, the train tracks are beneath you (rather across the lake if you were flying the other side), and the fact it was near the longest day of the year meant the east-facing slopes were still in sun and working just fine.  I believe a lot of the other flights along this route are on the other side of Anderson Lake since that side faces west.

Up ahead I could see the land bridge that separates Anderson Lake and Seton Lake, with the community of Seton Portage nestled inside it.  I've never actually been to Seton Portage, so had no idea what there were for LZs, but it looks like (from the air) that there are a couple of fields you could land in.  The road in is over the mountain Pass from Carpenter Lake, so it's not an easy-accessible community, so the traffic in-and-out would be minimal, but again, with the weekend, I figured there would be some traffic out to get a ride if needed.

Seton Portage RASP...still light winds!

However we were staying high (cloud base was by not 3500m) and I could see all 3 lakes from my viewpoint: Carpenter Lake with brown water (its water level was very low...you could actually land all along its shoreline right now), Anderson Lake with blue water, and Seton Lake with glacier-green water.  Plus I could now see the Moha valley with all its fields, and the terrain in general was becoming more dry and less treed, good from a landing point of view!

Once past Seton Portage things were just excellent...a nice high cloud street, a light east wind, and I could see the beginnings of Lilloet and the safety of civilization and LZs.  The only thing that would have made things nicer would have been a light SW wind...as it was we had been fighting an easterly cross-wind for most of the flight which made "downwind" not really a thing and thus slower-than-usual groundspeeds for an open distance flight.  But hey: flying to Lilloet, shouldn't complain!

Flying over Seton Lake.  Seton Portage is directly under me.  You can see the FSR dropping into SP just past my pod.

As we dropped into Lilloet Lorne was asking what my intentions were.  It was only 5pm, continuing to Cache Creek was a possibility, so I decided to see what would happen on the crossing to the cliffs behind the Lilloet airport...it's a long crossing.  Somewhere along the way we had lost Kiwi Tom, but he had turned around shortly after D'Arcy and returned to Pemberton as he needed to be back in town that night and couldn't risk the possibly-long-retrieve.  So it was just myself, Chloe, and Lorne.

Lilloet RASP...light winds which is very rare!

Crossing Lilloet to the airport cliffs was a long glide, and with the lack of west wind it was slower than a usual downwind crossing would be.  I could see a nice cloud street continuing to Marble Canyon, but after that it was blue, no cloud streets, and meanwhile Lorne was saying we had a retrieve arranged if we landed in Lilloet.  That, coupled with the lack of a cloudstreet past Marble Canyon, the possibility of landing in between Marble Canyon and Cache Creek, and the fact we had just had a fantastically scenic flight over some unlandable terrain made me think "Yeah I'll stop now".  So rather than continuing into the blue, I switched modes to "tourist mode" and hung out over the cliffs at the airport, enjoying the view of the Fraser Canyon which we often don't get to see via paraglider!

BTW, Lilloet airport is an uncontrolled airport (like the Pemberton one) so we can land there.  There was little air traffic that I could see but with the fact it was a weekend and a likely time for recreational GA pilots to be going in and out, I decided landing closer to the main road and away from the runway would be the better option.  I could see a nice empty field at the T-intersection at the bridge over the Fraser River, but just as I was setting up my final approach a herd of horses popped out from the small building at one corner and started milling about the field.  Sooo, quickly popped over to my backup LZ (I try to always have a couple of backup options just for cases like this) and landed in the waist-high spearhead grass in zero wind.

Coming in over Lilloet and the Fraser Canyon.

Now for those of you who don't know, spearhead grass is the bane of clothing and shoes.  It sticks to everything and has a barb, so will not come out without a lot of work.  The few times I've landed in spearhead grass fields, I usually have to throw away my socks as they are pretty much unusable by that point (or spend hours pulling them out manually).  So after Lorne and I packed up we were walking out with sharp pokes with every step.  That's why I usually avoid speargrass fields if possible, but hey, as a backup LZ, they'll work in a pinch, and of course are not farmed so you don't have to worry about crops.

Lorne had called his friend in Lilloet so our ride was more-or-less ready for us when we reached the highway, so it was just a matter of finding Chloe.  Turns out she had landed on the other side of the river (her radio was not working so couldn't hear what we were doing for landings) so we were able to find her next to the gas station just at the entrance to the Duffy Lake road back to Pemberton.

Looking back at Lilloet from over the airport.  You can see the tip of Seton Lake where we came from.

All collected, we were back in Pemberton in about 2 hours, and before dark!  Many thanks to Lorne for arranging the retrieve!  Otherwise we would have been hitchhiking which usually adds a couple more hours to the whole retrieve, or gotten a hotel in Lilloet and retrieved the following day.

Looking over Lilloet and the 2 possible routes in from Pemberton.  Our route via Seton Lake on the right, the alternate route via the Duffy Lake road on the left.

While it was not a long flight (the straight line distance is only ~100 km), it was a very technical flight and over terrain that is pretty unforgiving.  A typical day in Pemberton you can't (or shouldn't) do the flight due to valley winds at both the beginning and ending of the flight...Lilloet is notorious for afternoon winds.  After having done the flight via the Anderson/Seton route, I must admit I think it may be safer vs the Duffy Lake Road route.  At least along 2 lakes you have the possibility of landing on the train tracks....along the Duffy there are only a handful of LZs and most of them are on the Pemberton end of things.  Once you get past the highpoint of the Pass, it's pretty much a canyon all the way to Lilloet and the only places to safely land at that point are up high.  I'm so glad I did the flight as the scenery is outstanding and I don't often do open distance flights due to the retrieve issue.  But once in a while it's good to get outside your comfort zone!

98km open distance flight to Lilloet.

Upper MacKenzie Pemberton, June 23, 2022

RASP for June 23.  You can see the overdevelopment spikes for the afternoon.

Light north aloft, which usually means it'll be a bit rough and bumpy, at least on the MacKenzie side.  This time was no different!  It was also rather on the unstable side, so in the Interior, down Lilloet Lake, etc, it was overdeveloping, so it wasn't going to be a big distance flight.  Plus it was COLD, like, -10°C at top of lift cold!

Sooo much snow still!  The Copperdome bivy site is still covered in snow, which means an easy toplanding and lots of snowmelt available for drinking, but you'd need to bring your winter camping gear to sleep on the snow.  But also with that much snow still, no mosquitos!

As predicted, the MacKenzie side was kinda rough, so after returning to launch I jumped over to the Miller side and Satellite mountain where the air was *much* nicer.  Fortunately because it's the height of summer, the east-facing slopes are in the sun for most of the day, so being on the Miller side in the afternoon still had plenty of thermic action.  Popped my head into the Rutherford Valley just to see what was going on, yep some OD to the south now down towards Whistler-way, time to go and land!

56km OR flight

Nova Scotia, May 31-June 13, 2022

 We had been unable to get to the Maritimes for the past 2+ years due to them having a "Covid Bubble" whereby non-residents were not allowed to enter.  But with the dropping of that restriction it was time to visit the parents and also do some Nova Scotia exploring!  Plus, with the predicted "June-uary" weather for Vancouver, Nova Scotia is actually the better destination for springtime sun!

Inverness just north of the golf course, Cape Breton.  
Launch coordinates which is off the green and public property...do not launch on the golf greens!

Nova Scotia weather is much more changeable vs. Vancouver.  Often it'll be sunny for a few hours then cloud over (or vice versa), hard rain, wind, etc, followed by more sun.  So if you don't like the weather, wait a few hours!  When we arrived we were just getting into a period of north wind, which means any flying to be had would be on the Noel Shore on the south shore of the Bay of Fundy.  (There is also a NW site at the Joggins Fossil cliffs, but that is a further drive.)

Inverness at the golf course, Cape Breton

For those who are unaware, the Bay of Fundy has the world's highest tides so when flying the Fundy coast, you need to know where the tide is, and whether it's coming in or going out.  It'll change up to 50 feet in 6 hours, which translates to ~8 feet per hour.  If you land when the tide is coming in, you may need to run to stay dry!  Get your tide information at the Bay of Fundy Tourism website.

Cabot Trail, Cape Breton

Kiting up from the beach at West Mabou Beach Provincial Park.  Launch coordinates.

The winds were a bit burly during our Noel Shore excursion, so we actually didn't fly, but we found lots of sites!  The great thing about Nova Scotia flying is that the people there are super friendly, and will welcome you onto their beachfront/cliffside/bluffside properties to fly from their backyards.  As well, Google Maps on satellite view and Street View is a great resource...simply find a potential cliff/bluff site, and look to see if there is a row of trees along the edge.  If not and it looks like grass to the edge, it's likely launchable, just look at other things like undercutting cliffs, is there beach below, how to get back up if you beach land, etc.

Havre Boucher, near the causeway to Cape Breton.  This will work in a north wind.
Launch coordinates...access this via the beach and be discreet!

Sunset at our "Glamping off the Beaton Path" campsite near Inverness.  Highly recommend you stay here for at least 1 night!

One thing that is useful to know about flying relatively unknown beach sites, is that you *don't* have to launch from the top.  Often times you an inflate on the beach, and kite your glider up into the lift band, either by walking it into a Venturi area (just make sure you don't get sucked in behind!) or climbing up the bank a bit until the glider bites into the air.  This is quite useful when it's a bit too strong to launch from the top, the top has too many bushes etc, or you have landed on the beach, want to relaunch, but don't want to hike all the way back up.  This works best on smaller bluffs which have an angled face you can climb up on, or a bluff with a low spot/dip/venturi to use.

Havre Boucher, near the causeway to Cape Breton

One other thing we wanted to do was drive the Cabot Trail (a famous scenic drive in Cape Breton) through the Cape Breton Highlands and also do some flying at the various sites.  Protip: drive the Cabot Trail counterclockwise, so you get the cliff views from the proper side of the road!

Flower Pot Rock (coordinates), near Bramber on the Noel Shore

The west side of Cape Breton is a goldmine for flying, there are simply few pilots that live nearby, so most of the sites are unflown.  You will find the best sites anywhere from  in the north, to Inverness, to Mabou in the south.  All these sites will take some form of westerly, and depending on the angle of the coastline, it'll be SW or W or NW.  You do not have to worry about the tides quite so much in Cape Breton, so if you see beach, it'll be that amount of beach more or less all of the time.

Flower Pot Rock

Bramber Beach

Once again, Google Maps satellite view, and Google Maps Street View, are your friends to find a suitable launch site.  There are several "established" sites, most notable in Inverness @ Broad Cove, and the Mabou cliffs, but often you will just have to find a site that works for that day's wind direction by Map searching.

Lawrencetown Beach Tea House, near Halifax.  Launch coordinates.

Back on the mainland, there are a couple of flying sites near the Halifax area.  The most commonly flown one is Lawrencetown Beach, with a flying site at the Tea House/Surf Shop, and another flying site a few km's down the road at Half Island.  Both sites take a SW, and there is beach to land at.  There is another site at Hirtles Beach, near Lunenburg, also takes a SW (SSW is better), just follow the public path up the bluff and find a spot which is not too covered with wild roses to lay out.

Flying at Half Island near Lawrencetown Beach.

Lawrencetown Beach Tea House

Half Island Beach.  Launch coordinates.

Half Island.  West launch is just outside the FOV on the left, south launch is in the distance.

Half Island from the south launch.  

Finally, the most flying in Nova Scotia takes place in the Parrsoboro area.  There used to be a school, but is has since shut down, so the flying is now less, but the sites remain!  There are various sites for SW, S, SE, and E.  And once again, be aware of the Bay of Fundy's tides and the fact the beach LZ may disappear during your flight.

Flying south of Inverness (launch coordinates).  The famous golf course is in the distance!

In all these scenarios, please be aware that the winds can change quickly, and what was once a nice breeze can go too strong quickly and now you are being blown back etc.  Keep an eye on the ocean for increasing whitecaps, catspaws, streaking, and also your instrument to see if your groundspeeds are going down as the wind picks up.  And if the temperature is getting too hot, you may get the famous "heat bubble" in which the ground is too hot to allow the ocean wind to come ashore, so you can see the wind just offshore, but it will be calm or not windy on launch.  You can wait all day for the wind to get the final km or so, but it will not arrive and tease you all day!  So if the day is predicted to very hot, this phenomena has a good possibility of happening.

One of the many views from the Cabot Trail.

For a more complete listing of flying sites, go to the HPAAC website.  It is updated regularly so the contact numbers listed there will be current.

Bramber Beach at sunset.

Woodside April 17, 2022

One of the rare good spring days we've had so far this year!  Lots of pilots out as it was the weekend and it was high-ish and cold!

Pretty easy cruising over to Bear and then topped up to 1800m for the crossing over to the Butterfly.  The Bridal side seemed to working better vs. Woodside, at least the climbs felt better, but west of Upper launch I had trouble getting as high as I had been getting further east.  Tried getting high at Gloria for the crossing back to Woodside but that wasn't really working, so returned to Upper launch, that wasn't really working as well :(  

Oh well, back to Lower launch where it's reliable, got to 1700m, and went for the glide back to Woodside.  Unfortunately the west wind had arrived down low and I didn't get any lift on Hopyard or Cemetery Hills, nor the sandbars, so landed at Harvest West dike field.  Thank you Al for picking me up!

46km FAI triangle flight.

Lower MacKenzie Pemberton April 11, 2022

I was in Pemberton for 2 weeks to cat-sit, and had brought my glider.  April is really too early for Pemberton flying as there is still snow around, especially in the Whistler valley.  But after most of the 2 weeks in the rain and snow, we finally had a possible fly day!

It was a bit on the unstable side for big XC, and in any case it was too cold to want to be up there for too long...-20C or even colder at 3000m!  I could only handle the cold for 30 minutes or so, had to land as the air was a bit too dynamic and too north for my liking and I couldn't feel my hands!  I believe Guillaume and Corey flew to Whistler though!

Methinks it's a bit unstable!!

Valle de Bravo November-December 2021

 After a fantastic time in Tenancingo Alex and I travelled to Valle de Bravo, we've been there many times and it's always good XC!

If you are looking to get from Tenancingo to Valle de Bravo, the easiest way is to take a collectivo from the corner outside Nipaqui Restaurante (there are taxi staff there to assign you) and have it drop you at the main bus station in Tenancingo.  Inside go to the Zina bus counter and purchase a ticket to Valle.  Busses are roughly every hour or so.

The lake is extra low, you can see the exposed shoreline all around the lake.  Makes for easier final glides!

It's been a few years since our last trip to Valle and the lake is quite low!  So low, in fact, that hang gliders are landing on the now-exposed portions of the lake frontage on a regular basis, and no need to spot-land like in previous years.

Grabbing a taxi to launch is easy as well.  Depending on where you are staying, you will want to grab one either at the Zocalo or in front of the Santa Maria church next to the LZ.  If you are going solo, the taxi should not cost anymore than $200 pesos.  If you are group of 2 or 3, it'll likely be more like $250 pesos.  Occasionally a taxi will try to charge you $500...walk away from those ones!

Looking back at Penon on an overdeveloping day.  Photo by Alex Raymont.

Depending on the time of year and time of day, you may encounter someone manning the gate as you approach launch.  They may be looking for your local club membership, visiting pilot paid-fee QR code, or simply want to record your name for their records.  Each day was different!  Note if you register as a visiting pilot via the local club, you may not receive a response for several weeks, so plan ahead.

To see the various local club launch access rates, you'll need to register at https://clubpenon.org/

And then after registering and you've received the "thank you, someone will get back to you" response, go into the upper right corner and click on the rates button.  There are daily/weekly/monthly/annual rates listed there, and upon choosing and paying for one, you'll receive a confirmation email with a QR code to show upon request.

Enjoying an afternoon drink.

Since we were rather early in the season, launch was still green and not crowded, which meant you could set up on launch and not be in anybody's way!  And the bathrooms are fully cleaned between uses with an attendant, also available are some snacks and drinks.  Please support the local vendors!

During our time there cloudbase was a bit on the low side, lower than Tenancingo actually, more like mid-2000 m on most days.  This made transitions a bit more challenging.  Doing the Divis run at 2000m is a lot more stressful vs. doing it at 2900m!

We stayed in Valle for just over a week.  We did have a couple of days where it overdeveloped but it remained flyable every day.  Typically drier conditions are by early-mid-December so if you want to get a reliable week of flying, and avoid the holiday travel season, go to Valle in early-mid-December!

A guide to flying near Tenancingo, Mexico

Alex and I had planned a Mexico trip for a while, wanting to go someplace before the winter holidays.  Mexico is an easy choice since it’s easy to get to and the logistics are relatively straightforward.  The usual visiting pilot season runs from November onwards, with general conditions (and cloud base) ramping up in December and considered "strong" in January and February.  We planned to spend about 10 days in Tenancingo before relocating to Valle de Bravo for another 10 days.

Overview of Tenancingo with the Market LZ visible in the centre (filled with vendor tents on Thursdays and Sundays)

When you arrive at the Mexico City airport, assuming you’ve arrived into terminal 1, you can get your Mexican Sim card sorted out right away.  When you exit international arrivals at T1 you will find yourself between doors 7 and 8; simply backtrack to between doors 6 and 7 and you will see a ramp heading up to the second floor. At the top of that ramp is a Telcel store  (open 9am to 5pm) which will sell you a Sim card and a phone plan for very cheap.  If the Telcel store is closed, you can also visit the Airport's 7-11 or local OXXO stores to get sorted out.  I’m sure there’s cheaper ways of getting yourself a Sim card once you leave the airport but this way gets you set up right away in case you need to start communicating with other pilots ASAP.

Christo Rey statue in Tenancingo.  If walking up, it's ~1200 steps once you get to the staircase!  Photo courtesy of Alex Raymont.

Our plan was to take the AeroCaminante bus from the Mexico City airport to Toluca (210 pesos) and then get a taxi from Toluca to Tenancingo (600 pesos).  The AeroCaminante ticket sales is just past the Telcel store on the second floor. Walk through the food court and you will see the ticket booths on the other side…there’s a bus roughly every hour.  

If taking the bus from the Mexico City airport, you end up at the AeroCaminante bus station in Toluca: a smaller, separate bus station from the much larger general Toluca bus station (which houses the "regular" non-Aero Caminante company, along with the myriad of other bus companies).  So be aware if you plan to bus further than Toluca…you will need to get from one station to the other via 45 minutes of walking or a 10-minute taxi ride (60-70 pesos).  If you choose to take a bus from Toluca to Tenancingo instead of a taxi, it'll be from the larger bus station (using the "Tres Estrellas" company), and cost ~40 pesos.

Between Tenancingo and the Toluca volcano are many greenhouses, so choose your LZs carefully!  Photo courtesy of Alex Raymont.

We had arranged for a taxi to pick us up from the bus station and take us directly to our Airbnb in Tenancingo.  Daniel Pedraza and his daughter Daniela are the main points of contact if you want to arrange for drivers or access to the launches.  Daniela runs a taxi company so if you require a ride she will send one of her taxi drivers to come get you.  From MEX airport is 1500 pesos, from Toluca is 600 pesos.

Petroglyphs in the jungle on the La Malinche ridge

There are quite a few Canadian paraglider pilots staying in Tenancingo over the winter months. If you are new to the area and want organized guiding, contact Sea To Sky Paragliding since they run excellent weekly tours all winter in this area (Alex and I used them in 2018...highly recommended!).  Casa Del Piloto is the main house where most pilots stay.  But if the house is full there are plenty of Airbnbs and hotels around.  Casa Del Piloto will often have a shuttle running from their place twice a day. Check with them to see if they have space. If not it’s quite easy to take your own taxi to the launches. If you need to find a taxi walk over to the Garis department store (next to the LZ).  There is a taxi stand inside the parking lot, and the taxi drivers there can take you to either the morning Bistro launch or the afternoon La Malinche launch.

Lookout Rock on the La Malinche ridge.  Photo courtesy of Alex Raymont.

To get to the Bistro launch have the taxi drive you to just outside the town of San Simon el Alto and then direct them to the Telcel tower (it’s a dirt road but passable via taxi).  Launch is the field below the tower.  It faces SE so you can fly there late morning or early afternoon. A local tandem pilot from Malinalco (Pablo Lopez) will often be there on weekends.

Brad getting ready on the Bistro launch.  November is prime wildflower season!

Bistro launch is generally considered a cross country site, so once you get high you have the choice of flying back to Tenancingo, going to Chalma to the SE, flying towards the volcano, or attempting to fly to La Malinche.  If you make it to La Malinche you can then top land and have a nice siesta before re-launching for the afternoon restitution and then flying back to Tenancingo.  Here is a typical flight from Bistro to La Malinche and then to Tenancingo.  

If you choose to land at the bottom of Bistro, near the town of San Nicolas, a common LZ is the “Lemon field”, and there will be lots of collectivo (shared) taxis driving to Tenancingo or Malinalco from the road.  Just flag one of them down and squeeze in (it should be less than 50 pesos from Malinalco area back to Tenancingo).

Another nearby flying site is called El Picacho.  This can be used pretty much all day (it faces south) and you can either fly locally (landing here...don't land at the golf course!), or fly XC towards the Toluca volcano or elsewhere.  Have a taxi take you to Santa Cruz Tezontepec, take the turnoff here, and drive south to the end of the road where it turns to dirt.  Then keep walking for ~10 minutes (slightly downhill) until you reach launch.  Here is a typical flight from El Picacho to La Malinche and back to Tenancingo.

Above Santa Cruz, looking south.  El Picacho launch is off the end of the plateau where it drops down to the  Malinalco valley.  Photo courtesy of Alex Raymont.

If you prefer to wait for an afternoon flight, La Malinche faces SSW and is flyable from about 11am until dark.  If you end up taking your own taxi to this flying site (80-100 pesos) have the taxi driver take you to the town of Terrenate, keep driving uphill until the road turns to dirt, and then drop you off at the large tree after ~100 m of driving on the dirt road.  The road falls apart at this point so it’s easiest to just walk it and it takes 8-10 minutes.  

La Malinche launch and the pilot's hostel.  Tenancingo in the background.

On launch you will find the hostel that the Pedraza family has built. Pilots are welcome to stay there: inquire with Daniel or Daniela about pricing, and there is a bathroom, kitchen, cell signal, hot water, and electricity.  There is also camping welcome on launch for those who choose to bring their own tents.

If you sink out at La Malinche, you end up here.  There is a hiking trail (1 hour) back to launch.  Photo courtesy of Alex Raymont.

The shared kitchen at the pilot hostel at La Malinche.  Photo courtesy of Alex Raymont.

The shared bedroom and bathroom with bunk beds.  Photo courtesy of Alex Raymont.

He has several rooms, one room is bunkbeds to accommodate up to 4 pilots, and he has separate rooms for a couples or those who prefer a bit more privacy.  And the kitchen is fully equipped for cooking.

The matrimonial room at the La Malinche hostel, with a fantastic sunset view.  Photo courtesy of Alex Raymont.

The Pedraza family has done a fantastic job with the take off!  The launch is green grass and is perfectly groomed with lots of space to lay out 10 gliders.  And it’s relatively easy to top land as well, provided you can get down through the abundant lift. Many pilots take a few go-arounds before making it in!

The Pedraza's Mexican dinner offering on La Malinche launch.  Photo courtesy of Alex Raymont.

Definitely ask the Pedraza family about their "Mexican dinner" option on La Maliche launch!  They will do up a fantastic meal for you or a group with multiple Mexican dishes and you'll be stuffed by the end of the night!

Some top-landings go better than others!

If you choose to land in Tenancingo there are a couple of options. One landing zone is called 2 Trees, is directly behind launch and easy to glide to from about 2300m.  If you can make it to 2700m you can then make the glide to the Tenancingo market landing zone.  Be aware that this LZ will be full of parked cars and tents on market days (Thursdays and Sundays). On these two days you will need to land in the unused corner which is closest to the powerlines and road.  There is a prison close by. When approaching the landing zone make sure not to overfly the prison directly!

La Malinche has excellent hammocks for an afternoon siesta!

Tenancingo is a fantastic place to fly, and a good alternative for those who find Valle de Bravo too busy, too expensive, or want to explore a bit more of "rural" Mexico.  If you are a lower airtime pilot this area may be more suitable vs. Valle de Bravo since it does not involve the crux of having to XC it back to the lake each flight.  For those wanting a bit of XC, this area has lots of crossings, valley systems, and interesting local meteorology.  There are also other nearby sites within 1-2 hours (Ixtapan, Taxco, etc) so there are definitely lots of sites to explore and not use the same ones day after day!

2021 Red Rocks Fly-in, Monroe UT

The Red Rocks annual Fly-In (Monroe, UT) is North America's largest PG and HG flying event, last year it was around 350 pilots and this year it was capped at 325!  I had flown Monroe during the US Nationals in 2011, loved it then, and have been wanting to get back ever since.  It represents some of the most awesome big-desert flying with the strong season being July and August, with conditions mellowing in September and October.  XC is possible all spring and into fall, and flights of 200+ km (mostly to the E or NE) are possible.  Cloudbase can be upwards of 23,000', bring O2 if you plan to get high (and stay below 18,000')!

Glenwood Mountain overlooking Monroe in southern Utah. 
The LZ is on the edge of town on the far right.

I had been on the waitlist for the 2021 event since June, and got the notification that 2 spots had opened up for me and Alex if we wanted them; this happened mid-September, not much time to plan!

Over the valley looking at Monroe Peak.

With Covid still keeping the land border between Canada and the US closed, the only way for Canadians to enter the US is via air, so that meant buying plane tickets (either SLC or LAS will work) and renting a car.  And of course the US needed a negative antigen test to get in, and Canada required a negative PCR test to get back, and double vax to avoid quarantine upon return.

However once taking care of the logistical hurdles, we were in Vegas and driving up to Monroe Utah!  Heads up that despite it being hot (30+ C) in Vegas, it can be quite cool in Monroe (especially in the mornings) since you are driving up to 5300', snow is possible in the mountains, and at cloudbase it can be below freezing, so you need to bring clothes for both hot and cold!

The organization for the event is fantastic!  Stacy Whitmore, Jonathan Leusden, and Jef Andersen are the primary organizers, along with an army of assistants.  They have daily weather briefings in the morning at the Monroe LZ, regular shuttles to 3 flying sites (with a 4th unofficial site often being used as well), bathrooms with running water and electricity at the LZ, grass (!) to pack up on, and a fantastic coupon book with free/discounted meals at the local restaurants which pretty much covers the event's entry fee.  Plus they have 2x daily (once in the afternoon, once at night) presentations on a variety of subjects suitable for all skill levels.  They have several Telegram groups set up, with one of them being a dedicated retrieve channel if you land out within a certain radius of Monroe: they will come get you!

Driving through the canyon enroute to Monroe Peak is stunning.

There are 3 main launches the locals use.  Cove Peak is the most-often used launch at around 8700', and has S, W, and N launches.  From there you can bench up to Glenwood Mountain (Signal Peak) and have access to the entire W-facing mountains from Bryce Canyon to Salt Lake City, with a few gaps to make things interesting.  Cove launch itself is rocky but with carpeting, and once you get high enough, are treated to the Aspen trees turning to a gold color, a beautiful contrast to the evergreens, rocks, and snow.

Cove launch with the main S and W launches, and a smaller N launch close to the antennas.

Cove's north launch with the west-facing cliffs in the background.

Monroe Peak is a very high launch around 11,200', and has S and W launches.  The S launch is rarely used (it's a bit line-grabby with sharp rocks) and most go to the W side where the rocks are more pebbly and less line grabby, plus it's a huge area and toplandable if you wanted.  

Monroe west launch is huge!

Mount Edna is a morning site and is at ~11,700', Utah's highest vehicle-accessible takeoff.  There is a chance of snow on launch, so bring your boots!  In fact you probably want boots for all the launches...the rocks are big enough on all launches that you want the extra protection and ankle support, especially since you are launching at altitude so need to run that little bit harder/longer!

Junction launch is an easy 2WD and a short 5-minute hike from the hairpin turn parking lot.
  Photo courtesy of Alex Raymont.

In addition to these 3 official sites, there is also Junction (same weblink as Edna, scroll to the very bottom), which is south of Monroe, close-ish to Edna, and a morning site with E and NE launches.  Many XC pilots use this launch since it offers a morning start to an XC route and has easy access via 2WD.  During the event we had XC flights from here on almost a daily basis.  My first day I flew from here and flew ~100km, getting to 17,700' and landing at Salina!

Junction launch with the Aspens changing color.

There are many other smaller sites, such as Poverty just south of Monroe Peak, a N-facing ridge soaring site (similar to POTM North side) when it's too windy up high.  On several of the north-wind days, pilots went there for a change of pace.

While the XC flying potential is fantastic even in late September, there is also plenty of local flying and many pilots will fly multiple laps from Edna/Monroe/Cove all day.  And in between flights, you can hang out at the LZ where food trucks are parked so you don't even have to leave for lunch/dinner before going back up for a glassoff flight.

Flying north from Junction to Salina ~100 km, I stopped at 17,700' and cloudbase was higher still!

And the glassoffs are great too...Cove is flyable pretty much every evening until dark in light ridge/thermal conditions, and the valley bottom will start releasing at dusk as well, so you can fly over the town and easily stay up...many times we watched pilots flying after the sun had set and into civil twilight.

Falls colors in full swing

Lots of places to stay as well!  You can go all fancy in a hotel or AirBnB in Richfield (about 15 minutes drive away) or camp at the local RV park, or Van-life it on the abundant National Forest land (free), or stay at Peter Reimer's if you prefer to tent.  He is a local who loves having pilots stay in his front yard.  Simply park in his parking lot and put your tent up on his lawn across the driveway.  He has Porta Potties, running water, picnic tables, and a few extension cords for charging your instruments.  He'll also open up his workshop for coffee/put the TV on if you want to just hang out.  Note: due to the Elk Farm next door, you may want earplugs...the male Elk in rutting season can be quite noisy with their mating calls ;)  Peter's property is available throughout the year, and he has a donation box set up so you can drop in a $5 or $10 per night to express your appreciation of his hospitality.

Cove is reliable pretty much every afternoon and evening.

Peter is not the only one welcoming pilots.  Pretty much the entire town of Monroe loves having us and were so friendly!  We would have random people come up to us and thank us for visiting, saying how beautiful the PG's and HG's look in the air over town, would show up at the LZ with the family and a picnic blanket and chairs to watch the landings...it's a big deal for this town!

The first snow of the season!

New for 2021, the Fly-in was also overlapping with the first X-Red Rocks hike-n-fly competition.  In this 3-day comp pilots would get a daily task: some of the TPs could be acquired via the traditional method of overflying them, other TPs could only be captured via hiking to their coordinates.  And of course the pilots would have to hike to launch in the first place.  Doing all this at altitude adds an extra element of difficulty, especially for those coming from sea level.  Canada actually had 1 pilot entered in this comp, James Elliot, and he came in 7th place overall despite coming from sea level and flying with no supplemental oxygen.  Congratulations James on a splendid achievement!

James ready to go on Day 1!

Oh yeah, there are free hotsprings nearby!  You *can* visit the fancy Mystic Hot Springs, but they are pay-only, and the locals go to the free ones called Red Hills Hotsprings.

The upper, *very* hot spring at Red Hills.  The "regular-hot" pools are below.

Monroe has turned these hotsprings into a small park with a changeroom/bathroom and trash bins which are cleaned regularly!  Plus the locals will come by to clean up the hotsprings of stray trash, adjust the heating/cooling, re-build up the walls separating the pools, etc.  A great place to soak after a hot dusty day of flying!

If you are interested in some really interesting hotsprings, check out Meadow Hot Springs, about 1 hour drive away.  These (also free) hotsprings are on private property so please be respectful of the landowner.  It features 3 pools connected in a giant loop.  The hottest one has a 30' deep cenote-like hole you can dive down into (there is a "pull rope" to haul yourself down and guide you back up).  Just make sure not to bang your head on the overhanging ledges when ascending.  Bring goggles for the best underwater views!

One of the pools at Meadow Hot Springs has fish!

Plus there's oodles of National Forest, State Parks, and National Parks close by.  Bryce Canyon is the closest, but there's also Zion, Grand Staircase, Capital Reef, and Grand Canyon not too far away.

If you have the time and want to do a western desert road trip, definitely keep this event in mind; we flew 7 out of 7 days!  It's usually the last week of September and fills up quickly.  Keep up to date by visiting the CUASA website.  I believe they will open registration for 2022 in a month or so.

Hiking in Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, just outside St. George, UT