Flush-o-Rama on Task 6!

Umm, WTF on the ground?!!
You'd think with great clouds like this (more photos here), it'd be near-impossible to sink out.  But yes it can be done!

We had an epic rainstorm last night, by some accounts the heaviest rain Valle has seen in years.  But it had all stopped by this morning and there were nice cu's forming behind launch so a task was set.  93km involving mostly the flats to the south and then a final dash over the back to the lake.

Given the huge cu's forming I wasn't concerned about sinking out so I launched as soon as the window opened and found myself at cloudbase about 3300m.  OK, this is awesome; weaving in and out of the clouds and generally having a great time.  I could see pilots occasionally heading out over the flats to test the waters, appear to not find anything, and scurry back to the safety of the mountains.  OK, so there's not much lift on the flats, good to know.

The start came and we all headed towards Llano, most of us leaving from cloudbase.  As I previously mentioned, forays into the flats had not proved fruitful but I figured with so many pilots heading out there, we'd find something and continue to Llano.  Boy was I wrong!

Once leaving the safety of the clouds it was pure hell, 4m/s down and me pushing full bar to somehow get through it.  I could see pilots on my line dropping out of the sky all around me and I was rapidly losing all the precious altitude I had only moments earlier.  Other pilots were having better luck with liftier lines but nobody was turning much until getting much closer to Llano.

Now, when I go on glide over iffy terrain I habitually scope out a couple of LZ's and memorize the roads in case I go down.  In addition I scope out an emergency LZ in case my preferred LZ's become unavailable for some reason.  Usually this is just an academic mental exercise but as I plowed through the terrible sink my options were quickly running out.  In front of me was a rising sea of trees (on the other side: salvation, as there was some high ground which I've climbed out on before and a village with lots of convenient LZ's) while behind me was a mess of canyons.

In desperation I headed for a small hill with a forest fire burning in the hopes it would trigger a thermal.  But luck was not with me today; no lift on the hill and the convenient village LZ's in front of me were no longer in reach and I was reduced to the shitty LZ's behind me.

Well I wasn't about to glide upwind over a rising sea of trees, especially after hearing of a pilot crashing into similar trees only moments ago due to not making the glide, so I turned tail and headed for my emergency LZ.  It was windy enough down low to make hoovering into it possible and I very shortly found myself in a small field near the bottom of a canyon after achieving a mere 6km along the courseline.

At first I was rather irritated with myself for sinking out, but I ended up with a 2 hour cardio hike (uphill) to get over it and change my attitude to one of c'est la vie, before the retrieve jeep found me.  Given that we are using FTV I'm sure I can use this as one of my discards :)  And even though I totally sucked monkey balls today, I still had a great time over the Wall and ended up doing something that 99% of the world's population *doesn't* get to do.  What's not to like?

Meanwhile those who hadn't sunk out on the way to Llano had tagged it and were now beelining back to Penon.  This was not normal.  The most direct route along the courseline was actually along the south ridge, but since there appeared to be little (if any) lift on the flats between Penon and there, everyone was fleeing back to the safety of the mountain before attempting the jumping-off to Santa Maria.  I only saw a handful of pilots attempt the direct line.

Unfortunately, the courseline included the Aguila TP which is at the extreme east end of the south ridge, which meant at some point pilots were gonna have to stay out there anyways.  And it was getting worse...a bunch of high cloud had moved in and the skies were rapidly becoming a uniform grey (I found out later it had rained in Valle) while it OD'd to the NE.  When I got back to Valle many hours later practically nobody had returned yet, so I'm thinking there are tonnes of pilots landed out along the courseline.  Nobody made goal.

The task committee had a hard call to make today...make a task over the flats with no clouds, but away from the huge clouds over the mountains, or keep everyone over high terrain where there was obvious lift but maybe too much of it.  In the end I think the task may have been a bit too ambitious for the day's conditions (still wet from last night, high potential for OD, low cloudbase, no clouds over the flats), and a shorter task of say, 50-60km, would have been in order.

Superfinal Day 5: a not-so-large task :)

More pics are here.

A far cry from yesterday.  This morning it was overcast, which in itself is not such a bad thing for here...often in Valle a cloudy morning presages excellent afternoon conditions after it burns off.  But in addition to being cloudy it was blowing down, hard, on launch (NE catabatic flow from the volcano), which I've never seen here before so wasn't sure if the usual generalization of cloudy morning = excellent afternoon would hold.

Nobody was keen to get their glider out and it was very relaxed on launch until the task committee announced 2 provisional tasks.  With a few wind techs tossed off launch it was confirmed to be lightly soarable (reports of 2m/s) so one of the provisional tasks was confirmed and it was time to fly.

Our reception upon landing.
I'm not sure where 2m/s came from, it was more like 0.2m/s, and very few discrete thermals, more like areas of generalized lift.  So soft compared to previous days.  It took forever to get above launch because every time somebody would find something "solid", all the other pilots would glom on and of course that was the end of staying in any sort of core!  But together we managed to claw our way up to 2500m and then it was rather fun light soaring of the Penon: it was so smooth and mellow we could work our way very close to the rocks, much closer than we would dare on a thermic day.

The start was 10km around La Pila but when the start time came, practically nobody went!  It sure was strange to watch pilots still milling around at Espina trying to get high before attempting the glide to La Pila (it was completely overcast, and the previous definition in the clouds had transitioned to a more uniform grayness) even though it had been OK to go for some minutes now.

Eventually, in two or three gaggles, we decided it was time to head out over the flats.  One gaggle tried the westerly route, while our gaggle tried the more easterly route.  I chose this route due to the small hills along the way, which I was hoping would trigger some sort of lift.  I think most other people were thinking the same thing as we all beelined for the hills but they just weren't producing.  In fact nobody was turning in anything, and it was clear this was pretty much going to be a gliding contest.

With no obvious lift our gaggle pushed as far towards La Pila before turning around to land in a small village which seemed convenient to the main road.  The field we chose initially seemed to be fine with what appeared to be various small humps of brown grass, but on final glide turned out to be nice football-sized rocks.  Perfect.  And of course all the village kids were streaming out of their houses and screaming "aqui, aqui" so we had the additional challenge of avoiding rocks + moving kids.

The retrieve van was already there so I'm thinking the organization must have realized there would be many pilots landing out towards La Pila and pre-sent the vans out there (otherwise it's a 1.5 hour drive around from launch), which was very thoughtful of them!  As we drove away we could see a gaggle of maybe 12 pilots still in the air but not sure if they made it very far.  I'm pretty sure nobody made goal and given that so many pilots landed out I don't think it'll be a very valid day.

Despite the task being too ambitious for the day's conditions, and once I was able to get above launch, I really enjoyed the flight.  It was so mellow and mild which is so unusual for here that the gaggles (once we achieved terrain clearance) were really very nice to be in.  So long as nobody tried to be greedy and everyone co-operated in the areas of generalized lift, everyone gained and very few people actually sunk out before the start.

Superfinal Day 4: big task!

New photos are here.

I think the task committee is trying to lessen the number of pilots in goal; today it was 145km (119km real distance) and it was gonna be a stretch to make goal in the allotted time.  Yet again we were sent all over the place, doing huge crossings back and forth across the flats and the mesa and this time no clouds to mark the way (at least initially).

We had one reserve deployment right at launch but none on courseline...we did however have some mayhem in the start gaggle as the thermals were a bit punchy and gliders were wriggling all over the place.  Every time I heard a collapse above me I cringed, anticipating somebody's glider coming down through the gaggle and taking me out as they went past, but nope all the pilots were very skilled and kept their machines more-or-less in flying mode.

The start was a 14km entry around Llano but we also had to tag the actual TP which meant we had to fly way over the flats against a cross-headwind and no clouds to mark obvious lift.  It was a bit of a stretch but just about all of us managed it and climbed out on Llano and then it was time to run the ridge to La Pila.

Tagging Serro Colorado and heading for the Monarca ridge.
Another big crossing of the mesa via 3 kings and we had to take lift away from our courseline just to stay high, but tagged Serro Colorado (behind Torre) and then headed for the Monarca ridge and lots of nice clouds.  This was actually the easiest part of the route since we had clouds to mark lift and lots of pilots were around to help us along.  We could see the lead gaggle making their way upwind to recross the mesa back to La Pila: a long slog against the SW wind and it was already 3pm.

I suspected we weren't going to have enough time to finish the course by 5pm with that headwind but our gaggle gamely kept on, tanking up on lift across the flats until we reached St. Augustine.  The wind was about 20kph and a direct headwind, and we somehow had to cross the mesa to the Wall, tank up, and then still head for La Pila before returning to the lake.

The gaggle tanked up on the last cloud over Jovan's and then we headed for the mesa.  Not much penetration despite lots of bar and most of us were dropping like flies, heading for the small bumps on the mesa, not finding much, and landing in various fields behind St. Augustine.  I landed next to the Maguey-Serro Gordo road for an easy retrieve and most of the rest of my gaggle landed within a few km's of me.  My tracklog is here.

Meanwhile the lead gaggle had managed the upwind crossing, made La Pila, and were heading for the lake.  But the goal closing was 5pm and many pilots didn't make goal before this time, so they only got credit for their 5pm location despite landing at goal.  I think "only" ~60 pilots officially got credit for goal so there was lots of retrieving going on for the organization.  Personally I was able to make 85 of the 119km which isn't so bad.  Since we still had so many pilots in goal today, I'm thinking the task committee will make things yet more technical in the coming days since we'll be allowed to recuperate during the upcoming mandated rest day in a day or two.

Superfinal Day 3

Flight is here.
Pics are here.
Results are here.

OMG yet another awesome day, this time with clouds and generally light winds.  This meant the task committee set a nice ambitious task of 103km, taking us all over the place: after Divis it was over the flats to the other side, then out to a rather remote TP before returning to civilization near the Monarcas and back to the lake.

I didn't feel as pummelled while waiting for the start like yesterday...with all the cloud action there was plenty of space to hang out so we didn't have to deal with a "death gaggle" very often.  But it was still nice to finally be flying someplace, even if it was just to Divis.  And yes, another reserve toss #1 on the way to Divis so the organization sent a rescue helicopter once we were all out of the area.
Heading to La Pila

There was a bit of south wind on the way to La Pila which made the going a bit slow especially trying to make it across to the windward side of the mountains.  Not much cloud action over there too so we had to work together a bit more to make it across and to the Llano area from yesterday.  Here we had clouds!  And really nice ones too, base was about 3600m and it was cold!, lots of pilots doing the hand-swing-thing on glide.

Our next TP was actually not that remote, but the direct route didn't look that nice with few clouds and lots of canyons, whereas if we detoured to the east and went further into the mountains, there was mucho clouds and base was more like 4000m.  At this point it was nice easy cruising under the cloudstreets, doing upwards of 60kph and a wonderful view of the volcano (it looked so close!), until it was time to rejoin with the Monarca ridge.

The Monarca ridge was indeed working (too well it seems as we had reserve toss #2 in the general vicinity) and then it was time to leave the juicy clouds and look for a convergence line.  There was one, not well-set-up, but enough to reach the other side and the final push to Serro Gordo.  I could see pilots ahead of me appearing to have trouble penetrating the SW wind as the lakebreeze had set up on the other side of the convergence and they were going to Serro Gordo low, landing at the base of it, etc, and generally not doing so well.  It looked like Serro Gordo was going to be my downfall yet again.

Yep, this time it was the horse ranch in the saddle between Serro Gordo and Escalaria, and I could see pilots heading out to land all around me, so I wasn't alone in not making goal.

So even though this is the 3rd time missing goal by something like 10km, I'm still really happy with my flight.  The task committee is setting some really imaginative tasks and it's an eye-opener to see just where you can go on a paraglider.  The scenery today was just stunning especially in the high country to the east, and I'd love to do some more tasks involving this area.

Superfinal Day 2

I had another awesome day today!  This time it was very blue with high cirrus shading things out at times, and the thermals were definitely snarkier.  Task today was longer than yesterday's: 92km from launch to Divisidero, Llano (to the SE of launch, across the canyons), Monarcas, Serro Gordo, and then the lake.

Heading for Divis
Tracklog is here; photos here; results will eventually be here.

I launched right as the window opened, so by the time the start came 1.5 hours later, I was already tired from the pummelling I was receiving at Crazy.  Lots of shouting as pilots were trying to fit into the small thermals and (mostly) succeeding.  I was *so* happy when the start happened, just so I could finally go someplace and gain some breathing room.

The rush to Divis was really fast, and we had our first reserve toss about 3km from the actual antennas.  With the rescue helicopter on its way, it was important for all of us to get out of there so no time wasted getting back to 3 kings and pushing back to Espina and out of the helicopter's way.

It was a bit crosswind to Llano, across large canyons with lots of power lines and inconvenient places to land out, so I took it slow along with some other classic EN-D's, staying high and avoiding the sinkhole areas I remembered from previous years.

After tagging Llano it was decision time.  The direct line to the Monarcas involved lots of canyons, small (or no) LZ's, and powerlines.  I saw the big guns going for the straight-a-way route but I was too chicken for that, so I opted for the safer route via launch and Penitas.  Marina was with me at this point but she opted to split the difference and I lost sight of her as I climbed out over launch (apparently there was a free-flyer in the trees at launch but I never saw them, so they must have been rescued already) and dove over the back to Sacamacate.

I don't really like Sacamacate, it's too close to Penitas which is usually rough and turbulent, but with the SE wind it was the place to be.  Frisbeed my way over to the usual convergence zone and then started making my way over to Monarcas.  No clouds to mark the convergence, and it was definitely weaker than previous days, but it was there and very useful to make it across to the TP.

At this point I heard of another reserve toss at the Monarca ridge, but the pilot landed safely in a field and was able to self-rescue before the retrieve showed up.  I was busy trying to get high enough to penetrate back to Serro Gordo, but the high cirrus that had been coming and going all afternoon was now here with a vengeance.

Joanna and I (very) slowly made our way upwind towards St. Augustine but were forced to hang out on a small hill in the middle of the valley while thing shut down for a while.  I had to spend 30 minutes fighting for any scrap of lift in the overcast and essentially went into survival mode.  I flew out to land so many times, but at the last minute was able to find enough to return to the hill and eke out another 5 minutes before repeating the whole process again and again.  It was torture!

Finally the sun came back out and we were able to climb out enough to cross to the garbage dump thermal and get up on the plateau.  But it was now 4:30pm and the task deadline was 5pm.  Would we make it in time?  The high cirrus was coming back and the thermals were shutting down, and Joanna and I made a last-ditch effort to cross to Serro Gordo and the 400m cylinder.  I was so close!  I was watching my countdown: 500m, 480m, 460m, 440m., 430m.... and then the trees were coming up at me and I had to decide to risk a tree landing or turn away before 400m.
My retrieve crew!

Well I took the safe bet and turned away, knowing that was my last chance to tag Serro Gordo as it was shutting down and most things were in shade.  Joanna was higher than me and was able to tag the cylinder and then go on glide for the lake, landing short but getting an extra few km's on me.  Meanwhile I was landing in the town of Serro Gordo, when I noticed a truck following me.  Retrieve?  Nope, it was the policia estatal and they were on patrol when they saw me landing and decided to liven up their usual routine.

So I had a nice audience of police officers who kept the mobs of kids from me so I could pack up, and then offered me a ride to HQ, but not before the obligatory photos and questions (where was I from, how old was I, how much did my gear cost, was it cold up there, did I like Mexico, etc).

So I arrived back at HQ in style with the police lights going and an escort of armed police right to the front door.  Much more interesting than landing at the boring goal field!

So in the end, despite me not making goal, I had a fantastic day and am quite satisfied with my flight.  I covered a lot of territory I don't usually cover, and the fight to stay aloft in the shade allowed me to practice my patience.  I ended up spending over 6 hours in the air today so I'm rather pooped, but at the same time completely stoked about the flight.  Unfortunately, because *not* making goal carries such a huge penalty points-wise during this comp, I'm probably not going to get much for my efforts :(

Superfinal Day 1

My tracklog is here; photos are here.
Official results are here.

A pretty awesome first day!  The task was a "medium"-sized task; not too big so as not to tire everyone out the first day, but longer than yesterday's.  This time we had to fly out over the flats to Santa Maria (waaay off the end of Espina), then over the plateau and behind Valle to Elefante, push back into the wind to Escale, and then the lake.

Initially there was a pretty strong inversion that we kept bumping up against...around 3000m, and it was rough until you could punch through it.  But once the start happened it was pretty straight flying to Santa Maria, there was tonnes of lift on the flats.  But progress was sloooww as there was a lot of south wind (more than the task committee expected as I found out later).

On glide for Santa Maria.  Slow progress but plenty lifty.
Heading for Elefante it was much faster flying, but it was a bit funky at Maguey and at one point the entire thermal was filled with female pilots.  Our girly gaggle finally got high enough to head over to Serro Gordo and then it time to figure out how to get to Elefante.  I had been thinking about this all during the flight and was hoping for some sort of convergence to help me along; yes! again it was there and able to get up to cloudbase and start the very fast (I saw a spike of 80 kph, 1/2 bar) downwind dash to Elefante.

The problem with the convergence is that it doesn't extend to Elefante, but more towards Saucos, so at some point we all had to leave the convergence and head into the blue.  I could see pilots getting very low after tagging the TP so I changed my strategy to tag Elefante, detour to the convergence near Saucos, and then fly underneath it upwind to Escale.  Joanna was with me but opted to try the more direct route back and I lost sight of her; the rest of the girly gaggle had gotten a bit of a jump on me and were a couple of km's ahead of me.

Finally I was able to push into the convergence and felt relatively safe from an outlanding behind Valle.  The wind was very strong from the south so it was a slow uphill slog, but I was able to skip from cloud to cloud in the convergence and make it Jovan's before they petered out.

I usually don't see the lake from this direction.
Blue hole here and the convergence is off the photo on the left.
Escale was only about 5km in front of me and I was at cloudbase about 3600m, which is usually enough to make it especially with a 1km radius.  Ronny Helgesen was just ahead of me so I went for the TP.  I could see a gaggle to the north of Escale, quite low, so I figured I was on the right courseline by taking the south route, but I was wrong!  The south wind was howling past Escale and I was plummeting.  You'd think 3600m would be enough to tag Escale and thermal up on the sunny windward side, but the ground rises up quite rapidly so you end up losing height faster than usual.

I was trying to penetrate to the windward, south side of Escale but I ended up tagging  the last TP about 30 seconds before being forced to land up on the plateau.  Ronny had tried the same tactic as me and he got shot down a few minutes before me so we ended up landing in the same field.

Retrieve was awesome and a truck arrived just as we walked to the road so we were back in time to join the goal-makers in the download lineup.  About 95 people in goal with several pilots just landing short.  One tree landing as a pilot didn't quite make the glide over the trees to goal, and Goran reports that he can now vouch for the efficiency of the helicopter rescue team :)  Several pilots landed in the water (although not deeply) due to congestion in the landing approach as well as insufficient empty real estate to finally put down in.

So, other than the 1 tree landing the day was quite successful from a safety standpoint.  Lots of pilots in goal (always a good thing), and personally I'm quite happy with my result.  The pilots here are so good, and so fast, that it takes everything I've got just to barely keep up with them.  I thought I was gonna land back at Elefante but managed to get myself out of that blue hole and back to the safety of the convergence, so at that point everything else was gravy.  And of course, landing with Ronny "Mr. Task Committee", meant I must be doing something right if I can outland with an excellent pilot like him who flies here more than I do.

In retrospect as I approached Escale and saw how windy it was, I could have dove into the north leeside and tried to get up there.  I saw pilots on the north side, low, and perhaps they ended up climbing out of there when I couldn't see them anymore, and ended up making the easy glide to the lake.  But hey, it's a learning experience and if we get more S vs. SW wind at Escale, I may avoid the direct line to the windward side the next time, unless I can climb higher beforehand!

Superfinal Practice Day

For the official practice day maybe 2/3's of the pilots showed up...the rest were either taking a rest day or busy being sick :)

Race is on!
Given that there was the opening ceremony this afternoon, the task was pretty short: about 50km in total, heading over the back to the Monarcas and then back to St. Augustine, before tagging Torre launch and landing at the lake LZ.

The convergence was well-setup by the time we went over the back so it was pretty easy to run the clouds to the Monarcas.  It was pretty interesting to watch the wind...on the east side of the convergence it was SE, and on the lakeside of the convergence it was west.  There was a lot of shade on the west side of the convergence line so many (including me) took the sunny side. I did an awful lot of weaving around clouds as 'base kept changing depending where in the convergence line you flew.  Lots of pilots got to practice their spirals and big-ears on their fancy new gliders as the cloudsuck was significant at times.

Coming back from the Monarcas was a bit tougher since the SE wind was pushing us into the shade so we had to fly cross-wind to stay in the sun.  But once achieving St. Augustine it was time to venture into the shade where it was easy sailing to Torre launch and the end of speed section.

So I made goal (albeit last!); I did see some pilots land out on the way back from the Monarcas where the shade got them before they could escape to the sun.

Flight is here, and photos are here.

This afternoon was the opening ceremony, which reminded me (a lot) of the 2009 World Championships opening ceremonies, except without the parade.  Lots of speechifying, presentations, and then cultural events including some maypole dancing/spinning action.  (According to Zack who watched them do this, a couple of days ago they dug a 12' hole and put a live chicken at the bottom.  The chicken was then annointed with wine and blessed, and then a 60' giant log was upended into the hole, crushing the chicken.  The hole was then sealed up to keep the log upended for the maypole dancers.)

Oh yeah, all the pilots were also blessed, although in a more benign fashion!  We were all given wreaths of flowers and bread which supposedly blesses and protects us during the comp.  So we were all walking around town this evening with giant wreaths around our necks :)

A lazy day in Valle

Despite it being (yet another) beautiful flyable day, I decided against flying and relaxed around town instead.

Healthy breakfast
Superfinal registration was tonight as well as the mandatory safety briefing.  Tomorrow is the official practice day (it sounds like they will be setting a mock task) and the opening ceremony, complete with some Mexican cultural events.  Apparently there will be nightly film festival offerings as well, assuming we are not yet collapsed in bed after a hard day of comp flying.

Getting psyched about the SF; it'll be a hard competition for me I'm sure, but I'm game to pit myself against some of the best in the world!

Valle de Bravo January 22

Another beautiful day in Valle!  Even more people on launch as the last of the PWC pilots show up; apparently only the Austrians are still in transit as their plane got stuck in Toronto :)

There is a tow operation started up just east of the Piano LZ; a Dragonfly was towing hang gliders up so they wouldn't have to deal with the PG hoopla.  Not sure if they will be continuing to tow during the comp.

Where to put down?
Today's flight was pretty much a repeat of yesterday, except I added a leg to the east after Serro Gordo.  The flying to Divisidero was a bit more tricky than yesterday; I got below the rim and ended up tagging the antennas from around and below before thermalling back up to rim height.  Oh well, good practice to see just how low you can go and weaving around all the gullies.  I saw some pilots even lower than I and they also did the run just fine.  Of course higher is better since you can fly faster and straighter!

Over at Serro Gordo the convergence was going strong so I decided to run it to the east towards La Casa; easy gliding under the cloudstreets to the point I came back to Serro Gordo higher than when I left, allowing a leisurely glide to Torre launch where the commercial tandems were doing brisk business on a Sunday afternoon.
The LZ was crowded yet again; it's even a bit smaller now since the organization has installed additional fencing and gates with all the sponsor logos etc to keep the pilots separate from the general public.

Getting familiar with Valle all over again

New pics are here!

My first flying day in Valle of this trip!  I didn't bother flying yesterday as I was a bit tired from the overnight bus ride, but today I was ready to go.  Caught a taxi up to El Penon with some Alberta pilots (150 pesos for the 3 of us) and it was indeed the zoo I was expecting.  What a difference between Guadalajara and here!  Hang gliders set up under the trees, paraglider bundles all over launch, dogs running around, kids selling stuff, even a local doing some repairs under the hood of his truck.  San Marcos, El Chante, and Tapalpa were way quieter :)

3 Kings
However getting into the air was fairly straightforward: the local club has fluffers helping out on launch.  But once in the air it felt a bit light and "fluffy"…climbs were slow and altitudes weren't what I've become used to since flying in Guadalajara: here only about 2700m to start with.

Uneventful over to Espina and then I jumped over the back to Maguey with a small gaggle.  By now (noon) conditions had started to strengthen a bit and clouds were beginning to form.

There were tonnes of pilots doing the Maguey-->Divisidero run; I think the French team had set a mock task involving this run; I was able to fly with a bunch of IP6's and Enzo's.  Yes they are indeed better gliders than my XC3, but the difference wasn't that appalling and it was nice to actually stay with the hot ships along this run.  Divis is kinda nice for just being able to burble along it…you don't really to thermal so long as you stay on the lifty line; you'll find stuff!

The end of Divis was working as usual and there was a bit of mayhem as pilots were turning every which way so there was lots of yelling and egg-beater action going on.  I could see the convergence starting to set up past Serro Gordo and I wanted to make it back to the lake, so I did a U-turn and back to 3 Kings where I shared a thermal with Pine and then it was off to Serro Gordo, cloudbase which had since risen to 3400m, and then the giant glide to the lake LZ.  Flight is here.

Other pilots flew up towards Saucos but I didn't feel like trying that today; some of them were sinking out on the way back to the lake and I didn't really want to take a taxi back to town :)

Lake Avandaro
The lake LZ is quite a lot smaller than last time I flew here in 2009.  The water has risen and the flat area below the main LZ that you could put down on if you came up short is now underwater, so you just have the plateau to land on, and of course it was full of bunched-up gliders, tandems landing, kids kiting, and about 100 people milling around.  Fortunately there's plenty of lakebreeze to allow you to hoover into a spot-landing if need to.

So it wasn't an overly big flight, just the "milkrun" so I could re-familiarize myself with the various common XC points, but it was a lot of fun, especially since I actually had comp pilots to fly with.  Pretty much all the PWC pilots are in town now, so many of the regular PG tours are starting to leave town in anticipation of the Superfinal taking over the whole show.

Short flight at San Marcos Jan 19

Cloudy skies so no rush to go flying; in the end we went to San Marcos really early and waited a couple of hours for the clouds to break up and the sun to come around to the west side.  Endured a bunch of wasp stings on the HG ramp while I was trying to get some sun :)

Looking at the flying possibilities on the south side of the lake.
Jim had to go pick up Steve from the GDL airport and I was catching a ride in since I'm on my way to Valle de Bravo via the overnight cross-country bus.  So when I launched it was with a short flight in mind...just make it back to Lake Chapala and within walking distance of the hotel and just enough time to pack.

Of course I ended up getting past 4500m over launch, the highest I've gotten here so far, and I wasn't "allowed" to use its full potential!  So I went on a giant glide to the lake (usually you need at least 2 thermals to make it back) and fooled around the edge of the lake, flying towards the south side and doing spirals and wingovers over the water; I still had 1500m to burn off once I reached the edge of the lake!

I could have continued to the south side of the lake and flown the mountains there, but alas I had other obligations and ended up landing after a short 25km flight.  Ray and Derek also made it back to the lake; it was Ray's first XC and he was quite stoked about his accomplishment.  He says "I now understand why you guys like going XC so much; this is way better than walking or driving back!"

So after 10 days of lazy vacation it's now time to switch gears and do some "serious" flying in Valle de Bravo.  I'd like to thank Jim at FlyBC for handling logistics on this part of my trip: he took care of the hotel, pickup at the airport, and retrieves during my XC flights.  Super-nice guy!

I should arrive in VDB sometime tomorrow morning, assuming the bus connections all go according to plan.  And then it's time to practice with all the other PWC pilots and experience the hoopla that is El Penon launch.

Another lazy day

I didn't fly again today...it looked a bit lame and there was high cirrus moving in.  Derek and Ray both flew from El Chante but it didn't look very inspiring, so the rest of us drove down.  Spent the rest of the afternoon lounging by the pool!

A day off!

After yesterday's flight I decided to take a day off.  I *am* on vacation after all, and I have a 2-week comp coming up next week, so I don't want to wear myself out prematurely!

After working on my tan, I drove for Jim et al while they all flew from Tapalpa launch.  Lee and Ray had nice flights and landed in the Piano, while Jim and Derek flew north to the edge of the Rim.  It was north winds up high so they were reporting lots of drift-back and frustrating forward progress; it took them over 2 hours to get to the Cross!

Alien mothership sitting over Serro Viejo
Despite a valiant effort they both dirted on the crossing to the San Marcos side; the north wind was just too much to penetrate effectively.  Derek landed out in boony-country...I eventually found him after finally finding the proper road that led to his co-ordinates; none of these little backroads are on the GPS!

In between retrieves I also took Ray and Lee up to San Marcos for their afternoon flight, so by the end of the day I had lots of practice driving on the local Mexican roads!

Regrouped in Los Pozos and we tried to take the quick route home, but yet another traffic accident blocked our way; the police told us it would be "tres horas" (3 hours) before the road could be reopened, so we took an alternate route.  Geez, it's safer to paraglide here than to drive!

Tapalpa January 16

New pics are here!

Another day in Talalpa and it looked awesome, lots of cu's but not blowing up like yesterday's, light winds, and it seemed to be working earlier.  I got my stuff together and was off launch just after 12pm.

Us crossing the gap a bit too early
It was NE wind at times which made the north trek slower than normal, until Derek and I got to the jumping-off point at which point it turned to SW, perfect for crossing the big gap to the San Marcos side.  Unfortunately there wasn't any clouds in the middle, and you can't really do the crossing all in one go, you need a little pick-me-up on the way over.  Looking at the clock it was only 1:30pm, which seemed a bit early to be attempting the crossing (others usually wait until at least after 2pm), but it was going SW on the rim which meant it was time to leave.

Derek and I went on glide for the tower in the middle of the gap, and I managed to find a shitty little thermal which got me (barely) high enough to continue to the next set of bumps (still in the middle of the valley), while Derek was too low to catch it and ended up landing at the base of the tower.

The crap thermal had one thing going for it however...it was drifting me to where I needed to go anyways, so I was able to get to the next bump with enough altitude to try ridge soaring it.  Not quite square-on-enough, and I was soon below the bump and kicking trees as I tried to stay up in a tiny gully.  In desperation I penetrated out front a bit and was finally rewarded with a very rough thermal which tried to kick me out repeatedly.

In the end I won out over the thermal and rode it to 2500m which gained me the other side and safety.  By this point Jim et al were on their way to San Marcos launch and I flew overhead just as they were pulling into the parking lot.  There was a big cu over the north end of the ridge which I climbed up under, and radioed that I was heading over the back to Serro Viejo.
Serro Viejo

Serro Viejo is a big-ass mountain, 3300m on the peak, which sits just behind the Chapala ridge.  There were awesome cu's further to the north over Guadalajara, but they were prohibido due to airspace, so I had to content myself with flying over this massive chunk of rock and rocketing up to 4300m.  From this altitude I could see forever and it was juicy cu's smack over the middle of GDL.  Arggh!

Meanwhile the smaller Chapala ridge didn't seem to be working, no cu's or birds that I could see, so I opted to say in the back range until it joined up with the Chapala ridge. At this point I was on a giant glide from 4300m and it was a good thing, since the Chapala ridge was, once again, producing exactly zero lift like yesterday.  But this time I was prepared: I was higher and flying the back range, which enabled me to glide further before landing in a field at some random ranch.

My LZ crew
The ranch hands were very friendly and gave me tequila (I couldn't be rude to my hosts by refusing!) and a ride to Chapala where I jumped on the bus.  The bus ride took forever since it kept stopping every 50-100m to pick up or drop people off; it's festival time so everyone is bussing back and forth between festival towns.

It was an awesome flight; lots of distance flown (96km), huge altitudes, and exploration of new ground.  But I'm pooped: it was really hard work at times, especially at the beginning when it wasn't quite reliable enough to assume you were just going to stay up; there was a lot of grovelling and LZ-scoping before the day really turned on.

Other stories at Tapalpa and San Marcos can be found at FlyBC's Site of Day.

Tapalpa January 15

Northeast winds predicted so off to Tapalpa.  I opted to fly from the free launch while Jim took the new pilots to the larger launch.  Usually at a morning site in NE wind I would launch fairly early, but the locals were saying that in NE winds, Tapalpa often doesn't work until late (after 1 or 1:30pm), and this was evident in the tandems and early fliers who were having a hard time staying up or flat-out sinking out.  So I decided to wait a bit, and finally launched just after 2pm.

From the get-go this flight was way harder than previous flights...the thermals were hard to stay connected to, they were in weird places, and the lift would peter out before reaching cloudbase which appeared to be around 4000m on the plateau.  Derek and I had to fight for our lift and it was tough work at times, especially since the wind down low was more directly south and scrubbing along the side of the east-facing rim.

Crossing from the morning side to the afternoon side
To the north about 20km is the jumping-off point if you want to cross to the San Marcos side.  There was a bunch of cu's here and I was hoping to tank up before making the glide, but I just ended up lower than when I initially arrived.  Derek by this point had already started the crossing and I was still stuck on the Tapalpa side and not finding lift.

Finally after 20 minutes of searching for that perfect lift to get me all the way across, I bit the bullet and started the crossing anyways, knowing I was too low to make it all in one go and I would need to find something extra on the way.  There is an antenna on a small hill in the middle that I was hoping to get up on, and finally I found the climb I had been hoping for and was able to get myself back in the game to catch up with Derek.

Meanwhile back over on the Tapalpa side it was getting big and the clouds were starting to drop out with virga.  And all around the big mountains, over Guadalajara and Tequila, the clouds were starting to grow into very big congesti.  
Big cu forming over the airport

Got high at the usual spot and then Derek and I jumped over the back to Jocotepec where I was hoping to do the Chapala ridge run, but oddly there was zippidy-do-dah over there (perhaps the giant congestus over GDL was sucking all the energy away from the surrounding mountains?) and it was sink all the way.

Derek landed next to the condo while I landed in San Juan Cosalas (the next town east).  7 pesos later (about 55cents) I was on the bus to my hotel as well.

While this flight wasn't that much longer than other flights I've had here (since I landed an hour earlier than usual), it was much, much harder.  We had to work really hard to find lift at times, and both of us got low in spots that would have entailed an inconvenient retrieve.  Because of this, it was quite satisfying to make it back to town and an easy retrieve back, even more so than my San Marcos flights.  

New photos are here!  And other stories from Tapalpa can be found on the FlyBC website.  

Tapalpa January 14

Tapalpa launch.  Colima volcano in the background.
Light east winds so it was a Tapalpa day, but I wasn't too hopeful since XC Skies was calling for 90-100% cloud cover all day, and it was definitely overcast on the way there!

It was my first time to Tapalpa and there are actually two launches (both at ~2200m), both located on the rim of the Tapalpa plateau.  There is the "free launch" which is smaller and has a powerline running below launch (you may remember reading about this incident back in March 2011).  The other launch is much larger, has been used for comps, no powerline, but costs 100 pesos to access.

We ended up using the larger launch since Derek had a tandem.  I launched and thermalled right off launch, but it ended rather suddenly at 2960m.  Hmmm.  The shade was getting thicker, I couldn't find any more lift, all the pilots below me were landing, and Derek was already on his way back up from the LZ, so I opted to top-land behind launch and save an unnecessary retrieve from the bottom.  Other stories from Tapalpa can be found here.

Everyone else had landed and it seemed like the day was done as the shade had progressed into overcast, so it was a leisurely drive back to Jocotepec to pick up Ray and Lee who flew into GDL this afternoon.  Tomorrow is looking much better, no cirrus forecast, lots of cu's, and high cloudbase.  We will be back at Tapalpa again tomorrow!

San Marcos Friday The 13th!

A slow start to the day, as there was lots of high cirrus cloud shutting things down.  So we didn't get to San Marcos until 1:30pm where we all promptly took a nap.  Priorities!

Jim launched at 2:40pm but it was still too light, and he sunk out after about 30 minutes.  But it was definitely on later when Derek and I launched just after 4pm and boomed up to 3000m right off launch.

3800m at the end of El Chante ridge
Bypassed both gaps without bothering to turn and then tanked up to 3200m before heading over the back to Joco.  The highway intersection thermal was still there (so far, it's been very reliable) which gave me an extra 100m on the way over town, and I continued on the El Chante ridge.  Once again I had an awesome west tailwind, and was able to tank up to just over 3800m just where the ridge drops away.  With this kind of height I could see the runways of Guadalajara airport, and made sure to stay south of the ridge since we have figured that the GDL airspace probably starts just north of the ridge.

Derek had landed at the 5-star hotel and said he was gonna hang out, so Jim was chasing me and having a hard time keeping up with my groundspeed of 60kph...with all the random speedbumps on the roads here, it's kinda hard to maintain typical highway speeds while driving.

Once again I had about 30 minutes before sunset to make the most of my 3800m, and I was able to glide a few km's more than the last time, landing at the last available beach before the town of Mezcala.  Sent my SPOT co-ordinates to Jim and he arrived just as I was packing up, so we timed things pretty well and we were on the road by dark.  Other flying stories while I was flying can be found at FlyBC's Site of the Day.

The flight was pretty much a carbon copy of my previous flight except I omitted a short extra dogleg on the San Marcos ridge (which shortened my XC distance to just under 60km) and I was able to get higher near the end, enabling me to glide an extra few km's before sunset grounded me.  Even though it was essentially the same flight, it was still pretty cool as I've only done this route twice, and the sunset final glide of 20km is rather special.  It's amazing that you can launch at 4pm and still get a 60km flight!

San Marcos January 12

Mexican traffic jam
Up to San Marcos late this morning as it was too west for El Chante.  Up on launch it looked a bit light for XC, so I hung around while Derek did a tandem.  Flew later but it was still too light; I explored to the north a bit and went off the ridge over the highway but not much lift, and the thought of an afternoon taco (everyone else was in the LZ) made me head out to land too.

After lunch we headed back up, and on the way up the mountain we met a pickup truck coming down the road very quickly.  It was a straightaway section and we weren't going fast (we were going uphill) but they were going way too fast (no brakes? or just Mexican driving style) and they were heading straight for us.  I was in the backseat and all I could see was cliff face coming at me as Derek swerved to avoid the oncoming truck and we went into the ditch next to the cliff face.  I thought for sure they were going to impact us and take out the driver's side mirror or headlight, but I saw a flash of blue pickup as they miraculously missed us and passed us by.  I thought that was the end of it until I heard the crashing of something going over the cliff...they had swerved too much and went right over the edge.
Where the pickup truck went over the cliff

We got out and yelled down to them (it was 2 guys) and they said they were both OK.  Apparently one guy got thrown from the truck as it rolled (no seatbelt), got thrown ahead of it, and then the truck rolled over him as it continued rolling.  The other guy was still inside (not sure if seatbelt or not) but after the truck came to a stop he was able to get out.  Both guys were able to climb back up the cliff where we checked them both out for injuries.  Other than bruises and scrapes and some bleeding from the bushes, they seemed OK but shaken up.

Turns out the pickup had several beehives in the back.  So when Derek, Jim, Jorje, and one of the Mexican guys went back to retrieve some personal effects and worktools, they were heading to very angry bees!  Jorje suffered a few stings but nobody else.  Meanwhile I was back at our truck keeping an eye on the other Mexican guy who was more shaken up, so I didn't to deal with angry bees.  But afterwards we could all hear the buzzing of thousands of angry bees, and had to drive away as the bees started following the honey scent on the Mexican beekeepers.

Derek's tire tracks as he swerved into the cliff face
So we ended up spending the rest of the afternoon dealing with the aftermath: making sure the Mexican guys were taken care of (their truck is probably written off; it's in the bushes, partway down a cliff, and nose-in to the ground sticking up, with no easy way to winch it out).  And the two Mexican guys are super-lucky to be alive.  I had visions of us going down there to find 2 dead guys or having to deal with serious injuries and getting them out of there (the spot was so well hidden, you couldn't see it from the road so nobody would have known they were there).  And Derek drove awesomely...we had the cliff face on our side so we ended up swerving onto the "safe" side of the road.  Makes you appreciate how narrow these mountain roads can be, and how slow you have to go in case you meet oncoming traffic!

El Chante and San Marcos January 11

El Chante ridge
The west winds seemed a bit lighter today and Jim had a tandem to do, so we went to El Chante in the morning.  El Chante is a south-facing site overlooking Lake Chapala and a ridge running ~20km in either direction.  It's quite small, room for 1 glider, and a small runway so you need a good cycle to get off and not swoop the bushes below.

Once in the air it was west up high but east down low, so I opted to head east first.  Pretty smooth ridge running with occasional turning to maintain a decent (2500m) altitude.  About 15km to the east the ridge peters out, so I turned around at this point for the flight back.  (Jim was doing a tandem and Derek was driving the tandem's family down so I had the whole ridge to myself.)

The flight back was uneventful but slower (west wind) and I decided to try to jump upwind to San Marcos.  The El Chante ridge peters out here with a fairly large gap to jump, and it was into the increasingly strong west wind.  Not quite enough height to gain the San Marcos side despite a climb to 3000m (it was really windy!) and I landed next to the highway where Jim and Derek picked me up on the way to San Marcos.

Even though I didn't make it to San Marcos I ended up with 41km (so far!).  That flight is here.

Up on San Marcos I was hungry and a bit tired, so I chilled out with Jim while Derek flew.  Then a bunch of Canadians (!) from Montreal showed up so we actually had company on launch.

I had offered to drive so Jim could fly but he declined, so after a while I started thinking about flying again.  I didn't have great ambitions this time as I already had a nice flight in the morning; mostly just make it back to Jocotepec.

Coming over Joco after my climb to 3600m
Once in the air it was clearly stronger than at El Chante, and I was getting to 2800m easily.  Crossed the 2 gaps to the south of launch and caught up with Derek who was at 3100m and ready to glide to Joco.  Since I was a bit lower I decided to stick around before heading over the back too, and was rewarded with a nice climb to 3600m.

With this kind of altitude I couldn't pass up the chance to keep heading east, so I passed over Jocotepec and repeated my route from this morning to the end of the ridge.  (Derek had landed in town by this point.)  But at the end of the ridge, instead of turning around like I did earlier, I got a nice climb to 3450m and went for an almost-20-km final glide.

I actually could have gone 2-3km further, but at this point you start to run out of convenient (ie. close to the road) LZ's and it was getting late.  Around here sunset is ~ 6:30pm, and it gets dark quick afterwards!  So I landed at 6:10pm and had 20 minutes to pack up.  This was a bit difficult since I had all the local kids mob me as soon as I landed; they kept shouting "tierra aqui!" (land here!).

Mucho gracias to Jim and Derek who came to get me; my SPOT message gave them exact co-ordinates of where I was, but they initially didn't believe it, thinking I couldn't have gone that far.  Total distance on that flight was just over 60km (which took 2:07 hours), and the tracklog is here.  I was quite happy to have gone so far, and it was really only possible because of that massive climb in just the right spot...it was end of the day and once I dove off the ridge there was no more lift to be had, just a very boaty glide.  Had it been earlier in the day I imagine there would be flatland thermals to be had, but not at 5:30pm in the winter.

So in total, I got over 100km of flying in today, spread out over 2 flights.  Not bad considering my 30-minute sinkout yesterday :)

New pics are here!

San Marcos January 10

After getting myself settled in to my new digs at the hotel in Jocotepec, Jim, Derek, and I headed to the San Marcos launch.  Lots of scud clouds around and not much sun (apparently this is the worst it's been here since Derek and Jim showed up 2 months ago), but the birds were hanging in there so Derek went for a 30 minute flight before top-landing.  I was in the air shortly thereafter and managed to stay in the air for 30 minutes as well before sinking out to the Piano in the dried-up lakebed.  Not how I wanted my flight to go (short and sinking out!) but it was nice to clear the PG cobwebs and get some air under my feet again.

After a taco-fix it was back to launch for a late-day flight.  The skies were still the same (mostly cloudy) but the cycles were more consistent, and given that this is an afternoon site, we figured it would be easier to stay up this time around.  After initially planning to go solo, Derek and I went tandem instead (he's up to 17 tandems now) and it was super-smooth conditions.  Got above launch but not high enough to head over the back towards Jocotopec so this time we went to the San Marcos LZ.

Tomorrow we have a local pilot coming with a tandem so we'll have more people to fly with.  And hopefully the scuddy skies will clear up so we can go someplace XC tomorrow!

Mexico trip photos

Heading to Mexico!

Leaving the land of ice and snow
for warmer climes
Well after a short hiatus to concentrate on work, I'm now on the road again.  This time it's to Mexico for the PWC Superfinal!  I haven't actually flown since October so I'm showing up early to brush up on my skills and do some free-flying.  First it's off to Guadalajara to fly Tapalpa and San Marcos with FlyBC, and then I'll be relocating to Valle de Bravo for the SF which starts around the 23rd...I figured if I'm already gonna be in Mexico for a 2-week comp, I may as well go for 4 weeks instead!