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

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 - updated for December 2023

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.   Another option is for you to install an e-sim prior to leaving your home country.  2 options are Airalo or Ubigi...both have Mexican e-plans and you'll be sorted as soon as your plane lands in Mexico!

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 (245 pesos) and then get a taxi from Toluca to Tenancingo (400-600 pesos depending on your haggling skills).  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 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 (70-100 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 "Zina/Teo" companyand cost 44 pesos.

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

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 1500-2000 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.  Note: as of December 2023, the launch is covered in a bean crop, so you'll have to launch at the very bottom of the slot.

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.  Note: the local farmer/landowner, if present, will ask you for a 50-peso launch fee.

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 (100-120 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 ~200 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.  Note as of December 2023: Daniel plans to have the final part of the road to launch paved sometime in 2024, so there is the possibility of taking a taxi all the way to launch, once paving is complete!

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.  (As of December 2023: Daniel plans to enlarge launch even more by taking out the rocks near the outhouse on the west end.)  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.  Another common LZ is the Cinema, a short distance beyond 2 Trees and closer to the main road and taxis back to town.  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'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

Woodside September 16, 2021

Rather stable conditions but good practice for those light scratchy days!  Bobbed around at launch height or below for most of the flight, but occasionally able to get above 850m.

It was actually blowing over the back on launch for much of the day, which slowed down launch cycles and made for some interesting toplandings.  Peter's toplanding was quite fast he reported, and Alex resorted to a fly-on-the-wall landing to accommodate the east wind.

A very nice fall day, not much for XC, but fun to hang out with a bunch of pilots on launch and land at FlyBC for possibly the last time, since they have sold their property and will be unavailable for pilot landings after November 2021.

Interior Road Trip September 9-15, 2021

With school back in session, most people back to work, and the forest fire smoke dissipating, it was time for an Interior road trip!  Started with a flight at Bridal Falls (we were driving by anyways!) and it was doing that thing where the south wind causes the cloud to "shelf" over the Bridal range.  Still flyable and easy to get to cloud base at 1700m, but going west I stopped at Gloria since Elk Mountain was very shady with zero sun on the slopes, whereas the Bridal ridge still had sun patches every so often.

Bridal Falls flight.

After spending the night near Hedley, we pulled in to the Ripley/Ottos LZ the following morning and hiked up to Ripley to join up with Pete and Rob for a quick ridge soar before the wind died and the clouds came in.  It's a good thing we were a group of 2...we startled a very fat black bear who was snoozing in the bushes next to the hiking trail and he exploded out of the bush away from us...we later on lots of bear scat with embedded berries, and Alex reported seeing him again from the air later on.  

It's a short hike up to both Ripley and Ottos.  Photo courtesy of Alex Raymont.

The local club has a "clubhouse" set up on the way to Ottos launch, on the private property of the local landowner who is happy for us to stay on his property so long as we are quiet and clean up.  It has a fantastic view and is secluded and gated off, perfect for camping!  And you can hike up to Ottos right from there, and land there if you like, which is what several people did the following day when it was light and hadn't yet turned on.  Alex and I waited for it to turn on a bit more before launching, since the site is low enough that you can easily sink out.

Dinner at the Ottos clubhouse!  Photo courtesy of Alex Raymont.
Ottos flight.

Both Ripley and Ottos are lovely sites and the local pilots are very friendly and will happily show you the launches and LZ...just hit them up on the local WhatsApp chat group!

Ottos launch with the lingering forest fire smoke near Osoyoos.  Photo courtesy of Alex Raymont.

After a couple days in the southern Okanagan, we relocated to the Vernon/Lumby area to fly Coopers since there was a light wind day coming up, and we hadn't flown Coopers in years.  Freedom Flight Park is at the base and caters to both HG and PG pilots, does lessons, towing, ultra lighting, and has camping and kitchen facilities available.  Many pilots set up shop for the entire season and just base out of there!  The launch is also fantastic...they have carpeted pretty much the entire thing so you can lay out anywhere and keep your gear clean, nice!
Baldy launch has some new black carpet!  Photo courtesy of Alex Raymont.

Despite the light winds it was actually blowing over the back up high, and once launching it was very leeside but stay-up-able.  Cloudbase was around 2400m with lots of clouds over the plateau behind launch, these clouds later on dissipated as the afternoon dried up.  Flights to almost Vernon Mountain and return, plus some local triangle flying around the Lumby area.  It was so nice to still have XC conditions in September!
Alex launching King Eddy on an almost-blown-out day.

Lilloet just outside the visitor centre.

Lots of flying at Baldy/King Eddy as well with the Paraglide Canada crew plus locals.  The Baldy launch is currently carpeted as well and I believe they will be "beefing up" the carpet next season.

After a couple days in the Vernon/Lumby area, we decided to hit up Pemberton on the way back to Vancouver for a final XC flight to close out the local season.  We actually saw new snow on the peaks along the Duffy Lake road, winter is definitely coming!  And it was extremely cold at altitude in Pemberton (2500m), very much like early Spring flying.  It was actually overdeveloping in spots and it felt a bit pushy to stay in the air too much longer, so I just did the run to Copper Dome and return, landing at the Beer Farm in the shade from an overdeveloping cell.

On final glide to the Beer Farm with the overdevelopment all around.
Pemberton flight.

Nice landing at the Beer Farm, I wouldn't want to be landing in Pemberton now!

All in all a successful road trip to close out the local XC season, and time to start thinking about a winter flying trip!

Miller Ridge Pemberton July 29, 2021

The RASP was looking epic for the Pemberton region, so lots of pilots were playing hooky today!  And with the light winds aloft, with an easterly component in the morning, that meant Miller Ridge, so I was up at 5am in order to get to Pemberton in time for the shuttle ride to that site!

Yummy RASP for Miller!

This late in the year the mountains have really dried up so there is less moisture, which means less mosquitos during the hike to Miller, a far cry from hiking there in May or June!

A lot of pilots were planning on flying to Whistler and back, but I wanted to try for the 200km OR, which is doable when the days are long enough to allow for 7 or 8 hour flights.  And the first part of the flight was indeed relatively the east side of the mountains until North Creek, jump over to the afternoon side, and continue to Spindrift.  But at Spindrift it felt quite windy, and I was hesitant to continue to Athelstan in that kind of wind, since if you land out, the only retrieve is via the old FSR, which I'm not 100% sure is gated nowadays or not...

Anyways, I decided to go for it, and getting to Athelstan was indeed easy, but coming back was slow, and cost me time (that plus the hesitation).  But once back on the familiar terrain it was a straight shot back to MacKenzie launch.  It was getting later and the conditions were "smoothing out" so the jump over the back to Lil'wat was uneventful, and I saw several pilots coming back from their trek down Lilloet Lake, so I knew going and coming back was still doable.  But it was getting late enough that I didn't want to risk getting caught down the lake, so I turned around early, cutting off a few kms in order to close my flight successfully.

Now, doing the return from Lil'wat back to MacKenzie can be challenging, especially in inflow conditions which usually set up this time of day.  So I made sure to top-up to 3200m in order to make it across with no issues.   Good thing since a Whistler Express had set up and the pilots lower down were starting to get in it, the regular LZ was becoming not very nice to land in.  So closed the flight by recrossing back over to Miller and then landing at the Beer Farm in light winds.

In the end it wasn't quite 200km, I cut the corners a bit on both ends in order to make it back, had I been faster and less hesitant about the Spindrift to Athelstan and return portion, I may have had more time to get the extra 30km.  Will have to try again next year when the days get long enough again!

164 km OR in Pemberton.

Mt. St. Benedict July 22-23, 2021

 The BCXC tour is back in the Fraser Valley to escape the Interior fires and the wind at higher altitudes, the FV works for this since we are not allowed past 1981m anyways :)  After doing a quick orientation of the Virtue LZ, we headed up to launch, with a brief delay on the spur road since a film shoot was blocking the road while they finished a scene (a western-themed Hallmark film).

My original plan was to fly to Mt. Woodside, but after launching I was watching the clouds forming over the Steelhead region so I decided to play over there instead.

Waiting for some sun!  Photo courtesy of Richard Bruneau.

It was pretty easy to stay up over there and cruise around over the Steelhead and then the outskirts of Mission, making sure to stay outside the Mission CYR prison airspace.  Eventually the clouds started to fizzle so I turned around to return to the Miracle Valley side of things, when all of a sudden the clouds started to reform at a higher altitude, so I turned around again and found myself at airspace.  The RASP had forecast a "cloud event" around 4pm so it kinda made sense, and I wondered if it was just the up-high instability finally mixing down to the lower levels.

In any case I figured I may as well fly to Woodside since there was a retrieve there anyhow, but with the strong west wind coming over the back at Deroche, I was shot down in the rotor (the mountains face very SE there) and had to land at the base of Harrison knob in very strong windy conditions.  Fortunately there are a couple of large fields there and some barns/outbuildings to pack up behind!

Flight from Mt. St. Benedict to Mission and then to Harrison knob

The following day we returned to MSB, quite windy from the south the further to Dewdney we got.  Finally got to 1500m over Dewdney but wasn't feeling it was worth flying to Woodside, it seemed very similar to yesterday minus the yummy clouds, so turned back to land at the Virtue LZ.  Richard and Norm tried but ended up in Deroche instead.

William's Lake July 20-21, 2021

With the abundant smoke in the BC Southern Interior, pretty much the only place, outside the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island, was the Cariboo and north.  Fortunately we had a Williams-Lake pilot on our tour, Bill Goglin of Hillbilly Paragliding, with some sites he wanted to show us from near his hometown!

Most of us had never been to the Williams Lake area for flying, and it actually seems quite promising for flatland flying after a hill start.  With the numerous cutblocks and FSR's, on a map at least you can easily fly 200+km from Williams Lake with minimal airspace issues or large mountain ranges to deal with.  Following the river from Williams Lake to Quesnel is the obvious run for south-wind days.

Bill put us up at his property so we were camping in style!

With the SW winds and chance of overdevelopment, we chose Kaufmann's as the site of the day.  It's so named since the bombout LZ is owned by the Kaufmann family.  They have a large farm + airplane landing strip at their property, and welcome all pilots, just don't land in the crops and park off to the side to keep the runway and access to the fields open!

Kaufmann's launch with the Kaufmann family farm/LZ below.

The road up Kaufmanns is pretty good, 4WD in most places and only a few small mud bogs (now dried up) to get through.  You end up on a small clearing which you can launch from as-is, or take a small tarp to keep your lines off the bushes.

The skies were getting a bit large, and it actually rained on launch for ~15 minutes or so, just enough to dampen the dust down and ease the heat.  But up high it was forecast to be a bit chilly due to the instability, and once in the air we could see overdevelopment to the north and east of us.

Kaufmanns is located on a plateau above Soda Creek, so once in the air you are quite high up relative to the Fraser River.  When flying north you cross highway 97 and have the option of following the river, or going inland and overflying Gibraltar Mine and staying more "inland".  The mine is actually situated over higher terrain, and on a "regular" day would be the ideal option for staying high, but today was overdeveloping around the mine and to the east, so staying over the river was the better option.

Looking to the NE from launch and Gibraltar Mine.  OD to the NE.

Unfortunately there was a cell just to the west of the river dropping rain, and it was moving very slowly, and we were approaching it as we flew north.  Even hanging around and trying to slow down we were approaching the cell so had to detour around it.  But the damage had been done...the ground had been cooled off by the shade and rain, and even though it was sunny again, we were too early for the ground to have had time to heat back up, and most of us landed within a few kms of each other.  Peter and Richard got a few kms further, and actually encountered a headwind (from the north) as they got closer to Quesnel, so turned around to land at the same area the rest of us had landed at earlier.  

Flight to the north from Kaufmann's launch in Soda Creek.

Looking north towards Quesnel along the Fraser River.  There is a ridge of higher land to the north which would be ideal to fly over on a non-OD day.

Since this was our first time flying the site, we are unsure if a north wind (on a south day) is normal for the Quesnel area, so it's sometime to keep in mind if we fly here again.  But I think this would be a great place to go big on XC (200km?) since the terrain is so wide open, the airspace is minimal, and there's lots of places to land with relatively flat/easy retrieve along the FSR's and no locked gates.  We will have to come back in the springtime when cloudbase is high and OD/thunderstorm/fire season has not yet begun!

We stopped at McLeese Lake on the way back to cool off.  OD now visible to the west as well.

The wind/smoke forecast for the more southerly parts of the province was still looking grim, so we decided to stay in Williams Lake for a second day and fly another site called Onward, located in St. Joseph Mission, just outside Williams Lake proper.  This is a small site (~1000' AGL!) and faces almost due north.  It is supposedly ridge soarable in a NE or NW wind, but the day we were there it was light winds, at least initially, so it was either thermal out, or wait for the NW to kick in.  But the forecast was for afternoon OD so it seemed like a good idea to launch early.  Launching at this site in light winds is not's relatively flat and there is a small lip to run over, and not much wind gets to the back part of launch where your glider is sitting...the bushes on launch really need a haircut :)

We stopped at the Onward LZ and it was already overdeveloping to the west.

The launch is so low to the ground it's easy to sink out, and James actually did, sacrificing his flight to the thermal-gods so the rest of us could fly XC, thanks James!

The skies were actually shading out quite strongly when I launched so I was happy just to not sink out.  I was able to slowly climb to 2000m and then it was time to fly SE.  Once again you have the option of flying over the higher terrain close to launch, or you can choose to fly next to highway 97...we all chose to fly over highway 97 due to the OD which was chasing us from the west.

Onward launch looking NE.

Onward launch looking NNW.

The going was extremely slow and the climbs were super-weak (think 0.5 m/s!), but so long as you patient, you could drift south indefinitely so long as you stayed in the weak climbs.  In this fashion Claudia, Richard, and I drifted SE towards Lac La Hache.  The sun was disappearing and the clouds were spreading out, so it was getting more and more difficult to identify spots of OD easily, and there was rain cells about, and then it started to get strangely lifty and no skill required to stay up.  Meanwhile Richard, who had landed a few kms behind me, radioed that the north wind had died to be replaced by a rapidely-increasing south wind.
Onward launch is a bit overgrown with bushes...Tyler and James parawaiting in the shade.

Now in the past, when this phenomenon happens, I aim to get out of the air ASAP, since this usually means a towering cu or cu-nim is nearby and a possible gust front, and with all the shade about, I couldn't tell exactly where it was or how close I was to it.  So I radioed that I was landing, found a field to land in, and landed in a light south wind with rain sprinkles about.

Looking SE towards Lac La Hache, I landed a few minutes later when it became too easy to stay up.

Flight from St. Joseph Mission to the SE.

About 10 minutes later, as I was just finishing packing up, the south wind rapidly increased to about 20 kph (the gust front starting up!) and the cell tower on the small hill across the highway (500 m away) was struck by lightening, I was looking straight at the tower when it happened so had an unobstructed view of the show.  Time to get under cover!  Fortunately the retrieve van was waiting for me so I was able to get to safety and escape the wind and approaching rain.

Looking back to the NW; packing up just before the gust front hit.

As we were south of Williams Lake and the weather was forecast to turn for the worse in the Cariboo region, we decided the best option for the next couple of days was the Fraser Valley, so we continued south, driving past the Flat Lake fire, the Ashcroft Fire, the Merrit Fire, and the July Mountain/Coquihalla Fire.  I'm sure glad were were flying north of all that, since the skies in the southern Interior were super-smokey with low or no visibility.  We will have to return to the Williams Lake area next spring to see what the XC possibilities are like, and try again when it's not so overdevelopy!