Task: 3 Kings 7k Exit, Aguila 400m, San Francisco 11k, Peñón 1.5k, B53 17k ESS, B53 15k, Valle 400m goal. Optimized distance: 62k
Today’s start was a fun one. We cruised out past Espina into the relatively flat lands to the south of the spine. Here there were small puffy clouds forming on and off, and just a handful of us were hanging out there for most of the 30 minutes of waiting time before start. Just before the 12:30 start, most of the field decided that we were on to something, and came over to join us. This created a bit of traffic as the start time elapsed, but we were all in good position to make our way towards Aguila.
I think I glided straight to the turn point without turning, as did most other pilots. There was not much going up on the windward side at Aguila when we got there, so after a bit of searching I found a light thermal in the lee. It was slow, but we made a few turns. As we drifted further away from the windward slope, some pilots found something on that side. It seemed like a bit of a push into wind only to arrive below them, so several of us turned downwind and went for it low back towards Diente. We arrived at our potential thermal triggers a bit lower than expected, and we landed. After the first two days of poor flying, I made a promise to myself that with nothing to lose, I would either get to goal fast or go down trying. Today I upheld that promise, so I got that goin’ for me, which is nice.
The lead gaggle was now at cloudbase and heading down the course line, as was most of the rest of the field. It sounds like it was a fun, fast day once out of Aguila, and Chifus estimated about 40 pilots in goal. Josh Cohn is rumored to have won the comp, with Brett Hazlett in second and Marko Hrgetić in third.
It’s easy to forget as we get accustomed to the Valle consistency, that this is one of the few places in the world where pilots can come not to hope for, but expect 6 out of 6 tasks during the competition week. It’s also easy to lose sight of the fact that we fly; We look for corn husks and birds in the air, and when we see them we smile. We glide through wisps of clouds. We save ourselves from death and disaster a hundred times a day. We land in the middle of Mexico, where no white tourist has ever been, and Mexico and the Mexican people welcome us with smiles and open arms, helping us get back to town or a main road. Millions of fat, rich white American men could learn the most valuable lesson of their lives from the poorest Mexican farmer.
Awards tonight with a fiesta that will go on until dawn.
Task: Cerro Pelón 4k Exit, Tres Reyes 400m, Diente 400m, San Francisco 11k, La Pila 11k, B53 17k ESS, B53 15k, Valle 400m goal. Optimized distance: 69k
We woke up to a blue day with slightly lower pressure than yesterday, meaning the climbs should be a bit higher, less turbulent and stronger. Some small clouds started to pop when we were on launch, and by the time the start gaggle was swarming over Crazy, there were wispy bits of cloud to play with. We were up around 3,000m over Crazy waiting for the start. I had a good one, and was off to the Three Kings with the lead gaggle.
A short climb over the Kings put us on our way to Diente. This small feature usually works well, and today was no exception. We were on our way back to Espina, then on to Crazy. The climb at Espina was rough and wild, but got us high enough to get on top of Crazy for a proper climb. High over Crazy, we made the standard run towards the convergence line over the mesa. At base at Agustin, I chose a more southerly (and shorter) line towards Mesa de Dolores (MesaD) while the lead gaggle chose the more conservative convergence line towards Saucos. The San Francisco cylinder radius was big, so you had those options. I tagged the San Francisco cylinder at Mesa D and looked for a climb before heading back. It got a little slow here, but now there was a handful of pilots including Marko, Scales and Henzi helping scout for lift. The lead gaggle was high under the convergence clouds heading for Sacamacate now. Still a little low, we pushed on towards “the gap” where the power lines come through the trees and converge with the main road, then on towards the garbage dump. As the convergent lift started to take hold, I loosened up the reigns a bit and let the glider fly straight down the course line. A few circles at Sacamacate as we caught the lead gaggle, and we were on our way towards Crazy.
About half of the lead gaggle chose a line towards the Peñón / Wall area, while Hazlett, Marko and myself went straight across the mesa towards the back of the Wall. Lifting almost all the way without a single turn, we were high over the wall while the others who took the Peñón route were down below ridge level. Coming in high over Crazy, we pushed a bit further to tag the large La Pila turn point, then back to Crazy to tank up to base.
A handful of the lead gaggle had stayed in front of us during the mesa crossing, so they were still a few minutes ahead. The other half of former lead gaggle pilots were struggling low over Crazy and the Wall. At base over Crazy, I saw the pilots in front of us heading back to Agustin. I was surprised by this route choice, as it’s a large dogleg in an otherwise straight line to the B53 cylinder via Cerro Gordo. There were good clouds over the Cerro Gordo / Escaleria area, so Marko, Hazlett, James Bradley and I headed straight for the 17k B53 turn point. One or two circles under the clouds marking the convergence line was all we needed to burn it in to the lake. Full bar had Marko in the lead, Hazlett gaining on him, and Bradley and I were battling it out with pulleys touching for the next two positions. There was one other pilot who looked like he was in the mix from the Agustin group, so depending on who won between Bradley and I, I got 4th or 5th. Hazlett thinks he may have overtaken an unsuspecting Marko in the last seconds before End of Speed. What a race!
The rest of the Agustin group came in a few minutes later, then it started raining gliders from everywhere. At least 40 or 50 pilots came into goal over the next hour and a half.
Another fabulous day of paragliding in Valle. It was great to finally race into goal in good position for once this week!
I didn’t hear of any incidents, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t happen.
The shot below is of a portion of the start gaggle over Crazy, just as the clouds started to pop.
Task: Piano 2k Enter, Piano 400m, Despegue 1k, Divisadero 1k, Raices 18k, Elefante 3k, Cerro Pelón 11k, B53 17k ESS, B53 15k, Valle 400m goal. Optimized Distance: 82k
Today started as a blue day; little to no signs of cumulus cloud formation on the drive up to launch or while on launch prepping gear. This generally means higher pressure, which means smaller, tighter and often rougher thermals. The weather briefing confirmed this. A fairly long task of 82k was set.
The task took us all across the mesa and areas toward the butterflies and Elefante, a pronounced feature to the northeast of town. I had a fabulous start (finally!) and the going was pretty fast throughout the launch bowl. The thermals were definitely sharper today, with many gliders folding and tucking their way upwards. I had a good session over Crazy Thermal just before heading towards Maguey, hitting lift that was so strong and violent I really didn’t know what to do with it.
Seven or eight gliders were just ahead of me and they pushed through Maguey finding no lift. I hit a boomer here that put me in good position to catch them as they searched for something below the ridge. We found what we needed and got Divisadero. Quite a rare thing occurred today that I must mention. Nick Greece took a tip that ended with a small cravat at some point during the run out to Divisadero. After repeated attempts at trying to get it out, it was obvious that it was stuck for good. It was small, but degraded his glide, speed and directional control greatly. I fantasized about how nice it would be for Nick if someone would just fly over to his wingtip and get it out for him. The air was rough and we weren’t working with a lot of terrain clearance, so it was really just wishful thinking, but nearing the Divisadero turn point, I see Matt Henzi gliding side-by-side with Nick, bobbing up and down in the turbulence attempting to yank it out for him. They made several attempts before tagging the turn point, then one or two more on the way back towards Maguey. A few minutes after I last saw Nick and Matt working on it, I saw Nick with his wing un-cravatted and with only a small broken upper cascade brake line - good to go! Matt Henzi is amazing.
We went halfway back to Maguey before finding a climb that put us within glide to the Cerro Gordo fields (just barely). I was low and one of the first into this area, but I knew that those fields produce. We sniffed around and found enough lift to put us within glide to Escelarias, then “stepped” up to the Agustin area. Here we finally got to cloudbase. High, fast racing towards the Monarca Ridge (which is where the 18k Raices turn point radius was), then a difficult into-wind push towards Elefante over the high ground. I felt low and buffeted by the wind over a sea of trees for a lot of this time, but we eventually made the Elefante turn point and back to a safe ridge. We had lost the lead gaggle near the Monarca turn point, so they were about 8 minutes ahead of us and had boosted out on this ridge where we now were. We looked for that climb without success, so we headed on a more direct line towards Cerro Pelón than the leaders had taken. Had this worked, it would have saved time, but it was also pretty much our only option, since it was over lower terrain and thus gave us some room to find something. The day had that eerie feeling of shutting down, even though it was still only about 3:30pm. Not only did this not work for those of us trying to fly fast and make an aggressive move, this route (and maybe the higher ground route as well) didn’t work for a single pilot behind us. The day really was shutting down. 8 minutes.
There were about 7 pilots in that lead gaggle that made the 11k Cerro Pelón turn point (approximately around Agustin) and flew to goal. These pilots included Josh Cohn, Nick Greece, Brett Hazlett, Matt Dadam, several others, and……wait for it……. Matt Henzi! Yes!
I landed in the cute little town of Las Palmas, and many pilots rained down in the Jovan area. A very fun day of racing with almost 4 hours of airtime in interesting conditions. Many incidents today, with a couple of reserve tosses, many collapses and tucks, and one helicopter rescue near 3 Kings. Not sure what that was about yet.
Two more days left. Bring it!
Task: Piano 2k Enter, Piano 400m, Despegue 1k, La Pila 400m, Aguila 400m, B53 17k ESS, B53 15k, Valle 400m. Optimized Distance: 56km.
Today was a sunny, fast day with beautiful cumulus clouds all over the course line. Plenty of clouds in the start area as well. I boated around near cloudbase for at least an hour before making a move for a building cloud in the perfect position for start. It didn’t pan out, so I was a climb behind with about a minute to go. I found a small climb and headed for the Piano 2k, then Piano 400m, then launch (Despegue). I needed a climb at launch for the transition back to the Crazy Thermal ridge, and was eventually on my way, about a transition behind the lead gaggle. From cloudbase at Espina we pushed hard towards La Pila in an effort to catch the leaders. They found a nice climb at La Pila, and were on their way without us once again. We also found a good climb, and now pushed into the Aguila ridge for a fun, lifty line towards the turn point. A strong climb at Aguila had us gunning for the leaders now on their way to Diente, but today was fast for everyone. It was hard to catch anyone with such fast conditions coupled with a short task. We climbed strong near Diente and pushed straight towards Maguey for our last climb to cloudbase. From here it was full bar to the lake. The B53 17k radius was somewhere in the middle of the lake, and the 15k radius was just shy of La Peña.
I landed in about 27th position. There were gliders raining down all afternoon, and it looked like most of the field made it to goal. This was the task committee’s intention; to put smiles on our faces with a goal party. There was at least one reserve toss near La Pila, and one tree landing near the far shore of the lake.
Today was a perfect day in Valle.
The shot below is just after Aguila, gliding towards Diente and eventually Maguey.
Task: Cerro Pelón 5k, Divisadero 2k, Diente 400m, Monarcas 12k, La Pila 8k, B53 17k ESS, B53 15k, Valle 400m. Optimized distance: 76k
Today we saw low clouds covering the Monarca ridge on the drive up to launch, and more low, wet clouds over the high terrain. I wasn’t in a hurry to launch, since it didn’t seem like a good day to be waiting in the sky, so I got in the normal (priority) line. The launch at El Peñon is big enough and consistent enough that getting off of the hill in time usually isn’t an issue.
People weren’t really climbing high over launch, and the folks at Peñon weren’t making it look any better. Eventually it came down to going low or not going at all. We headed to Peñon and found little, if anything. There were times when the sun would hit the valley terrain, but the thermal cycles didn’t seem to coincide much with this. After sniffing around with many others for 45 minutes or so, most of us landed in the valley or right at the Piano. Greece went down, Loopy, James Bradley, Kansas, myself and many others.
It sounds like some pilots including Josh Cohn made it pretty far around the course, but overall I think the day will be worth little. My guess, which could be totally wrong, is that the day will be worth about 300 points.
Tomorrow looks a bit overcast and the next few days after that look great, so from here we should have more great flying.
Task: Divisadero 4k, Sur 2k, Monarcas 7k, Maguey 3k, B53 16k ESS, B53 14k, Valle goal. Optimized distance: 75km.
A classic Valle day set up as we drove up the hill. Clouds started to pop during the pilot meeting, and we were off.
Crazy thermal was the place to be. We waited near cloudbase for nearly an hour as the gliders started to fill in from below. Kansas took a good one before the start, with an opening that sent him spiraling down through the crowd as they scattered in all directions. In a few turns he was back in action.
My start was great. Pushing hard to the Three Kings and continuing on to the 4k Divisadero turn point was fast. 200m away I hit good lift, but pushed through it to tag the cylinder. That was my first mistake. The others who had taken the lift before the turn point were now high and drifting right towards it, tagging it at the top of the climb and pushing back towards Maguey. I climbed in the leftover scraps and pointed towards a nice cloud over the Three Kings, thinking we didn’t need Maguey and that the Kings trick would put me back near the front. No real lift there either. That was my second mistake.
The lead gaggle climbed nicely out of Maguey, and on towards Espina. The rest of us buzzed around in a daze wondering where all the lift was, then had to go across the valley low. No worries, the lead gaggle was climbing before Espina, so we were in hot pursuit. Guess what? Nothing there for us, but we squeaked over the Espina ridge, sure to find something coming up both walls. Once again we found air that was moving around, but not in the direction we were hoping for. I left the ridge just a hundred meters over, gliding towards Cerro Pelón, the small cinder cone off of the spine. There was a nice cloud forming above it. Finally we got a good one, about 5m/s. Up to base quickly and ready to make our move to catch the lead gaggle. A long glide towards the high towns past the power lines had us needing a climb. As we came under the lead gaggle which was climbing nicely, we were once again rewarded with nothing. Now we were in survival mode, searching the terrain and sky for any signs of lifting air. Most of us landed in the town of Deneria, but Nicole McClearn and one other pilot climbed out after finding something just in time.
From there pilots got high and flew out of sight towards the butterflies. I’m not sure how it went for them from that point on, other than the reports of about 15 pilots in goal when we got back. We made the best of our situation in Deneria by playing with the kids and spending some money at a small local store. By the time we had to leave they all wanted out autographs and phone numbers. Superstars!
I felt a little out of sync and then simply out of luck today. The great thing about the Monarca is that there will be plenty of opportunity to get hit with a little good luck later this week. Vamos a volar!
Task: ATZ101 1.5km Entry, ATZ101 1k, NON080 35km, LAR110 7km, CAR083 1k ESS, CAR083 400m goal. Distance: 102km
Today was a beautiful day with light winds, tall climbs, and long distances covered. Between today and yesterday, I’m starting to realize that launch isn’t always covered in clouds, that the “normal” weather is cooler at night, warm in day, and generally perfect for flying paragliders. Below a condor thermals with paraglider pilots in front of launch.
After the start in partial shade, pilots headed north as the shade clouds dissipated. It appeared as though the flying was high and relatively fast from then on, and I watched from the cabaña as the race progressed. Pilots disappeared to the north as they ran for the large 35km cylinder around Nono, and back they came, running the ridge towards Villa Larca. It looked as though pilots were much higher than any other day here this week. It seemed like almost the whole field had made it this far around the course, and indeed, 30 or 40 pilots were reported in goal back at HQ by 19:00.
I took this fabulous day in the southern hemisphere, further from home and having spent more money than any other voluntary flying trip in my life, to relearn one of the most basic rookie mistakes of all time; know where the next two (at least) turn points are at all times. Having clicked the start in decent position, I headed towards Nono, forgetting to tag the inside ATZ cylinder. I lost enough height fixing my mistake that I was out of the game and on the ground shortly. I was joined by this Slovenian pilot and we found a ride to town in this cool old Jeep with a generous Argentinian farmer.
A big success for the day though, was having the entire family make it up to a competition launch to watch 70 gliders take flight within an hour. It was the first time for all of them, including my wife and daughter. The views were amazing and the weather was perfect for observing.
Awards at night with singing and dancing. I think the Venezuelan pilots held their leads and took first, second and third. Congrats to them!
Task: Cancelled at HQ due to strong winds from south, but...
Normally we go up the hill around 10:30am. Today we waited for strong south winds to show signs of abating until the task was finally cancelled at noon. There were several groups of pilots heading to Mina Clavero, site of a recent (2011?) Pre-PWC. I was a bit reluctant to go on a time consuming goose chase given all of the wind we had in town, but I eventually hopped in the truck with a small group and we headed north.
It was 86km by road, and would probably be around 60 or 70km by air to Mina Clavero. It’s an interesting landscape, full bedrock (gneiss) protruding everywhere, with small patches of grass and tundra-like areas to make the 20 minute walk to launch a little easier. Only a few hundred meters in height made it more pressing to climb up and out efficiently.
Several pilots had launched before us, and several of those pilots landed in the bail-out LZ. Some started to lift and even get away. I launched around 3:45pm. I joined up with Eric Ams, one of the three gringos down here for the comp, and we climbed out, following a red and white Enzo into roadless territory.
Our intent was to get as far south as we could, or even all the way to Mérlo if possible. The mountain flying began. It was a blue day for a change, and the top of lift seemed to be around 2,800m for most of the day. After a very low save (100m?) and a long walk avoided, I eventually got up over 3,100m in the higher peaks. Eric and I were staying close together now, watching the kilometers to Mérlo tick down. We were surprised to have a tailwind the whole way. I saw an airplane that had long since crashed into the hillside, just 50m under the ridge. He almost made it. We thermaled with several condors and saw countless human-made rock walls, rings and huts on the ridge and high hillsides.
We landed at the bus station in Mérlo with big smiles. Home by 6:30pm.
Today was a fabulous day of free-flying. It makes the lack of official comp tasks so much easier to swallow when you can sneak a few nice recreational flights in during the week.
When we flew into town, there were pilots soaring the main launch as well. It may have been a bit premature to call the task off so early, but everything’s easy in hindsight.
The shot above shows the Mina Clavero launch and surrounding landscape. Below is a shot of Eric and I on our way to Mérlo.
Task: Cancelled due to incoming valley wind (40kph)
Driving up the hill with towering cumulus already overhead and cloudbase way below launch had most people thinking that the day would be cancelled. To our surprise, the clouds lifted and stopped growing vertically. A task was set, we all launched, and then we noticed a dust wall marching northward on the flats. The organizer, “Oreja,” made a phone call or two and discovered reports of a 40kph wind coming towards us. It was predicted to hit us in 30 minutes, which is just barely enough time go get 60 pilots to the ground from cloudbase - especially the ones who didn’t have their radios on.
Wingovers and spirals to the ground. Most of us opted not to fly out to Mérlo, but land in the bail-out LZ closer to the hill. It was clearly visible that the wind would hit Mérlo first. I think everyone made it to the ground safely, although it looked pretty close for the small group of pilots who did choose to fly to town.
Today actually looks sunny and clear for a change, even though it was windy all night long. Today and tomorrow are our last chances at getting any more tasks in.
Task: Tal 1km Entry, Tal 400m, Paz 5k, Pap 400m, Lar 1k ESS, Lar 400m goal. Total distance: 75km
It happened. We did it. We flew, we raced and it was beautiful!
I got caught in between gliders launching above and below me on launch, which had me in the air about 25 minutes before the start. I was still able to get into good position, and watched as both the meters and seconds counted to zero at the same time - a little too close for me; I did another circle just to be sure.
What we thought would be an upwind push to the north (given the wind direction on launch and drift of gliders in the air before start) was actually fairly fast and if anything, we had a slight tailwind. Tagged the large northern cylinder, leaving the mountains for a more “optimal” turn point tag, then back low in the hills. There were three of us in the lead, Juan Carlos Becerra, a Venezuelan on the blue Enzo in the shot below, a Chilean pilot (Ruben) on an Icepeak 6, and myself. We turned south and realized that the easy leg was behind us. Plenty of lift though, so we made our way down the mountains. Many condors to keep us company and show us the way. Venezuela was pushing hard and Chile and USA were close behind. We all got low just before the shot below was taken, near these amazing rocky peaks. It was here that we not only had a slight headwind from the south, but the wind was now coming strong from the east, pushing us off of the mountains and into the flats.
The clouds that had been over the mountains were getting pushed west over the flatlands, shading out the normal route south. We had to run far to the west to find any sun. Great climbs up to base, but a strong headwind towards Pap (Papagayos). Juan Carlos continued west under the cloud street, while Ruben and I saw some sun and a good cloud forming more on course line. I ran for the cloud, but with the strong wind and only very recent sun, the lift was broken and weak. We landed a few kilometers short of Papagayos. Juan Carlos had climbed again, and got another kilometer or so out of the deal.
About half an hour later, the chase gaggle came, and working together, managed to find a couple of small climbs over the now full-sun course line, but the wind was strong. They (about 4 or 5 pilots) landed between Juan Carlos and myself. I’m going to guess I was about 7th for the day. There were rumors of two pilots landing in goal, but I certainly didn’t see it happen, and they were probably on their way to Papagayos, not coming back. A fabulous day, exciting and fast.
Whether it’s their massive size and wingspan, their splayed wingtip feathers, or their white heads and stripes, flying with condors over uninhabited Argentinian mountains is amazing. It gives a glimpse back in time - millions of years back in time.
Task: Cancelled due to low clouds and over-the-back conditions.
Another cloud-engulfed upper launch with unfavorable winds had us moving to the lower launch by 2pm. Once there, the same over-the-back conditions were present, with very brief periods of calm or upslope winds. It was clearly unsafe for launching the whole field in a reasonable time frame, and the task was cancelled. Free-flying was optional, and many good and bad launches kept the rest of us entertained. After filming and photographing the action, I was one of the last to attempt to launch, but I was 5 minutes too late. The sky dropped out, clouds came down the hill and rain fell before I could pull up. This left a group of us packing our gliders on launch, in the rain.
In the photo, a windsock helper turns downslope into upslope, just like that.
We are totally fogged in this morning in town, so it’s hard to say what it looks like. The virtual non-existence of internet has me clueless on weather forecasts. Luckily I’m still able to upload to the internet without much trouble to get this blog out.
Task: Cancelled at HQ due to general nastiness (wind, rain, thunderstorms)
Today was looking bad from the start, with wind in the valleys and in the clouds, over-the-back conditions on launch, and storms already brewing by early morning out in the flats and above and behind launch on the Córdoba plateau. The day was cancelled at HQ and other activities were planned.
I went to the cabaña to hang out with the family. Throughout the day, thunderstorms with heavy rain and even hail rolled through every half hour or so. I think the lifelong Atacama desert residents were impressed and even a little bit worried about the storms, but it felt like any summer afternoon in Montana for the Bozeman contingent.
The shot above was taken at that magic moment just before sunset, and shows the classic east wind clouds rolling down from the ridge, dissipating as the air sinks and warms. The clouds were there in the morning, and remained all day. The shot below was thought to be an accidental shutter release by the rest of the girls, but I think it’s one of my better shots. We were playing in the warm thunderstorm puddles in the lawn.
Today looks almost as bad as yesterday, but it sounds like Wednesday things should be better.
Task: Arb 1k, Arb 400m, Sau 3k, Pap 3k ESS, Pap 2k goal. Total distance: 60km
Met at HQ, signed in, paid, got waypoints, loaded vehicles and got up to launch. It was fogged in, so we waited for a couple of hours. Tartas, fruit and water were given out as an included lunch. Tartas are a personal-sized pie crust with baked vegetables inside, sometimes with egg or cheese. They are on my short list of relatively healthy, filling vegetarian options in a country that loves meat.
The clouds lifted and we all set up, but it being full heat and mid-day conditions down in the valley, the wind was picking up. As the first pilots (including myself) were about to launch, they closed the launch window to evaluate conditions. Another hour or so passed. If anything, conditions got stronger so I started to pack up my gear. More pilots started making the same decision, and eventually everyone was packing up and loading vehicles. It was a bit strange, as there was never any official word from the organization during this time - it was just assumed by all that the day was cancelled.
Walking to the cabaña, I stumbled into the girls about to take a guided tour of the lesser seen attractions of the area with our cabaña owner. I jumped in and for the next few hours we saw numerous interesting parks, shops, plazas and views of the mountains and countryside that would be hard to see on your own accord here. A 1,200 year old tree with poetry by Antonio E. Agüero posted here and there throughout the park was interesting:
Last night and this morning have been breezy. I’ll let you know how it goes…
Task: Get a feel for the area, make it back in time for meeting.
We got up to a very socked-in launch, waited in the restaurant for an hour or more, then headed down to one of the several lower launches. It was great there, and people were flying and staying up. We launched around 3pm. Finding lift was easy. The more difficult task was staying out of the clouds. Cloudbase was around 2,000m.
I, as well as many other pilots, flew south. There was a light tailwind and the flying was relaxing and fun. Occasional birds (condors?) to show the way when needed. With all of the tourist-type traveling we’ve been doing, it was refreshing to finally get in the air and run with it a bit. I sort of forgot about the whole retrieve and pilot meeting thing. Hearing retrieve chatter on the radio had kept me reassured, but when a couple of pilots and I were the furthest ones south, I started to wonder how far retrieve was willing to go on this practice day. I turned around about 60km south of launch, and was only able to push about 10km into the wind before landing on the main road. Not a big deal, still had 2 hours to make it back 50km to HQ for waypoints and registration.
After successfully relaying my location to retrieve before I landed, I felt good about the retrieve prospects. Then the walking began. I walked towards Mérlo along the shoulderless road for three hours, or about 12km before the sun finally set. I had been sticking out my thumb, radio in hand, expensive camera around my neck, for every car that passed. At the very least someone would see the gear and pick me up to rob me, right? I don’t think hitchhiking is very popular here. Nobody stopped. I finally came to a house with a car parked in the front, but when I asked if I could pay someone good money to drive me into town, the 10 year old “man of the house” came out to talk to me and told me that his dad was away and that none of the eight women sitting on the patio knew how to drive. Back on the road, and just as it was truly getting dark, a sturdy man in a newish-but-well-used diesel Ford truck stopped for me. He drove me to the nearest town where I caught the “colectivo” bus into Mérlo. I arrived into town around 10pm, and still had about 30 minutes of walking to get to the cabaña. Super tired and hungry, but Ana had cooked some amazing ravioli with fresh parmesan and red sauce.
Today looks overcast and possibly windy, but we will go through the paces up to launch regardless. I still need to find someone who’s willing to give me waypoints and take my entry fee money. The adventure continues...
Task: Find a cabaña for a family of 5.
After a reservation mix-up with a different cabaña rental company (there are many), we spent one night in the Paradiso Hotel. The nice lady at the front desk recommended this cabaña (Eligidos), and it’s the perfect little two story, 5 bed cabin with full kitchen, 2 bathrooms, swimming pool, large yard/garden, balcony and breakfast included for about $62 usd per night. The kitchen was really what we were after. With restaurant food prices similar to those in the States, feeding 5 people three meals a day can get expensive. The fridge is now stocked, there’s fruit on the table and tea on the counter. Done!
The main strip (Avenida del Sol) is paved, with most other streets dirt. We are 5 blocks off of the main strip. Nights are quiet and the daytime views of the mountains are perfect. Ariana plays with flowers in the garden below:
Fast wifi is the only problem in this town, as it’s a co-op system - the whole town uses communal wifi, which makes it free for all residents, but also reduces speeds to a crawl. I just heard my computer send a short text-only email after sending it 15 minutes ago.
Anyway, all settled in and ready for the practice day. The weather has been stormy and rainy since we arrived, but today looks a bit better.
Task: Let the city girls run before trapping them in a beautiful mountain village.
An overnight flight out of Atlanta, GA put us in Buenos Aires in the morning. After a short wait for mama Rosa and tía Rosita to arrive from Perú, we made our way to the hotel. Right in the center of the action, the Unique Chateau in the “Recoleta” district was a perfect spot to stage from for a few days. Luckily we booked online before we came, making for an easy $67 usd per night compared to almost $200 if booked at the front desk.
Buenos Aires is a beautiful city with a more sophisticated feel than one might expect for a large, South American metropolis. As shown in the photo above, aesthetics is something that is paid attention to during the building process. The traffic and pace of the city seemed healthy and manageable, and although we opted not to rent a car, driving in the city seemed straightforward and relatively safe. The bus system was an easy and inexpensive way to move quickly around the city.
Numerous parks and plazas made for relaxed jogging and walking throughout the day. This shot of the Plaza Republica de Chile caught my eye with yellow flowers that had fallen from tall trees spread across the ground.
We took a boat tour of the Delta Tigre, one of the 5 largest deltas in the world. It was an interesting glimpse into “life on the delta,” where there are no roads, only waterways and boat access. Below, a group of boys hangs out on an old pier during the heat of the day, swimming off and on. The water was relatively clean and swimmable, although cloudy with sediment at this time of year.
Also on our list was a visit to Puerto Madero, a series of “diques” which contained a decommissioned battle ship. Ana and Ariana climb the stairs in the shot below.
It seems like a trip to La Boca is a required tourist stop, with colorful old buildings, daytime tango shows and the opportunity to pose with a handsome young Argentinian man before lunch. Yeah Rosita!
Other stops included a modern art museum, shopping, the “Puente de la Mujer,” and two trips to “El Cuartito,” a great pizza shop in the Recoleta/San Nicolas district, among other things. It was finally time to take an 11 hour overnight bus ride into the middle of Argentina, landing in the town of Mérlo. The bus ride was actually great, including plenty of food and drinks and seats that you could actually sleep in, reclining nicely with full leg support, bathrooms, movies, etc.
Task: B17 4k Entry, B17 3k, A48 20k, B52 1k, A43 2k ESS, A43 Goal Line. Optimized Distance: 98km.
Although late out of camp, we got to the top of the hill in good time and quickly entered a task into our instruments. Down to launch for a very early launch window opening and off the hill by about 11:15 am. Here’s where things got slow. There was thick smoke and haze and a visible inversion, which happened to be at about 3,200m. It was slow going around the launch area. I had a fairly low save all alone over the buildings just below launch that got me back up to launch height, but getting much higher was a struggle, if not impossible.
As the race start time passed, nobody left. We all felt like we were too low to make the crossing. The actual start cylinder was still 8k away, so we were a good 30 minutes behind to begin with. Eventually people started to go for it low. Martin Orlik and I decided to go for a more southerly route down towards Hailey, then cross the valley towards some hills that looked great: into the wind, full sun on three sides, etc. The bulk of the field went straight across the valley to arrive more quickly and higher, but further to the north on these hills. It was either the power of the gaggle, pure luck, or absolute genius flying that allowed these pilots to climb out of the northwest end of these hills, while Martin and I (and a few others now) had nothing on the sunny, windward side. I ridge soared for half an hour or so at the top of this hill before trying to fly out over the valley to find something. I landed, and about an hour and a half later, Martin was still in the same spot on the hill, ridge soaring until something came through. I got picked up by a German maid and carried to headquarters. I hope Martin’s patience paid off.
Back at HQ, we watched the lead gaggle make their way through the course, usually under 3,000m. It looked like low, slow going, but they were ticking through the kilometers. Somewhere in there some dangerous wind came along and the task was stopped, but it will be scored. I think a couple of pilots had made goal before it was stopped. Each pilot will be scored according to where they were 10 minutes before the task was stopped, then given a 2:1 glide ratio for distance from that point. Sounds like Mark Watts flew well today, so he probably won the event.
Even if I had flown well today, it wasn’t the big, fast, beautiful type of day that this place is known for. With another stopped task, it feels like an anticlimactic end to an already below average week, but hey, that’s just me sitting at camp - maybe the guys in goal and close to goal will have different stories.
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Task: a 60km zig-zag along the King Mt., (Lost River) range near Moore, ID. Cancelled due to wind and rotor at launch.
After meeting at headquarters at 11am it was decided that the only possibility for a task was to head to a more windward launch. King Mountain was the best option logistically, so the PWC headed east for the day. Flags in the flatlands during the drive were showing at least 40kmh from the west. We arrived and congregated in the Moore park, added some new waypoints manually, set a task and headed up the hill in vans and trucks.
The wind was cranking into launch, which faces SW, and the windsock on a knoll to the NW of launch was showing NW wind consistently. It looked as though we’d be launching in rotor, but the hope was that the thermal cycles coming up the slope would make launching safe and easy. Reports of 39kmh (a paraglider’s trim speed) were reported at ridge level via weather soundings. We waited for a couple of hours for things to relax, but no significant change was observed, and I never heard anything about the ridge level wind decreasing. With no wind dummies willing to launch in these conditions, they opened the window early for any competition pilots willing to launch.
A few pilots got off of launch nicely, and had good climbs in front, getting quite high and reporting “Level 1” (good conditions). The lower King launch is huge, and a much more friendly slope for laying out and preparing your kit than Baldy, so everyone was laid out everywhere. For some reason, pilots weren’t moving down below other pilots prepping before launching, so there was a comical flow of pilots bringing up their wings in the middle of everyone, dancing, skipping and hopping over other people and equipment. For the most part this worked, but there were several instances where it didn’t. As Brett Zanglein was moving his rosetted glider to a suitable launching spot just above my wing (which was ready to launch), another pilot made the obstacle course run through the pack above us. He slammed into Brett who was looking at other things, like where to walk so as not to step on other people’s gear, etc. Brett was thrown into my glider and pushed across it as the pilot also landed on my glider and lines and draped his glider across several other pilots setting up. Interesting.
After this first wave of pilots launched and climbed, the second wave of us launched in a cycle and immediately realized that conditions were changing rapidly. We bobbled and swung as a large pack of about 20 or 30 gliders that had launched within 60 seconds of each other. It was apparent that the NW wind on the windsock was now the overpowering wind, and launch was completely in the rotor from the hill to the NW. Holding our gliders together was our first task, creeping around the hill to get into the cleaner NW flow was the next task. I had ground speeds as low as 3kmh rounding this bend, and only low teens once around the front side. After several reports of Level 2 and even some Level 3’s, the task was cancelled.
We landed at a nice and relatively new flight park near the base of King, had a lemonade or beer, and made our way back to Ketchum.
It’s a fine line between trying your hardest to get a task in and keeping it safe for everyone. We got lucky with only a couple of minor scuffs and bruises on launch, but the unsafe signs were there if we would have been willing to see them.
Today looks like it may be flyable at Baldy, so we are excited to give it one final try.
The shot above is of Emmanuel Guadarrama (MEX) and several other pilots flying out from King Mt in the background.
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Task: Baldy 8k Exit, Borah LZ 4k, Challis 1k ESS, Challis Goal Line. Optimized distance: 105km
Today’s weather was looking pretty marginal due to upper level winds from the west. The main Baldy launch faces SE, which creates a rotor / leeside situation. Normally light west wind will be overpowered by thermals, since the sun has been hitting the slope for hours before pilots launch there, but if the wind is strong enough from the west, it’s ugly and dangerous on takeoff.
A quick pilot meeting and a fairly hefty task was set to Challis. If launch stayed safe for all pilots to get a fair shot at getting in the air, this task would be very possible and pretty fast.
The launch window opened early, at 11am. Many pilots weren’t able to have their gear ready for this early start, but many of us were. Thermals were coming up the slope, creating short launchable cycles between downslope breezes. Several pilots had spicy launches and launch attempts before me, and mine was no different. Bringing the wing up in a nice cycle, I caught a chunk of energy that popped me off of my feet as the wing shot forward. The safest thing was to shut it down before it got worse, so I yanked brakes. I landed fairly softly, but on one knee, which ended up tearing my new pants on the rocky slope. Anyway, cleaned lines and reset for another try. Got off clean this time, but the air in front of launch was particularly spicy. I wanted ground clearance, so went straight out over the Ketchum valley and found nicer, lifty air. Up to around 4,000m here. Meanwhile there was more drama on launch, with some pilots doing inadvertent SIV maneuvers over the area as they attempted to climb next to the hill like they would normally do, and many exciting launches.
Every time I looked back toward the launch area I could see gliders lurching and pitching aggressively.
Launch conditions continued to deteriorate. Eventually it was too dangerous to go on, so the task was cancelled.
Many of us were high in nice air now, with the choice of either landing in strong valley winds and rotor, or continuing on towards the east. A small group had organized to attempt to fly to Jackson, WY. This would potentially break the new foot launch record of about 205 miles set only a few weeks ago by Nick Greece, a week or so before that by Nate Scales at 198 miles, and a week before that by Matt Beechinor at 188 miles. What a summer it has been! With a week of this type of open distance flying approaching, not wanting to tax the already taxed PWC organization, and the visuals being sub-par due to smoke (as shown above), I opted to land in the windy valley with the majority of the field. Frederic Bourgault and Matt Henzi are still in the air and have flown further than 200 kilometers as of about 5pm. Go guys go!
There is a party at Lefty’s tonight. The next two days look even windier, so tonight might get a little crazy. Did I mention free beer?
I’m really hoping for a change for the better regarding the weather so this can be a valid PWC event, and so these pilots from around the world get what they came for.
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