Building Blocks of Cross Country Paragliding in Valle de Bravo.

The maiden flight of the Gin Explorer complete, day two brings with it further training in the building blocks needed to successfully paraglide cross country (XC) here in Valle de Bravo.

Sunrise.

Recovered from a gruelling first day of flying and classroom, I finally get a chance to grab a few snaps of where I am staying – Araucaria Hotel Boutique. It came highly recommended via TripAdvisor (jockeying between the #1 and #2 choice of travellers to Valle) and the rates back over the summer for a Christmas stay seemed quite reasonable. One thing I picked up in Brazil was that if there are non flying days due to weather or illness, having a nice place to kill the day in makes things far more tolerable.

View of the lake from the pool deck.
Reception.
Pool deck.
Room.

The staff are great and the room is both clean+spacious. The addition of a small closet safe is an added bonus to stash passport, cash and the netbook. The main gripe is the lack of interior ventilation, which means condensation build up over night (short of leaving a window open and having the noise of the street filter in) – condensation that will work its way into a charging video camera (causing fog up when at altitude). Also by the end of the first day one learns to give the corners of the mattress wide berth to save shins from repeated smacks into the granite platform.

The plan set the night before has me meeting Marko at the Church @ 0900 –  5 minute walk from the hotel along the lake front road. From there we will collect Al/Xiaoting, then Ignacio, and finally Enrique. A quick stop at the gas station (near the airfield I landed at the day before) to get water and up the mountain we will venture.

 

The Church.

 

Appears that this is a common meeting point for pilots looking for rides to/up El Penon.
Vendor setting up shop for the day.

 

Five to nine, Marko arrives. Along the drive to the hill, we pick up the remainder of the crew before stopping at the gas station.

Arriving at the turn off from the main road to the mountain sits another congregation area for pilots looking for a lift. Prime real estate for one thinking of capitalizing on the boredom (and caffeine dependancy of visiting pilots).

Shipping container coffee bar conveniently placed at the turn off to the mountain. Those chairs are surprisingly comfortable.

 

Shade, the most use I will ever have for a HG (aka logistical nightmare).

Up top, the routine begins – pull out wing and sort lines, ball up, place at the back of launch and cover it as best you can to keep the suns rays off to it.

The info board/site rules @ El Penon launch.

The flight plan for today is going to build upon yesterday. Where yesterday we stopped our westward trek at Crazy Thermal Place, today we will continue on with a valley crossing to Maguey.

I am amongst the last to launch and quickly slot in wth the gaggle. Prior to this trip, anything more than 3 gliders in the air and I’d consider the site crowded. After yesterday, anything less than a half dozen right next to me and I start worrying I might be in the wrong place.

Climbing gaggle.
About to slip in behind the white/orange Advance wing.
Pushing upwind to join a stronger climb with Marko on the blue/yellow 777 Pawn. Yes, an EN-A wing.
It is pretty clear by the end of the course that even a school wing can do respectable XC’s here in Valle.

30 minutes later our group congregates in a climb over Crazy Thermal and is ready for the valley crossing to Maguey.

 

At 3500 meters, over the western edge of Crazy Thermal. Maguey bound.

We quickly cross and line up with the south face of the plateau. We will need to top up altitude before continuing on to the next turn point west of us, Divisadero. Ahead a pair of gliders begin to circle in the start of a climb. While bee lining towards them the leGPSBip starts chiming.  I decide to take this climb rather than push on to the pair (and risk being left behind by their thermal). Marko will later comment that my flying style is ‘consistent and conservative’ (I think it may also be a suggestion to use the speed bar more).

Having added another 300 meters in altitude, I chase after Marco and Ignacio flying towards Divisadero.

Ignacio (red 777 Pawn) and Marco (blue 777 Pawn) gliding towards our next turn point, Divisadero.

Watching Marco turn 180 degrees and head back towards us, I know the turn point cylinder is just ahead. Sure enough the Flymaster squawks indicating turn point reached. An about face, fly back to tag Maguey, and onto our next destination, Cerro Gordo.

Before moving to Cerro Gordo, let’s recap the building blocks learnt thus far:

  1. Crazy Thermal is the primary jumping off point for XCs done in Valle. Bench up to it via El Penon and The Wall.
  2. The convergence is the west to east highway used to traverse the Mesa. It will establish early to mid afternoon and will vary in location depending on which wind holds dominance.
  3. The pair of Sacamacate and San Augustin are the staging points to make treks to eastern side of Valle.

Now for Cerro Gordo.

If one has already run into wind and crossed the valley dividing Crazy Thermal from Maguey/Divisadero, there is little need to back track across the same valley to top up again at Crazy Thermal. Instead, drive north cross wind towards Cerro Gordo. This strategy comes with a number of benefits:

  1. You are closer to Valle proper, if you wish to make a run to the lake LZ.
  2. You will invariably cross into the afternoon convergence.
  3. Cerro Gordo, on a typically west wind day, lines up rather nicely with San Augustin downwind.

It is because of points #2 and #3 that that we are going to pay Cerro Gordo a visit today.

 

Through a rather foggy lens, the rounded hill of Cerro Gordo in the foreground.
The cloud line of the afternoon convergence forming above.

Ignacio and I reach the hill first with Ignacio searching for our next climb on the west side, myself on the east. Marko mentioned the night before that we will more often than not have to do a full circle around the mountain to find climbs as they will often not be where we think they should be. The rounded shape of the mountain means that the wind will flow more around it than over and will change the thermal dynamic from what we are accustomed to.

Ignacio finds a climb in his search and I move further upwind to join it. We continue to circle while waiting for the rest of the crew to catch up. As I near the top of my climb, the clouds formed by the convergence spread and begin to shade out the immediate area.  I announce on the radio my intention to push on and point towards San Augustin. Marko warns me not to wander too far north as where I am heading to is known for significant sink. Not wanting to risk another trip into the white room, I refrain from traversing back to the southern side of the convergence. This proves to be a costly mistake.

While everyone else remains south of the convergence and glides with ease, my path along the northern edge puts me in -1.0 to -1.5 m/s sink. Not massive, but enough to mean I will be too low to capitalize on San Augustin and will instead have to grovel for lift near La Casa and the garbage dump.

And claw I do. Words from Matt Senior during an XC Course in Pemberton back in 2013 ring in my ears, “Do. Not. Give. Up.”. The conditions are weakening in the waning hours of the day. Persistence and patience are the name of the game now. The group continues on towards the Monarca turn point while I hold here. I do not have enough height to do the trip there and back safely.

So I wait … and claw … and scratch. Making the best of my predicament I edge my way south towards El Penon launch, hoping to close out a triangle.

Within half an hour the returning group nears my position and I set up to land at the airfield. Line up with runway 300 for a smooth into wind descent.

Even though I failed to make the last turn point, I am awarded with a new personal best for both duration and distance. In the words of an instructor from a CQB rifle course many a moon ago, “Congratulations gentlemen, you suck less.”

 

Sucking less.

Pack up and it’s back to the classroom for night number two. I hear we have Macready and speed-to-fly on the menu for tonight.

 

Flying done. Back to the books.

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