Finally the opportunity to do what I came here for – to fly my new Gin Explorer paraglider.
Marko, having given our respective kits a once over, provides a run down of the day:
- Wait for a respectable mass of pilots to launch and watch to see if many are able to climb out. If not, wait until either the launch conditions start to test our comfort level or some of the herd begins to transition from the house thermal out front to the rock face of El Penon.
- Once launched, immediately turn left to catch the tail of lift from the thermal kicking off from the foothills below.
- Drive into wind and join the gaggle.
- Once above 2800m (for the high EN-Bs), consider transitioning and aim to hit the south west edge of El Penon. Additional turns above 2800 nets additional options.
- If no climb is found right away upon arrival, soar the rock face.
- Once above the rock, move onto The Wall.
- Ridge soar up above the lip to then thermal and get enough height to jump onto Crazy Thermal Place.
- It goes without saying, if someone finds a climb within glide while soaring – race to them. There is no shame in pimping off of other pilots.
- Once everyone is above Crazy Thermal Place, we will play follow the leader to learn the XC building blocks of flying Valle (especially the interior of the Mesa that The Wall and Crazy Thermal Place form part of).
Sounds like a plan.
11AM. Word given to start getting ready. As we close in on noon, expect conditions to become … challenging.
1130. Laid out and ready to give it a try. First pull up turns into an abort due to a cross gust. Assistance from Marko’s retrieve driver enables the Explorer to be reset for a second attempt.
Second pull up is good and we’re off.
Following Marko’s instructions, I turn quickly left and catch my first climb.
Stair stepping up the climb, I gain enough height to join the gaggle thermalling out front.
Kelly’s rules of thermal etiquette are fore front in my mind.
The climb topped out, time for the transition to El Penon.
Arriving at El Penon, I begin to work in and then away from the face to locate the lift band. Denis Cortella’s suggestion on how to safely fly close into a ridge (weight shift away and apply inside brake to counter the turn) is going to see some application today.
To The Wall we go.
Arriving at The Wall, we continue to follow Marko’s instructions and set up to ridge soar until we crest the lip and locate a climb. Along the way the legendary thermal trigger known as the ‘G-Spot’ makes its presence known by awarding Al with a frontal collapse and myself with a right asymmetric.
Once above the ridge, eyes are keen to locate any hint someone has found a climb.
Less than a minute passes and a climb is found.
While we begin to work the thermal, Marko above us spots that one of our crew needs a hand. While still in a carve, Marko pulls big ears and ‘cores’ away + down. This is the first time I have seen an instructor or guide abandon a thermal to help one of the students struggling to locate lift. I cannot overstate the positive impression I am left as a result of this ‘sacrifice’.
While Marko helps out below, those of us who have crested the climb move onto Crazy Thermal Place to go into a holding pattern.
Our intrepid party of free fliers, having launched, transitioned to El Penon, and climbed the Wall are ready for the next piece of the Valle de Bravo paragliding puzzle – the Crazy Thermal Place. This south western edge of the mesa is an excellent collector of thermals from the valley below, thermals that mix and churn in the wind feeding the daily convergence. If a pilot can make it here and top out the oft time chaotic climb, XC options open up to the west and north. We will learn as the week goes on that Crazy Thermal is the first of the keys to flying XC in Valle.
As we approach the area, we fan out with Marko in the lead to maximize our chances of finding the next climb. Little more than minute passes when we come across a massive region of lift and begin to circle.
As we continue to climb, Marko spots one of our group struggling. Pulling ears Marko drops down to assist. By the end of the course Marko will have saved each of us from what would have been a sure trip to the deck.
Cloudbase. Direction is given to drive north towards the convergence (the Second Key to flying Valle).
Topped up at the Crazy Thermal Place, we now begin to trek north east towards the convergence with an eye on our next turn point, Sacamacate. Sacamacate and it’s northern neighbour, San Agustin, act as a jump off point for XCs heading east ward (key point # 3).
As we would later learn, the daily convergence will vary in location based on which wind is more dominant. The cloud line will give one a good idea of where to look and a sudden change from tail to head wind will announce the precise location. It goes without saying that where there is a convergence, there is lift. In the case of Valle, this lift band acts as a rough east-west highway across the mesa. The cloud from this lift band will shade out the thermal generators to the north which can in turn result in areas of significant sink. To avoid such a potential pitfall, Marko recommends that we travel along the southern, sunny side.
Today the convergence has set up more towards the south, precluding the need to transition to a turn point/top off spot to the north of Crazy Thermal Place called Cerro Gordo. This will make for a fast transition and the only thing we need to concentrate on during this leg is staying out of the cloud.
Arriving at Sacamacate, our group begins to work the climb required to cross the small valley and continue eastward. Unfortunately ambition gets the better of us and a trip to the white room results.
Of note, ears on the Gin Explorer flap a remarkable amount and the wing rolls side to side quite readily.
Now back at cloud base (and then some), we are ready to transition to the next turn point – Quintanillas. The day is now in full swing with a 4000m cloud base, quick climbs, and fast flying. The out and return with Quintanillas is little more than a formality at this point.
But the epic conditions come at a cost – frozen hands across the board and hypoxia for myself (if the developing headache and nausea is any guide). Marko suggests that we try for San Agustin but the response is lacklustre. I announce on the radio that I am going to put down in the airfield just south of the gas station. I am joined by my fellow pilots a short time later.
We pack up and head back into town. Everyone is famished and I need to check into the hotel.
End of the day?
Not even close.
Once fed, we head back to Marko’s for the start of the theory portion of the course. 15 hours of theory, according the syllabus. Now this is a proper XC course.
9 PM. Heads are filled, we call it a day.