Sunday, February 15, 2015

Rolda (Los Tanques-3)

Feb 15th, 2015

This was another more typical weather day for the valley. This time, we determined a task; fly north along the foothills to La Union, head out into the valley to La Victoria, go south to Zarzal, and then back toward Roldanillo. All this was dependent on actual winds as the day progressed.

Julie S. had the waypoint file for the FAI Worlds from the month prior. She figured out which waypoints would work best for our discussed task and shared them on launch. It would have been good if we all could have had some kind of basic waypoint file for the trip - overall. Maybe we can do this for the next trip.

We launched with good cycles coming up through launch. Some of us got up in the launch thermal directly overhead. Others found lift in front of launch at the house thermal; across the high-tension power lines and above the twin peaks that spawn reliable lift. From there, those that felt comfortable in the air worked their way north along the power lines (generally) toward La Union. Some went east into the flats prior to the first turn point and others worked their way behind La Union and east from a point just north of the town. Lift over the hills was working quite well, but it was a bit punchy. I figured this to be due to early heating. There wasn't as much cloud cover as we typically see in the morning.

The lift on the flats was much more smooth and widespread. Many Chulos marked the rising air and we oscillated between flying with birds and finding other pilots to piece together our individual cross countries. At times, we flew as a team, but teams split up easily as each pilot seemed to find their own way with the many lift indicatorss that presented themselves.

At one point, not far from the massive thermal-spawning town of La Victoria, Kari, Julie S. and I teamed up. We decided to go north instead of south to Zarzal. The winds seemed to favor that direction. But it wasn't long before we found ourselves on the ground. Julie S. was very near the main N/S road (Rte 255) and hooked a ride with the retrieve van as it went further north toward Cartoga to get Mike and Kent. Kari andy I waited patiently by the road for the van's return to the south. Without even indicating to anyone that we wanted a ride, three different vehicles offered. In addition, four or five commercial autobuses, would have stopped with mere eye contact. Self-retrieve here is almost too easy.


Note to others chirp in with your recollections via comments. I will roll them into the account. Thanks. on the trip. I am missing many of your inputs and details. We al had good flights on the flats this day. Please

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Rolda (Los Tanques-2)

Feb 14th, 2015

As I try to piece together this day, memories grow faded. Inputs from others on the trip will be crucial.

I remember that the day began as a more typical weather day for Roldanillo.  There were clouds in the morning; some high and others lower near the foothills and licking launch.

The drive to Los Tanques did not require short-wheelbase 4x4 vehicles, as Anserma did. John, our trusty van driver, was able to take us all the way to the foot of the launch site in his own vehicle. From there, we either schlepped our gliders up the 100+ steps to the wide-open field above or we paid 3.0000 COP (about $1.25) for one of the local, enterprising agriculture workers to carry it up. They carried two at a time and made use of a mule to carry two or three more. 

The launch here is a waiting game for that variable window of opportunity. Obviously, we had to wait for the clouds to part. Then we needed enough assurance that there was sufficient lift, either from a giving wind tech or some chulos (black vultures). It's often flyable by 9:30. But you cannot delay too long past that. By early afternoon, the Pacific Wind comes into play and creates a backwind on launch.
With much more settled air, we all launched on this day. The plan was to go south since there was a prevailing wind from the north in the valley. This was apparent due to some of the sugar cane fires. There was some talk of trying to make it to Riofrio,  40 km to the south.

Jack had a piano.
Don flew to…
Mike went to the soccer field. 
JK dirtied at the base of the open gold mine at Bolivar. 

Robbin, Julie S., Paul, Kent & Kari went some distance south.

Sorry, I just can't remember everyone's flights. Please fill in the blanks in the comments and I will incorporate.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Rolda (Los Tanques-1)

Feb 13, 2015

"Rolda", as many call this town, is the paragliding capital of Colombia. The reliable conditions and sizable launch site (Los Tanques), hosted the FAI World Paragliding Competition less than one month prior. Between December and March, there is a constant flow of pilots staying here and flying the valley.  Our hotel was quite full with paraglider pilots on arrival, but by the next day a group left and we were able to thin out on the room sharing.

On our first day, I met Dawn Westrum. She was having a juice with Julie S. at the very popular juice bar on the town square. Although she is a fairly new competition pilot (6 years of experience) and accomplished endurance athlete from Utah. She has entered this year's X-Alps competition and she is here training; hiking to launch daily and scoring some impressive XC flights on her Ozone Alpina 2 glider. 

We had light north winds in the valley with plenty of sun in the morning. Normally, the sky begins with cloud base near launch altitude and clouds clinging to the peaks in the foothills. Then, around 10:00 to 11:00, the sky opens up and the flying begins. The early heating was set to make for punchy flights. 

In fact, the conditions were just that. Some launched and dealt with uneasy flights. There was plenty of strong lift, but with constant, reactive inputs and several collapses. It wasn't anything gross, but it was not a mellow flight. Julie W. flew, JK went about 24 km and Mike, unhappy with the conditions, went to a field on the edge of town and opted not to use the soccer field. Everyone else rode down or hiked down from launch. 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Anserma at La Finca --> Roldanillo

Feb 12th, 2015

This was a relocation day. The plan was to launch from Anserma and fly to Roldanillo, if able. As pilots drop out of the sky, the retrieve van scoops them up on the drive south with luggage loaded.
I was ill with flu symptoms and did not fly. Julie, Piet, Pavlo & Don landed in the Anserma soccer field, below launch. Sofia got outside of town & rode back on a motorcycle.

Kent, Julie S. and Mike made good distance, I believe. Kari got to a point just short of Rolda and was the last one in the van. She landed after the west winds began to kick in. Unfortunately, I was a bit of a spectator on this day and don't recall all the stories told. Perhaps some of the others can chime in.

We stayed in the south end of town, about 8 blocks off the main square, in Hotel Oasys Blue. It's a five-story block building, with rooms on the second and third floors, topped  with a two-story restaurant/bar. It's uncharacteristic of any other building in this town, but comfortable enough.

We sorted out roommates and settled into our new accommodation; four to a room in some cases.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Anserma at La Finca

Feb 11th, 2015

Ansermanuevo, or "Anserma" as it's called locally, is like many towns on the edge of Valle del Cauca and at the base of the foothills. It has a town square in "el centro", one or more churches adjacent to the square, a handful of good local restaurants and a soccer field. Oh, and a steady population of paraglider pilots, four months a year. 

Our accommodation here was not in town, it was in the cooler hills behind town. It was a 35 minute ride in an overloaded 1954 Willys. It was a short walk to a country-club launch. It had a sweeping view of the valley below. It was rustic. It was a finca. 

A finca can be a variety of buildings, layouts and history. Generally, there is a main house, a large, palapa kitchen and a collection of sleeping huts or cabins. Originally, they were intended for housing and feeding farm workers, subsequently converted to holiday-maker accommodations.

And just as finca layouts and histories can vary, so can interpretations of the term "rustic". Some might think of charming, quaint, seasoned and gracefully aged. Others could see used-up, run-down and dirty. Perhaps a mixture is more true-to-life, but the latter quality simply needn't be.

We sorted our sleeping places as night fell and woke to yoga and breakfast. By 9am, the Willys and pick-up truck loaded our wings and any who didn't wish to take the 25-minute walk to launch. 

This launch site was first-rate, leaving us to wonder if a club membership was required. Like most launches here, there is some nominal charge, but the tour covered that. The building at the top housed a snack bar, bathrooms and it appeared there might also be accommodations. The grass was short and covered a wide aspect knob large enough to lay out 6-8 wings. Top landing here was also apparently safe and not too difficult. There was a sugarcane fire that morning creating an impressive pyro-cumulus cloud. 

Perhaps 10 in the group had extended sled rides (or pianos) to the designated bomb-out LZ behind town. Some rode back up for another flight, some stayed in town to explore and have lunch.

Kari & Kent made some good distance and just flew once. I think they made it past the town of Toro, to the south.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

CaucaViejo (Damasco) --> Anserma

Feb 10th, 2015

We left CaucaViejo, in the morning. The drive to launch, called Damasco, was about an hour away. It was nothing more than a farmer's field with a windsock. It was just off a country road, across from a cottage, through an old, locked wooden gate that was easy enough to hop. 

The pitch was good, grass was long, and bomb-out field that we stopped by to survey was in sight. It wasn't a very hospitable LZ, but it was adequate.

Our plan was to fly to a field on the river Cauca in a grassy area near a tributary . This was just beyond the town of La Pintada, where we had dinner the night before.

We launched in good thermal cycles, some that felt a little snarly as they wafted up the pasture from below. A few passes over some of ridges and bowls resulted in thermals that eventually put most of us at cloud base with birds marking the lift along the way. 

Julie W. and Don didn't latch on to anything right away and headed to the bomb-out LZ. Julie ended up landing on the side-sloping, weedy field and picked up a load of hitch hikers. Don was setting up to land and from a very low point, began to pick up a few bubbles of lift. He patiently turned in them until they produced a steady, reliable ticket out of there. He had a very low save, eventually connecting thermals to land at the LZ by the river. 

Since goal was out of sight from launch, the path to get us there was designated with landmarks. There were two prominent, conical mountains, call "Las Grandes Tetas". Set a course for the cleavage and there you will find the feeder river and the field below. I managed to get to 2200m over the LZ. Flying further along the river wasn't really an option, since it carved itself through a narrow valley with few landing options. I resolved to tag each Teta and joined the smiling faces at the LZ.

After dinner at a nearby restaurant in the aforementioned valley, we drove for a number of hours to Ansermanuevo to begin the Valle del Cauca chapter.

Monday, February 9, 2015

CaucaViejo (Jericó-3)

Feb 9th, 2015

This was intended to be a travel-fly-travel day, but yesterday's events added one more fly day at Jericó. With Sofia and Paul tending to Chris in Medellin, Kari lead the morning  yoga session at the house in CaucaViejo. Note: By the next day we realized some kind of very small insect that lives in the soccer field grass was biting the crap out of (nearly) everyone's feet & legs. The marks and itching began the next day and continued for several more.

And on the subject of insects, we learned this morning about an encounter with bees. Simon, our trip's favorite Colombian guide and friend, was trying to locate Chris after his accident the day prior. He heard a hive nearby and knew he had to get out of the area. But these weren't just any bees. They were killer bees, and any threat to these creatures results in a high-pitched distress signal, causing the hive to swarm. Well, Simon had one of these bees land on his hand, and it proceeded to sting him. He held his hand as still as he could and briskly walked out of the area. This is what it did to him. Imagine what the entire hive would have done. We have the highest respect for Simon's calm, cool and nerves of steel.

Julie Spiegler found a hotel near the airport in Pereira the night prior with no one free to fetch her. Soon after breakfast we were ready to fly and headed up the hill while Julie S. Made her way north with a taxi. 

On arrival at Jericó launch, the clouds were just beginning to part. We were giving the valley a chance to heat. Perhaps :45 minutes later, a dark cloud from behind began to spit rain. Lucho, Julie W. & I launched to escape it and had 7 mile sledders to the River Cauca. The others took shelter under the dilapidated structure on launch.
It never amounted to much, and while the three of us were trying to get back up the hill for another, the others launched into a valley with light lift.

While we landed, packed and regrouped, Julie S. arrived and joined us. We were trying to find Julie W. who landed above the river in a field and became turned around on her hike out. Eventually, we were on our way, picking up Mike where Lucho & I landed, and Piet, at the bomb-out LZ, on the way up the hill. 

With the event from the day before, everyone was playing it cautiously. Ike was 2000m over the river and had plenty to go on glide for some degree of distance. But a compression knot pushed him to circle down where he had landed the day prior, and where Lucho and I had landed on our first sledder on this day. Most landed along the river. There was a nice river beach within walking distance to the compound that many used. Mike, Julie W., Jack & I chose the soccer field again in calm, glassy conditions. Lucho used a field on the edge of the compound and had to maneuver creatively to get his Enzo in with its flat glide. Kari & Kent had the longest flights on their Delta 2s, milking the weak lift for all they could. They chose the right time to launch, sandwiched by others on sledders. It was good to get Julie S. a flight on an impromptu travel day. 

That evening, we drove 30 km to La Pintada for dinner
where everyone we saw asked about Chris. News travelled fast and the locals were all aware and concerned. It was very touching. 

By the evening, Sofia & Paul returned with the details of Chris's condition and some photos of the X-rays. We all felt very bad for him and wished him a speedy recovery on our FB Messenger group.

Our plan for the morning was to pack up and return to La Pintada, this time to fly. It is along the way to Ansernanuevo, our next destination.