With no gliding planned on Saturday (or, indeed, advisable after our late night festivities!) we headed off for a last day of sightseeing and shopping. This included a great visit to the Chilean Aerospace Museum, where we were pleased to see a number of gliders on display, including the Blanik that Alejo Williamson famously flew across the Andes on 12 December 1964.
From there, it was to the airport and the shock of transitting through Toronto in temperatures of -23°C. We are all now safely home, apart from Norm’s bag (which is still holidaying in Canada), so it is time for Ex ANDEAN CONDOR to sign-off for another year. We are all very much looking forward to hosting our Chilean colleagues in the UK this summer.
A stunning fortnight’s gliding, in which we fared very well given the effects of El Niño, and a fantastic opportunity to further cement bonds between the Fuerza Aérea de Chile and the Royal Air Force. Our heartfelt thanks to Maj Italo Medina and all the members of the Escuadrilla Vuelo Sin Motor for looking after us so well.
Day 14 (12 February) – Final Flights
We did not launch with great optimism, given the met forecast. Although the airmass had cooled slightly, which should have led to stronger thermals in the 2000-3000m band, widespread cirrus was likely to cut off sunlight in many areas. Again, the strategy was for a high tow to Protreros and then working slowly and carefully into the big mountains via Lagunas.
Neill/Felipe V-18 4:04 305km 6400m
A fantastic flight to end the exped on. Working up Espanoles was not easy, but we managed to maintain enough altitude to pass into the Lagunas Valley. Ridge running Cathedrales, we arrived at Lagunas on top of the Cement Wall. A weak climb on Alto De Butro was enough to then get us to Pyramids where a cracking thermal took us (and Will and Alfonso) to well over 5000m. Looking at the lenticulars behind Aconcagua, we changed our plan (which had been the volcanoes) and worked our way onto the face of the Big One at 6400m. Unfortunately, conditions were too turbulent to climb to the summit, so we returned to south. Low clouds prevented us running the Olivares Valley, so we climbed at the copper mine and ran south to Blanco, mostly above cloud. A final blast along San Roman, before heading home to Vitacura for the BBQ. Epic.
Pos/Fernando 3:16 mins 201km 3916m
Final day with the aim to fly 3hrs to complete over 50hrs on a fantastic Expedition. Nearly 1 hour behind first launch. Sky did not look good with lots of cirrus and weak conditions so patience again the key for today. Slow climb at Truchas from 2200-2350m then into the Lagunas valley with another 1kt climb to 2350 at the start of the valley which was enough to go to Appoyo Lagunas. Joined by Will in the Nimbus. 23 mins to reach the top of Lagunas before easing inside at 3200m. Top up to 3500m just behind Lagunas. Took every climb on route to Saladillo with 3916m the best but once on Saladillo, nothing! 55km glide later we were back on Lagunas before the standard ridge run south to Appoyo Blanco turning back North for home. Aim achieved with over 50hrs completed and around 3200kms in 11 flights.
Norm/Alfonso V-23 5:00 333km 4375m
First off with Alfonso in Janus V23. Taking a higher tow due to the inversion we were soon climbing and working our way north running the ridges. We were soon on Lagunas gaining the sufficient height to go inside via Inca Lake to Parva were we waited for a wave climb, however hard we looked we couldn’t find it. After pushing further north and returning we went over onto some higher ridges to the east and got a rough thermal the got us enough height to get onto the ‘big one’. We lost about 4-500 meters in no time and we ran away bravely to the safety of the ridges to the west. We turned for home topping up on the high ridges and did 90-100 knots all the way back via a southern turn point. A perfect flight to end the exped. 333 Km was covered in 5 hours getting to 4375 meters. A great end of exped BBQ was provided by the club were one or two red wines were consumed!!
Will/Arturo V-25 4:05 189km 3480m
It’s the last day, I managed to end the visit with a trip in the Nimbus 3dt with Arturo. Although it’s the best glider by far, conditions didn’t suit it so it took some doing cranking it into the tight little thermals all the way up to Lagunas. We arrived at Lagunas quite low, which has been a reoccurring theme these past couple of days, however this time we were able to climb to the top. We then decided not to try the big mountains as it didn’t look great and a Janus had just joined beneath us where they’d tried and fell down, so we pushed south to Blanco before returning to Manquehue for some ridge soaring before landing.
Day 13 (11 February) – Mission Impossible?
Met forecast was for a very marked inversion, and little energy between 2000m and 3000m. It looked like it may be impossible to soar anything other than the local ridges.
Pos/Alfonso V-23 4:44 276kms max 6093m
A poor forecast that demanded a lot of patience to try and get into the higher second system. Worked every bit of lift to Espanioles and then crossed mid valley to enter Lagunas valley via Cathedrales. Worked ridge up to Lagunas topping up in a critical spot that enabled us to crest the cement wall. Patient climb for 20mins from 3100-3500 before easing inside from Westerly wall of Lagunas. Topped out at 4000m then spent 40 mins on Saladillo working everything I could find. Eventually eased over to the Pyramids to finally climb in 3kts to 4900m then it was a simple drop back into Olivares valley. Wonderful cruise for 277kms glide via Red Wall, Red Lips, San Jose volcano, Morado Glaciers, Laguna Negra direct to Protreros and round Manquehue to home. Fantastic flight given the poor forecast.
Neill/Arturo V-25 3:41 (and 0:36 retrieve) 134km 3650m
A decision to cross north to Demecoen East saw us stuck low with no way back across the Rio Aconcagua. The engine then failed, so we landed out at Los Andes.
Will/Fernando V-19 3:24 75km 2550m
Late launch we towed just past Manquehue and half way to Eagle Rock. Once released we didn’t find anything so Fernando suggested going back to Manquehue to find a thermal. We did so and with a bit of ridge soaring we climbed back up for take two. It was very difficult so myself and Fernando did a bit of team flying whereby he would find the thermals, and I would climb the thermals then press on when they faded away before letting Fernando find the next. This technique worked well, and we used it to get all the way up to Truchas. Now it obvious that the thermals were short lived so returned to Manquehue and ridge soared for an hour.
Norm/Felipe V-18 4:20 266km 4800m
Made the best out of a difficult day. I was third off in Janus V18 with a higher to to get through the low level inversion that was forecast. We tried to get inside to Espanoles, but the lack of consistent thermals made us rush back and ridge soar round to Lagunas where we eventually got high and proceeded inside to Pyramids and then on to Parva where we had a great view of Alto Los Leones but no decent climb to get us up to it. We ran south down Espanoles and San Roman and back into the airfield. A distance of 266 km and a flight time of 4 hours 20 getting to 4800m- not bad for a difficult day!
Day 12 (10 February) – Even Harder Work
Forecast to be a difficult day, conditions were due to be dry and warm but with a very marked second inversion. Alex was hopeful that we would be able to break through this, but only time would tell.
Will/Fernando V-19 3:29 135km 2790m
Flying with Fernando in V-19 we found it very difficult. After what seemed like an hour trying to get high enough to soar Espanoles we saw that it wasn’t working but luckily had enough height to get to Maraco, this too was very difficult to soar, but again we had just enough height to scrape our way over to Lagunas. We met up with Neill at Lagunas who was also scraping the ridge low down and our two gliders continued to scratch all we could. Eventually we had to fall back to Cobra which we were soaring below ridge to height and just when a landout seemed inevitable, a thermal came just giving us enough height to cross the Lagunas Valley and back home.
Pos/Arturo V-25 4:22 75km (before turbo start then another 71kms!!) 3000m
Difficult with big wings! Patient start achieving 2500m at best in North Laboratories before setting off. After 10 mins on Truchas just maintaining Arturo recommended we push on and off we went! After 86kms glide that included failed attempts on Cobre we were at 1900m way below Lagunas. Elected to run to Los Andes and use iron thermal that provided no lift just kept us at 1700m until we got to Demecoen where we switched off and eventually climbed there and White Stones. Reasonable run home leaving East Demecoen at 3000m on 75kms glide that included left turn before Eagle Rock and ridge runs all the way round to San Roman turning back home from mid point. Most difficult day to date and not one for big wings!
Norm/Felipe V-18 4:40 310km 6300m
The met ladies said that conditions would be more challenging as the humidity had increased again, however there was more wind at height which could lead to some wave lift in the high mountains. I was flying with Felipe in Janus V18 and was third off. We had a good run to Lagunas where we had to work hard in some tight and nasty thermals, we managed to get onto the cement wall and scratch up to the summit where we were rewarded with a 1-2 m/s wave climb. We were lucky as the others were struggling below in survival mode. We were now in the higher system and things were much more straight forward, we made the fluid and dynamic plan to run south and go to the active volcanos which I got to see above the summit at 6300m. We got another wave climb on the route west, however it was a long push home in the strong wind. We arrived back over the airfield with some extra height and went towards downtown Santiago to get some photos of the highest tower in Latin America, which is only 3 blocks from our accommodation. I had 4 hours 40 min and completed 310 km- a very special day in a glider!
Neill/Alfonso V-23 4:04 138km 3950m
A tricky but perfectly workable run through Patreros, Laboratories North, Maraco and Lagunas Valley. We then tried to work a spur of Lagunas with Norm. After a few minutes, Norm caught a bubble but us, arriving less than 30 secs later, found nothing below him. We then had to wait more than 45 mins for the thermal to cycle, which gave us enough height to climb the western face of Lagunas and soar the wave above the Cement Wall. Unfortunately, all our patience and hard work was for nought as, when we moved to Saladillo, there was nothing happening. From there, we had nothing left to do other than run home. Difficult day when patience was critical, but luck was required too.
Day 11 (9 February) – Hard Work
A good forecast with a very dry airmass; the day was predicted to be essentially blue. Alex warned that there would be a gap between the first and second systems, so we should aim to remain high.
Apparently, the day ended with an earthquake as we returned to the hotel, but we were totally oblivious to it!
Neill/Felipe V-18 5:23 302km 6100m
Not an auspicious start to the day, as I managed to run all of Espanoles without a decent climb. Whilst watching everyone else crest the ridge, we had to return all the way back to Laboratories North and start again. This time we just managed to cross over to Cathedrales, and we then enjoyed a great ridge run to the top of the Cement Wall. The thermals here were weak and broken, but hearing that everyone else was struggling, we decided to park and be patient. This paid off handsomely as, after what felt like an age (probably 20 mins you so!) we climbed to 4100m, which allowed us to progress inside to Saladillo. Climbs here were not great, but we could progress to the Pyramids where we found good lift to over 5000m and moved into the Olivares Valley. From here we had a stunning run over the Tupungatito volcano, climbing to 6100m over the Lips and then on to the San Jose volcano. To keep things interesting, we returned via the Laguna Negra and over the ski resorts before taking some photos of downtown Santiago. What a great day – Lady Luck was clearly back on our side.
Will/Arturo V-19 4:31 215km 3500m
Flying with Arturo, and again quite an easy day to begin with, however not so easy once near Espanoles. Although we were higher here today than we were, yesterday it was still very difficult to climb even when you did find a thermal. The furthest point North we got to was White Stones as we’d heard from other gliders that it wasn’t very soarable beyond there so started to head south relying on the ridges. We ended up at the ski resorts after overflying the quarry and still hadn’t found any significant lift so headed home whilst playing about on San Roman along the way.
Pos/Alfonso V-23 4:55 315km 6053m
A good start climbing well with Will at Protreros then steady progress up Los Espanioles. Very difficult to get high at the north end of the ridge so eventually tried to ease inside and was rewarded with a decent climb to 4370m so thought it would be easy to transition to Pyramids and Alto Los Leones. How wrong you can be! After 15mins losing out on Saladillo we crossed over to a slab of rock call Espinazo arriving at 3600m with seemingly no hope of climbing and remaining inside. After some masterful direction from Alfonso 20 mins later I had achieved 4200m with a slim hope that we still might be able to climb up to Alto Los Leones. After a further 20mins I had slowly worked up to 4900m at which point the plan was to try and get into Olivares valley. A 3kt climb up to 5400m was enough and off we went. Standard run south via Red Wall and Argentinian border to the Tupungatito ridge. Ridge climbed Nev Piuquenes then brief 300m climb in wave approaching San Jose volcanoes. After 750m climb in 2-3kt wave to 5850m crossing Maipo valley I pushed further south then turned back for home from Paredones along similar track to yesterday. Very hard working flight for 2hrs in the middle but rewarded for the effort in the end. Today was a day for patience!
Norm/Alex V-25 4:00 288km 3300m
I was in the Nimbus again with Alex and again Alex had to do some tows in the tug aircraft and we were last off at about 1430. The plan was push quite far north to Pelambres and then back south to get a good distance using the superior glide of the Nimbus as I fancied doing a personal best distance. The easy part was the run down to Lagunas, however we got stuck below the inversion and couldn’t climb above 3300m. We remained on the outside and pushed on to Democoen East but again we couldn’t break through above 3300 m. A change of plan was put in place to run south down Espanoles and to try from there to get into the higher system. We never managed to gain the height and fell onto San Roman east of Santiago where I took a few climbs to prolong the flight. We landed after 4 hours and still managed 288 km. Another great day out!
Day 10 (8 February) – Volcano Time
A good weather forecast with a dry airmass and high cloudbases.
Pos/Alfonso V-23 5:53 412km 6310m
Good progress initially up to Espanioles then jumped inside but did not achieve a critical altitude of 4100m to progress in further. Ended up too low on Saladillo and it just was not working so crossed valley and worked hard up the Colorado ridge valley eventually climbing above Animita at 4000m and then it became easier. Pushed further inside climbing on the ridges to 4900m near Laguna del Tordillo which eventually gave us 5730m and access to ridges leading to Aconcagua. Already informed that the main ridge not working so elected to go South past Parva and Inca Lake to Alto Los Leones where we were joined by Will. Dropped into Olivares valley for same run as Saturday past Tupungatito volcano and eventually made 6310m after a brief stop in wave near San jose volcano. Ran south to Panedones and back North to home. Fantastic day out.
Norm/Alex V-25 4:35 365km 6030m
The met was showing less humidity and better temperatures in a cooler air mass so conditions were expected to be good. It was my turn in V 25 the Nimbus 4, my first time in ‘big wings’. My instructor Alex Chanes was doing the first couple of tows in the tug aircraft before getting in the glider so I was last off. With many coaching points from Alex I managed to tame the beast and get it to go up in thermals ( using my aggressive method like I would in a Discus was just not working!). We had a good run north up Espanoles, onto Lagunas working our way to our goal of getting onto Alto Los Leones. We managed to eventually get to 6030 m and made a pass on the ridge of Alto Los Leones, however we quickly lost 400 m on one pass of the ridge and decided it wasn’t going to work to get a climb to the summit. It was still great to see the climbers base camp and getting to 17750 ft my highest ever in a glider. We ran south to the volcanos which again was a first, with time running short we turned for home with a 90 km final glide. We did 4 hours 35 and 365 km, another quality day out!
Neill/Felipe V-18 4:11 319km 4300m
Lady Luck is clearly not on my side today, as what began as a great flight, ended rather abruptly. On reaching Patreros, we heard that the first 2 gliders were struggling in Laboratories, so decided to milk every last metre out of every thermal. This allowed us to transition to Espanoles easily, and jump on top of the ridge with little effort. We then ran to the third of the Espanoles ridges and took a thermal off the top that allowed us to head east to Lagunas and Saladillo. Again, turbulent air downwind of Lagunas made thermalling very difficult and we quickly decided to head north to Demecoen East ahead of everyone else. Following climbing here, we had a simple run to the summit of Animita, and very strong climb on the peak. From here, unfortunately, things turned sour. Running north with the intent of making Pelambres we found little thermal activity, and made the decision to try the south instead. At Copin we heard that the others were still at Animita. Worried that they were making little progress, we decided to keep running south. Unfortunately, we found nothing to note other than ridge lift, and by Espanoles the clouds were low. We could see better conditions inside the mountains but had no chance to connect with them. Therefore, a run to Blanco and then home was all we had left available. Disappointing to again miss the chance to see the biggest mountains and the volcanoes.
Will/Arturo V-19 5:36 356km 5561m
After the tow, the first thermal was extremely strong but that was all. We spent the next hour or so scratching away low down on all the hills up to Lagunas, at one point Arturo was close to admitting defeat and flying down the valley to land at Los Andes. Fortunately we got away, although still difficult, and headed over to the East passing through Alto Los Leones. Todays turbulence made Saturday’s look extremely benign and it was hard to tell which was a rotor gust and which was a thermal. Our goal was to get to the Volcano Tupungatito, and after a few beats below the top we managed to climb up over it before heading out through the Lips and returned home via Blanco.
Day 9 (7 February) – Rest Day
Time for a rest from gliding, but began with an early start to head to the air base at the main airport. The FACh kindly provided a Twin Otter to fly us to the coast. We toured Valpariso and Vina Del Mar before heading up the coast. We were hosted for a fantastic lunch at Helmut’s house, before Norm and Will foolishly took a dip in the Pacific Ocean. Our return flight landed in Santiago just before 2100.
Day 8 (6 February) – Classic Conditions
A fantastic weather forecast, with a very dry air mass and cloudbase at 6000m. The Big One and/or a run to the volcanoes in the south looked definitely possible.
Will/Alfonso V-23 5:26 341km 6000m
Today was looking good, I was to fly with Alfonso in V-23. After the tow it was quite difficult to climb away with quite a lot of backtracking going on. and only managed to get away into the big stuff after a climb on Lagunas getting us to Alto Los Leones. From here “The Big One” looked quite visible and achievable so we ran the ridge to the North through the known route to get there. The ridges along the way were working well and the Janus was being tossed around in the turbulence like a paper bag, although the ridges were working well low down it was difficult to climb up to the summit of the Big One despite soaring the North and West face of it. Alfonso was nervous to get too low at this point so we retreated and flew to the South over the enormous quarry and the ski resorts to the East of Santiago. We flew behind San Roman to Blanco before returning to Vitacura.
Pos/Felipe V-25 5:08 373km 6000m
Best flight of the week with a lot less humidity and fewer clouds. A steady start with reasonable progress up Los Espanioles. with the assistance of the ridge lift in the NW wind and good thermals I transitioned to the inside onto Saladillo where it took around 20 mins to climb to 4200m before pushing on to Pyramids. After climbing to 5100m I decided to go South as the access to the Olivares valley was available. Climbed to 5450m on the red wall that allowed me to run the Argentinian border and push across to the volcano Tupungatito. Great fun eventually climbing in a mix of ridge and thermal to jump to Volcano San Jose where a small wave top up took me to the best height for the day of 5965m. Crossed the Maipo valley and ran south over the mines and past Rancagua before turning back north 120kms from Vitacura at 4880m for an easy run home. Could have gone much further south with the height available! Great final day for the week before a well earned rest day.
Norm/Arturo V-19 5:00 318km 4750m
The met lady told us that there was less humidity today and it was going to be a few degrees warmer, additionally the visibility was the best we’ve had yet. It was a busy day on the field with many of the civilian club gliders waiting to launch, l managed to get off first with Alturo in Janus V 19. Conditions were good straight away and had a good run around the outside to the ‘cement works’ where we struggled for about 25 mins to break through the primary inversion, we eventually had to turn south again and use the ridges to gain the height to push on. Our goal was to get to Alto Los Leones (the next biggest mountain in South America) we pushed on gaining good height to 4750m but failed to connect with the vital climb that would get us to the mountain. We ran back on the inside ridges a good way south until we were on a final glide for the club- this always looks low as you have to fly over about 10 km of city!
Neill/Fernando V-18 4:13 250km 4750m
Last to launch again, we caught up with Pos and Will by Laboratories and then pushed up Espanoles. However, it took quite some time to dominate the ridge and jump to Lagunas. Fernando was not happy with the level of turbulence downwind of the mountain, and elected to push north to Democeon East. It took us a long time to successfully pass Aminita and to jump east to Tordillo. Fernando had to return for a family commitment so we had to return direct to Vitacura from here. A slightly frustrating day, as we didn’t manage to capitalise on the conditions. However, the high Andes were as awesome, as ever.
Day 7 (5 February) – The Big One?
The day dawned much clearer than previous ones, and our optimistic mood was reinforced by the met brief, indicating 5600m cloudbase which should rise in the high mountains. Our goal was to be the Big One.
Pos/Felipe V-16 5:12 377km 4679m
Good start from being 3rd off working up Espanioles and jumping inside to Saladillo well before lagunas. Low cloud on Alto Los Leones so elected to switch North just before the Pyramids. Some weak wave near Gloria but no point staying too long as the extensive low cloud bases ahead meant that I would have to give up all the height just to get below. Continued up the Colorado river with a great run up to Y then 95km glide back via East Demecoen, Lagunas and jumped East further down to route with small top up just before the Ski resorts then tracked behind San Roman to just short of Blanco. Standard run home with a further 114km glide from the ski resorts. Slight left airbrake issue throughout flight but manageable in the conditions.
Will/Helmut V-25 4:36 400km 5108m
It was my turn to fly the Nimbus3dt, Helmut was instructing and we took the first launch. It was a good day and after getting to Espanoles climbed quite quickly so pushed to the higher mountains off to the East. It was quite evident that the winds were strong going up the ridges due to amount of turbulence and little headway we were making when flying away from the ridges. Our intention now was to get to Y in the North, and our progress was helped by a small pocket of wave that had appeared. Once at Y, we used the Nimbus to it’s full potential by flying all the way to Blanco and then back to Vitacura without taking a single thermal (a distance of at least 200km), and still got back with height to burn.
Neill/Fernando V-18 4:46 346km 5666m
Last to launch by some way (as Fernando had to fly the tug for a couple of launches), we never caught the others. However, with Lt Gen Pena (on his first mountain solo) and the civilian club’s Duo (Alfonso flying with a visiting Air France pilot), we made modest progress around Maraco and up to the Cement Wall. Conditions improved as we progressed inside and we easily jumped across Saladillo to Alto Los Leones. From there it was clear that lowering cloud would prevent us from making Inca Lake, so we tracked towards Demecoen East only to find solid wave in the valley. A climb to 5000m meant we could run the ridge from Pyramids to the copper mine, climbing to 5300m and then progressing south. More wave in the Maipo Valley took us to 5666m with views out as far as the Pacific Ocean 150km away. From there, a run south to abeam Rancagua and then turn north for home. The NNW wind made for slow progress, and were checking final glide calculations as we approached the Maipo. However, latent energy on Blanco and San Roman made the picture much more comfortable, and we landed just ahead of Pos.
Norm V-19 4:55 385km 4400m
A better forecast with less humidity and a higher expected cloud base although the cloud was still a problem to be able to get in among the bigger mountains further inland. I was second off in Janus V 19 with Arturo Diez the club director, initially heading on the outside mountains to as far north as ‘Y’ mountain using the ridges with one wave climb of about 300-400 m in the Colorado river valley. We returned to the south of San Roman over the ski resorts which was interesting on the flat areas! We did 385 km in 4 hours 55 mins and got to 4400m, all in all another cracking day!
Day 6 (4 February) – Same Again, Please
Met brief indicated similar conditions to the day before, but with slightly higher humidity. Everyone was hopeful of another good day, and we planned a launch at 1430 following lunch with Lt Gen Pena and the British Defence Attaché.
Will/Arturo V-18 4:05 270km 4200m
Quite difficult to begin with. Flying V-18 with Arturo in the back seat this time. We were low on all ridges bouncing between short lived thermals at first. After getting to Espanoles we managed a decent climb and tried to hop towards Alto Los Leones and then further South which was planned, however lots of low clouds and unconvincing thermals made us decide to go North instead. We turned back about 20Km short of square lake as it didn’t look at all possible to get there given the conditions and we’d spent a lot of time struggling to get away from the rock faces. I managed to get a look at returning to Vitacura as there were times when hopping over the next ridge looked doubtful.
Norm/Fernando V-19 4:20 220km 4200m
The met man told us that again there was going to be high humidity with a lower cloud base – his forecast was accurate! I was third on the grid for launch in Janus V 19 with Fernando getting airborne at 1430, again we took a high tow above the crud to 1900m. Initially conditions were soft and all four gliders were parked waiting to get the good climb to then move north. We stayed on the lower mountains today as the lower cloud base prevented getting in towards the bigger stuff. A shorter task due to the conditions- 220km, 4 hours 20 and getting to 4200m. Another cracking day!!
Pos/Felipe V-25 4:44 361km 4600m
Not a great forecast so tow to Protreros again. Lower cloud bases and more cloud today made conditions tricky at times but after a slow start good progress to lagunas and climb over the back to the inside. Same route as yesterday into Alto Los Leones climbing at the Pyramids to 4600m the best for the day. a lot of cloud inside so headed west round the outside and stopped for a brief 100m climb in wave en route to Demecoen East. Good progress north but tricky as cloud bases dropped to just above ridge height. Turned back south from near Y for 227km final glide via the standard route home and a run to Maipo River along San Roman mountains. Another great day for the team despite the challenging weather conditions.
Neill/Alfonso V-18 4:43 345km 4700m
Another humid day with forecast ‘low’ cloudbases. Coming off tow at Patreros, I instantly noted that the Nimbus was scrabbling below the ridge near Eagle Rock, and it took us both over 20 minutes to make the jump into Laboratories, allowing Will and Norm to catch up. Looking at low clouds on Espanoles, we made the decision to go straight to Maraco and then had a good run across Lagunas that allowed me to reach the Cement Wall above ridge height and catch a strong thermal while watching the others rock-polish below. From there, it was a fairly easy run across Saladillo and to Alto Los Leones. Plenty of cloud clinging to the big mountains was enough to discourage any attempt to make Parva, and a look up the valley towards Animita revealed that was also not to be. Running the outside to Patos was fairly easy, but the last few km to Square Lake needed a lot of concentration as cloudbase was just above the ridges. Turning south, a fairly easy run south, and we made the jump onto Espanoles where low clouds meant we needed to be especially careful. A run down San Roman to add some more km, before home for a beer. A real pleasure to fly with Alfonso again.
Day 5 (3 February) – Never Say Never
We started the day in a fairly gloomy mood as the weather was clearly quite cool, and the met brief did nothing to cheer us up. Forecast cool temperatures, high humidity and low cloudbases led us to consider requesting a rest day. However, a report from Lt Gen Silva, who had taken an early flight, suggested that not all may be as it seemed. Apparently, conditions in the ‘second system’ (above the inversion) were crystal clear. Thus, we planned for a late launch and a high tow to Protreros – objective Square Lake.
Neill/Alfonso V-23 5:03 314km 4800m
A strong climb at Protreros made for an easy start and, although we had to route outside via Maraco, it was a fairly simple business to route through Lagunas. Views into the high mountains were fantastic and we continued east to arrive at Alto Los Leones without drama. However, things became trickier from there. Sampling both sides of the valley around Inca Lake, we failed to find a good climb, and pushing north via Parva became impossible. Running out to Democeon East, we climbed to cloudbase and attempted to run the ridges up to Animita. However, getting low, we were forced to run out and try again. Second time, the clouds were clearly building, and a close fork of lightning convinced us to turn around and return to Democeon East for the third time. Time was running late, but I was keen to still try running north. A fairly easy run led us to Paths and, after Alfonso worked me hard on the ridges, we eventually made Square Lake after 6pm. An uneventful run south became more interesting when I didn’t reach the end of Lagunas Valley high enough to jump through to Espanoles. Forced to take the outside, we reached the Vitacura circuit with less than 200m to spare and accusations of being an Hours Hog. A fantastic day given the pessimistic forecast!
Pos/Arturo V-25 4:20 380km 4800m
Best day so far! 2000m tow to Protreros and after a top up to 2400m made good progress via North Laboratries, Espanioles ridge crossing at mid point to Cathedrales and ridge run all the way up to Lagunas at 2900m. 5kt climb to 3900m and ran directly inside to Saladillo and over to Alto Los Leones achieving 4805m en route. Lots of cloud spreadout but made good progress west of Inca Lake and north through Parva working the valleys north with occasional rain drops falling before eventually reaching Y turn. Great run south for 85km via Square Lake, White stones ridge and East Demecoen and across to Lagunas. Top up on NW corner of Lagunas to 3300m before long 125km final glide south easing out around low cloudbases, and all the way to Maipo river at the end of San Roman ridge and back north to home. Despite poor forecast with lots of humidity the team made the best of the conditions for the best overall results of the Exped to date.
Will/Felipe 3:55 252km 4700m
Worst forecast but best day. Took off as yesterday with Felipe. We were on the lookout for Norman who had agreed with his instructor to follow us round the task. Fairly standard run up to Espanoles which today was working exceptionally well, and it was hard to keep the Janus out of the low clouds. After one beat we hung around at cloudbase for Norman to come into view before pushing off to the East. Today we were to visit Alto To Los Leones which we did with ease then had a look at the Chile/Argentine border post in the mountains at Las Cuevas. We then flew North to Copin and turned back to head home, this was done at cloudbase the whole way.
Norm/Fernando V-19 4:10 340km 4600m
Again today there was some concern about the weather, mainly the humidity being drawn in from the coastal area. However one of the instructors on an earlier training flight reported that conditions looked better than the forecast was saying- he was right! I was to be guided today by Fernando in Janus V19, again we took a higher tow to 1800m to help us get established in the better conditions above the poor air. Initially following the normal route north conditions allowed us to venture into the higher mountains further east with spectacular views of Inka Lake and its surrounds. We pushed further north and turned at Square Lake for our return, there was more cloud on our return and even had to dodge a shower. Overall a great days flying especially given the pessimistic forecast.
Day 4 (2 February) – Mixed Fortunes
The met forecast for the day was not promising. The early morning had seen low status across the western side of Santiago, and temperatures were forecast to be one degree colder than the previous day. Alex decided that we would not launch until 1430 and would tow to Protreros to give us a chance of getting going. The goal was to be Square Lake.
After flying we were hosted fantastically for dinner at the FACh Officer’s Club.
Will/Felipe V-18 3:37 3900m
Flying in V-18 with Felipe we took a high tow to Eagle rock, as it was another doubtful morning over conditions Felipe had warned me that it would be difficult low down due to the lower than normal temperatures. This soon became apparent after release as although thermals were strong, centring was very difficult and they were very short lived, but nevertheless one lucky thermal took us to Espanoles which was working very well as a ridge enabling us to move north purely by running the ridge tops, at which point we noticed the Nimbus, who had been trying to get away with us, down below trying the slopes lower down. Our furthest point North was square lagoon where we decided to come south, and again had an easy run down. Upon returning to Santiago we explored a ridge off to the east which didn’t work as expected so went into land, showing Felipe what a European landing was.
Norm/Alfonso V-23 3:50 163 km 3500m
Later start to the flight as the temperature was below the forecast temperature which left our instructors wondering if it would be worth going. The decision was to go but take a higher tow to give the best chance to break through the inversion and into the better air. Again I was with Alfonso and headed north as far as the Square Lake, a flight of 3 hours 50 and a distance of 264km. Again lots learned!
Pos/Fernando V-16 3:34 164km 2900m
A difficult weather day with late start and aerotow to Protreros. Good early progress despite low cloudbase via Maraco, Cathedrales and into Lagunas valley. Climb to 2600 on west side of Lagunas close to cloud base then transit to Demecoen arriving at 2100m. Long 45mins trying to get up (whilst warning everyone else not to come over!) but only to about 2400m so set off back to Appoyo Lagunas. Returned vis outside to Eagle rock then transit to San Roman range and home from there.
Neill/Arturo V-25 3:21 212km 3100m
Protreros was working well, but a couple of abortive attempts at Eagle Rock had me frustrated trying to get over the ridge into Laboratories. Once there, however, it was a fairly simple run from Maraco and across the Lagunas Valley. A delay then ensued as we tried to use Apoyo to climb to cloudbase. Even Arturo struggled to make sense of the lift below ridge top height but, when we eventually managed to dominate the peak, it became more coherent and allowed us to climb easily. We then pushed to, Demecoen, knowing that Pos had been stuck on the ridge for 30 mins, so tried unsuccessfully to soar the lower spurs of the mountain. We then pushed onto the next mountain, and found ourselves staring up at White Rocks from below. Arturo decided it was time for him to fly, as we were critically low at this point, and proceeded to deliver a masterclass in how to scratch in the Nimbus. 20 mins later we managed to climb up onto the main ridge, and it was a fairly easy exercise to ridge soar up to Copin. Time had then beaten us, and the Janus were all heading south. The run home was fun, blasted along the ridges at 150 kph. We jumped inside to run Espanoles and into the San Francisco Valley. A quick play on San Roman and then some photos with Pos before landing.
Day 3 (1 February) – First Flights
First day at the Club – new introductions for some, and a chance to meet old friends for others.
With El Nino blowing, the forecast was for a humid day with a 4000 m cloud base, preventing us from making it into the big mountains. A max temp of 30C in Santiago meant that conditions might not be the strongest, but the slightly higher temp at Los Andes meant things should improve once we made it there.
Pos/Fernando V-16 4:07 255km 3500m
A welcome return to Chile. 1st off on tow before being joined by others. steady progress North via the outside Protreros, Labatories North, Maraco and Truchas before dropping into Lagunas valley. Good lift leaving Lagunas at 3100m to Demecoen but had to retreat back to Appoyo Lagunas for a climb back up and re-attack to Demecoen. This time good lift with easy transit to White Rocks and Copin. decided to turn here and head back south with only a short top up at Demecoen East before transit to Lagunas and run down Los Espanioles and south across the valley to the end of the San Roman mountains before heading back north to Vitacura. 100km+ final glide without turning…
4hrs 7 mins and 255kms! Max ~ 3500m (11,500ft amsl). Good flight for 1st Feb!
Norm/Alfonso V-18 3:55 240km 3200m
Second on the grid for launch, first time in the Janus in a while. 3 hr and 55 mins of trying to figure out what to do as Alonso my instructor is a man of few words. Working our way north via the usual ridges in fairly challenging conditions we eventually got to 3200m with the conditions improving as the day went on. The ridges were working well later and the glide home was made easy after a 5.5 m/s climb to base with a distance of about 240 km completed. The landing was uneventful with with Alonso keeping me right with the procedure, can’t wait to get into the high stuff later in the week! I don’t think I’ve ever been so tired/ mentally drained after a flight. Well worth the 28 hours of travelling to get here.
Will/Felipe V-23 3:45 240km 3500m
First flight in Chile so wasn’t too sure what to expect. Launching to the local ridge with Felipe and trying to climb away it felt very much like Sisteron with very similar thermal characteristics. After a bit of a struggled climb at various sections of the ridge we pushed North away from the city to what I think was Eagle Rock followed by the other Janus’ and eventually round to Espanoles. It was here which Felipe said was the decision point whether to carry on going North or jump into the “Big mountains,” well they all looked pretty big to me, but sure enough the huge mountains off to the east made me feel very low. Felipe set me a challenge to try and climb to the top of the huge ridge in the distance (unsure of name), which me managed enabling us to push to Lagunas and over the valley to White Rocks and Copin. Either it was later in the day or because of the higher altitude, but it was far easier to thermal now with the vario peaking at +5m/s, and yet the locals were still saying it was a rubbish day. From Copin we decided to head back as did the other Janus flown by Dave who was in the area, we were higher than them at a good 3.4Km so quite easily pointed south and followed the ridges and cloud streets with very few thermals needed for the next 100km! Upon arrival at Santiago with height to burn we had a
quick look to the south of the city before going into land. So in my opinion far better than expected and apparently on a day with bad weather.
Neill/Arturo V-25 4:15 312km 4200m
My first mountain flying for a few years, and my first time in the Nimbus 3DT, so I had my work cut out for me. Releasing on Manquehue, we could see that Pos and Norm had already gone. However, the thermals were not particularly strong, and we decided to push across the ridge as soon as we were high enough. Conditions were again not too strong, and we found ourselves critically low near the Santa Martina golf resort before finding a usable climb. That was to be the story of the next hour or so as we worked our way up the outside of the mountains, even discussing a land-out at Truchas. However, after crossing Lagunas Valley at 2000 m QNH, conditions seemed better and we worked a decent climb near the Cement Wall. Hearing that Pos was heading back towards us, we made sure we made cloud base before crossing the valley to Demecoen. Another little struggle at White Rocks, but conditions seemed to be getting better, and we were surprised to hear that others were heading home as we crossed over to Paths. With 2 hours left before our intended landing time, we decided to push for Y and were rewarded with the best climb of the day near Square Lake, taking us to 4100 m and an easy run into Y and back. Some rock-polishing was required to crest the ridge and reconnect with the thermal we’d used before. This time, we made cloud base at 4200 m and now the plan was to return to Vitacura without turning. The weather was turning for the worse, with CBs building close to us. A quick decision was required on whether to take a route ‘inside’ the mountains, which we chose to do given the patches of sunlight we could see to the east. Our reward was a fantastic 136 km glide, arriving at Santiago at 2500 m and, learning that everyone else had landed, we airbraked down for a welcome beer. The furthest north I’ve been in the Andes, and a great refresher.
Day 2 (31 January) – Santiago
Not much to say about today, other than to note that 20+ hrs inside airliners is a long time in anyone’s books.
However, we’re here, our FACh host (Italo) has delivered us safely to the hotel and the forecast looks very good.
Everyone is looking forward to tomorrow’s flying!
Day 1 (30 January) – Heathrow
We’ve managed to successfully RV at Heathrow, and all of us are still smiling (obligatory selfie). I’m sure that 20 hours locked in a metal tube will beat that out of us. Next stop Toronto! (If you’re confused as to why we’re routing via Canada, then don’t worry. So are we…)