Paragliding in Valle de Bravo

El Penon is a world class and reliable xc flying site, located right next the relatively low cost, picturesque and civilised town of Valle. There are even a few great tourist activities in the area. Famous for its strong conditions, and reliable convergence, this is also a training destination due to possibility of mellow early morning and evening flights. There is also a flying site just above town that offers soaring which we won’t cover.

There are already plenty of good guides on Valle. The most complete and useful we found is the one on paragliding forum; The Flumen website offers similar but also more up to date information on transport. And Cross Country magazine has the best description of what else there is to do in the area, and the classic routes to fly. Therefore this blog is to share some of our personal experiences that may provide additional useful information to pilots and companions!

Chilling in landing at El Penon after a lovely evening flight

Valle de Bravo








How to get started?
Comparing to Colombia, Valle is much more technical to fly for us. There are certain known routes that work best and some thermal triggers that just work better than others. They may not be all obvious without some local knowledge or practice, for instance where crazy thermal and the g-spot is – though this remained a mystery to us as it is to many! How high the cloud base is, where the complex winds are blowing and where the convergence sets up on the day will mean some routes work better than the others. If you have some spare budget but limited time in Valle, we would highly recommend Marko’s xc course (see the Flumen link above) for the following reasons:
– Good guide to clients ratio: The maximum number in the group is six and Marko encourages and teaches how to fly in a group and help each other along the way.
– Marko always tries his best to ensure that those who are struggling can catch up with the group by giving advice and encouragement on the radio and flying down and guiding us back if necessary.
– Route planning is part of the course and we had detailed route briefed and programmed into our gps with radio updates on the way according to our progress and conditions.
– Marko is always considerate to personal needs – for instance knowing that Al wasn’t so comfortable in rough air, he warned him in flight that ‘crazy thermal’ was indeed crazy that day and to join it high if possible!
– Theory combined with practice: Besides flying as a group, Marko also offers thorough theory classes under the very good APPI scheme which not only helped us refresh some critical xc basics but also gave us some new insights and an understanding of how the weather and terrain works in Valle and how to best fly it. After the course, we were able to check local weather, study conditions on the day and more confidently design our own routes. Just beware of Marko’s ‘Turkish’ coffee, which though nicely strong as required after a long flight to get us through the theory, isn’t the most refined! :p

On a lovely 4 hour + XC journey with Marko 🙂








Where to stay:
The landing in Valle is near the lake at the end of ‘5 de Mayo’ street. If you don’t want to walk far from lake landing in Valle with your gear after making it back to town from an xc, try to stay close to Santa Maria church (close to landing) rather than in the center of town. There are plenty of nice hotels / posadas in Valle. For budget options, you can ask around the landing and see if there are local families willing to rent out rooms. We got very lucky and the first family we asked rented us a room with our own bathroom and kitchen for 300 pesos a night.

Landing in Valle

Getting to launch:
A private taxi from Valle to launch costs around 150 pesos at this time – though they’ll often try to rip off ignorant foreigners! So if you are traveling with a group or sharing with other pilots, it is the cheapest option. If you are alone, you can also get rides from tandem operators dotted around valle: Some meet at lake landing (in Valle), some in front of their paragliding shops. A return trip to El Penon with them, including pickup form the piano landing(right below the El Penon), Penitas or the Jovan restaurant where people often end up congregating after a flight, costs around 120 pesos.

Piano-the landing right under the take-off

We found the locals are extremely friendly and never had trouble hitchhiking, although it’s worth noting there are areas where we were warned away from landing as dangerous (for example, the flats beyond the antennas) . The taxis sometimes may try to charge you higher than normal price. If you landed around the main road linking El Penon to valle, it’s best to take ‘collectivos’ where you share taxi with others: they are just as fast as private hires as people just get on and off on the road. I was only unlucky enough once to sit next to a chap who smelt like he was allergic to water! From the mid-way town El Fresno, the price to Valle is between 15-20 pesos. If you land at the piano landing below El Penon and miss the group transports, it can be a bit slow. To get back up to launch can cost 150 to 200 via the rare taxis, or you can walk to the main road through the landing area to catch a normal cab. The family who owns the taco stand sometimes kindly offer rides to get stranded foreigners back to the main road.

If you have your own kitchen, there is a farmers’ market right in the centre of town! Offering a wide range of fresh but cheap local produce. There are a couple of tortilla shops which is also our favourites in town. Try the cactus: it has oakra texture and a bit lemon taste. It goes well in stews or fried eggs 🙂 trying local fruits we have never seen before is also fun! Vendors often offer free samples and good cooking advice. The Sunday market seems to have the best varieties on offer.

local market

For eating out, our favourite is the taco stands near the market: they open for lunch and dinner. At 17 pesos a taco, fresh salsa, simple salad, grilled onion and a good selection of sauces are complimentary! For a change, there are also some restaurant in the market that offer tasty local dishes: they are great for those who do not read Spanish as all food selections are on display! You can just point and order. All tortilla you get are freshly made in the tortilla shop in the market. We always went to the one right next to the tortilla stand and the owner speaks some English. Most of them only open for lunch though Mexican lunch seems to continues until five pm!

Valle is also the best place to continue the Icecream after flight tradition: the local homemade icecream comes in many flavours and can be found in most shops.

Local homemade icecream

Other things to do:

There is plenty to explore around Valle on non flyable days. You can hike around Nevado de Toluca (an easy day trip from Valle) – some also fly there from El Penon! Or visit the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary: we heard it is best to visit in early morning when the tourist crowds haven’t arrived yet. We did not go in the sanctuary but on our way back from Nevado de Toluca, all the butterflies were flying on the road and we just stopped on the road and watched them in awe! You are more likely to be flying most of the time though:) Enjoy!

Nevado de Toluca

Personal Best… by Reserve Parachute


Happy XC-ing shortly before

I wish my personal best UK XC didn’t end with me hanging in a tree by my reserve…

This August I was flying cross country from Liddington Castle. It was going well, the wind was brisk but fine, the base was high and lift was good. I finally caught up with my friend after flying mostly on my own – Ill finally be able to relax a bit I naively thought. Struggling in some weak lift, it finally turned into a whopper and we were both soon in danger of hitting the airspace ceiling in typical UK fashion!

Failing to keep my glider stable under the massive big-ears of my ENC Air Design Volt 2 (I must practice the alternate outer B technique, or holding the stabilo lines as well as the outer A’s, as described in the manual), I was alternating full speed bar and spiral dives to keep below the airspace at 5500′, even on full speed bar I was still going up at ~1m/s.

Im relatively new to the Volt 2 (30hrs) having flown a Gradient Aspen 4 for many years. I bought the wing as the Aspen was getting porous and I’d had a few big collapses in very strong conditions in the mountains of Columbia though it would always recover very nicely. Though I loved flying the Aspen and could handle the conditions as well as any others I flew with, I wanted to find something a bit less likely to collapse while retaining similar performance. All the reviews of the Volt 2 suggested this was just the wing. Once I flew it, I realised it is a very different to fly compared to the Aspen – it feels really solid and reassuring, especially on bar. The downside is that the feedback is very subtle and the brakes are much longer so I have to really concentrate hard to try to feel what the wing is up to and make sure I use a lot of brake when required to try and prevent collapses.

This was definitely a factor I think – I felt relaxed in the strong conditions on full bar, the wing seeming to cut though the mild turbulence nicely, but then my friend saw my wing pitch back in a strong thermal and have a massive collapse. I can’t honestly remember the details, but my wing went though a cascade of violent collapses – way too fast to counter. As I was very high, at least 4500’, I wasn’t in immediate danger of crashing so I concentrated on keeping my hands up and trying to stop the risers from twisting which I barely succeeded in doing. I think I did, but I can’t remember if I tucked my legs under me to help stabilise myself as pods can worsen the twisting (something for me to practice until its instinctive). I certainly came of the speed bar instinctively, although I’m now wondering if it would have helped to remain on it as the wing pitched back to keep the wing from collapsing…


The last 10 minutes – collapse to tree

The cascade ended with a ~40% cravat on the left side and the wing immediately started to spiral. Fearing blacking out, I quickly stalled the wing to stop the spiral and try to remove the cravat. The stall stopped the spiral, but was very unstable and on release the wing violently surged and started to spiral again as the cravat hadn’t come out. I tried this 3 more times but the cravat didn’t even get smaller! My friend suggested later, that I take a wrap or two when stalling which is an interesting idea. When stalling the Aspen with its short brakes there’s no need, but the Volt 2 stall is near the end of my reach. I was contemplating throwing the reserve, but still with comfortable height, I decided I’d try a bit more so after the 4th stall, I caught the wing before it started to spiral by anticipating with weight shift and opposite brake and I managed to achieve straight and level flight.

This was very difficult to maintain due to the size of the cravat, the wing was very much on the edge of stall or a spiral. I tried to pump the cravat out, but I had to be gentle to maintain control. I tried pulling the sabilo, then other lines in turn but none of them budged. Looking up, the cravat didn’t seem to be in a complete knot, but something was obviously very stuck. I contemplated landing like this as the sink rate was reasonable, but the concentration I had to maintain and force I had to use on the right brake was very tiring, so I tried to tease out the lines again including trying to slowly tug some of the accessible loose lines out by looping them around my wrist. And finally I tried to stall the cravat out one last time but none of this worked.

After maintaining for a while, I decided I couldn’t guarantee I could make it to the ground safely as even a small lapse in concentration, if my right arm lost strength, or if there was any turbulence, the wing would either a spiral or stall. And I couldn’t steer easily anyway, so I threw my Sup’Air Xtralite reserve parachute.

The reserve deployed well but I couldn’t get my main wing in. It was flailing around and when I tried to haul one side by taking the brake lines on one side hand over hand, it ended up spinning. With the wing eventually settled in a down-planeing configuration with twists in the lines, there was nothing more I could do. I must get some advice on how to better de-power the wing in this situation…

The wing was fighting the reserve a bit, but fortunately I wasn’t swinging too badly and I came down on a belt of trees next to a country lane, missing some power lines on the other side of the road. I fell though a tree (field maple my Dad helpfully informed me later!), the weak branches snapping as I went slowing my fall and ended up ~1.5m off the ground with the wing and reserve now resting on top of the trees suspending me – phew so lucky!


Field maple!

After managing to unclip one side of my leg strap I managed to flip myself forwards and thread my other leg though and landed ungracefully in a bed of nettles on the side of the lane completely unhurt.

This was about 10 minutes after the initial collapse and finally the “excitement” caught up with me, I was shaking, my brain was addled and I found all I could do was lie down. I recognised I was in shock, but didn’t feel in danger. I felt a bit silly at first when I waved down a family passing on a bike ride, but they sensibly called an ambulance and even found me some water. I don’t know your names, but thank you so so much. I then attempted to let everyone know I was OK on the various channels (text, fb, telegram, radio, phone – it is actually a bit confusing at the best of times!). In my confused state I even managed to post a message on the Scottish Telegram group which surprised them a bit! And for a while I thought I’d shit myself, but then I realise I’d just crashed next to a diary farm!

The ambulance crew were just great, they kept me until my blood pressure was a bit more normal which I was grateful for as I was incapable of doing much. After a bit of welcome banter and telling me they didn’t mind hanging about as it was a much more interesting call out than they usually got, they offered to get my wing and reserve out of the tree which no thanks to me they managed surprisingly well by just pulling the lines. They then drove me to a near by petrol station to await my wife in comfort.

I spent the time waiting taking half a tree out of the wing on a traffic island to the confusion of the passers by. Amazingly the wing, reserve and harness and even I was undamaged (except for some nettle stings!).

Thanks to my flying friends, especially John for hosting a great meal with all important wine that evening for a tipsy de-brief to help keep me sane, and to Jan for helping get my wife to our car – you’re all stars!

I have flown a few times since, but I think its going to take me a while to get back the (over?)confidence I once had. I hope I can learn to become a better pilot from this experience, and I hope that this account can be at least somewhat useful to others.

Full track log

Safe flying everyone.

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Me on a better day! 🙂

Roldanillo Update (Dec ’15-Jan ’16)

Under protest, against the barrage of my Wife’s very angry Spanish learnt on our trip last year, Avianca eventually gave us compensation for leaving us stranded at the airport last year. Since this was in the form of a discount for another ticket with them, we decided to use the excuse to go back to Roldanillo, Colombia this Christmas to what is definitely the best XC flying area we’ve ever been.


Cauca Valley looking West from the East side


Last year was a bit rough for our liking, but since everyone we met said it was unusually rough, we were hoping for some of the ‘huge smooth thermals’ we heard talk of. However, the biggest El Nino year since 1997 meant droughts across Colombia and some of the strongest conditions flying they’ve had – damn it!


Going South from Pico

Drought meant water rationing from about 1200 until 1800-1900 which really isn’t great when you come back from an XC in a hot bus!. We only got one day of rain which is unusual especially in December which would normally be 1 day in 3 of rain. In fact the best conditions we had were in December.

Strong conditions meant the mountains (on the West side of the valley where the Rolda takeoffs are) can get rough, but the climbs could certainly be great (my max sustained was 6m/s which looks like the clouds are falling past you!). The days generally started early, Pico was often working at 0930 but normally best about 1000ish.

We were there for almost a month and every day was flyable and XCable!

Getting up to take-of

IMG_2822This year there were few times people congregated in the square to catch a lift, instead the routine was to wait in front of Cloudbase hostel where a jeep and a pickup would leave every day at 0830ish taking tandems and hostellers. You’ll need to get there at least 0815 if want best seats i.e. not hanging off the back near the exhaust fumes, though sitting on the jeep roof does give the best views!


IMG_2866If you speak Spanish, contact Jose Manuela if you have a group of 6+ pilots and cloudbase trucks are full. He is a very reliable, responsible and nice driver (we travelled with him for both years). He invites all his passengers to his lovely finca right next to the Cauca river for tour and dinner (for free!) every year just because he is that nice! He is also building his finca into a nice guest house so he can host pilots. his number is: 3218394995. Do say Hi for Xiaoting and Al if you see him! 🙂

Price this year is 7,000-8,000 COP/PP for Pico and Agua Panela; 10,000 COP/PP for tangues. You can also take local buses with Occidente to Agua Panela: check with the bus station for timing and price.


P1160144Rolda is definitely getting more crowded, for good reasons! (where else can you get to fly daily, sometimes for 6 hours and have reliable cheap retrieves). Pico is currently the most popular launch; it has more house thermals which are less rough comparing to Tangues and its easier to clear the power lines comparing to Auga Panela. But sometimes there could be 50+ pilots packed tight on the very small launch and it is not often relaxing especially when thermic cycles came through irregularly between back-wind. XT is not so confident at forward launching and could find it stressful sometimes.

Some days the land owners at Pico charged a fee for using the launch: 3000 COP/PP; Los Tangues is also 3000 COP/PP but in December, the aunch was mostly deserted as everyone swarmed to Pico and no one bothered to charge us anything the few times we were there. Agua Panela is the only launch that still remains free. This year two comps were held there so they even cut the grass on the launch.


A new grassy landing field next to the one that I used last year to the South of Rolda is available. This one has a small windsock which is handy in the unpredictable winds but it is 2000 COP to land there, but only if people are there to collect it! The old landing field is still free and a section has been cleared of vegetation so its very nice.


We found that the main Rolda bus company Occidente is stopping less regularly for pilots hitching on the road. Were not sure if they changed their policies or if is that they are always too full (though it didnt seem so!). However there are some other companies and hitching (normally free is still pretty easy). Bus prices haven’t changed.


Getting there

Not on a budget this year, we can tell you that a normal taxi from Cali to Rolda is 240,000 COP each way which would fit up to 3 pilots depending on luggage. A mini van is 260,000 COP in which is very spacious for 4 pilots.

Other useful stuff

A local SIM card (a new number) in Roldanillo costs only 6000 COP. MOVISTAR works well in the area; you can then charge money as much as you want to your number. Some shops has a minimum 6000 COP charge requirement, some don’t. We found that if you charge more to your cellphone, the more economical it is: 10,000 COP last us about 3 weeks when 5,000 COP only last us for 2 days (although the shops may not tell you this).

There are more and more families renting their rooms out to pilots. The one we stayed in costs 35,000 COP/night for two people with shared kitchen, balcony and private bathroom. It was very close to Cloudbase and the square and we could see Pico and Tangues from the balcony. 🙂

Have fun out there, just remember to be wary of the back-wind and strong conditions especially in the mountains. See our blog from last year for more details.


Fun with clouds!

Bonus section: friendly locals and fun retrieves!

What makes Roldanillo amazing is also the most sincere, friendly and generous locals you meet. We had so much fun landing out this year. Just remember to learn some basic Spanish and greet the lovely locals with smiles! Below are a small selection of this year’s highlights:

Jan 18th: Diego, a vet lives in tulua, saw me land and came to give me a ride after he finished vaccinating some cows. He invited me to his house and introduced me to his family. His family offered me lunch, fresh towel and a shower at their house and a tour around tulua. Diego gave me his number and address of his house in case I land near tulua again!


Jan 14th: Local kids guided us to a waterfall for a fun swim after landing (one kid even carried my glider all the way! )


Jan 9th: An old lady came to help me pack when I landed in her field and invited me to lunch at her home. She lives with her two brothers and one sister. Rest of the family have moved to the cities but they enjoy the quiet countryside. They gave me a tour of their farm and picked loads of fresh grapes and guava for me to take home. The old lady finds hard to pronounce my name so keeps on calling me ‘my love’ and gave me directions to her farm to visit again. She insisted carrying all my heavy gears to the road and made sure I got on the right bus. I left almost in tears as she said “everyone around the world should be friends” ” you have a family here and take your husband back here to visit any time!”

Finca 4FincaFinca2

Jan 6th: I landed in a sugarcane plantation. Many stopped working to keep me entertained. A giant sugar cane truck happened to be heading back to Roldanillo just when I packed up. The whole plantation waved me goodbye as I rode on the almighty truck! No one dare to mess with my retrieve vehicle today.



Goverador Valadares, Brazil (8-27 March)


Setting off for the 2nd thermal

I’m sitting writing this from a much needed shady tree in the bomb-out landing field (or Jurassic park as Active Edges group called it!). My flight today was a pitiful 15 mins from the top of the isolated rock called Pico da Ibitruna. The strong wind today has made for rubbish conditions despite the epic looking sky. My poor performance doesn’t seem to have encouraged the other guys off either, so I’m just wondering if they will take off or get a lift down… I’ll think chill out here a bit longer in case they come to join me!


Pico da Ibritruna

We’ve had some great flights from Governador Valadares (GV) over the last couple of weeks, but also a far share of short ones due to the sometimes rough, sinky, stormy air etc. It’s been flyable every day and this place definitely has the potential for personal best XCs, but it certainly isn’t easy either – especially the first bit, making it away from this mountain! The local advise is to  “be patient”: the first climb around launch can be strong but the second climb can be hard to find once you get away from the big rocky launch. What worked for me is hang in the weak ones or work as a group to find the second climb.

Pico de Ibitruna

Pico da Ibritruna

In a way GV is similar to Roldanillo in Colombia in that if you dont fly, there’s absolutely nothing to do, but its hotter – much hotter, bigger and a little less friendly. When we were asked by everyone who doesn’t fly where we were going next, there reaction was “Why!!?”!


Goverador Valadares

But the flying is different, after the high Pico da Ibitruna mountain its just green rolling hills and farmland, with an occasional little town and some grey cliffs as far as you can see.

Following the sparse paved roads is the way it’s normally done here – downwind if possible. Climbs here vary from almost zeros to about 5m/s which can be rough or smooth (though never as rough as it can get in Roldanill!). On a long XC you also have to be prepared for some low saves – hanging on in rough weak climbs hoping for the vultures or eagles come to help (which they often do). I always feel it’s such a privilege to fly with them and they seem just as interested in us – flying close to check us out, or surfing our wake! With landing you definitely have to take more care as its quite hilly and power lines are absolutely everywhere – just because you’ve seen 4 going across your chosen landing field doesn’t mean there’s not 2 more to catch you out! As for getting back the buses are less frequent than in the Roldanillo valley but people always seem willing to give pilots lifts (often free) even to this dodgy looking beardy gringo!


Urubu vulture friend!

Xiaoting and a few others eventually flew off and I’m watching them now, but only a couple got away on an XC – probably too late in the day to do a long one, but we shouldn’t complain – it was yet another flyable day!

Xiaoting got a personal best of 86k on just her 2nd day here! I’m yet to match my best from Roldanillo, but we’ve a few more flying days to come so who knows…


Playing with the clouds! 🙂

Baixo Guandu and Pancas, Brazil (4-8 March)

As a holiday in a holiday, we booked ourselves onto Steve Barton’s guided trip to Baixo Guandu, a beautiful area about 2-3hrs east of Governador Valadares (GV) in Brazil with huge dark rounded granite hills interspersed with grassy hills and a big river running through it. We joined a group that Steve had already guided at Castelo and GV. It was a great expense for us as poor travellers, but it was really relaxing to be in a nice air conditioned hotel, taken up to launch, briefed and picked up wherever we landed!


Looking back to Baxio Guandu takeoff

The flying in Baixo Guandu was great fun even if we were shower (or cunim!) dodging some days. On the first day despite it looking OK at first, the sky soon turned angry with the entire horizon dark with rain as Xiaoting and I were flying and it got suspiciously easy to stay up! We spiraled down to land – just in time as just a few minutes later we were hit by very strong winds (flying rapidly backwards kind of strength) from a gust front, and just packed up our wings before torrential rain hit. We cut it too fine this time… :/ A local pilot had seen us land and after calling us “loco” (crazy) for flying in these conditions, bundled us into his car and took us to a hotel to shelter the thunder storm with an icecream.


Time to run away!

We both flew some nice long flights on our 3 days, and it was a really nice experience to fly with the others – sometimes helping each other out by marking climbs or relaying conditions etc. We would love to come back to this area sometime, but its only really possible in a guided trip as getting up to launch and retrieves would be almost impossible on our own except maybe on weekends as the buses are not frequent and the local flying community is tiny and seems not very active.


Baxio Guandu landscape


Baxio Guandu landscape

Our last day was just the two of us as the other guys had to leave. Looking at the slow start to the day Steve suggested on the spur of the moment that we divert to Pancas, which is an area of concentrated granite hills which could be a scene from Jurassic park!



Clearly no one had flown there for weeks or even months as the track up had some fallen branches and I also think the launch needed a bit of tending too… Xiaoting took off first and as she started climbing out, I made my attempt. The wind was now a little cross and light so despite running all I could, I ended up on an unfortunate trajectory towards some treetops! As you can see in the video, it was lucky that they were bendy, or it would have been a long hot afternoon of untangling lines at best. However, I got through and had a nice if short flight around this stunning area – definitely one to come back to (with a chainsaw!).


Steve doesn’t always look this scary – honest! 😉

Thanks Steve for a brilliant and (almost) stress free adventure which wouldnt have been possible any other way! 🙂

Steve Barton is an British Expat living in GV who runs several guided paragliding tours in Brazil every year:

Medellín Mid-air, Colombia (31 December)

2015 NYE was my most memorable ever, but for all the wrong reasons.

XT and I were having our second day flying with Juan (our host) from San Felix, Medellin. The conditions were perfect, the wind was not too strong and their were strong thermals, so everyone was talking about doing an XC over the back into the next valley.

The three of us were climbing out and just beneath cloudbase when a young girl we were thermalling with flew into XT!!! It was horrific to watch, I was right there but I couldn’t do anything. I was shouting as loud as I could for XT to throw her reserve as her wing was wrapped around the girl, but of course she couldn’t hear and the girl was so wrapped up she couldn’t do anything. The only luck in our favour was that the girls wing was still flying and we were still high.

Mid-air 0

Click to see the Mid-air Video

All sorts of things were going through my mind (all bad) – I can’t loose my wife. I fought to control my breathing as I found myself getting tingly and dizzy from hyperventilating. It seemed an age, but XT threw her reserve perfectly and when it came out it finally pulled XTs wing from the girl and she started descending under the reserve, though alarmingly fast. The girl entered a fast spiral as her lines were twisted but she recovered ok and landed safely.

I was at least not panicking anymore, but extremely worried about where the reserve would take XT – the terrain being rough, with concrete buildings roads and nightmarish power lines. But I watched as she landed in a high tree and it was reassuring to see a local running towards where she was. I made a tricky landing in a nearby paddock and rushed to help.

The tree was massive and on a very steep and overgrown slope – very poor choice of landing! XT was OK – hanging upside down and mostly unhurt – just her ankle was sprained. And I knew she was ok when she was cursing the girl! 😉 The locals were great getting help from the local canyoning school. I was rushing around showing the police where to go, trying to locate Juan and Lina (his wife) to help assist when the branch she was on broke – people who’d come to help or watch were screaming. I rushed back but thankfully XT was hanging safely by her reserve which was still in the top of the tree.

After what seemed an age the climbers lowered her down safely – I’ve never been so relieved in my life. Many many thanks to all those who helped with the rescue, the locals and especially the two climbers who were calm and efficient and got XT down very efficiently indeed.

Later we watched my GoPro video; by luck I was close and got it all on film – you can clearly see the girl trying to turn inside everyone when she tightened her turn in front of XT. An inexperienced pilot flying in an unpredictable manner – we wish we’d been watching more carefully. By luck and by the good reactions of XT, both their lives were saved.

Mid-air 0.5

 Mid-air 1

Mid-air 2

Mid-air 3

Mid-air 4

Xiaotings Account

Conditions were looking good and a group of us were thinking about doing the big cross country flight into the next valley for the last day of 2014!

I caught a weak gentle thermal and was slowly climbing when I saw Juan and another pilot climbing faster near by so I put on full speed bar to join their thermal. I hit the edge first, a bit rough, then adjusted the turn to be inside more with others.

We are all doing big flat turns in thermal formation. When I saw one girl we met on launch doing erratic tight turns inside the formation. I watched her for a bit to see where she was going: she was just a little higher than me and flying in front of me. After another of her tight turns, she seemed to be flying directly away and few wing spans away from me. I thought that I was at safe distance, so I turned my attention to other gliders including my husband to check if I am still in sync with everyone. The next thing I know when I turned my attention back to the girl, she was flying directly at me on a downwind dash!!!! I was shocked and tried to turn away but it was too late! She flew directly into my lines!!!

After that, everything went in slow motion: She was wrapped around in my wing screaming! I immediately checked our height; we were high and as her wing was still flying and we were not dropping that fast. I tried to pull my wing away from her as she kept on screaming but she was wrapped around by the wing so tight that it was impossible. What the fuck!!! What do I do now??!! All my SIV classes were flashing through my mind and it seemed that there is no other option than throwing my reserve. So I waited until I felt both of us were stabilised under her wing, pulled my reserve and threw it as far as I could away from us. It seemed forever until the reserve finally opened!!! But the girl was still wrapped around my wing and both her wing and my reserve were flying! OMG, she could die or we both could die if we go like this into the ground!!! I started pulling my wing away from the girl as hard as I could and finally I heard a pop sound and the girl was freed (later when I was on the ground, I found that one of my A-lines of my wing was caught in the zip in her harness and the line was shredded with all the friction). As I pulled in the rest of my wing as quickly as I could, I saw the girl spiral down, regain her control and fly away – that was a moment of relief! Then I started to focus on the impossible situation I was in: hanging helplessly under my reserve with no directional control, and my sink alarm on my vario screaming on the top of its voice adding the unwanted dramatic effect. I was at the wind’s mercy: there were concrete houses, countless power lines, green pastures, barbe-wire fences, small pockets of forests in the direction where I was heading. I kept on practicing in my head the parachute landing (PLF) if I hit a flat surface and hoping hard that I won’t end up swaying into concrete walls or power lines. It was a bit turbulent down low and I could feel my parachute wobbling. Eventually a small patch of trees were looming large and the impact happened so fast I did not remember much, but I felt my right foot impacting on a branch and the next thing I knew, I was hanging upside down in my harness, my wing under me and me Iooking up at the blue sky and other pilots thermalling past.

Luckily, some local kid saw me land and a whole village gathered around me very quickly. They tried to rescue me but the tree was more than 10 meters tall and on a steep slope with thorny vegetation below. My husband landed near by and it was really reassuring to hear his voice. The branch that was holding me eventually broke but luckily my parachute was still caught firmly in the canopy. A group of local mountain climbers rescued me swiftly. I was on the ground with a twisted ankle, a broken line and a reserve to reassemble.


After the branch broke :/



Track log

Many thanks must go to the climbers who lowered me to safety, please check out their website for some alternative activities to flying in Medellin:.

Some afterthoughts from XT after the video spread wider than we anticipated: Thanks for every one who took time to analyse the video and gave your candid advice. I have learnt  my lessons in many hard ways. As many of you suggested, better look out and keep bigger distance is very important ! Hope this video can keep a healthy debate on how to thermal going and many can learn from it as I did from the incidence.

Utah, Chapter 2: Other SLC Sites

I’m lying under a small juniper tree staving off imminent heat stroke just below the big white “G” some way up the side of G mountain just E of Utah Lake listening to the strong thermals gust through the branches. It was v rough flying from Inspo yesterday and it was nowhere near this strong making me a bit apprehensive about flying here. It’s so hot here and the 500ft walk up from the car was not at all shady. The launch looks nice however, so I’m hoping the conditions will calm down enough and I’ll cool down enough to fly in a bit! Perhaps Ill even get to thermal up over G mountain. Were up here with Hal a local instructor who generously invited us on this adventure, CS Ling and Greg with his son. Greg is going to be wind dummy for us on his Carrera – we shall see…


View from G Mountain takeoff

Well, a few flew, but it was cross-wind, strong and unpleasant looking, which of course didn’t put XT off who had a hairy takeoff narrowly avoiding being dragged over rough terrain while flying sideways with half a wing, however she recovered really well from this unconventional takeoff and had a rough but uneventful flight. For me the potential enjoyment/risk ratio was just not large enough, so I walked down. Greg commented it was fun – “really?”, “well, it was the kind of thing thats only fun afterwards!” Anyway, we all got down safe in our own ways! 🙂

Jim and his wife Terry’s (our great hosts) kindly gave us a lift to V mountain which is N of the centre of SLC and where pilots can fly big XCs not infrequently going S to the N Point and beyond. So I (at least) arrived with rather unrealistic dreams. It was slightly unnerving to find a clay-pigeon shoot going on just behind takeoff and again there was no shade on launch. Our expectations dropped further as there was only a very light breeze and it was rather off to the North – oh dear. I had a frustrating “sledder” (top to bottom) after first getting a bit battered about in a tempting little rotary thermal over a gully which was completely not worth the stress! XT however, managed to make it stick and had a good 1.5hr, 9kft 15k XC ft flight which was very good achievement for the conditions and better than anyone else – I’m only a little envious! }:( We picked her up from a nice big school field on the way home. Jim had a similar flight to me, but had Terry taken some cracking photos of us, see below which made it seem as though we all had a cracking day!


XT and Jim over the V


XT and Al being broiled alive on V launch while waiting for an elusive thermal!

One afternoon XT and I found ourselves in a rather hot school car park in Farmington with an excited gaggle of pilots all with the aim of a rare chance of flying off Frances Peak. This is a high mountain for which the takeoff is up a very long drive up a dirt road and requires some organisation for collecting cars on landing. The weather however doesn’t care of the effort and enthusiasm of 50+ pilots and no sane flying was going to happen as when we got up there we could see a massive cold front encroaching. In USA the weather is a bit bigger than in the UK – we had a panoramic view of a whole line of cunims, each massive with regular lightening flashes and a gust front very visibly kicking up dust and water from the salt lake coming in at 50mph according to weather stations. Was no flying was going to occur, we had a bit of time to look around this beautiful mountain before the gust front hit. The flowers up there were spectacular growing thick amongst the holders – it was like a rock garden. When it hit us, it was truly on of those moments to be thankful we were all on the ground – time to leave. Thanks Hal for the heads up again and thanks Adam for lift up in the jeep, and the exciting tour around the mountain top! A non-flying adventure, but an adventure all the same!

Gust front over SLC from Frances Peak launch

Gust front over SLC from Frances Peak launch

Hot and High in Utah

XT and I had some time off in the US in late July so the question was – where to fly? Most places at this time of year have scarily strong thermals or they are remote, coastal or unreliable. So on recommendation from US pilots, Utah was the place – Salt Lake City to be exact. I must admit I was a bit scared that with my UK constitution I would spontaneously combust in the heat it being regularly over 40 degrees centigrade, but no choice – we just have to go to the best place to fly!

Chapter 1: Our First Day

On our first day in Utah we went to check out the rather desolate looking S side of the Point of the Mountain which is almost surrounded by a large quarry and although it was too late for an early morning soar we luckily bumped into Jonathan Jefferies of Utah Paragliding who got me my temporary USHPA Membership right then and there, he also got us in touch with Jim Peterson who had a great room at a cheap rate right next to N Point – thanks Jon, and thanks Jim! Then, we got a call from Ken Hudonjorgensen of Twocanfly who I’d got in touch with before arriving in Utah. He was heading to Inspiration Point, just S. of SLC – “Yes, of course we’d love to join you, thanks Ken!”

A bunch of pilots all piled into Kens pickup and went up the very windy road to takeoff. The site brief included all the bale out options if you’re not going to make the sports fiel: The school field which is small, sloping, surrounded by power lines trees and buildings. The paddock – try not to land near the horse! And dodgy looking potential slope landings with a long walk up. Lets just land in the official LZ eh! Inspo was rough and thermic and some went XC heading S along the mountain range. We stayed local to try to get our bearings in this unfamiliar air – I also needed to up my bump tolerance as I got two large collapses, but then this is quite full-on compared to my previous flying in the UK! An experienced XC pilot Lee commented later it was the roughest conditions he can remember which made us feel a bit better.

XT over N Point

In the evening we returned to SLC to fly the N side of Point of the Mountain – what a luxurious launch! It started off rather strong and rough in the air but mellowed out and the restitution allowed us to boat around serenely until sunset – very nice indeed. Wow, what a great start to our trip! 🙂

Al over N Point, looking towards Lone Peak