Grace Stansbery, Ian Ahner, Patrick Joyce, Chris Lee and Lindsay Matush joined guide Dave "Cuervo" Prentice's annual Valle de Bravo trip over the Christmas/New Year's break. Two flights a day, every single day in one of the most consistent flying sites in the world.
Patrick Joyce: The day started with the good omen of dew on the windshield in the morning. Added moisture to the atmosphere would bring smoother conditions and abundant lift marked by clouds to the dry mountains of Mexico. After a daily briefing from Prentice, the team broke to get ready. One by one gliders began to fill the sky, ebbing and flowing in the house thermal in front of launch. El Piñon loomed nearby, beckoning the ambitious pilots. After spending a few thermal cycles spinning amongst the chaos of the house thermal, I broke out headed towards Piñon. Friends also peeled out of the house thermal and I found myself circling above Piñon with Chris, Ian, and Mike. Lindsay launched and joined us as we hopped over to the Wall. Clouds were booming over the "Crazy Thermal Mesa", so it was the obvious next choice. The group headed over and was at cloudbase in no time. In and out of the white and wispy, we had to avoid lift to stay below the clouds and maintain visibility. After some aimless cruising around, I established a comfortable altitude and saw a gaggle in the distance. I pushed on the speed bar to catch up and join the radio chatter of my friends plotting their next moves, in and out of lift so strong I rarely wanted to take my hands off the controls. Except as I got closer, the wing designs and colors were all wrong. This was a gaggle full of strangers! I turned about face and connected the dots, realizing everyone had gone the opposite direction towards the lake. I began to head that way, but reports on the radio of struggles made it clear it was not what was expected. As I dilly-dallied above the Wall the line became obvious. Convergence had set up on the plateau between the valleys and clouds marked the rising air as far as I could see. By maintaining position just below and upwind of the cloud line, I began to cover miles without dropping a foot, occasionally pulling a hard right turn to exit the cloud and drop below once again.
In the distance I saw a familiar glider, low but still cruising. Lindsay had made it out! We danced around in some lift, pushed up between a tall ridge and the end of the convergence line. She opted to head towards the butterflies while I hopped the ridge and continued downwind. In the new valley, conditions instantly changed to small wispy cumulus marking spotty lift. By searching out lift and circling in it, the wind carried me down the valley. Without losing much altitude, slowly the valley floor began to creep up to me as I neared higher ground. As landing became apparent, each village looked better than the next. I traced the road from Valle to help pick a "convenient" landing spot. I found myself low over a village near a small canyon. I opted not to shoot the canyon due to a possible venturi and land in the village. Not much activity to be seen from the air. Bare field there, horse here, one main road. Yet as I came in on my final approach I saw the telltale shape of kids running out of the corner of my eye. I stepped out of the sky in San Francisco Oxtotilpan, and no less than 35 men, women, and children gathered around me as I picked my wing. All smiles and questions! I did my best to answer in Spanish until someone excitedly ran to get a resident who spoke English. After more talk and a group photo, I was escorted to a couple's pick up truck who kindly took me to the highway.
In the cab back towards Valle I scanned the radio.
"Anyone out there?" A response came from Lindsay and we gleefully chatted about our flights. The signal was clear, too clear.
"Where are you?"
"I'm in a cab."
"Me too! Hey, wait a second, is that you? Wave out the window!"
Sure enough, we were rolling through the mountain highway in back to back cabs. Naturally, she paid a lot less for hers.
We are a group of paragliding pilots based in the St. Louis area.