Falkner: Hike & Fly

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It feels strange to be writing again on Senderos. This is the first post in… 4 years, or so does the site say. After losing it in digital limbo, recovering from an incomplete backup and having lost for good the last published posts. It turns out the last post I remember writing was about having started this new activity I am so addicted to: paragliding. And just as this years I changed and started flying, Senderos will adapt too; to new adventures including flights. What can be better than starting with a Hike & Fly in one of the most beautiful peaks of my area.

Fast-forward to almost the summit – our takeoff. Picture to keep you reading…

After many years of walking and loving the mountains, I could not miss the opportunity to climb a peak… and fly it! The Falkner range attracts me: I climbed a few of its peaks through different routes and different conditions (including the three-day traverse we did in 2016, also in this blog). But flying from it was something yet to be done. I do not know who proposed it in the first place; but since they did the idea stuck in my mind and only the weather could be able to cancel it.

We turned a Monday into a Sunday, with a perfect weather forecast. And so at 9am, in a dim dawn light and a with moon high in the sky, we are already starting to walk from the campsite next to Villarino Lake. Gastón, Tomy, Pau, Pana, Fabri, myself… y six backpacks.

Strong morning frost

Even if thermometers read -7C, that common feeling of “what the hell am I doing here in this cold” was not present. The idea of flying from the summit was pushing us upwards, as a thermal itself. We started hiking in good mood, wrapped up warm and in laughs.

During the first minutes I started to recall every part of the trail: I hiked it not so long with Fabricio. An important difference today, though, is the temperature. The dung in the lower part of the trail was hard as rock; better not to hit it.

The Peñascoso far away, taking the first sunbeams

Shortly after and without having climbed much, we are already over the lazy clouds; motionless and not yet receiving any sunlight. Nor wind; the air in the valley is completely still. As I climb, I am deciding that this adventure is the one that brings Senderos back to life; and in my mind start to take notes of the details I am going to write about. I regret not having my camera, which always comes with me in every hike.

Dawn and frost

The reality warns me that I do not have to regret: I did not bring any camera just because I did not want to bring an extra ounce. Not in food, nor water, not to mention a camera. My backpack is heavier than normal with about 15kg, the very minimum to get to the summit in appropriate clothing… and to fly it down! This is the other and major difference from any other time I have done this trail. My backpack this time contains a spaceship, a magic piece of cloth, a technological beauty that allows us to fly — and that we can carry (almost) comfortably in our backs.

The price for not carrying any extra weight is also paid as missing a pair of trekking poles. The snow in the trail, hard from other groups the last weekend, and from ourselves hiking it, is packed hard and slippery. With my best lack of elegance I walk the steepest turns pulling from any root or plant I reach next to the trail.

Water and air layers

In the reedbed and as we start to see North and East, a persistent breeze starts to blow; filling us with questions. If wind blows at this altitude, what can we expect at the summit? But the lakes and valleys are completely still. Water is a mirror, clouds are not moving, the myst seems dawrn on the water surface.

Start of the forest

The Falkner trail has a steep and long section in the reeds, which despite the snow it was more pleasant than any time in summer, when you breathe dust as you walk, and the reeds appear to generate their own heat. The nicest moment of this trail is, to me, the transition to the high forest: it is a just moment; reeds are gone and you are under the taller lengas, in a different world.

Our too big backpacks entangled in the achaparrado

And this forest is even nicer today. Snow is not enough, if we thought of skiing it. But it also allows us to walk comfortably in just boots. The only obstacle is, well, the one we are carrying in our backs. My legs are not friends of this backpack, and the difference from a lighter hike is noticeable. We are just past half of the route, I am feeling tired and start to promise myself to train more — promises we all learned not to say aloud anymore.

The forest ends, and so our legs

At 11am, at 1700m high, we already at a reasonable clear take off place. Plan A was going to the summit, but wind is crossed and gusty; and we all have many doubts of our chances to fly here or higher up. Wind can be much stronger in the summit. We are still missing about 250 vertical meters and some of us do not want to keep climbing if there is risk of not flying… We do not want to miss the chance to fly from here, in case the wind was picking up and the only chance is now. We decide to rest a while and evaluate the situation.

At 1700m. Too little snow; too many questions. The group barely visible, at the left; from where the wind also comes

After a while the wind has not changed. But this rest was useful for us to throw all kind of opinions and do every possible conjecture. We have plenty of theories but also a unanimous decision. The forecast never mentioned winds in upper layers; also this wind appears to be a downwind from behind the peak and tunneled through the terrain; wind should also not pick up during this day…. and we just decide to keep climbing.

And so in a last push that may have lasted 30 or 60 minutes, we hiked up the ridge next to the snow and using every rock we can as steps. Every now and then we keep our eyes on possible take-offs… always facing East, towards inside the mountain; from where the wind comes…. That, if taking off is possible at all.

Last push until what we think is our takeoff

We decide to go up… until there is nowhere else to go. We pinpoint a neve , clear of rocks, facing the direction we think the wind comes from. As we walk, I keep thinking what happens if we do not fly… I did not bring any spare pair of legs, and my only idea was that what I carry in my back should take me down the mountain, and not the opposite.

No more walking! (Provided we take off)

Reaching the take-off, the condition is perfect. Lighter wind, coming in the right direction for this place. The slope is appropriate, there are very few rocks, we are all cheering. We relax a bit and start to prepare our equipment without any wait. I regret not having waited longer; as anxious as I was to fly I did not spend more time enjoying the place, the views. In a few minutes all our wings are prepared, we all wrapped warm, I wear jacket over jacket and gloves over gloves. Without camera though; the GoPro that I did bring refuses to turn on so I cannot record the flight.

Perfect take off

Up there I left the improvised cane trekking pole I picked up in the trail; turned into a windsock with some toilet paper. We all take off perfectly, in ideal conditions, and each of us does whatever route we pick to go down, in this smooth winter air.

Taking off – Thanks Pau for recording!

As always, I record the trails, the stats. Three hours to hike up a bit over 1000 vertical meters, taking off at 1960m, and enjoying the mountain at every step. Fourteen minutes going down, recording the views as much as I could in our memories. The routes being very different: the normal route going uphill, and improvised, made up routes gliding down.

Several nights later I am still editing pictures and writing this blog entry; in this way perduring the enjoyment and still living the experience. I am incredibly happy of having found this amazing activity; and very much grateful of this group of crazy individuals who enjoy paragliding as much as I do, with whom I can share these adventures…

And also, of course, I am looking at the next weekend’s forecast.