Traditionally all longer XC flights in northern Chile are made in Northern direction. It is due winds which blow always more or less from the south and turn even more south as the day progress due to the Coriolis force. During few days with northern winds usually flying is not good at all. But this November was very unusual. For more than a week a very unusual strong center of low pressure set of the coast of southern Norte Grande and changed traditional weathern patterns of the area. This resulted in very high cloud base (1300m), light northern winds, and cloud streets over the coastal range.
On both weekends we flew south from San Marcos toward Tocopilla. Although I know very well the stretch between San Marcos and Chipana flying there was totally different than previously since locations of thermals were very different and the rotors zones you normally avoid in that case were the places to fly at. The deep and colorful Chipana bowl (traditional rotor) was the area of the highest and strongest climbs. After Chipana comes Rio Loa canyon with usual for this place canyon suck extending for over 15km. Weather at the Loa litoral is always govern by the canyon. Every time I fly there regardless of the general wind pattern the Loa winds are exactly the same. It does not matter where the general wind comes from south, north, west – at Loa it always blows toward the canyon. The wind there changes like in a Swiss machine – exactly above the river it turns 180 degrees. Crossing Punta Arenas (the most dreaded rotor for pilots flying north from Tocopilla) was uneventful – again no rotor because of the northern wind.
That day we had very high cloud base of 1300m (the highest I ever experienced in the Northe Grande). This allowed us to cross all the points by flying above them, as opposed to going around them. Not only it is faster but also much safer since the rotors were avoided all together and the altitude loss was minimal. Approaching Tocopilla tunnel I had to remind myself that I am at work and all my clients already landed. So I left the mountains toward the ocean pretending the never ending cloud street of beautiful cumulus clouds leading south does not exist. Anyway it was 87km – probably the longest flight in the southern direction made in Northern Chile. All my clients I guided that day made their personal bests. It was a flying day to remember.
I hope those new flights will contribute to developing the XC paragliding zone in Northern Chile and will rise local and foreign pilots appetite for interesting flights. The desert has so much more to offer than Alto Hospicio to Cavancha sled ride.
More photos here.
Photo: Paraglider pilot’s view while flying along The Atacama Desert coast in Northern Chile, Punta Arenas north of Tocopilla, Chile