On Saturday the 4th December, Ozone Team pilot Hernan Pitocco and our friend Marcos Rosenkjer set a new Argentinian Record, flying a 217.9 Km FAI triangle in Patagonia.
Tuesday November 30th I received an audio from Manu Canale informing me that there were two good flying days coming ahead in the Bariloche-Bolson area: December 4 and 5th.
I´d already asked Manu to keep me posted as soon as he detected a good flying window in the complicated meteorology of the place. Flying days do not abound in Patagonia, but when they happen, it is one of the most amazing places that I have ever flown. Asap, I spread the good news in one of the WhatsApp groups that I share with friends interested in doing triangles or vivac in that particular area.
There was no time to lose because Patagonia is quite far from where I live, 1700 km South of La Cumbre. Meanwhile, the only pilot from the group able to cut himself loose from his obligations and be ready like a soldier for the adventure in such short notice was Justo Firpo. The same day he confirmed, we purchased the air tickets Buenos Aires-Bariloche in the only flight available. I still had to figure out how to do the 800 km that separate my house in Cordoba from the airport in Buenos Aires. Since there were no seats in the only Cordoba-Buenos Aires flight, I had no other option but to hop on a bus. I traveled all night and arrived the next day in the morning. Finally, as I was boarding the flight, I wondered if all the hassle would be worth it.
We arrived to Bariloche Friday December 3rd in the afternoon. We were welcomed with a great vibe by Leonel who also accommodated us in one of his apartments. To our surprise, he also pulled out a huge vinyl printed map of the area. Immediately, we stretched it on the floor and started brainstorming our flight!
Then came Hernán Dilonenzo and a bit later Ernesto Gutierrez, two old wolves of the air from Bariloche with ample experience in the area, and they finished frying our brains out with all the info of the place! We had skipped lunch, it was getting late and we were quite worn out by the long trip so we went for a bite to the first place we found a couple of blocks away from where we were staying. We came back, left all our gear ready for the next day and finally went to sleep.
The alarm went off loud and clear 6 am that Saturday…Marcos Rosenkjer came to pick us up in his car and drove us to the base of the Cerro Catedral. The three of us trekked uphill for about half an hour with our backpacks to more or less half the height of the mountain. The idea was taking off as soon as the condition allowed it but it was mild, too mild, there was no sign of activity whatsoever, not even a single light breeze. It was like the air had altogether vanished. We watched a group of young pilots starting to take-off below us but no, nothing was going on.
At around 11 am, the day seemed to get started. As soon as we were ready, we took off. It was 11 30 and the condition was good but the roof was still low and the thermal quite mild. We made good use of it and gradually began to ascend until we were mounted on the higher peaks behind, moving up with the topography.
We made one pass over the astounding needles that give the Cathedral Mountain its name. Then, we transitioned to the next mountain. The adventure had begun! There we were, Justo, Marcos and I, flying together as a team. The 3 of us were quite prudent at first but soon we started getting loose, together with our understanding of how the thermals worked. More or less, everything seemed to work. That is, were we looked, we found. Though nothing was very potent and we were always left with a final altitude between 2300 and 2700 meters.
We started making our way ahead jumping from one mountain to the next. The valleys are very narrow, many of which have no access at all. We had to be careful to not be too low in any of them. They can be hard to escape.
After three hours and forty five minutes, having passed an area of flight of unbelievable beauty that is also quite wild, we reached our first turning point. It was the farthest South we got in our route. We were over the Puelo Lake, in the watershed international border line. In fact, in those final kilometers before heading Northeast, we even crossed the border to Chile for couple of meters. That was a critical point in our flight. We were too low and were forced to drag ourselves across the Bolson Valley that is very wide in that part. That´s when we lost contact with Justo, who was a bit low over a hill trying to climb up again.
Meanwhile, Marcos and I managed to reach the Southern tip of the Piltriquitrón Mountain, where we caught some nice bombs but they didn´t take us high enough. That rocky section of the Piltriquitrón was also the most turbulent part of the flight. I could see Marcos´ wing moving and feel mine, that´s when you are happy to be onboard such a safe paraglider as the Ozone Zeolite!
From the mountains to the steppe, but first, we had to cross an area of almost unknown peaks. As far as I know, Marki Green is the person who most adventured himself into that area. Nevertheless, our route was way farther to the East than that.
The topography had changed. The ground was becoming more and more arid, in all shades of brownish colors. Again I thought that being low and having to land anywhere in that section would be complicated. This was a recurring thought that I had. The best option, if worse came to worse, would be to spend the night in some hilltop and take off the next day. I was going over that thought, when all of the sudden, right when we thought that Justo had already landed in Bolson, we heard Justo´s voice on the VHF radio informing us that he was low in a complicated area and he was going to land. Immediately, we made sure to squeeze every drop of thermal we had to secure our height. It was getting late. The only indication that could lead us to close our triangle was a single line of clouds formed by a convergence that was even farther to the East than us. We rowed and rowed our boats until we finally reached it! That was where Windy had forecasted a 4300 m roof and so it was. We had reached that super roof at last!
The temperature had dropped considerably. You could feel it in the hands, the nose and the forehead. But who cares! We just stepped on the speedbar and glided the straight 35 km line of pure bliss we had earned ourselves on that highway. A highway with awesome landscapes in the golden afternoon light. When we got off that street and looked back, we saw the clouds starting to dissolve. We had crossed in the brink of time!
One final glide from an altitude of 4000 meters, where we could barely scratch the very last bubbles of the day and it was over. We landed on a nice set of fields with horses, a few kilometers South of the Nahuel Huapi lake. Before we could unbuckle ourselves from the harness, there was already an unknown pick-up truck waiting for us. Who immediately drove us back to town!
For Marcos´ surprise, we had marked a new Argentine FAI record triangle!
Justo´s story is worthy of a complete separate chapter. He spent the night in his sleeping bag on a hilltop, next to a lake, under a starlit sky. He admitted to hear feral sounds that night, and that in three opportunities, he turned his head hoping it wasn´t a puma!
He managed to take off the next day and fly to an Estancia that happened to be owned by a Qatar prince. So the employees were ready to inform him that he could not be there and kindly helped him find a ride out, back to Bariloche with a Swiss guy who´s been living in Argentina for years buying sheep from all over Patagonia.
Our buddy finally made it to Bariloche the next day at around 10 30 pm, with an interesting sheep stench. We got together in a bar to celebrate. We shared our experiences, ate and like it should, cheered with a well-deserved Patagonian draft beer”
To see Marco’s track click HERE
Congrats and cheers from all the team at OZONE!