Flight: Spain: Cerdanya Snowstorm

While we live at 3,871 feet in a valley in the Pyrenees, La Cerdanya is not currently known as a locale that receives a lot of snow. The eastern Pyrenees are drier than the central and western parts (said western areas have glaciers) and is effectively a high altitude Mediterranean climate zone, which is admittedly pleasant to live in. Of course, while I happened to be in the United States, La Cerdanya got slammed with snow down in the valley. Fortunately, it got it a second time before we got back, so I had the chance to fly on an unplowed runway. Due to glider operations, with long wingspans and tow aircraft landing in the grass, the runway is never plowed as ensuing snow piles would linger and halt glider operations. That meant that I had to go up on a not-so-stellar day, for fear the snow would melt if I waited too long.

Ceilings were low with abundant moisture stuck in the valley, though there was enough room to fly around and avoid flying into the side of a mountain, keeping a close eye on the weather as it evolved. Instead of my traditional style of bringing the sky into my images, I opted to focus on more intricate details of life covered in snow.

PA-11, with opportunities for CFIT (Controlled Flight Into Terrain) in the background.
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Prats (The town name means “meadows”).
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The airport, entirely indistinguishable in a sea of flat, white light, except for my tire tracks from takeoff.
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Camp de golf (Catalàn), Campo de golf (Español).
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Alp
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Das
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Riu. As you can see, La Cerdanya features many villages with three letter names.
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Vineyard.
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Bellver
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Flight: France: Forest Fire

After some days of inversion, the air became gloriously crystal clear, a situation endemic to northerly wind events in winter, so I decided to head to the Val du Capcir in lovely France for some local wandering.

After routine rigmarole such as driving to the airport, preheating the engine, opening the hangar, preflighting, talking to Spaniards who think the PA-11 is the coolest thing on the planet, and warmup, it became evident immediately after takeoff that the air quality had become downright awful. It was obviously smoke, though as one may surmise, it is difficult to pinpoint the source of smoke when one is surrounded by it. Thus, I continued my path east in La Cerdanya, heading to the south side of the valley for favor of avoiding nasty turbulence that accompanies north wind events.

As expected, the air cleared rather rapidly, and I was then able to see that the smoke had a source somewhere in the Val du Carol on the French side, clearly getting fanned by dry air and some wind. As my flight continued, it got too bumpy and unpleasant to warrant proceeding ahead, so I turned back, flew through the smoke again, and landed.

The funny part was after landing. I asked one of the airport guys if he knew where the fire exactly was and what started it. In Spanish, he replied, “The French started a fire.” “A controlled burn?” “Yes.”

I find this dialogue amusing, as it is slyly telling with regard to regional prejudices and cross border disdain. If the same conversation happened in America, the reply would be “It’s a controlled burn.” There would be no “The [insert disdained group here] started a fire.” Then again, Spaniards will inasmuch admit that they dislike the French, and the French dislike them. As I have had some of these educational conversations, I posited the notion that the two groups share a valley, so perhaps some neighborly cordiality might be in order? “No, that is why we hate them, because they are so close.”

French Cerdagne, not in the smoke, and roughly at the point of too much turbulence for my liking.
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Someday I will get off my rear end and hike around these.
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French property division. Yes, I know, no smoke yet. Scroll down.
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Smoke spewing out of the Val du Carol and ruining everything. 
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Flight: Spain: Cerdanya Inversion

I suppose after the past few flights that the inversion is not unilaterally the end of the world. Generally speaking, La Cerdanya is exempt from it, enjoying tantalizingly clear air while most everyone else marinates in haze, diesel particulates, Saharan dust, humidity, smoke, pollen….you get the idea. Well, things changed a bit as mid-winter rolled around, creating an inversion inside La Cerdanya itself.

This sort of thing is not earth shattering. Really, the fact that La Cerdanya is so exempt from what is going on in the rest of the area is a bigger surprise. In the western US, inversions are quite regular in the winter, as extremely cold and dry air sinks down into valleys surrounded by contiguous and sizable mountain ranges. This cold air can end up having quite a temperature differential, as cold air is denser and heavier than warmer air. If it becomes significant enough, then the air pools, accumulates haze and other impurities, and remains stationary. Those who may have visited Phoenix or Denver in the winter and noted a pronounced brown smog layer are witnessing when pollution and an inversion mixes.

That finally happened here, as cold winter air settled into the valley and expressed no interest in leaving. Thus, I expressed my interest in flying around to see what it looked like.

The layer was pronounced at 5,500 feet, and was far hazier down where humans live than in the air. Once above it, it was not too terribly evident until late afternoon light started backlighting contaminants below.

Das. Note the tone of blue in the lower image. That is the inversion, despite my ironic attempts at taking photos that remove most of its effects.

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Tosa d’Alp
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Surfacing the Cadí ridge, noting an inversion present on the other side, though rather low. This is as expected, given high pressure and stable air.
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Snowpack on Cadí-Moixeró. Note the snowshoe path.
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Cadí-Moixeró with typical lowland inversion.
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And here is the inversion over La Cerdanya at 5,500 feet. As a lover of clean air, I do not particularly like descending into pre-combusted atmosphere.
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Flight: Spain: Zona Volcànica de la Garrotxa

Anytime the earth historically or in the present decides to belch liquid hot magma, it makes me happy. I wouldn’t have considered Catalonia to be a place where volcanic activity took place, though it was one of those obsessive Google Maps sessions that resulted in locating a ‘volcanic park,’ for which I had to investigate, and then found what appears to be a bunch of old cinder cones hiding out under deciduous trees. In no shortage of irony, Catalonians at one point decided to build a church inside one of them (can one not see the Freudian connection to hellfire at play here?).

In keeping with my “the hell with it” approach to weather and flight planning, I did another shot at the Pre-Pyrenees ridge line, cleared it, found the view to be at the very least acceptable, and headed to Olot, where the volcanoes are located. On this day, haze was worse, though manageable. I had to remind myself that it looks 50% worse while flying than the end result on camera, which is an irony given that most things degrade when photographed.

Ridge extending from La Molina. There is a name, and I can’t be bothered to look it up. Even though “La Molina” is spelled the same in Spanish and Catalán, it is pronounced Moe-lean-a and Mull-lean-a, respectively. I find that reality to be annoying.
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I shouldn’t be surprised….and I am, every time. Serra Cavallera.
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Serra Cavallera. Mediterranean on the distance left/center horizon.
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Looking back on Serra Cavallera.
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Gave the good old farm field thing a try. Not working out as I would like today.
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Olot. More virile and raging Catalonian independence brewing here.
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Olot with two cinder cones.
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A few sneaky cinder cones.
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A not-so-sneaky cinder cone. Yes, a church was built *inside* one of these (though not that one). 
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Appalachian-style foothills, Colorado style mountains.
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Looking back toward the Mediterranean, wondering why I haven’t gotten over myself and flown to it yet.
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Pyrenees / Pirineos / Pirineus / Pyrénées (English / Spanish / Catalán / French). Why can’t there just be *one* place name?
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Montserrat in the distance.
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La Cerdanya.
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On final, runway 07.
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Flight: Spain: Montserrat!

For anyone who actually reads my blog and happens to be in possession of decent cognition and a functioning hippocampus, it would be well known that I have wanted to go to Montserrat since moving to Spain, and every single time I have schemed to do so, that pesky inversion has thwarted any attempt to do so. As for the hippocampus/cognition part, I have been ranting about sunny days on this side of the ridge turning into sheer crap on the other side the entire time.

Well, I decided that weather forecasts can shove it, and I am just going to have to fly to the ridge, and if I can see Montserrat, I’m going. A few days after the last flight, I went up, climbed over La Molina, and there she was! Even better, the inversion was in full force, though smashed down near the ground, creating quite a bit of resplendent beauty. It did take some visiting Dutch folks who walked into the hangar to propose the idea that the inversion “can be beautiful,” as I spat my venomous rancor about it to them in conversation some weeks prior to this flight. It turns out they were correct….

Montserrat, from La Molina, with the inversion that “can be beautiful.”
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La Molina ski tracks.
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Grazing terraces.
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Puigllançada
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Pre-Pyrenees
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Pre-Pyrenees, with El Pedraforca, symbol of Catalonia.
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Bergueda – The name is a “comarca,” which is the Catalonian equivalent (though not equal) of a county. Don’t forget my Landkreis rant from last year in Germany on the subject of regional naming subdivisions and taxonomy.
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Avinyó. I can practically smell the desire for Catalonian independence…..
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And the inversion. I suppose there is some beauty….maybe….
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I count 4 parachutes.
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Manresa – There are some real assholes that do not understand the concept of merging lanes here.
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Hill north of Terrassa.
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Montserrat!
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Can you see the climbers?
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Inversion, smashed down near the ground. I find the thought of flying into a windmill, in Spain, quite quixotic.
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If a blog reader could explain the proliferation of abandoned and collapsing stone houses in Spain within reasonable range of expensive houses, jobs, infrastructure, and cities, I’d be grateful.
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This is what happens when it rains on tilled soil. 
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Foothills of the Pre-Pyrenees.
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Serra d’Ensija-els Rasos de Peguera. I am not that sophisticated…yet. I copied it from Google Maps.
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El Pedraforca
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Cadí-Moixeró
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La Cerdanya – another comarca, though the name shows up for centuries as its own political subdivision in the eternal blood-filled historical ebb and flow of European governance.
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Fields – had to do it.
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