Flight: Spain: Puigmal, Vall de Núria, Balandrau, Serra de Montgrony

For AOPA readers, these are some more photos for the “Why do we fly?” post (aka “What the hell am I doing up here?”). For non-AOPA blog readers, I suggest reading said post.

Puigmal (2.910m, 9,550′). Of course, there is a cross on it. Note the size of the people compared to the cross.
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Vall de Núria. For some reason, I highly like this place, even though it is ill suited for an emergency landing.
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Puigmal again.
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Balandrau (2.585m / 8,481′)
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El Freser
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My grandmother, upon viewing my photos, makes repeated reference to her lack of desire to “peel you off the side of a mountain.” If it ever did happen, I kind of envision scenery like this, though I think physics would take care of concerns over collecting remains.
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Serra Cavallera. The weather has the audacity to interfere with my photos. 
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Serra de Montgrony. I had a hard time, when standing here in a horse herd in September, imagining that this could be a wintry place. Well, here we are.
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Puigllançada
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Flight: Spain, Andorra, France: Pyrenees Snowstorm

I seem to keep filing the latest increase in the presence of winter as the first “real” snow. The problem is, I have been presenting multiple iterations of the “first” snow in the Pyrenees, dating back to the first one in mid-October. It’s time to give up the “first” bit, even though it feels like it every time.

This particular event involved higher elevations getting slammed with snow with mid elevations getting a good dose. The valley missed out, though the sheer quantity that was visible from the airplane, particularly along the Andorra-France border, was rather remarkable. I would estimate three feet at the peaks, with less as elevation descends, and also less depending on the particular configuration of terrain relative to lift and incoming moisture.

The first half of the flight (Masella, Cadí-Moixeró, Pedraforca) was fantastic. The second half (Andorra, hardcore Pyrenees) had me wondering if I was on crack, as the terrain seemed a bit extreme. Don’t worry, I flew there again a few days ago, in crazier terrain, with more wind, and a hell of a lot more snow, and it seemed fine. I guess tossing snowshoes in the back in the event of an emergency landing in the backcountry makes all perception of risk disappear.

La Masella ski area
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Snow drifts on Tosa d’Alp Mountain (same mountain that La Masella is on).
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Southwest ridge of Tosa d’Alp – mildly rugged.
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Cadí Tunnel. While the highway is pretty in this photograph, that bastard costs €11.64 each way.
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Winter and autumn.
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Pedraforca
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Pedraforca, again.
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Cadí-Moixeró
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Trees with snow on them.
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Andorra
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Andorra foreground (this side of ridge), France other side of ridge, Spain upper left on leftward sloping section of mountains. This is where I was wondering if I was on crack.
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Ski area in northern Andorra. I am too lazy to look up the name, not that anyone cares, because its an over-glorified and artistically intriguing parking lot in a smug tax haven micro-nation.
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Andorra, until stated otherwise.
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France is more or less on the other side of this ridgeline, not that anybody draws a line visible from the air.
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Back in Spain.
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Flight: Spain: Riding the Waves

Everyone says not to do it.

“It will break the airplane in half.”

“You’ll die.”

So, of course, I decided to do it. That is, flying on a day with clearly visible mountain waves.

Spanish culture has a tendency toward drama. I experienced this while living in Ecuador during a revolution quite some time ago, when locals would lay claim that, if I visited a certain monument or area, I would be shot by “thieves.” I didn’t find that the idea added up, that there would be this 100% certainty of my murder over the possession of a $200 camera, or a small amount of money in my wallet. So, I went to those places, and I lived. Though I wonder if the 3-foot machete I bought had anything to do with it, or the fact that I am twice the size of Iberians and their Latin American progeny.

So, fast forward from youthful religious insanity to early middle age hipsterdom, and here I am wandering in my noveau-retro-trendy airplane in the independence-minded breakaway region of Europe’s coolest country, and yet again, I am warned against some dramatically apocalyptic outcome if I do something.

Mountain waves aren’t that complicated. Wind hits terrain, goes up, crests, and comes down. Sometimes it’s nearly vertical; other times, it’s a gentle dome shaped affair. As with any wind, it can wreak havoc on an airplane if opposing forces are shearing in a tiny spot, enough to tear an airplane in half. As long as its not doing that, its either a few bumps, or a localized, unwanted descent, or absolutely nothing.

I decided to dip my toe in the water with some clear mountain waves, climbing all the way into them (of course, why not just observe from the sidelines? Never!). Nothing happened. Not a bump, just a slight downdraft on the lee side of one.

That is not to say that I have not encountered some nasty winds in future flights. But, for now, the Spaniards are drama queens and I know everything.


Ascending toward Masella
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This entire cloud is moving, though remaining in a similar shape. 
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I am technically supposed to be scared of this.
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Looking back the other way. Note the airport center left.
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Puigcerdà
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Clouds higher up are influenced by mountains.
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Classic mountain waves.
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Above the waves, with La Molina below. Air has a bizarre energy, though ostensibly tranquil. Clouds are moving and changing all around, and it was a bit strange.
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Mountain waves of a more vertical nature, looking toward the Cadí ridge. Terrain beneath is quite severe and nearly vertical, which is being copied thousands of feet above in the atmosphere.
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Looking below before descending.
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Flight: France: Wine Country, Perpignan, Mediterranean Sea

Typical of most things in the airplane, it was the worst moment to fly personally. I had started a new client, was slammed with a mountain of errands, and had just dropped my wife off for a trip of her own, which meant I had even more to do. Amidst aneurytic levels of task overload, I decided the most sensible thing was to conquer filing a flight plan, sign up for and figure out French aviation weather feeds, activate the silly flight plan while surrounded by mountains, and deal with nonstop French ATC while not having much of a plan.

I declared war on Wednesday and took the flight on Thursday. After trying a few frequencies, I finally raised Montpellier Approach at the pass to Perpignan. No issues activating a Spanish originated flight plan while in France!

As I flew past Pic d’Canigou, I was greeted with snow on the peak and illustrious autumn color on the mountainside. Recall my post a few weeks ago, ranting that autumn was over and it was no good. Well, here we are.

Coming around the bend, I was greeted with views of the Mediterranean Sea. Descending rapidly under ATC orders, autumnal bliss was extended to the Languedoc wine region. I surely expected the vineyards to be devoid of leaves. For that matter, I didn’t even know they turned color. A few minutes later, I was flying over palm trees. Literally, in a span of 20 minutes, I flew from snow to palm trees! There is no place that I know of in the United States where one can see mountain snow and palm trees so closely. Possibly in Southern California it is possible to see it somewhat close, though unlikely like this.

The rest of the flight consisted of lots of ATC radio traffic in French, for which I had to listen for English instructions for me at any random moment, while taking an extraordinary amount of photographs, flying (of course), navigating, and getting the frequent handover from one agency to the next. It was interesting to say the least, and one of my more memorable flights.

Over the pass to Perpignan. French side.
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Looking the other way.
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Pic d’Canigou….and illustrious autumn. Go figure.
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Coming around the bend and the Mediterranean on the horizon!
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More autumnal hues, Pyrenees foothills, NW of Perpignan.
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Fall in wine country. A total surprise.
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Vertical trees are to slow down raging Tramontane winds.
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In case I am missing suburbia, I’ll just drop in to France.
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Palm trees.
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A bit overdeveloped. 
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Boat.
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Mediterranean coast. I used to severely dislike being even this far from shore. I am still well within glide distance to the beach, and it doesn’t bother me after a winter on the Outer Banks.
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Boats. I wonder how many of these are paid for by drug money, organized crime, human trafficking, prostitution, bribery, political corruption, Russian oligarchs, and insolvent loans. I suppose I should create a category for “legitimately earned income,” though that is probably a small percentage.
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Coastal trees.
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Hideous French housing experiment.
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Navigation error. Wait. We’re in France. “Erreur de navigation.”
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I have driven this highway to and from Germany more times than I would like. I have also been fined for speeding on this highway by automated speed cameras more than I would like. France, in an act of racketeering, waits six months to send all sins in a giant pile, deluding Americans into thinking that doing 5mph over the speed limit is OK and allowing transgressions to profitably accumulate before indicating that its a poor idea to speed at all.
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I wonder if the engine of French feudalism is vanity.
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The foreground looks disturbingly like West Virginia from the air, if the vineyards are removed.
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Looking back on much of what I flew.
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Snow, entering the Val du Capcir on the way to La Cerdanya.
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Pic d’Canigou on the horizon.
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Puyvalador, France
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French people setting the place on fire.
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Flight: Spain: Mysterious Agricultural Basin & New Year’s Sardonicism

While I may get passive-aggressive around Christmas, I get cynical around New Year’s. First of all, who needs an excuse to get drunk? Just get drunk already if that is what is desired. Secondly, there is all of this whitewashing of graves: recasting the prior year in a bath of bulleted positives, and setting resolutions for the next year, heralding in an era where things will somehow be better because we passed an arbitrary point in the orbital path of the earth around the sun.

For me personally, I will only note that 2016 was the year I lived in three countries. Three. I did NOT see that coming.

For the rest of the world, there is the matter of the handwriting on the wall. We tend to look back on historical horrors such as the world wars, autocracy, and various human rights travesties and console ourselves by believing that, if we just knew beforehand, it would have been different (at least that is how world history was presented to me in grade school). The horrors of the 20th century weren’t mysteries beforehand to many; the specific trigger was. The handwriting is on the wall again about our future; there is not much reason to assert that things will be rosier when those of us who are alive review our 2017 in 365 days, when we are at the same point relative to the sun on a two (but not three) dimensional Cartesian grid. Let’s not even begin to talk about our solar system’s galactic orbit (much less our galaxy’s general motion, but I digress) and how that throws cold water on the logic behind our cultural suppositions.

That depressing, condescending, and sardonic reality aside, what about Catalonian New Year’s traditions? As literally just happened a few moments ago, the new year turned over in Catalonia and church bells rang 12 times, for which people traditionally eat one grape for each toll. Its fast, and I wonder if anyone tallies how many people die from choking? According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents in the UK, at least one emergency visit per year to the hospital is made in Great Britain due to someone trying to photocopy their ass in the office; I can only imagine the effects of a fast, collective, and mass grape eating orgy by an entire separatist region late at night. But hey, its Spain, and people are happy, everything else be damned.

As for the flight in question, it was the beginning of what has turned about to be the War Against the Inversion. That damn airmass is not a transitory condition dependent on weather systems; it is a nearly permanent fixture. The only question is: how high does it go? Is it confined to Lleida, or is it allowed to rise over the Pyrenees? Time and season determine that factor, though not the existence of the inversion itself.

I decided to go to a mysterious agricultural basin in the southernmost section of the foothills of the Pyrenees, betting that the inversion would be kept out of that area. You’ll have to see how things worked out.

Looking back on La Cerdanya – quite pretty.

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That damn inversion! Rrrghhh.
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The eternal question of if this clarity will be in the mysterious agricultural basin.
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Looking back where on historical flight path.
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This looked better on Google Maps than in reality.
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Entrance to the mysterious basin.
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Victory! No inversion here. Note green tarp – I believe that to be olive harvesting activities.
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It is due to this ridge that the inversion is kept out!
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This appears to be a sinkhole, nicely adorned with some autumn.
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Agricultural breasts.
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Autumn in a tree farm.
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This is me sneering at the inversion!
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Inversion left, no inversion right. And that is life in Catalonia with an old airplane and a camera.
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Looking down on the inversion. 
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Carsickness highway.
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Interesting rocks.
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Cadí-Moixeró
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Two bovines, of unknown gender. The ladies have horns here in Spain.
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Flight: Spain, Andorra, France: Mid-mountain Snow & Airing of Grievances

I’ll warn in advance: I get very passive-aggressive around Christmas. In honor of Festivus tradition, this is my Christmas “airing of grievances.” For those that don’t give a hoot about my philosophical sardonicism, there are pretty pictures taken from the airplane at the bottom like usual. If I am going to spew vitriol about misleading tradition, I shall at least keep my traditions going.

This year’s rampage started by watching some of our regular TV shows. Of course, the Styrofoam snowflakes fall as actors stroll down magic streets in media sets in Los Angeles, bathing in the romantic warmth of friends, family, generosity, good tidings, and hope portrayed as some location in the Northeast that looks exactly nothing like those places.

Really?

More than half of people that fall in love end up hating each other so much that they get divorced. For those that can stand the marital union, has anyone thought how many families actually like each other? Who thought mixing family with happiness was a good idea? Perhaps the ideal of Christmas only works because it is lubricated with massive amounts of alcohol.

Our lovely entertainment industry also fails to consider how many people spend Christmas alone while drinking and farting on the couch, forgotten by all of this pseudo love and bliss circulating around.

Then there was the matter of the fact that the entire world does not do Christmas like it is done in America. It has been eerily quiet here in La Cerdanya, and I was vaguely aware that we are about to embark on a massive orgy of merrymaking, though that starts after the 25th. I also recalled a friend of mine noting Muslim women in Malaysia, in a full black head covering, shopping with a Santa hat on. Of course, our lovely plastic snowflake movie set hides anything other than a scripted stereotype, so we had to go looking to find out how things are done here in Catalonia.

Literally, holy shit.

Catalonia has a tradition of the “caganer” in Nativity scenes. It is a peasant with a traditional regional hat, squatting, pulling his pants down, and taking a dump (the word translates “shitter”). It sits not too far from Jesus in a Nativity and depicts gifts and generosity and all that happy horse human shit (though I can’t find one even though I am looking). To quote an editorial in a Barcelona newspaper, “A nativity scene without a caganer is not a nativity scene.”

Add to that the caga tío, the “shitting log.” Yet another tradition of Catalonia, a wooden log is filled with candies, adorned in mild costume, and ordered to defecate them out. When it does not, it is beaten with sticks by everyone present at the gathering until the candies come out of the rear end. This is done while singing a song, for which I have pasted the lyrics below. Aside from the jaw-dropping oddity at play here, I can’t help but note the cultural ramifications of programming children to act like a pitchfork and torch brigade. We wonder why Latin America has regular explosive orgies with people shouting “Viva La Revolución!” at the slightest provocation? When compared to angrily beating a log for not shitting candy, I am not sure which is more rational.

“Caga tió,

caga torró,
avellanes i mató,
si no cagues bé
et daré un cop de bastó.
caga tió!”

shit, log,
shit nougats,
hazelnuts and mató cheese,
if you don’t shit well,
I’ll hit you with a stick,
shit, log!

All of the above amusement leads me to another misleading bit of nonsense. What the hell is with a white Christmas? Has anyone ever looked at a weather map before dreaming up the plastic snowflake fantasy?

A shockingly small surface area of the globe regularly has snow on the ground in the winter. Even less has fresh, happy powder. Having grown up in the “Snow Capital of the US,” Buffalo NY, I was treated with more mud, slush, rain, and miserable weather that was anything other than the real version of plastic, fluffy snowflakes, even in the middle of winter. Of course, since family life is generally a pain in the ass for most of the world yet is packaged as brimming with romanticized bliss by the entertainment industry, it would be foolish to think that the weather would be left alone by the same purveyors of falsehood.

With that being said, we got our first mid-mountain snow some weeks back. Instead of being isolated to the summits, snow levels came halfway down to the house, creating some beautiful scenery, so I naturally took the plane up to check it all out.

Perhaps this is my passive-aggressiveness coming out again, showcasing the white Christmas most of the world doesn’t get.

On a side note, I am considering creating a ranking system for each post, depicting the probability that my wife will read it and proclaim: “You’re an asshole. I can’t believe you expect people to read your blog.” This is a 5 out of 5.

Cadí-Moixeró

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Some sort of deer equivalent, above timberline in Cadí-Moixeró.
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Crossing over clouds created by rotors, en route to Andorra. This is not the most well-thought out plan. 
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Note how rock textures are cleanly visible. This is associated with early season snow. Mid-winter, the depth of snow obscures subtle texture, and in spring, rocks start poking out with residual snowpack. I prefer early snows the most.
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Andorra left, Spain right.
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Someone snowshoeing with his dog.
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Looking toward Andorra. Got caught in a downdraft here.
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Spain, France on the horizon. Wind is going left to right, which means those clouds are a sign of “unexpected rough air.”
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France. It was quite windy over here, creating the requirement to figure out the easiest way to get back to the airport, as I would need to cross to the downwind side, which is no good.
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As the ridge line here is much steeper, and the clouds smaller, I fell back on my experience in the Tetons and Glacier National Park that, while severe terrain can have more vertical wind patterns, they also tend to be slower as the terrain itself disrupts them. Time to cross and see what happens!
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It was fine. Just a few bumps.
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Pass to Perpignan. The Mediterranean is visible on the left horizon.
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Was someone having a seizure when property lines were drawn? France.
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Really long final, runway 25, LECD. I had flown to the right of those clouds in the mountains. 
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Flight: Spain, France: Vanity of Chasing Autumn

It has been some years now where I have a predictable routine. I move somewhere new, fantasize about autumn in upstate New York while I was young, and vow to take the flights I didn’t take when I was too young to pilot an aircraft, chasing fall colors in whatever locale I am wandering around in.

Just about every time, it doesn’t work.

Yet again, the enigmatic mystique of youthful nostalgia mixed with the soulful presence of the Iberian Peninsula, beckoning me to chase deciduous leaves in the final stages of life.

The plan flopped.

One of the realities of a high mountain region on the dry side of the Pyrenees is that there are not many deciduous trees. While there were some in full color, it wasn’t enough to compete with the vibrant, contorted fantasies spewing forth from my hippocampus.

On the other hand, there is a maxim about flying around with a camera: I tend to end up with something other than intended. As the following photos will show, this was another flight to add to the quiver of proof for my witty and cynical aphorism. A few weeks later, when I thought autumn was dead and buried, I set off looking for something else, and got bathed in a fire hose of autumn. You’ll see that in a few blog posts.

Not exactly an autumn photograph, though pretty.
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Finally! Some autumn….and its in a trailer park.
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Many of the fields in La Cerdanya were tilled and prepared like this.
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I think this is France, though it might be in Llivia, a bizarre Spanish exclave surrounded by French territory, a hangover from a poorly written treaty about 500 years ago.
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Flowering plant mixed among the field.
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During some Napoleonic battle, the locals fled up to this church to take refuge (there is even a local holiday dedicated to it). We decided to drive to it, and there was *allegedly* a sign saying it was forbidden, for which I am American and intentionally dumb and kept going, which triggered a lovely marital “discussion” in the car. 
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Cattle in France. I can only wonder if they take on any French behavioral characteristics, such as a more nasally moo.
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Road to Perpignan.
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Autumn in the French Pyrenees.
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Yellow trees next to the famous French “Yellow Train” line.
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Larch trees (pines that change color and drop needles) with Font Romeu ski area in the background. I drove to the larch trees a few days later, only to be surrounded by pines that looked brown and dead, while getting an extraordinary amount of needles down my shirt while walking through them. Perhaps this is why I like flying? Life is better, from a distance and above.
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For a day that had no wind, it was intriguing to watch dust blow around. 
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Flight: Spain, Andorra: Highest Point in the Pyrenees

Yet again I schemed to go to Montserrat, though I was faced with the pilot-photographer-author’s dilemma: do what has been nagging me, or do what is possible. The forecast indicated an anticyclone directly overtop Pico Aneto, the highest peak in the Pyrenees. If there was a time to barrel into some unwelcome terrain, this was it. I opted to go with what nature would allow and save Montserrat for another day.

The flight turned out to be just fine from a weather standpoint. Armed with confirmation that there were locations to land, albeit spotty, I felt more comfortable over this silly terrain than the last time I peered over the cliff edge. In the end, it was a banner flight with spectacular results. Since I am binging on the photo count, I’ll spare any further words (that nobody reads).

Lower Cerdanya

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Crossing into Andorra
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VERY Andorran…
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Autumn bliss
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Autumn carsickness…
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Notice the lack of a driveway or road.
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Parque Nacional de Aigüestortes aka “stupid ass restricted zone.”
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A rather significant pass for which I cannot find a name.
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Pico Aneto (11,165′ / 3.404m) in the rear left.
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Where I came from.
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Northern ridge of Pico Aneto with Monte Perdido in the background (another stupid ass restricted zone).
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Pico Aneto – while this is the highest peak in the Pyrenees, it is only the third highest in Spain.
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Rock that looks like wood grain.
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Context on aforesaid rock. Did I mention this is in Aragon now, and not Catalonia? I can sense the resignation in the air, as opposed to virulent regional independence.
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Pico Aneto
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Of course, there is a cross on top (and a human).
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Border of Aragon and Catalonia directly below the airplane, looking into the Catalán section.
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Ski area.
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Same ski area, looking back toward Aneto.
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Red rock glacier.
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Lonesome yellow trees.
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Note the chalet in the lower center. 
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Chalet is virtually under the airplane, looking back toward Aneto.
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There’s Montserrat on the horizon!
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And the Pre-Pyrenees….again. Pedraforca upper left.
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Serres d’Odèn-Port del Comte – note the warping of rock in center left.
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Pre-Pyrenees giving way to Catalonian plains. This is a diversion from my flight plan. It was too pretty to pass up.
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That damn Catalonian inversion, yet again!
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Though it can be a little pretty. 
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My flight path consisted of most of everything you see here including the horizon.
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Forestry.
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Estació D’Esquí Port Del Comte
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Pedró dels Quatre Batlles
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Cadí-Moixeró with Pedraforca
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La Cerdanya, long final runway 07 with a sore ass, full bladder, and worn out mind.
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A farm field…. I just had to.
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Flight: Spain: Pre-Pyrenees

Aviation weather services do not issue forecasts based on the viability of aerial photography. They indicate cloud levels and general visibility amounts, with a cap on the high end of forecasted visibility. For the USA, the high end of forecasts is either 6 or 10 miles, depending on the type. If visibility is 11 miles or 75 miles, the forecast will say 6+. Therefore, it is impossible to get a concrete answer on smog levels. Rather, it is up to me to deduce, based on wind speed, direction, upstream sources, terrain, and all the rest whether or not the weather will be crap.

Most of time, I just look out the window. That’s all well and good, except I can’t look over the ridge behind the house to see what is going on in that neck of the woods.

Yet again, I planned to go to Montserrat, and yet again, there was an inversion on the other side of the hill, though this time it was much lower. When life throws you lemons, make lemonade. I decided to photograph the terrain that was in clear air above the terrain, known as the “Pre-Pyrenees.”

One cannot exactly call them foothills, as they can be quite severe, and sometimes as tall as the Pyrenees themselves. Instead, this somewhat lower section of the high terrain around here geologically presents itself very differently, so in effect, it’s a different zone of geography. Once in the Pyrenees proper, things take on a more standard perspective of ruggedly tall mountains with a timberline.

I noted while flying through this area that it was a combination of North Carolina, Virginia, and Wyoming, an intriguing mix of deciduous trees with almost Appalachian landforms, reverting to pine trees and Western US appearances. My wife aptly noted that not a lot of people have had a chance to see all of those places and notice the correlation from an airplane….

Cadí-Moixeró ridge line. Note that the blue over-saturation is as taken. I do not saturate any of my images.
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Pedraforca. A local pilot told me that 100% of the time, there is bad turbulence around this thing. 100% of the time I have flown near it, the air is still. Nonetheless, I have an attraction to vertical rock.
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Serra d’Ensija-els Rasos de Peguera. I have no clue what that name means. I got it from Google Maps.
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I love how the rock changes in Spain. Note the terrain in the valley below…reminiscent of Utah.
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This feature is prone to recurring mudslides, as evidenced by three successive dams built beneath it.
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Josa de Cadí. I often wonder if people hate their neighbors in villages like this, holding on to centuries of family disputes, or if its one big hippie love fest.
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Some context on the village.
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Autumnal subtlety. 
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Gosol
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Closeup on the ruins.
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Interesting textures – human influenced and natural.
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Pantà de la Baells. Note the power plant in the lower left, and the inversion in the upper right.
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There is that inversion again. I would despise breathing that air. Then again, I did that in the Rhine valley in Germany on a regular basis. 
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One of these days I am going to drive this road in the car, especially since I got the brakes fixed!
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I am not sure if I should label this by the name of the peak: Puigllançada or the ridge, Serra de Montgrony.
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I specifically bought this lens to have enough zoom to capture this terraced scene on the hill at La Molina. Now I have the image!
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Other side of Cadí-Moixeró ridge line.
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Autumn down in La Cerdanya.
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I can’t help some farm fields. It doesn’t help that the best fields in the valley can only be photographed while in the pattern.
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Flight: Spain, France: First Snow, Puigmal & Pic de l’Infern

The “first snow” in a mountain region, particularly a semi-arid region, is somewhat of a subjective definition. Technically, I saw a few shreds of snow on a hill in Andorra in September (north facing only), and there was also a dusting that remained on Cadí-Moixeró on the vertical north face in early October. There was also a brief blast of snow in late September during a raging thunderstorm, though it was gone in a few hours and only affected the summits. This particular storm in mid-October was a long-period rainfall in the valley, with a distinct snow level on the hills at roughly 8,500 feet, persisting for a number of days. In my definition, it is this event that constitutes the “first” snow, probably because the snow stuck around when it was all over.

As of yet, the southeastern quadrant of La Cerdanya remained unexplored: Puigmal and Pic de l’Infern (“Hell Peak”), largely due to the fact that daily thermal cloud growth had a nasty tendency to obscure this area with certain regularity. There was also the persistent fact that they are big, bad mountains, and some days I am either a wimp or simply uncompelled to get off my rear end and do something magnitudinous.

It turned out to be a flight that mimicked many that I have taken in the western United States: rocky summits with snow at the top layers, blue skies, dry air, and deliciously stunning contrasts. In my opinion, it’s about as good as it gets. When I am flying around peaks like this, I am entranced into “the zone,” aware but not consumed with worry about dramatic emergencies, focusing my energies instead on timing lighting and flight course with upper level winds and their associated interactions with terrain. “Heaven” might be a bit cliche, though at the very least, I am 100% satisfied with life under these circumstances.

Climbing in the pattern. Prats below (the border of Girona and Lleida province mysteriously cuts this town in two). Masella to the right, first snow to the upper left.
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Ridgeline ascending toward Puigmal. France below, Spain on the other side.
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Both the French and the Spanish have tantalizing roads like this, allowing you to get within 1 mile of the juicy views, and then they place a “do not enter under penalty of death” sign there, with no gate blocking it, tempting me to drive up anyway and blame it on being American if I get caught. 
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Other side of the ridge. Note haze in lower altitudes. You’ll be hearing MUCH about this phenomenon in coming blog posts.
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Looking back toward ridge – French/Spanish border.
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Puigmal (2.913m/9,555′)
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Spanish side of the range.
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Puigmal again.
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Ridge below is the border. Snow remains on the north-facing side, melted on the south side.
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Puigmal, yet again.
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Looking back toward La Cerdanya.
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Looking toward Pic de l’Infern.
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This is unequivocally badass and I love every second of flying over terrain like this.
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Pic de l’Infern (2.859m/9,378′), Spain as a backdrop. I can’t get over how flamboyantly they can say “Hell Peak.”
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Above-timberline valleys like this are common in Europe, though are hard to find in the Rockies. Usually they are steep and short in the USA.
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Looking toward France, Val du Capcir center right.
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Puigmal again.
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La Cerdanya – more or less Spain to the left, France to the right. The border has a bow to the right in the middle. 
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Puigcerdà (note proper use of the left accent, not right. Spanish only uses right accénts, whereas Catalan features many that point lèft).
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La Cerdanya on long final. A very beautiful and peaceful flight.
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