Flight: Spain: First Snow in La Cerdanya

A month hiatus went by before I thought of aviation again after the last flight, much less actually flew. For those that didn’t read prior blog posts, the gist of my pause was related to the fact that it seemed more people were noticing my flying because it was “dangerous” than the actual content produced (said “danger” having more to do with the fact most people think airplanes are “deathtraps” flown by “crazies”). After my meditative wandering in a mental wilderness, I decided everyone can go to hell and I am doing what I want.

So what did I do next? Naturally, I went up on a windy day with some mountain waves and flew near some ridge lines. It was remarkably like surfing, except the waves are bigger and, well, I am kind of afraid of large and unpredictable ocean waves, so this works out better.

It was the first snow down in the valley that lasted more than 5 minutes, and I must say, it was quite majestic. For those that give a crap, this flight was just before Christmas. I am doing too much flying-not enough time for blogging (what misery, I know).

Prats i Sansor
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Urús – Apparently the accent goes right for this one. I have no clue why.
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Hill behind the house, which has demonstrated an annoying propensity to block the sun at 4:10PM.
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I might as well cut and paste the Salt River Range of Wyoming for this scene. Its stunningly similar. Just swap Wyoming rednecks and snobs for a proportionate mix of Catalonian rednecks and elitists.
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Just over Talló, looking east.
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Talló. I walked about 8 miles in January here, arriving after dark. There is something liberating about acting like a hobo.
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Blowing snow on the Cadí ridge. This is a first in the airplane.
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And, as expected, that blowing snow made descending air here. Note the mountain wave with the clouds.
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Cumulogranite. A divine mix of rock, cloud, wind, and aviation.
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Cadí-Moixeró with laminar wave cloud.
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I would like to climb these, though once I got there, I would realize they are 400 feet tall and too much work.
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Mysteriously, central Cerdanya missed out on the snow.
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Aerodrom de la Cerdanya. It is very bueno. Le France in the background.
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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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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, again.
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Trees with snow on them.
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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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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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