Book #18: Above the Summit: An Antique Airplane Conquers the 3000ers of the Pyrenees

So pretty much every project with a list of tall mountains goes something like this: “it can’t be that hard to get them all.” And then it is, taking far longer than I expect, for whatever reason surprises me each time. I can blame the Pyrenees for having a ton of beauty and rugged peaks nearby to play with, that happen to not make the official list of peaks over 3000 meters (9,843 feet). Everything that blog followers have seen around La Cerdanya is a hair too short, with the nearest 3000er northwest of Andorra. The farthest one is almost in Basque Country, which was a limiting factor in that I had to cover some distance before I’d even begin to get to most of them, and then had to go even more to get the rest.

As to the meat of the matter, the book contains the 129 peaks over 3000 meters in height, a cousin to my book on the Colorado 14ers (58 peaks over 14000 feet), and the Southern Sixers of North Carolina and Tennessee (40 peaks over 6000 feet).

I’d say the biggest challenge with the Pyrenees is the fact that they span three countries, are rather rugged, and the airport network is sparse compared to the USA. If one is knowledgeable about something, then that confers some confidence, and can make anything possible. Battling the linguistic unknowns of the Iberian Peninsula made this one more challenging than I would have expected. Oh, and mountain waves. There are lots of mountain waves here. Who knew (other than the locals)?

The book is available in English on Amazon in the USA and Europe. A Spanish translation is coming in the near future.

Flights: Andorra, France, Spain: In Pursuit of Inversions

It is no mystery that I used to whine relatively profusely about “that damn inversion” down below. Just over the ridge behind the house, its another world, meteorologically speaking, where things like a “sunny day” or a “strong cold front” do not mean anything. It could be perfectly clear with illustriously dry air in Cerdanya, cross the ridge, and its humid, squalid Mediterranean air, spiced with dust from the Sahara.

In the summer it’s a real issue as the dust and haze will rise at times above 10,000’, meaning that its hazy in Cerdanya also. In winter, on the other hand, the inversion layer drops to varying levels. This year, I decided to chase the very things that drove me nuts in prior years and make something of it, including clouds at higher altitudes on days where I would get beaten around by wind. Honestly, it appears to have been a particularly photogenic start to winter.

Andorra. A relatively ordinary pursuit of mountain peaks.


Overcast layer beneath Pic Carlit, France, indicative of wind. I ignored it, flew near the peak, and got beat to shit by the rotors.

On the way back from Carlit, Puigmal in the background.

“That damn inversion” from Puigmal on another day. Hey wait a minute….it could be considered pretty.

So I decided to descend from 9,500′ to 4,000′. Somewhat workable.

Near Torelló. Pretty if you ask me!

Montserrat. Maybe the inversion doesn’t suck. After staring at that thing for who knows how long and driving by it on the way to Barcelona, I finally went up the cog train on the mountain. The plane is better.

On the way back home…

45kt winds, massive mountain waves, and near 9,500′ terrain. Obviously I am getting bored…and I happen to be able to do it without dying. There are some sneaky tricks.

Classic inversion. Montseny on the horizon.

This image was used in my recent article in AOPA Pilot magazine. 

Where I came from. Each rocky ridge was my emergency landing location, where I would probably bash into some rocks, later to have the carcass of the airplane (and me) skid off the cliff and down into the clouds.

Another evening, with a hazy iteration of the infernal inversion. Montserrat in the background, 40 miles away, with east slope of Coll de Pal in the foreground.

It was quite windy as I rode “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.” Had I gone over the edge, the descending winds would have been so strong I would have had to fly to Sabadell and call it a night.