Flights to the West

Big Mountains and Provincial Borders

Most pilots visiting Piedrahita will be hoping for the classic flight over the pass and towards Avila. However, with any easterly component in the wind, this is going to be difficult, and flying towards the west will be far more enjoyable. The scenery flying westwards is fantastic, as you will be linking up with the craggy peaks of the Gredos to the south and the Sierra de Bejar to the North. The flight will take you out of the province (from Avila to Salamanca or Caceres), and even out of the Region (Castilla y Leon into Estremadura), from the tablelands of over 1000m asl to the lower plains of Estremadura or the cherry tree filled valley of Jerte.

Typical conditions

Lets imagine a typical good day with a light easterly or northern component in the wind (the wind at take off will still be coming up the face, and may even have a light north westerly component low down. We can only be sure of the general drift as we climb a few hundred metres above take off. Lower down, valley breezes and the effects of the contours of the hill can change the general flow if the geostrophic wind is light).

House thermals

We will probably take off and fly directly to the west of launch to the spine sticking out below Peña Negra rock. With any easterly component (and early in the day when the sun is more directly on it) there tends to be a house thermal above this spine. Usually there will be a good thermal just in front of the hairpin bend below PN rock, however, if the wind at launch is still light, and the thermals are yet to be taken more on to the hill, it is best to fly out along the spine towards the valley. Normally, on the rocky outcrop above the Chalets, or on the small plateau of the Chalets themselves, you will find a good climb. Even if you climb high at the hair pin bend, it is usually worth searching out in front for the Chalets thermal, which is usually stronger and will take you higher.

The XC begins

Once you have climbed out you can proceed on your first glide toward the west. You must bear in mind that the section of ridge to the west of take off is much shallower than that running towards the east. If you glide close into the top of the mountain, you may find you do not have enough glide to reach the valley floor, having to land on the hillside higher up.

If you have climbed out well from the chalets with little drift back toward the hill, it is better to glide parallel to the mountain to the next spine. If the climb has drifted you back to the high point of the hill, you can run along that, but as you get lower, I would suggest giving yourself at least a 4:1 margin for a glide to the valley. One of the best thermal spots is the Col at Santiago del Collado. From this village a winding tarmac road goes up the mountain to the villages on the plateau. Normally, around here you will get a very good climb.

Looking back at 12km

Looking back at 12km

The end of the piedrahita ridge

After about 5 kms, the ridge drops back and a shallow spine extends down into the valley towards Barco de Avila. At this point and also out towards La Aldeuela, there is normally an exceptional climb. If the climb takes you to over 2600m, you can normally straight line it down the middle of the valley towards Barco de Avila, with the almost certainty that you will reach it without having circle in lift again, though you will fly through many strong climbs on route. If your altitude is low, then it is often best to follow along the top of the shallow spine running towards Barco, which flattens as it comes level with Santa Maria de los Caballeros. Most of the good climbs before Barco are found in the flatlands. There are good climbs on the ridge to the south (the back side of the Lastra del Cano take off, but the hill is shallow, and with any wind there is a marked venturi effect, making it difficult to glide out.

Barco de Avila and beyond

If the wind is strong on reaching Barco, (20kms after take off), we may choose to land here. Easterly winds often pick up quite suddenly. Also, the take off area at Peña Negra offers a certain degree of sheltering from the easterly winds, so there maybe a big increase farther out from the hill, and usually we find stronger wind effects in the Barco area than the Piedrahita area. Barco is Built alongside the Tormes river, which has carved a gap in the hills, and adds to the wind and ground levels due to the venturi.

If we choose to land, there are a number of excellent large fields on the south east of town. If we continue, a glide to the forested hill surmounted by an Antenna is normally the best route. This hill is, like many in the region, shallow, and can be an uncomfortable glide out for those going in deep and not finding lift. Normally you will pick up a good climb level with the lower slopes, which will take you high up above this conical hill. From here you follow the hills up toward the Tornavacas Pass (35km from take off). As you approach the pass, the rounded hills become bigger until you are flying on the high peaks of the Gredos chain. You will see the Laguna del Barco, and if you decide to continue are advised to get as high as possible in this area on the high peaks before continuing.

High mountains and the drop off to the cherry tree valley

At the Tornavacas pass, there will often be a convergence, with the Westerly valley breeze coming up the Valle de Jerte, meeting the north east wind that you have experienced since Piedrahita. You must now have a good look down the valley and decide the best route or to try to return towards Barco, or land at the pass.

More information in Convergence in the Sistema Central

Convergence at Tornavacas

Convergence at Tornavacas

Quite often, the conditions low down in the valley can be quite stable, so you must stick to the high peaks. The valley is full of terraced cherry tree plantations, making for few easy landing fields. Also, if you get low, you will often find a headwind (the valley breeze).

If you continue to fly onwards to Plasencia, you can either fly down the southerly chain of mountains, or those to the north.

View West at Bejar Range

View West at Bejar Range

If the cloud base is over 3000m, it is quite realistic to cross over to the north side of the Bejar Mountains. Once you reach Plasencia, you have arrived at the western end of the Sistema Central mountain chain. If you continue to fly westwards, you will soon be in Portugal. However, once out of the mountains, there will often be a more northern component in the wind, allowing you to follow the national highway southwards towards Caceres.

Coming home

If at the Tornavacas Pass you decide to fly back, you can either retrace your steps, which is often difficult due to the acceleration of the easterly wind towards the pass, or, go back via the Bejar Mountains to your north.

View East at Bejar Range

View East at Bejar Range

Once back at Barco, it is often best to fly back along the peaks of the small chain of hills to the north of the main N110 road. Doing this you will avoid the stronger easterly headwind around the Santiago de Collado col.