Si and Spiny go paragliding in Spain!

Got to apologise as once again I’m struggling to post new stuff ‘cos of time and also the fact that I haven’t done much sport for ages due to work and other commitments. So I’ve rooted out yet another article from years ago which might be of interest to those who paraglide and are thinking of travelling further afield to find some decent weather.

Me and my mate Spiny used to make an annual paragliding pilgrimage
to Andalucia, Spain. We enjoyed classic flying conditions most of the time and even
squeezed some climbing in on the odd occasion when the weather wasn’t flyable.

Our mates Baz and Samantha live out in Algodonales near to Ronda, only a 3
hour EasyJet flight away from Liverpool. It’s a cracking place for cross country flights and only one hours drive from El Chorro and some fantastic sport
climbing in the spectacular gorge there. This is a short account of a trip from way back in 2002 to give a flavour of the sport on offer over there…

Nova Carbon – a great wing in 2002!

“With two top gliders to
fly, a Nova Carbon and an Ozone Octane, me and Spiny were buzzing about this
latest trip to Algodonales because until this year we’ve rarely had equal
performance kit. Now we had a good chance of starting and finishing a cross
country flight together provided we got lucky with the thermals and the
experience of gaggle flying with other people is fantastic. We had to ballast up
with six litres of water apiece as for the first (and probably last!) time in
our lives we’d each lost a bit of weight – cheers to Mick at Lifestyles Gym for
that one!!! With flight decks included the total weight of the glider bags we
were carrying was over 28 kilos – no wonder EasyJet gave us a load of hassle
when we flew out to Malaga…

Banked up in a thermal

Overall, the weather was pretty good with six flyable days out of nine
and a reasonably high cloudbase for the time of year. This made it
possible to get several flights in of up to 30 kilometres in distance and
heights of 1,600 feet above take off (4,600 feet above sea level). Climbs of 600
to 800 feet per minute were the norm although in high summer you could probably
double that at times! It was a normal occurrence to find yourself 3,000 feet or more above the ground when we were over the flatlands and it took a bit of getting used
to compared to the two or three hundred feet of space that you usually get in
the UK at this time of year!

Climbing with Baz

The three unflyable days
were still nice by comparison with the weather at home and so with Baz and Bill
we headed for El Chorro to do a few routes. For a guy who owns a climbing shop
to be leading on a tatty fifteen year old rope is a sad state of affairs but at
least I know where it’s been… It’s a bit sad that the infamous Camino del Rey
walkway around the cliffs has been made inaccessible by removing the first 30
feet or so at the start but apparently the Spanish are fed up with people
falling off it and killing themselves!!! Me and Baz had teetered around the crazy and often lethal ledges a couple of years earlier and scared the hell out of ourselves so consider the box well and truly ticked… We did several routes in the Los Cotos
area – enough to wave two fingers at Marcus who thinks I never go climbing any

Me, Mick and vulture on another trip

The other couple of unflyable days were spent trying to learn kitesurfing
and doing a bit of mountain biking on the nine year old Saracen hardtail I left
out in Spain two years ago. There was also time to chill out in the village and
sample a few cracking bars and restaurants.

Then it was back to some
class flying in fantastic surroundings and in really close company with the ever
present Griffon Vultures. If you ever saw Steve Leonards’ ‘Extreme Animals’ programme
on BBC1 you’ll have seen the bit where he was tandem flying a paraglider in the
Himalayas with pilot Bob Drury. Well, you don’t need to go as far as Nepal to see
exactly the same amazing bird as they’re prevalent in Andalucia too! You can join them in thermals and follow them
around and despite their huge size and fearsome appearance they’re really
sociable and can show you the best lift and when to leave it. We’ve never had any problems flying with them despite being only six
or seven feet away from them at times and there being flocks of vultures thirty plus strong!

Typical Spanish terrain

The flying around Algodonales is superb with flights away from the take
off mountain (Lijar) being frequently possible. The terrain around the area is a
mixture of cultivated fields, olive groves and tree covered hillsides which
provide plenty of places to land
provided you plan early. Thermal triggers abound and you can catch real ‘late
saves’ from as low as two hundred feet off the ground – if you don’t believe me
then check out the GPS height profile graph below! Samantha is the world’s best
retrieve driver and you’re never on your own in the middle of nowhere for too
long – she knows where all the best tapas bars are too! Baz is one of the areas
top XC pilots on hang glider and paraglider so if you get chance to follow him
you should do great things…

One of the joys of this trip was being able to log the longer
flights on our GPS’s and then analyse them afterwards. My unit was a Magellan
SporTrak Pro which together with the MapSend software provides an exact plot of
the flight distance and height profile. The example below is one flight only and
the units on the graph are miles flown along the horizontal axis and height
gains in feet on the vertical axis.

Read out from one flight of about 25 miles

As far as I’m concerned, flying doesn’t get better than when you’re locked into a thermal going up at a rate of knots with your mate on his wing just metres away from you. If he drops out or loses height, you try to talk him back up over the radio and he does the same if you’re in trouble. It’s a brilliant experience and you can keep an eye out for each other if there’s any bother.

2002’s visit to Andalucia was finished with a chilled one hour
flight in smooth(ish) evening air above Lijar in company with about 20 Griffons
and after landing at the Bull Ring, me and Spiny had the mother of all
waterfights with the remaining ballast!!! 

Cheers to Baz and Sam at the
, Bill, Rene, Rick and Denise, Mark and Anders for a lot
of fun amongst all the frightening bits!!! And of course to Spiny – another top flying trip with the old boy – can’t wait
to go back if Lizzie lets me…”

Rare shot of UK flying!
Since 2002, Spiny and me have been out many times to fly in Southern Spain with Baz and Sam and had more amazing flying as our knowledge of the area has developed and the gliders have improved year by year. The big problem with UK paragliding has been the increasingly bad weather which makes the number of flyable days very low.

Without the opportunity to fly abroad, a lot of us would be climbing the walls with frustration but luckily Europe offers stunning and exciting flying in a huge variety of terrain and temperatures.

One of these days I’ll write a new blog about more recent flying trips – maybe in the Alps and illustrate it with photos from the new crop of wide angle cameras like the Go Pro which give brilliant results when carried on a glider – see the grab opposite from a video when scratching around on Pule Hill above our village.