When we decided to go further south to Patagonia we knew it would not be easy to get some airtime there. If you search online flight databases you will find only few flights in this part of the world. Patagonia is known for strong, gusty winds and fast changing weather. Even in summertime temperatures at night can be freezing. As we are carrying our gear with us almost all the time we thought we could maybe get lucky once or twice, but on the only flyable day in four weeks we were hiking without our gliders.
We had left our flying gear in Puerto Natales and instead had stocked up on food and camping gear to hike the big loop of the Torres del Paine national park. The first three days we had encountered strong headwinds of more than 50 km/h and were happy that we only had to carry 18 kg of gear while hiking more or less 30 km a day on difficult terrain. That changed on the fourth day while we were hiking up John Gardner pass. There was no wind and we were thinking that we are in the lee of the mountains, but as we arrived at the pass there was only a lush wind coming perfectly frontal at the slope. Guidebooks described this part of the loop as the hardest, with hikers sometimes blown over by strong gusts at the pass, zero sight and often even blizzards. Not for us. The view down was amazing. We could see the whole stretch of the Grey glacier. As if to mock our decision to not take the gliders with us, two Condors appeared and soared the length of the ridge. Looking at them longingly we began the knee destroying 800 meter descent.
We were later told that a day like this, with no wind for more than some hours, doesn’t even happen once a month in summertime and never in winter. The remainder of our stay in Patagonia was as windy as before. On some days we took the gliders with us and even found several ridges that looked perfect, but in the end the wind gusts were just too strong to even think about flying.
When we finally thought we’d had seen enough of Patagonia we boarded a bus that brought us more than 1000 km north to El Bolson. There is a small community of Pilots in Bolson and even a paragliding hostel. When it’s a flyable day they drive to the launch together in pickups. It was really nice to fly along the ridge over Bolson and after some time to land directly in front of the hostel, or, when the wind was very strong, just next to the airport! On the designated landing field for paragliders. There also is some serious XC potential. The locals regularly fly the 100 km north to Bariloche and in the evenings they were discussing other possible lines. The rugged terrain with few landing options means you have to be an experienced pilot and they say you should always bring a sleeping bag, food and water because, depending on how far you fly, you could easily have to walk back to civilisation for some days.