Buenos Aires

We are staying the last two days in the capital. Some are going to get a guided visit to Teatro Colón, others prefer to walk in the streets of Sant Telmo and La Boca neighbourhoods. Some more will just stay at the hotel to work and wait for the final dinner tonight at La Estancia. Sasha and Angel already left to their respective homes. Last hours in this beloved country. We will come back!

Buenos Aires Obelisc (Rokas Kostakevicius shoot)
The moon in Buenos Aires (Chris Meyer shoot)
Last Buenos Aires shoot from Sasha Haim.

Last flight

We had some breakfast at 9 am and at 10:15 we were going to The Vines, a great resort inside the Valle del Huco.

Valle del Huco

We prepared all the balloons of the first truck and at 2 pm we enjoyed a great meal, we tasted the Mendoza wine and after that we started to prepare the balloons of the second truck. It was a bit windy but meteo showed a decreasing of it during the afternoon.

At 4pm first balloons started to inflate. It was a quite calm. Finally we did it, all the balloons in the expedition could fly. 15 balloons invaded El Valle del Huco.

All balloons tried to land as close as possible, again to facilitate the retrieve, and at 7 pm all of them where already in the truck. It was missing only one balloon team that decided to do a longer and further flight, they arrived at 23:30 at the restaurant.

Trucks will go to Buenos Aires tomorrow morning. We are all very tired, it has been a very intense trip, but really worth it. We did amazing flights… memorable for all of us.

Eclipse flight

We did it! 5 balloons could take off to enjoy the Eclipse in the air. We really wanted all the balloons to fly today but finally it was not possible.

Surface wind started to be strong and turbulent so many of the ballons that were already half inflated had to cancel. This situation was disapointing for many of good friends eventhough the fabulous full Eclipse was terrific from the ground as well.

Eclipse balloon has been the first to take off as their rope couldn’t stand the strong turbulences. Aconcagua balloon burnt some low panels of the envelope while inflating and it dragged the basket through 100 meters before he could get up. The other three balloons didn’t had weird complications in their take off.

Once the balloons took off they could stay near to the airport to be as close as possible to the other members of the expedition and of course to facilitate the retrieve as well. 3 of them managed to land in the same field.

The light was really special, many of us where deeply moved by the wonder of the Earth. It has been an unique event. We are so fortunate to have been here.

The launch field was in Aeropuerto Internacional Valle del Conlara, San Luis province, 4 hours from Mendoza. We woke up at 3:30 am, had breakfast at 4:00 am and ready to go at 4:30 am. The bus had a puncture on the road and we had to wait 2 hours to be that fixed. At 1 pm the pick up drivers where almost all at the lunch point, and the bus arrived 40 minuts later. The pick ups went to the launch field at 2:15 pm to start to prepare all the balloons. We prepared almost all the balloons very fast, it’s our fourth flight and we are getting used to download all the equipment from the trucks.

We had a briefing at 4 pm where Josep exposed his plan for the afternoon and he asked for other proposals in order to prepare the eclipse flight the best way. We finally decided that his proposal was ok. At 5pm we should have started to inflate to be ready to go at 5:30. Full Eclipse has been at 5.45 pm.

We arrived at the hotel at 3 am. We are now back to Mendoza because tomorrow morning we want to fly over the Valle del Huco vineyards. Good night!

First day off

Today has been a very quiet day. All the members of the expedition had a free day. We all needed it so much.

Josep had to go to talk with the ‘the wines’ manager along with Juani Bravin, our friend in Mendoza, while Roby took care of flight permissions and gas refueling.

We met for lunch some other old friends in Mendoza, the ones that joined Josep, Jaume i Joan’s (ultramagic partners) first expedition in Argentina. Many memories where reminded.

Tomorrow we will have breakfast at 4:00 am. We need to go to sleep because it will be another big day, the eclipse.

Amazing views near the vines cellar

Aconcagua flight

The Aconcagua flight has come. We are all nervous. We want to fly but we are aware that it’s a special flight due to strong rotors and turbulences that we can encounter while crossing the range. Andes mountains are very unique and towering.

After crossing the Andes

It took some time to prepare the balloons. We needed oxygen and some of the gas bottles pressurized by nytrogen. The planned take off site was to take off inside the Parque Nacional Aconcagua but finnally we moved to a very special place, close to the road and in the middle of the valley more sheltered.

Awesome valley near Aconcagua
Ready to go to the launch field
Looking for the new take off site

Finally 6 balloons flew. Josep was the first, he wanted to share this experience with his daughters and his old friend Mario. Climbing at a rate of 4-6 m/s between 12000 feet and 15000 feet found some turbulence, but not too strong. The good thing has been that direction was along the valley while climbing, so not approaching the side mountains and other balloons could climb slower. Some of the other teams experienced turbulences while descending but the metereology was quite perfect, we were so lucky.

The Aconcagua (6962 meters)

It has been a great sunny day with almost none surface wind and with great speed at 7200 meters (the fastest speed arrived up to 185 km/h). We were really prepared to suffer from cold at high altitude, nevertheless we were comfortable during the flight.

Speed: 165 km/h
Urs and Stefan using oxygen at 7200 meters

The rescue was not easy due to the large distance flight. Most of the balloons landed passing Mendoza and the rescue team could get to them approx. at 6 pm.

We are celebrating the great flight at Antares, a craft bewery. We are very happy, excited that we could enjoy the greatness of the Andes from our balloons.

Rescued!

Penitentes

We could cross to Penitentes. After three hours waiting they opened the gate at 1 pm. That was the main part of the day, the great news that the snow storm was decreasing and the road was not dangerous anymore. We also had some good news from the truck drivers, they were expecting to arrive tonight. They have been driving for the last 2 days, it’s a long way from Calafate to Mendoza, almost 3000 km.

In Uspallata
Still waiting for the gate to be opened

On the expedition program it was scheduled a trekking but it was snowy and foggy. After visiting Puente del Inca we returned to the hostel to relax and start the preparation for tomorrow’s flight. We where distributed to different apartments. It has been a huge work to allocate all the members as there wasn’t enough staff, we have been told that they didn’t came due to the rough weather.

Penitentes sunset

We did a short and intense briefing at dinner’s place. Josep was really focused on the flight plan and stablishing the minimum preparation and equipment required to successfully do the flight. Stefan Zeberli has talked about Andes dangers and some wise advises for the flight. We will probably have to fly over 7000 meters, an unexpected altitude. It seems that 8 teams are interested to fly. Now is time to rest, tomorrow a very challenging flight awaits us.

First part of the briefing
Angel explaining how to use a flare

Mendoza

Today has been a long day. After a nice and relaxing night at Kosten Aike Hotel we went to the airport at 7 am to catch the first flight of the day (Calafate-Buenos Aires). There’s no direct flight from Calafate to Mendoza, so we did Calafate-Bs As and Bs As- Mendoza the same day.

Before landing in Mendoza

When we arrived to Bs As we had 4 hours to spend to the capital so most of the pilots decided to enjoy a delicious asado. During Calafate days we enjoyed nice vegetarian food but most of us where eager to eat a piece of Argentinian meat. First try was Don Julio but they where full. At the end we split in different groups and we found really special restaurants to enjoy the meal.

Amazing costillar

At 6 pm we all met at Aeroparque again to fly to Mendoza. Once arrived to Mendoza we quickly organized all the luggage to fit in a big bus and 5 pick ups, 3 of them kindly sponsored by Territorio Yacopini.

On our way to Penitentes we found the road closed, we couldn’t arrive there due to the iced road. The town closest to the gate was Uspallata so we had to reorganize the dinner and the hotel booking for 70 people. It was already 9 pm so we where worried about the situation. Roby, our Argentinian dealer, and a great help to carry out the whole expedition, could nicely take care of the situation. Valle Andino hotel has hosted us for tonight and we nicely tasted a nice ‘parrillada’ in a nearby restaurant.

Enjoying the ‘parrillada’

Travelling day

This morning we split in three different groups. Finally we could enjoy the Fitz Roy mountain really clear during sunrise and after 11 am. During the flight we didn’t had that chance.

Fitz Roy during sunrise

The first group decided to do the longest trekking (9 hours) starting at 5:30 am and reaching the Fitz Roy base.

Fitz Roy base

The second one started at 8 am and the goal was Laguna Torre, a beatiful lake at the foot of the same mountain.

Sunrise during the trekking
Fitz Roy viewer during the trekking
Laguna Torre

The last group started at 10 am and did Laguna Capri, a 3 hours suitable trekking, with Fitz Roy just behind it.

Near Laguna Capri

After the trekking we met at Rancho Grande and we went directly to Calafate. We could take more Fitz Roy nice pictures from the road.

On our way back to Calafate

We returned the pick ups to the rental car enteprise, enjoyed of a great meal at the hotel and we moved to Shackelton bar to listen to some lovely live tango music.

Chalten flight

Today has been a great day for all of us. We started at 6:30 a.m. taking the balloons from Rancho Grande to the launch field. We needed the pick-ups to get in because there was a really muddy way to get into the chosen field. The pick-ups needed to make up to 4 rides to take all the material to the launch field.

At 9.00 a.m. all the balloons were ready to blow up. The mountains were covered and the direction of the wind was not clear. The weather forecasts weren’t very helpful as each one showed different results.

Wednesday 12 UTM :cloudy/rainy, cloudy, cloudy, sunny, sunny, snowy, cloudy/rainy, snowy, rainy !!!

Finally, around 10.30 a.m. the sky started to clear up. 12 balloons decided to take off.

It was an amazing flight. We had a superb view of the valley thanks to the slow surface winds.

We knew that if we decided to go higher (3000 meters), we could approach to the only road in order to facilitate the retrieve. During the flight, many of the pilots decided to go higher to find faster winds, around 70 km/h. The flight was really exciting, we were able to see two glaciers, a spectacular lake and different valleys. 

We had to fly above the clouds to be able to land in the only road of the area.

Pilots and rescue team did a great job, at 6.00 pm all the balloons were loaded in the truck, even the ones that remained further from the road.Tomorrow morning both trucks have to go as fast as possible to Penitentes. There has been strong snowfalls and we are not sure that they can reach the city in three days.

Now we are celebrating the success of the flight and deciding which trekking we will do tomorrow.

Perito Moreno trekking

The second day of the expedition has been highly marked by the intense visit to the Glaciar Perito Moreno. On our way to the park, we saw another spectacular sunrise from the car.

Sunrise on the road to Perito Moreno Glacier

At 10.30 a.m. we arrived to Puerto Sombras, the launch field of yesterday’s flight. The boats depart from that port to cross the lake. We were lucky to be part of the very special trekking over the glacier.

Crossing the lake

We have been equipped with crampons, a new experience for the most people of the group.

Before the trekking

We learned many things about Perito Moreno origin and behavior. Everyone was excited about being on this huge glacier.

Perito Moreno trekking
Walking over the glacier

Some guides were waiting for us with a nice glass of whiskey and a bombon (a chocolat sweet) for everyone.

Perito Moreno beach

Once the boat returned us to Puerto Sombras, we loaded the 6 pick-ups with the equipment that stayed on the field during the night. We were lucky enough to fit all the material in the pick-ups as we weren’t allowed to move again the truck inside the park.

Next, we have gone to the footbridge, there we have eaten something for lunch and enjoyed the magnificent views of the glacier from another point of view. Then, we met with the rescue team, they had gone for one of the balloons that we did not took out the day before. They dismantled and assembled the fence in order to access the field to get back the balloon.

Around 3.00 p.m., one of the trucks was on its way to el Chaltén, to make sure that it would make it to the flight programmed for the next day. At 9.00 p.m. we have arrived to el Chaltén and we went to see two possible taking off points.

We are very lucky, the weather is great, and it has not snowed yet, so the access to the field is pretty easy. Tomorrow morning, we will choose which one of the taking off places is the best one. It is 11.00 p.m. and one team are finishing adjusting the burner to the guesthouse’s kitchen, it is going to be a long night.

Perito Moreno flight

Yesterday night all the teams joined in Kosten Aike Hotel, Calafate. Josep Ma did a general breafing at 10 pm sharing the difficulties of the few roads and coverage to do the rescue, to advise the drivers in taking care of the iced roads, and planned the perfect flight for the next day. Meteo was not promising and very changing inside the Park, but today was the best chance to try to fly near the glaciar Perito Moreno.

We arrived at the park entrance at 9:00, it was forbbiden to get in earlier as the Park is closed. We could enjoy a spectacular sunrise from there. It seemed it was the perfect day to fly close to the Perito Moreno, but once we got to the launch field it became more and more windy. We shared our thoughts in a first breafing at 11 am, where we decided that it was no safe enough to take off, we should wait.

There were strong turbulences. At last, around 12 pm top pilots decided that it was the perfect spot to take off. The first 5 balloons could take off from Perito Moreno Glaciar. During the inflation of other 3 balloons the snow, wind and the deep clouds invaded the Glaciar. We had to cancel the flight for the other balloons.

We had some difficulties in the rescue team to reach the balloons. It was a great help the use of Yellow Brick and flightpacktracker, an app that keeps the track of the flight and allows you to navigate to the landing area. Amazing pictures were taken during the flight.