Im Ballon über den höchsten Berg Amerikas: Die beiden Piloten Uwe Schneider Gießen / Deutschland und Joseph-Maria Llado-Costa aus Igualada / Spanien überquerten in 9.000 m (*30.000 ft) den Aconcagua / Anden, der mit 6962 Metern höchsten Berg Amerikas und gleichzeititg höchsten Berg außerhalb Asien.
With Hotairballoon across the highest mountain of Amreica: The two pilots Uwe Schneider from Gießen / Germany and Josep-Maria Llado-Costa from Igualada / Spain crossed in 9.000 m (~30.000 ft) in a hotairballoon. The Aconcagua has an altitude of 6,962 m (22,841 ft), is the highest mountain in the Americas, and the highest mountain outside Asia.
Buenos Aires – Mit einem Ballon haben zwei Abenteurer aus Deutschland und Spanien die Anden überquert. Uwe Schneider und der Katalane Josep Maria Llado Costa seien sechs Jahre nach ihrem ersten erfolglosen Versuch über das Gebirge von Chile nach Argentinien geflogen, berichteten argentinische Zeitungen am Mittwoch. Die Ballonreise von Illapel nach Luján de Cuyo in der Provinz Mendoza im Westen Argentiniens habe rund fünf Stunden gedauert.
Die beiden Männer stiegen den Berichten zufolge auf 9000 Meter Höhe auf und damit weit über den höchsten Gipfel Amerikas, den 6962 Meter hohen Aconcagua. Als erster Ballonfahrer hatte der US-Bürger Kingswood Sprott im Januar 1978 die Anden überquert. (Quelle: Ballon.org)
Original Message Uwe / Joseph from Chile
Thu 28 Jan
In the late afternoon all expedition members find their connecting flights towards Madrid where they meet. Flight IB 6831 takes them in a bit more than 13 hours to Santiago del Chile where they arrive at 9 local time. They are welcomed by local balloonists Christian Millas, Tomo and. Francisco Hernandes as well as argentinian pilot Gabriel Massini and his wife. After the warm welcome we spend 3 hours the rent a 12 seater minibus and a pickup with ahook for the trailer. When we finally get them there is no hook. Then we divide. While the support team recovers from the flight in Tomos house, Christian takes the pilots Josep-M. and Uwe to the aeronautic authorities where they explain the intended flight, show all the papers. Just the balloon inspection on monday morning is needed to finally get the permission for the flight. Then the 3 join the rest of the group for a splendid „assado“ in Tomos house. In the late afternoon all drive to Los Andes to invade the hotel rooms.
After a nice dinner all go for a good sleep.
Sat Jan 30
The plan for the day is to refuel and then go to the beach. After breakfast we all head to san Felipe to fill the gas. We find the gas station but they don“ sell. We go back to Los Andes to another propane/butane station and we can refuel there. But the adapters don’t fit. Why is all the world using different connectors ? Josep_M. and Francesco leave to get pieces for an adapter. The flock is roasted in the sun and goes for a bar to refresh. After some hours we decide to have lunch in the bar. At 2 pm Josep-M joins us for lunch. At 3:30 they leave for refuelling and the rest goes to the hotel for a siesta. At 4:30 Josep-M, Francesco and Uwe go to see the gas people for oxygen and nitrogen. The small oxygen bottle of 5 liters is reserved for the doctor, but we can get 2 bottles of oxygen of 10 liters for a good rental fee. But our nozzles do not fit the thread thes use here so we need an adapter. And the big nitrogen bottle of 50 liters they ask more than 100 € for the content. But thanks to Francesco we get in contact with a restaurant owner who offers to sell us some nitrogen from his bottle. We shall come back when he closes at 11:30 pm. Back to the hotel with our treasure of 1 oxygen bottle. After a short rest and information of the flock Josep-M and Francesco, this time joined by Cesc, go to get an oxygen adapter machined for them. And they change to nitrogen pressure reducer to the correct thread. At 10 pm we plan to meet at the main place. At 11 pm we meet them for a beer and then we go to get the N2. But what seemed to be an easy job was spoiled by a wrong thread. The pressure reducer fitted into the N2 bottle but when tightening it, it jumped out. We tried with teflon tape but bad luck. Josep-M had a fitting thread with an O2 reducer so we dismantled it in the dark with some improved tools. Then we screwed it into the N2 bottle – and it jumped off again. It was almost midnight on saturday when we gave up and went to bed.
Sun Jan 31
The plan for today: since we skipped the test flight yesterday evening due to long lasting strong winds and the one for this morning due to lack of nitrogen, and as the adapter shops are closed on sundays, we go to the Pacific at Valparaiso for sightseeing and swimming. On the way we leave Los Andes north (Valparaiso is southeast) to look for some good take-off sites to be able to react on different wind directions. What looks short and fast on the map turns to consume time. We want to have take-off options between 90 and 135 degrees to Aconcagua. Los Andes is at 80 and thus not ideal, even we would like to take off from there. North of San Felipe and around Puntaeno we find the 1st places at around 90. At El Tartaro with 98 and El Manzano with 105 we spent already 2,5 hours. Then on our way to La Vaga we enter the mountains with no good fields. But we pick up a nice tramper, Anne-Christine, the 16 years old exchange student from Denmark. She lost the bus to La Ligua which is on our way. As the road heads to the WNW we are not gaining degrees. From La Vaga we go east to Alicahue at 115. The we enter a road which on the map is a straight line to the north. We drive in and find ourselves climbing up a serpentine road through cactus desert. At the other end, having passed a 4000 feet hill, we find a field in Chincolco at 121. As it is already 4 pm we decide no make this our northern most field and have – what ? Lunch ? Then we were heading to the coast via Cabildo, left our young danish tramper in La Ligua and reached the pacific ocean at Papudo. Then we continued direction to Valparaiso and took a bath – not all of us as the water was pretty cold and a fresh breeze blowing. After this swim we waited us through the traffic jam to Vina del mar where we admired the sun setting into the pacific and had a nice dinner in a harbour view restaurant in Valparaiso. Again the road back took us longer than expected and we arrived our hotel at 3 am.
Mon 1 Feb
Wake up call at 6:30. We leave at 7:00 (sorry, that’s german. I mean at some minutes after 7) for Tomos house where the aeronatic inspectors wait for us. We, that is Josep-M, Marineus, Adriana, Cesk, Jaume 4casas and myself, go with the pickup of Francesco carrying the basket and our double cabin pickup carrying fan and tanks. When we arrive one inspector already waits for us together with Christian Millar and Tomo. I can’t believe this is south america. We inflate the balloon in about 30 min and leave it tethered for some 10 min. Then we moore the balloon some 50 m as the wind now is opposite from inflation, land the basket on the pickup and deflate the envelope. The inspectors are impressed and start discussion about paperwork while we others try to get the air out of the envelope. The air captured between the double layer fabric can only enter and leave at the seems. I apply the technique I developed after our flights in Dobbiaco to get the most air out before packing it. In the Dolomites I rolled over it from bottom to top while here I press out the air from the aquator to the bottom and then from mid to top. In fact it looks like making love to the envelope. But it is a successful technique as we need less than 30 min to get it into the bag – new record.
We go to Tomos house for a coffee and to finalize paper work. The discussion end an hour later with exchange of information on inspection procedures.
Francesco and Cesc leave for Los Andes to get one further O2 adapter machined for our masks. The pilot flames we will connect to the pressure reducer of Francesco (he gives all his belongings to us). The N2 adapter we skip as the action of the burners in the morning revealed 8 bar with the cold tanks and a nice big flame. It seems it’s more Propane than Butane in the mixture. As we planned to pressurize to 8-9 bar there is no more need for N2. In the altitude it’s better to use unpressurized tanks as the external pressure drops significantly and the flame gets bigger – too big with additional pressure. Another lesson learned in the alpes where we used the pressurized tanks for inflation and landing only.
Josep-M, Adriana and Christian go downtown Santiago to solve the question of boarder crossing with our rental cars. And I sit on the computer and look at the latest forecast of Michael Noll, our met man in Germany who sits in half a meter snow and forecasts daily temp of +30°C. Freezing level is at 5000 m over here. His latest forecast shows a more northerly wind than expected. Maximum left is 300° at 8000 m. That corresponds to our northern most take-off option at 121° to Aconcagua. But the layers in between will take us more south. So either we look fore another field even more north or we take the chance to pass by some km south of the Cerra Aconcagua, which is the most impressive side of the mountain. Currently we check if thursday morning the winds could be slightly better. In parallel I run a lot of NOAA trajectories this morning. There is a nice feature of a back projection from a given point. Very useful to backtrack from Cerra Aconcagua – in theory. But the program makes funny things with my MSL altitudes below 7000 m from a point at this height. And if I use AGL altitudes it tries to stay near the AGL value. But the export of the trajectories into google earth is really good.
I received an email from Rene Vidal, chilenian delegate to the FAI gliding comission. He got back from a championship in Argentina and offered to help us with oxygen bottles. We will meet him at 7pm at their airfield in the north of Santiago.
Tue 2 Feb:
Based on the latest wind profiles of Michael Noll (German Weather Forecast) we decided at the breakfast that the flight will be tomorrow at SR and that we will fly from a place wih bearing of 135 to 140° to Aconcagua. Wednesday we will have wind from 300 to 310° in the altitude and a layer of 330° with 35 to 40 kt in 4000 to 5000 m. Thursday prevision shows more northerly winds in intermediate and upper layer. After breakfast we go refuel all cylinders including 2 from Christian. One is for inflation and the other we will probably take to be sure we can fly until SS in case needed. A saftety measure as it looks like we will probably on ground after 4 hours. During refueling Josep-M and I prepare and test our oxygen systems. Then we go back to the hotel and pack our things. Bags we will take and suitcases willstay behind in the van of Gabriel Massini. On their way to Argentina they have to pass Los Andes and then they will take his car. While the hotel is cleared a 4 people team is shopping for lunch, dinner, camping outside at the take off field and for water and some food for the pilots. At 2pm we all meet for refreshment in the pool and an assado at Panchos house. Christian is on his way with the flares and Jaume Lansana is at customs to make sure we can take the rental cars and the balloon to Argentina and bring them back.
Tue 2 Feb:
We left our base camp at 10 past 4 as we had to finish the splendid water melon. Driving west to motorway 5 and heading north until Los Vilos. From there east to Illapel and Salamanca. Just behind a petrol station where we refuelled, we are stopped by the carabineros de chile. Why ? Quien sabe. Josep-M has his divers license in the other car but he convinces the policeman that the car is rented with him as driver, so the license has been checked only 4 days ago.
We enter the street to Illapel and Salamanca. Passing Illapel we look at the GPS and see a bearing of 137° to Aconcagua. That“s what we need according to the forecast. So we decide to stay here and not to enter more into the Cordillera, as also our retrieve crew will have to go back all the way tomorrow. From the bridge we see a nice green field at the river banquet and we try to go there. But when we manage to do so at the 3rd try, we get wet feet in our grass. So we drive around and find a nice field. We ask people and are led to one of the eldest houses in Illapel. The owner Alfredo Aguilera welcomes us and tells us the long history of his family in Chile. But we get his authorization and internet access to look for the latest weather. Michel is still sleeping, but NOAA weather is already awake. Alfredo recommends the restaurant Parriladas Argentinas, where we meet some minutes with our support team. We have a nice and quick meal and are joined by the TV 2 Choapa who where alarmed by Alfredo. Also during dinner the major of Illapel welcomes us by phone. After dinner we will prepare the basket under some street lights while the others will build up the tents. Ah, there will be a Rottweiler around on the field, Alfredo told us. But he will be nice when you call him by his name – Cisco.
Wed 3 Feb:
All prepared since 6 am; Plan: take-off 7:23
At 6:15 we started the fan and filled the balloon. Local TV and press as well as some spectators admired the action. Christian phoned with Santiago CTR to get us a radio frequency. We put all instruments in place and set them to the frequency. Oxygen was armed and the warm coats put on. Then some words to the TV. I don’t remember what Josep-M said but my words were: Vamonos ! Hasta Argentina. A farewell hug and kisses from the friends on the ground and then lift off at 6:23. We climbed gently for video and foto, but soon we encountered the thin stratus layer. Ground dissappeard and changed view to the raising sun behind the cordillera. In 2000 m we found 20 km/h south and climbed faster to pass it. At 6000 m we found a heading to the left side of our goal. So we went down again to between 4500 and 5000 m heading approx 10 degrees to the right of it. In the higher altitude before had put oxygen masks on and discovered a leak at the adapter of Josep-Ms system. Flying in the lower altitude enabled us to work on the problem. It was a good decision to take the bag with the tools, but even with teflon tape we could not fix the problem. What to do ? Abort the flight ? We had 3 oxygen bottles on board, 2 of 5 liters for the mask systems and each system equipped with 2 masks. One system was almost full, the other half full from the leak. The 3rd bottle was of 8 liters feeding the oxygen supported pilot flames. We had all necessary tools to switch one system to the other. So we decided to carry on with the flight approaching us in our low altitude where we did not use too much oxygen except some breath from time to time. The closer we came to Aconcagua, the more left the heading turned. 30 min before the mountain we climbed to 6000 m and 25 km before it we initiated climb for the jump over it. (You may correct me with times and distances as I write it from my memory while you can check the track in compe air or in google earth.) The climb was not as fast as intended as at 7000 the flames were not as powerful as before. Full and instantaneous opening of the valves fully blew out the pilot light and the main flame. Gently opening the valve to about half gave a nice flame, opening it more made it lift off the coils by some meters and fail. So we used 2 burners with hand controled throughput to reach a climb between 2 and 3 m/s. With the turning wind we passed the summit of Aconcagua slightly to the north.
A good side to take pictures as in 2004 Josep-M passed south and made photos from there. We climbed more to avoid the turbulence behind the peak but having a flame was more and more difficult. In the end we worked with 3 burners. The Mk-21 to start as here was the O2 powered pilot light, prodicing a flame of a meter lenghth. This one was used then to ignite the flame of the Powerplus which had the more stable flame. Even the flama being stable, some drops of liquid gas separated and fell back to us, but not burning. With this technique we made the balloon climb to over 9000 m. Josep-M had armed a flare in case all pilot flames would have blown off but there was no need for it’s use. Behind Aconcagua there is a deep valley where the road passes from Chile to Argentina, which we crossed in diagonal. Then then next mountain chain elevates to almost 6000 m and we stayed in altitude until passing it. Then we went down to the planes not exceeding 4 m/s descend. Speed dropped gradually and the shearings we passed were relatively soft. The balloon base went concave ome times but we were relatively light for a 180 envelope. We went down to 3500 m finding only 20 km/h wind. So we climbed again to 4000 m and went ESE with 28 until we crossed the motorway, which leaves Mendoza to the south. From the clouds below us we saw that the lower wind was heading backwards. So we crossed the moterway by some 2 km and went down to the deck. Then we crossed it again in low level and touched down in an adjacent field at 12:06. Ground speed had been 17 km/h and we had dragged about 15 m until stop. We began to collect the envelope when a lot of people entered the field. They revealed as local balloonist Fernando Vaques and the press. A lot of interviews to give and pictures to be taken. About 40 min later we interrupted the interviews to clear the envelope as the ground wind had increased to some 35 to 40 km/h. Little sand tornados passed by when we put envelope and basket on the trailer of the friendly farmer. We left most equipment with him and went to Mendoza airport where we had to report to the authorities. There we learned that the flight plan and the Notam we were given in Chile is not valid in Argentina. Theoretically we crossed border and invaded controlled airspace without permission. But the offials were old friends of Josep-M and after being advised what to do next time the airport director helped us with imigration and customs. Then the local balloon friends arranged for a hotel for all of us. At 8 pm our ground crew arrived and the great day was honoured together with all friends having Paella and a good wine in the Centre Catala de Mendoza.
Congratulation to the two pilots and the team arround them for this great flight.