Porterville

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This is arguably one of the best cross-country flying sites in the world. Sure, you can clock more miles in, say, northern Brazil, but it’s going to take a massive (and expensive) effort to get to launch and get retrieved. It’s great flying over the Colombian jungle, but your landing options are a lot more limited; those trees and power lines are nasty.

Instead, you can wake up in your comfy Cape Town Airbnb, have some single-origin coffee and breakfast with a view, and two hours later find yourself on launch. A valley full of thermals and landing options awaits you (and comfortable and affordable retrieves and a refreshing cold beverage after spending hours in the sky!)

Many pilots clock their first 50 or 100k or 150k flight in this valley; some do it on A-wings. I once went out on what would have been a short breakfast flight with some flying buddies starting at Sir Lowry’s Pass…and found myself seven hours later still flying deep in the Porterville Valley hitting my personal best flight (good thing I was testing out a new pee tube).

The area should however be treated with a lot of respect. It is in restricted airspace and it has a lot of hidden dangers. Mid-day thermals can blast you off into the summer sky at 7+ m/s before a dangerously fast Atlantic wind sweeps you away. Every year there are avoidable accidents and incidents; don’t contribute to them.

If you haven’t flown the site before and you don’t have adequate XC experience, reach out to flying schools, instructors, and senior pilots. The SAHPA website has a list of affiliated instructors and the Glen Country Whatsapp groups is a good place to meet other pilots (see: Flying sites).

Location & name

The name “Porterville” can be confusing, as it means many different things. It’s the name of a small town (Porterville) with a useful paragliding lodge (the Porterville Flyer’s Lodge) in the middle of a flat valley (the Porterville Valley) with a long ridge on the east (the Porterville Ridge), with a lot of launches (each their own name, but people will sometimes just say they’re “going to launch at Porterville”). These all could mean “Porterville” and are often abbreviated to PV.

Porterville paragliding

Takeoff sites

The main launches along the PV ridge are Kardoesie, Dasklip, and Pampoenfontein (but you can also fly in from further south, like Dutoitskloof or the rougher launch north of Kardoesie called Antennas). On the other, western side of the valley, pilots launch from Piketberg (or the much nastier, overgrown, less-accessible, and not advisable Koringberg). Lastly, it is possible to winch-launch, but I don’t have any reliable info on an operator.

See the map and resources on my flying sites page to find these launches and the conditions suitable for takeoff.

If you are going to launch from Kardoesie, pay the daily site usage fee at the restaurant (also called Kardoesie, right when you turn off the N7).

If you’re going to launch from Dasklip or Pampoenfontein, you will need to arrive early, sign in, and pay at the Porterville Flyers Lodge in Porterville town. If you don’t do this, you will be banned for life from these launches owned and managed by the Lodge (a bit heavy-handed to some, but let’s not talk politics here).

Legal & medical

You’re not allowed to fly anywhere in SA without a valid SAHPA licence (register and pay online). Your license includes third-party insurance (should you accidentally damage, say, a farmer’s fence).

Also make sure you understand your medical options (read: Emergencies).

Airspace

There is an airspace restriction for most of the PV valley, but not the entire eastern PV ridge (see FAR45 in the dedicated page Airspace). In other words: paragliders need to get permission to fly in the airspace. Luckily, on flyable days in summer, someone will usually request airspace permission, but it is ultimately your responsibility to find out that you’re allowed to fly on any given day. On some days flying won’t be allowed due to military drills.

Ask in the Glen Whatsapp Groups about clearance for FAR45 or contact Birdmen Paragliding (Barry Pederson +27 (0)82 658 6710) or the Flyers Lodge (Rob Manzoni and staff +27 (0)82 788 4398).

Flying is prohibited within the Krantzkop explosives site airspace (FAP38). Additionally, there is a flight ceiling of FL140 everywhere and you’ll need to stay below FL085 south of Saron.

Also see: FlyPorterville – Airspace (archived copy)

Launch dangers

There is a very real risk of hitting a wild thermal on takeoff, getting a collapse, and slamming into the rocks. Mitigate this risk by:

  • Not flying on days that are too wild
  • Launching earlier in the day (in lighter conditions that will just get stronger)
  • Time your launch appropriately with the thermic cycles
  • Expecting a collapse until you’re well clear of the ridge (active piloting, not getting comfy in your harness until you are safe)
  • Flying with more senior pilots, joining a tour, or packing your glider for the day if you’re not comfortable. There will be another day

Landing

There is endless farmland, mostly harvested and fallow in summer, with farmers that are usually friendly (or ambivalent) to paragliders landing there. These are connected by a patchwork of paved and dirt roads, making retrieves fairly uncomplicated. There are however exceptions (I will include the map/GPS coordinates of the two farms where you shouldn’t land, for now, ask someone on takeoff to point them out).

Also, don’t land in rooibos bushes (these look wild, but are cultivated) and land away from animals. If you open a farm gate, make sure you close it behind you, don’t climb over wire fences, and greet the farmers and staff. Also, check the airspace page for a Friends & Foes map of farms in the valley where you should not land.

Many will try to end their day at the Porterville Lodge (they have a pool, accommodation, a very nice landing area, cold beer and useful information), or perhaps at the landing zones at the foot of Kardoesie or Dasklip (if their vehicles are parked there).

Always keep an eye out for dust devils close to the ground!

Wind & the Atlantic Train

Look on all the forecasting apps (and RASP) to see if high afternoon wind is reported. Keep your eyes open for signs of change in the wind and monitor what the live “wind talkers” in the area are showing. A huge mass of dangerously fast-moving wind (often up to 40-50 km/h) comes from the Atlantic Ocean to the west most afternoons in summer around 4 pm.

I check the iWeather Lite app (which has a list of wind talkers in the area where you can see actual wind conditions as you’re flying) and I am usually away from the ridge by 3 pm and I’m on the ground by 3:30 on days with strong wind forecast. The wind is even more dangerous where it is accelerated like at Constriction Pass or the clearing by Saron (among others).

If you’re going to land in high wind, it might make sense to set yourself up to land just in front of a hay bale, small tree, or another obstacle that will grab your wing so that you don’t get dragged across a big field. But best avoid that altogether.

Even more dangers & things to think about!

Gulleys baking in the sun

On days with southwestern wind, be particularly careful of crawling around ridges into north-facing gulleys. The SW wind releases (thermals in that SW direction), but thermals are also baking in the lee (in the gulley protected from the wind) and when the two meet it has resulted in many near-the-ground reserve tosses.

This video explains the dangers best, definitely worth a watch.

Bombing out away from the dirt road

Paved road in blue, dirt road in orange. Landing far away from these could mean a long hike in the sun.

There is a dirt road in the PV valley that runs parallel to the ridge (from the south), and then turns left/west at 90 degrees. Bombing out from this 90-degree bend, all the way to the farms closer to Kardoesie further north, could mean a hike of an hour or two in the 30+ degree sun, back to a road. Always carry extra water, put on strong sunscreen, and consider covering your face with a buff or other protector. Pilots have gotten rides from the farm workers in this area (carry a R50 or R100 note to say thanks).

Jumping over the PV ridge

If you’re going to jump over the back (towards Clanwilliam or Citrusdal), make sure you have enough altitude (more than 1400 MSL) so that you don’t get rotor in the lee when the wind is strong and have enough time to hit the next source of lift. Over this eastern ridge, you usually encounter lots of sink until you get to the river in the middle of the next, Citrusdal valley.

Remote landings

Further to the east of that next Citrusdal valley, into the mountains of Groot Winterhoek and the Koue Bokkeveld, it gets extremely remote and very far removed from roads. Landing there could mean a 1-2 day hike to get out. Fly with a satellite tracker and carry extra water and warm clothes if you want to venture there.

Inversions

Learn to understand and interpret the dry adiabatic lapse rate and inversions. In winter the inversion can be particularly low (even below launch) at the start of the day.

Porterville checklist

  1. Start reviewing weather forecasts (especially the lapse rate and wind changes over time and with altitude) a few days in advance until launch.
  2. Discuss your flight plan on the Glen Whatsapp chat groups to confirm you didn’t accidentally miss something.
  3. Make sure you have clearance to fly.
  4. Sign in and pay (or risk getting banned) and announce flying plans to friends.
  5. Get a briefing from the most senior pilot.
  6. Have a safe launch.
  7. Communicate with your retrieve driver and/or flying buddies.
  8. Keep monitoring weather/wind changes.
  9. Have a safe landing.
  10. Sign out and announce the conclusion of flight(s) for the day to friends.

Links

Here are some more helpful things to read before flying PV.

About me

Werner van Rooyen

Formerly Business Development and Marketing at Luno (where we went from eight nerds in a tiny office to hundreds of people spread over three continents) and before that Marketing at PayFast. Currently investing, paragliding, and doing research, mostly in Mexico.