Jamin and Michael went paragliding today. Jamin had tried to talk others into going, but Michael is the only one who took him up on it. It must be said here, by Michael, y'all missed out.
The meet up point was Summit Lake at Hatcher Pass. To launch from Summit Lake requires a walk of 100 feet, and that is it. For those familiar with adventures with Jamin, a "forced march" is required. The winds had been perfect all day long at Summit Lake until 20 minutes before we arrived. At that time, it shifted. The Summit Lake launch point was no longer usable because the winds were now contrary. It is necessary to launch into the wind. Tail winds just do not work for this kind of flying. So, this necessitated a different launch point. The next available launch point was at the end of a death march. It is almost like the winds and the mountains knew.
The "other" launch point turned out to be way up on the side of a mountain with many of the characteristics of the Matterhorn. "It is only a 30–35-minute hike to the other launch point," said our fearless leader," and the pack only weighs about 20 pounds." He lied, he lied and more on this point.
We moved to the other spot, but to my dismay, it required driving way, way back down the mountain. For those in the know, our new parking spot was completely off of the dirt road and further down the mountain to a little dirt parking spot. We got out, and he pointed to an itty-bitty windsock way up the side of the Matterhorn or whatever its real name is. It reminded me of Mt Fuji. I sucked down a bunch of water, hoisted the pack that felt considerably heavier than 20 pounds and set off on our death march to the launch point. Yup, 100-foot walk to death march in mere moments of time - Jamin assured me that this was just an unfortunate occurrence because of the winds shifting, but there are theories out there about this phenomenon. Just sayin'...
In hindsight, do as the veterans do. They each brought a water bottle and a snack. There was good cause for both. I am not sure why I neglected this old bit of wisdom (doing as the veterans do, that is), but it certainly would have been wise to have a snack and water before embarking on a death march.
We began our trek up the Cliffs of Insanity (Jamin's descriptor, not mine) with the high hopes of arriving at the new launch point in the previously predicted 30-35 minutes. We arrived in something more like an hour which for death marches, hikes up the Matterhorn and climbing the Cliffs of Insanity is a rather reasonable amount of time. At our last stop, I watched the video that I, apparently, was supposed to have watched beforehand. It was about how to launch, fly and land a paraglider when flying tandem. All of it was just as I had imagined it to be - no surprises, but I could definitely tell that I was dehydrated and low on energy. I was very glad that the trip down the hill would be far easier than the hike up the hill.
At the top, Scott hooked Jamin into his harness while Chris and I watched. Jamin had the GO-Pro camera strapped to his helmet. With just a couple of steps, they were floating gracefully through the air. Now, it was my turn. It was surprisingly simple to attach everything. With a short bit of instruction from Chris, we began our run down the hill and in just a few steps, we, too, were off and soaring through the air with a breeze in our face and an amazing landscape sprawling out beneath us. This is flying at its very simplest and most raw. No engine to drown out the sound of the wind. The only controls were two handles dangling down from the canopy. I think about eagles soaring through the air (we did see one way above us), and I can't help but think they have a certain justifiable smugness about their place in the heavens. Sweeping through the air, riding the updrafts from the wind as it pushed its way up the side of that now far smaller mountain, I could sense a faint kindred spirit with the eagle.
There was a point in the flight when Chris asked if I would like to fly. Well, yes, indeed! it was fairly easy to control. You only had to pull on the handle in the direction you wanted to go and let up a bit on the other one. Oh, Chris also mentioned to not turn toward the mountain - always turn away from it. This sounds like wise words to keep one alive. There were many other paragliders in the air at the time. It was a constant adventure to keep them in sight, and, as in all flying affairs, Chris also mentioned to look before you turn. Also, words to live by.
It took quite a while for us to get to the top of the mountain whereas Jamin and Scott made it up there rather quickly. I think we found a gravity hot spot where we were flying. No other explanation made sense to me.
After about 30 or more minutes of flying, we watched as Jamin and Scott descended to the LZ, landing zone. It was very near to where we had parked - very convenient and no death march to get back to the truck. In just a few minutes, we were also descending to the LZ. We were still a bit high and needed to bleed off some altitude. Chris had taken the controls back by this time. "Do you want a gentle approach or carnival?" he asked. Naturally, I was curious about the carnival approach. It definitely lived up to its billing. More than that, I was totally unprepared for the kinesthetics of the "carnival approach." Nothing flying regular airplanes prepared me for this part of the flight. Positive to negative to positive g's in seconds with a radical change of momentum mixed in just for fun. Truthfully, the g's were negligible, but that sudden change of momentum nearly got me. I am happy to say that no cookies were tossed at any point of this flight nor at its conclusion, but it did take a few minutes for my head to clear after we landed.
At this point, we undid clips, stepped out of the harness and stuffed the equipment back into their backpacks. Once done, Chris had me carry the other backpack. This one held the actual paragliding canopy; this backpack weighed the aforementioned 20 pounds. The other one held the two harnesses and was far heavier. Now, I know...
Let me conclude by saying, Jamin, thank you very much. This really was a fun adventure. We will have to look into doing this again in the future - forced marches aside, of course. Well, actually, now that I know which backpack is 20 pounds and which one has the harnesses and that I need to bring water and a snack (and warm gloves), I could brave another death march. Let's see if we can bring some others along...