Many months ago Nick Greece contacted me about something that has increased my blood pressure since the words left his mouth. Flying across the Canadian Rockies. Yoyo. Banff. Jasper. Bugaboos. Hulking glaciers; massive steep mountains; vasts swaths of DEEPness; grizzlies; mosquitos the size of hummingbirds; going farther in the air than anyone ever has. He’d been contacted by ReelWaterProductions, who specialize in filming impossible missions in impossible places. They had a budget, they just needed a “protagonist”, and preferably two. And to sell it to the client, it needed to be a record. Farther, deeper, never been done…
Vol Bivouac (fly camp) style adventures seem to be all the recent rage in this rather off-route, deeply addicting fringe sport that a friend recently pointed out quite eloquently as “ridiculous”. Flying plastic and strings hundreds of miles without an engine, everything needed to survive on your back. People keep going farther and farther. The French team of Thomas Punty and Nelson Defreyman have flown, hiked, bicycled, and hitch-hiked an absurd distance this year from Alberta to somewhere in New Mexico. Dave Turner soloed 1300 km from Nice to Slovenia across the Alps. Stefan Bocks cruised 1,000 km across Central Asia. Our own team flew close to 800 km across the Sierras to the Oregon border. Some of that same team hiked and flew well over 1,000 km across India and Nepal. Luc Armont set the stage years ago doing a similar length solo in the Himalayas. Tom DeDorlodot and Paul Gushlbauer were attempting an 1800 km hike and fly route in Europe and were over 1,000 km’s in but were stopped when Tom had an unfortunate crash just days ago. But to my knowledge all of these trips have one thing in common: to a large extent they are backpacking trips. When the weather is bad and we can’t fly, we hike. The ultimate example of this style of travel is the Red Bull X-Alps. A suffer fest like no other. Racing across huge mountains on foot and in the air.
So, in order to break the “record”, all one really has to be willing to do is hike farther than anyone else, and at some point fly. There aren’t really any “rules” that our tiny community of adventure pilots is following. What is allowed, what isn’t? I was pondering this very question, asking myself what I would be willing to do for this film when Will Gadd quickly solved the dilemma. Leave it to a former national champion, former distance record holder, world record ice-climber, and hands-down one of if not the best mountain athlete in modern times to quickly come up with a solution. What he calls “the truest and purest paragliding adventure that has ever been done.” This Friday Will and I will approach vol-biv paragliding across the Canadian Rockies in a whole new style. Only one rule: any forward progress must be on the glider, to create a continuous flight log. We can hike back, we can hike up and down, in fact we will need to- A LOT, in order to reprovision (we can only carry 3 days of food), but to move forward, we have to be flying. If we are successful, to our knowledge it will be the longest linked paragliding trip that has ever been done. We have 3 weeks to accomplish the goal, the US border.
We have our protagonists. Two guys who have never met. One was competing in the X-Alps before the other had even had his first flight. One had broken the North American Distance record before the other even knew paragliders could be used to travel. Two guys who have lived through some pretty epic adventures by air, water and dirt using skis, kayaks, sails, ropes and wings are about to set off on what be our wildest expedition yet. I’ve been studying the route for months, and that adrenaline kick I got after Nick’s call has if anything only increased. My crack is flying deep lines, but this one is a whole new kind of DEEP. Landing options in many cases don’t exist. Very few roads, more bears than people, rivers with no bridges, and a LOT of area that no one has ever flown. Excited? Yes. Nervous? Yes. A little scared? You bet.
For the past two weeks my living room has been an explosion of gear. Lists, checks, lists, checks, calls to sponsors for more stuff, trimming, lists, repacking, lists, repeat. Due to the remoteness, inevitable bad weather, bugs, bears and fire risk we’re both taking a lot more kit than I’d like to, or ever have before. But I think I’ve finally got it down. If I’ve missed something, my back will thank me.
In this photo:
- Niviuk Peak 3 (not in photo another one as back up, in case I land in a tree or river or…)
- Woody Valley X-Alps GTO harness (back protection removed). There are lighter and smaller, but I need the space, and we need durability
- 3 days food: Patagonia Provisions smoked salmon (we don’t have to suffer that badly), oatmeal, two dehydrated meals, instant coffee, tea, ramen, plenty of Pocketfuel, and something new I’m trying called Le-Vel Thrive that is a huge cocktail of vitamins, natural stimulants and minerals as we’re going to be operating on little sleep and hiking absurd vertical and I can’t afford a cold.
- Smith Optics “Maze” helmet. Lightest certified helmet in the world. And their RADICAL Pivlock shades- interchangeable lenses, weigh nothing
- Black Diamond Revolt headlamp, Ultra distance trekking poles (SO important), HiLent tent (part of their superlight series), Guide Gloves. Normally I would use a bivvy instead of a tent, but hanging out in the rain or battling off hungry mosquitos…
- Klymit Inertia X-Frame. Lightest, smallest thermarest in the world
- Salewa Speed Ascent GTX shoes. These bad-ass shoes just got delivered yesterday. They won’t even be available til April, the official shoes of next year’s X-Alps.
- Jetboil “Sol” stove
- Thermal Tracker PTT for easy radio communications with filming crew and Will
- Patagonia ultra-light down hoody, ultra-light Houdini Jacket, Merino Long underwear, velocity running tights, board shorts, ultralight merino socks
- 100′ 4 mil climbing rope (in case I land in a tree)
- 6 liter dromedary (for water)
- 3 liter Camelback
- XGrid 4 watt solar panel + battery. We also have a 9 watt version, but I’m hoping Will and I can use these little ones to recharge all our instruments. More robust than the GoalZero stuff, and in my testing, works much better.
- Yeasu Radio
- Flytec 6030 vario (6020 back up)
- Condom catheters (3) plus tube
- Small wing repair kit (nylon, lines, needle)
- Bug spray
- Bear spray
- SteriPen. Really excited about this. Tiny, weighs nothing, can be recharged with solar in the field, guarantees us safe drinking water.
- Leatherman Skeletool. Lightest multi-tool on the market
- GSI lightweight flask (for whiskey)
- lightweight bath kit: anti-chafing balm, toothbrush, toothpaste, spork, floss)
- 45 degree down sleeping bag + 10 degree liner
- Go Pros, lots of GoPros and a bag of mounts
- Satellite phone (not pictured)
- Delorme Tracking device (not pictured)
- Hansen custom Orthotics (not pictured), keeps my feet happy:)
All up: Dry weight (no water) exactly 50 pounds. With water (10 liters), 72 pounds.
It all starts August 1st. We’ve got three weeks to make the border. But we can only get there by flying. I imagine the adrenaline I’ve been feeling for weeks is about to get a wee bit more intense.