It’s kind of hard to write this log knowing what happens on the day after this flight went down (wait wait, don’t fast forward yet!), but it was a magnificent day and deserves it’s own place in the Mayhem blog. Things looked…ok, but not great for a big flight. The wind looked once again right on the edge and given it’s July I thought things would be a bit hairy up in the sky. I was up the hill first, knowing we’ve got a short launch window on Baldy and I feel like we’ve been leaving a lot of distance on the table launching too late.
Matt Beechinor, Mike Pfau, Garth Callaghan and Mitch Riley were all psyched to have a go too which in itself is something pretty special from our little home site. It’s good to have a growing group of pilots keen on busting some distance. In the past it was always just Nate or Matt, and they rarely have an opportunity to fly together, so it’s normally a solo show. Nate was being a good daddy taking his 7 year-old Ripley for a tandem as I was heading up the hill, but he’d make a fast turn-around and join us.
I was all ready to go before anyone was getting off the lift, but then noticed my SPOT batteries were dead. We are carrying so much kit these days I never seem to get it all together 100%, and it’s unacceptable. I cussed myself, considered just hucking without it, but going without a SPOT in these mountains is seriously retarded as we learned last August in the PWC when Guy Anderson disappeared after a bad crash for two days. So I called Matt, who was just about to get on the Gondola and he thankfully ran off and got some for me. I paced for the next half hour, looking again and again at the lift for a sign of Matt. Patience is not my forte.
Our standard route MO is to get a bit of height off Baldy then cross the town and hit Sun Peak, which leads down Trail Creek and into the Boulder Mountains. Which we were all doing soon enough. My impatience had me out in front and I kept trying to wait, but strong climbs and wind just kept calling me onward.
As I dove off the back of Trail Creek after a nice climb to nearly 14,000 feet I noticed a lot more wind. We’d be wanting to stay high. I was getting radio reports of the other pilot’s positions, it sounded like everyone was doing well. But then as I got close to the east end of the Boulders before the huge glide to the Big Lost range I got in trouble. I crossed to some low angle hills that were well in the sun, but the winds were nuking down on the deck and I couldn’t grab anything. I couldn’t penetrate to windward so I just kept falling back, more or less maintaining altitude but I didn’t have much (at times less than 100 meters) to work with. Luckily the terrain at that point was pretty flat, so there wasn’t much rotor and when I got to the back of the shelf and flew into the lee sure enough a nice climb was waiting. A bit ratty, yes, but in no time I was back up high and on my way toward Mt. Borah, the highest mountain in Idaho.
By that point Nate had flown super fast and caught up and Garth was right with him. Unfortunately the others had gotten drilled on the back side of Trail Creek and would soon be enjoying a swim in the river (and taking chase of Nate and I!). As Garth hadn’t flown much in 6 years he decided Borah, about 70 km’s into the flight was enough and landed at the road junction. Nate and I met up to the north of Borah, where he got a boomer to windward that I should have taken, but thought I could just roll down the ridge and something would go. It finally did, but it was possibly the roughest climb I’ve ever had. Again- down low was not nice, especially in the lee. But my Niviuk Peak 3 was now starting to feel like an extension of me and it is just such a nice wing to fly that I find myself trusting it fully to do what it’s built for- speed and stability.
We had some signs of OD to our south near the Continental Divide that worried me a bit, but Nate said all we had to do was thread the needle. Sounded good to me.
Nate joined me shortly after, but well below as we crossed onto the Ruby range, which leads into the Tobaccos and once again we were separated. Something along this ridge wasn’t right. The air felt like there was that tell-tale feeling that a ripping thermal was near, but it would never materialize. My wing was getting tossed around like a toy boat in the ocean. I called Nate to get his location and he said that I was either hypoxic, or must have my visor down, which we’ve discovered makes me sound like I have a speech impediment. So I reached out to put it up- but it was up. The strangeness, disorientation- I was experiencing the onset of hypoxia. But my oxygen was working. I’d been up this high (at that point near 17,000 feet) and felt fine. But I was definitely out of sorts. I ate some more food, took a pee, pounded a Red Bull and headed off to the south end of the Tobaccos, following some clouds. Nate chose to take a more northerly route as he was thinking more clearly- if we went north we’d have the western sun to use. I looked down at my vario- 300 km from launch. Another 19 km I’d have the state record, and 29 km I’d have the US foot launch record!
There was plenty of time. I could see Bozeman 40 km in the distance. Oh boy, would that be a party!
But as I crossed the north side of Ennis Lake and the 287 highway I ran into a headwind. To get those final 40 km to Bozeman I needed a good glide. It wasn’t even 7 pm, there was still plenty of time. I should have turned immediately and headed north over the flats, but I didn’t see any clouds and opted for the terrain…and hopefully a miracle.
But I didn’t get one. I landed near the Madison River at a beautiful little boat launch and big parking lot. Noticed I’d gone 311km from launch, which broke my previous record by over 50 km’s. Hot damn! Shedded all my clothing, took a nice long swim and sat down at peace with the world. In no time Mike, Garth and Nate were barreling their way to me for the long, long long ride home. Nate had gotten flushed into some scary treed terrain on the Tobaccos and was forced to land at a seriously respectable 290 km’s. All in all, an awesome day. We got home at 0330 pretty tuckered out. I couldn’t have possibly imagined what was in store for me just a few hours later. Stay tuned:)