I’ve been really fortunate in the last couple decades to explore many of the farthest corners of the globe. 13 straight years of sailing, chasing wind and waves on a series of kitesurfing expeditions (www.offshoreodysseys.com), which included nearly two full circumnavigations and the last couple years paragliding all over the Alps, South America, Central America, Africa and the Himalayas. Just like surfers chase swell, pilots chase seasons and weather. Reggie Crist, an Olympic skier and friend of mine who lives here in Sun Valley who I used to ski race with is even making a movie about how athletes are like migratory animals, hopping on planes or jumping in cars chasing what they “need“; be it adrenaline, or escape, or just pure fun. Animals of course are just seeking food and shelter, which is of course all we really need as well. But for some people this other “need” is as urgent as the next hit is for a junky. Without it we find life marginalized, gray and drab.
Nick Greece, Nate Scales, Matt Beechinor and I got home from the 500 miles to Nowhere expedition
after chasing weather at a ridiculous pace, driving up and down the Wasatch Range in Utah and Wyoming running from the unseasonal monsoonal weather. The chase wasn’t fruitless, we got some great flying but the vol biv trip we had planned never materialized. Instead of launching, flying, camping and then carrying on the next day we were launching (sometimes), landing and sprinting by truck to a place that might have survivable weather. It was not a simple flying trip. We had a film crew chasing us, we had a contract with OutsideTV to get the goods. It was fun, but it was intense, and none of us got to really scratch our incessant flying itch. Once we got the filming done it was time to go home. Time to get back to work. Time to dream and plan the next trip.
We got home to Sun Valley exhausted but in good spirits. Cool fall nights and shorter days had already set in, the Aspens were already going golden, the tourists had left town. In my opinion Sun Valley has the best big air flying on Earth. A number of recent distance records, including my own world mountain record this summer of 240 miles confirms this opinion, but what we don’t often get to do is fly here in the absence of fear. Flying in Sun Valley is usually a pretty full-on affair. Crazy strong thermals and nail biting wind. It’s always kind of an edge-of-your-seat experience, or in this case- edge of your harness experience. But in the fall we often get days with very little wind and everything, including the thermals have mellowed out. We can’t go huge distances as the days are shorter, but we can experience some stunning flying.
Matt (aka “Farmer”) has had a dream for many years to launch in town, fly out to the Pioneers, our closest range of radical mountains (about 15 miles as the crow flies) and top land at the Pioneer Cabin, which was built in 1937 and spend the night. The icing on the cake would be to launch the next day near the cabin and fly home. A proper bivvy trip in maximum style, but a very tall order, one he’d tried before but never pulled off. I had never even seen the Pioneer cabin, and I couldn’t imagine flying around in the Pioneers. They are huge mountains and usually they are something we like to go over the top of with plenty of height. Not a place to hang around. But a day arrived that looked like perfect conditions to make the attempt.
Nate, Matt and another local pilot named Donnie and I met at Sun Peak at 3 pm, right across the street from the historic Sun Valley lodge. We were up at launch an hour later, legs and lungs burning but we were all smiles- the conditions looked perfect. In no time we were all off the hill and heading up the ridge towards Otto Peak, at the top of trail creek. Cloudbase was nearly 15,000 feet and there was almost no wind. The thermals were gentle, the sky more clear and blue than I’d ever seen in the Wood River Valley. After a horrific fire season and being evacuated from our home just a few weeks earlier, I couldn’t believe everything now could be so pristine. The flying was ridiculous. The light was perfect and just getting better and better.
We made the jump from Ottos, at the south end of the Boulder range over to the Pioneers and eventually all grouped up and flew right down the range. I discovered Matt had a GoPro with him and we spiraled down, deep into the range, tight into the terrain, something that would be suicidal in summer. We must have flown 40 kilometers out and back and then back out from one end to the other. Donnie and Nate decided to fly back to town after a flight that both would later describe as one of the best they’d ever had and Matt and I carried on until sunset, wondering if someone had snuck some acid into our lunch. This just wasn’t possible. Don’t trust me? Watch this:
We landed about 50 feet away from the Pioneer cabin at 9500 feet. After laughing, and hugging, and laughing some more we watched the sun fade over the horizon, packed up and moved into the cabin. Dinner, star gazing, a lot more laughing and a lot of discussion about this shared addiction of flight. And the irony of how we spend so much time and money and effort chasing what we love around the world and the best there is is right here in our own backyard. I’ve traveled and moved more than I’ve stayed put in my 41 years on this very cool planet we call home. Adding my own considerable carbon footprint to the abundance that we humans are doing our best to destroy. Maybe it’s time to slow down, to enjoy the horizon that is right here every day.
The next day we fired up the stove, had a coffee and walked no more than 5 minutes to a slope above the cabin and launched, hoping we could find a place to land in the canyon below us which we couldn’t see. But the sun was already baking the east-facing slopes and as we pilots like to say, “it was ON.” We circled like birds up and up to 12,000 feet and pointed our wings home. A place I think I’ll stay awhile.