It is amazing what can happen in just 24 hours. Especially within the realm of paragliding. If your lucky you can bag one good, solid mountain flight within that timeframe, but five? Yeah, our short excursion to central Utah this weekend yielded just that. These are not short nor small sessions in the air, but high altitude, high alpine type flights.
The high desert is a fickle place to fly a Paraglider, riddled with unique dangers and intensities in the air that often do not get the respect they rightfully deserve. Through the years I have been taught this respect, sometimes in a not so pleasant way. I have seen too many pilots treat the conditions in these desert mountains just like those of the training hill. Unfortunately, that approach is a bit like petting a dragon, and thinking your just petting a kitty cat. Thus I am very cautious when I approach these desert mountains. As autumn unleashed Clark, Keenan, and myself looked closely for just the right weather window, and when it happened, we went.
We were joined by Jeff, Mike, Bob, and of course our ever faithful driver Amber. The first late morning flight began from the 11,200 foot summit of Monroe Peak just as the small autumn clouds began to form above. In the zero wind conditions Keenan and I made quick work of the small thermals and after a few turns found ourselves tickling the underside of the clouds…and the rhythm of the day begins.
As evening starts to give way to night we sneak in one final flight off the summit, just as the clouds part. The sky erupts in golden splendor reflecting the beautiful autumn colors below. Cross Country (XC) flying is fun and all, but absolutely NOTHING compares to a high mountain flight in the smooth evening air. No adrenaline, no rush, no miles, lines, or expectations; just a heavenly beauty and divine feeling in the soul that cannot be replicated with ones feet on the ground. Folding our gliders in the grass under the dancing purple sky, a few of us recognized what just happened and couldn’t wipe the smile off our faces. That 30 minute flight was hands down one of the most spectacular flights I have perhaps EVER had in my flying career……and believe me, I have had a few.
How smooth was that mountain air? Smooth…butter smooth. Now if I can just find somewhere in town that will sell me a grilled cheese.
I watch the lightning flash across the blackened sky once again as the thunder rattles between the canyon walls. It is a scene that is the daily norm around here as it has been raining now for over three weeks. I do not mean the occasional afternoon thundershower….I mean rain! It feels more like the Pacific Northwest these days rather than the high desert mountains of Utah. Normally, the Wasatch mountains are just releasing their snowy clutches offering us the first bigger XC flights of the year. Not so this year…those flights actually happened months ago! Up until the last three weeks the weather, and equally the flying, has been out of this world amazing. So, I guess I am not too surprised at the sudden onslaught of bad weather. I knew the day of reckoning would eventually come, but it does not make it any easier as I stare out the window and watch the light flash across the sky.
Before the memories of winter completely fade from my aging mind, I want to summarize a few quick thoughts looking back. Winter along the Wasatch just never showed up this year. The lack of snow made for horrific ski conditions in our mountains, but it created an “Endless Summer” mentality for a few of us pilots not afraid to do a little hiking. I kept waiting for the cold, calm air to show up, but it never really did. Every flight seemed to reveal some type of bubbling air with just enough energy to let me fly somewhere else. I am reminded of the many flights above Mt. Olympus and above the summit of Grandeur Peak looking down and realizing it was December, January, or February. I remember flying alongside a friends as we pushed onward across the entire Wellsville Mountain range in northern Utah under clear February skies. I remember circling alone high above snow covered Box Elder peak looking down into the dark shadows of American Fork; or flying along the upper faces of Lone Peak, listening to the melting water cascade over the granite rocks just feet below. I remember several days so far this year above the familiar terrain near Twin Peaks, or flying into the upper reaches of Bells Canyon. I remember flying side by side friends as they realized some of their own goals, and watching the smiles on their faces expand alongside my own. This year so far has produced some great flights, great adventures, and great smiles and with it a plethora of memories I do not wish to lose.
The consequences of all this rain, and lack of flying has offered a chance to sit back, reflect, finish a few projects, and thus plot a few more. As I reflect, I realize I have not actually written anything of substance in awhile, not due to a lack of adventures, just a conscious effort to fly a little more quietly these days. Honestly, I wanted to push expectations aside for a season and refocus on flying my own way, for my own reasons. The results have been refreshing and I am excited once again to push forward towards my own vision of flying, my own goals, expectations and adventures. With my eyes now squarely set on a few new “projects”, it is going to be an exciting year!