Flying with eagles
Will Gadd, the world paragliding distance record holder, was in Whitehorse two weeks ago.
The weather lined up for only one good day of thermal flying while he was here.
During it, Will managed to fly 53 kilometres, beating my former Yukon distance record by one kilometre.
There is no doubt in my mind that this sky god could fly much further on a “perfect” day, but he was not here on June 25th.
Instead, it was me and three other local pilots out at Mt. Skookum.
I launched at 1:30 p.m. My flight started slowly as it took me half-an-hour to work my way up to cloudbase, which was at 2,600metres.
The scenery was mind-blowing as I could look out at the snow-capped coastal mountains one way, Lake Bennett the other, and Whitehorse behind me.
But, now that I was at cloudbase it was not time to lollygag and take in the scenery.
It was time to chase the clouds.
There was a cloud at the far end of the mountain ridge and I aimed at it.
Although I travelled at full speed, I missed reaching it and sank below the ridge. I crossed a narrow valley to another ridge and managed to stay aloft, which was important to me because the landing options were terrible and would require a substantial hike, provided I wasn’t severely injured while landing.
After 30 minutes, I got high enough to fly out to the valley to check out better landing options.
I was low for where I needed to go, but then I caught a big thermal.
I was at cloudbase in a few minutes and then the day started to take off. There were cloud streets everywhere.
While flying big distances usually means flying downwind, there were no roads downwind.
Much of the day was spent flying cross-wind. But, I was able to link up my clouds for almost 15 kilometres.
Cruising at cloudbase is like cruising Cloud Nine. It means you are on top of your game and life doesn’t get any better. The wind is in your face, the wing above your head, and you are a bird.
The cloud street ended and I lost some altitude. While I dropped in to say hello to a flock of sheep on a mountain ledge down the Wheaton Valley, it wasn’t long before I hit the “big one.”
I found myself in a rocketing
thermal, taking me to cloudbase at almost 10.5 metres per second.
It was the fastest lift I had ever been in and I was at cloudbase in less than a minute.
Cloudbase was now more than 2,800 metres. I surfed the bottom of an elongated cloud and then flew over Annie Lake to explore the mountain on the other side.
I flew past a cave and a sheep looked out to say hello.
I then soared with a bald eagle for a few minutes. For a change, I was the first to find the thermal; the eagle was a yearling and I felt like we were teaching each other how to fly as neither one of us was flying more efficiently than the other.
Flying with eagles has become a regular treat for me in the Yukon and I will never tire of it.
While I gained little height with my flying partner, I left the ridge high and was lucky enough to catch another rocket out in the valley and was soon back at cloudbase.
Soon I was flying over the Annie Lake Golf Course and chasing the clouds towards Mt. Lorne. But, I got low before I reached the cloud street.
For a couple minutes it looked as though I was going to bail in the trees or an outer lying meadow.
Nature saved my ass and soon I was again at cloudbase. But, now what?
The wind was much stronger now and wanted to blow me west, towards Grey Mountain and into the middle of nowhere.
This direction would smash the distance record, but was only good if my best friend were a helicopter pilot and I didn’t have to fly past the airport on the way.
The problem is I don’t know any helicopter pilots in Whitehorse. The choice of a multi-day wilderness hike with a 20-kilogram pack, no bear spray, and one bagel was not one I cherished. I chose to fly into wind and passed the Marsh Lake Bridge.
The strong wind prevented me from reaching a reasonable landing zone.
Almost four hours after I launched, I found myself making an emergency landing on the highway. The traffic was nice enough to slow down on my final approach.
The new record? It was 60 kilometres, a Yukon paragliding epic!
I want to thank my good friend, and fellow pilot, Eric Simanis who chased me and made sure I was safe.