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Author: Jeff Shapiro Created: 5/13/2009 2:59 PM
Jeff Shapiro is a renaissance man who's spent quite a bit of his existence at height. Jeff learned to fly hang gliders at 17 and he's been flying for 17. He's a falconer who trains raptors to hunt the mountains near his Montana home. He's climbed at or near the hardest ratings on rock, ice, and mixed terrain with many first ascents and repeats of routes in the Alaska Range, Glacier Park, and Yosemite.

After an epic day of strong lift and attempting to learn the area a bit yesterday, Jeff and I woke up early this morning (knowing that it was supposed to blow 26 knots) with hopes that we might sneak up for an South Side esque session from Monte Cucco. We recorded some video on the HD Hero cam and will try to compile a short for a post soon.

After the flight, we hooked up with Belinda and drove across the country side to the historical village of Gubbio.

The hills above town were already occupied in the bronze age. It was the place where the Eugubine bronze tablets were found that constitute the largest surviving text of ancient Umbrian. After it's Roman conquest in the 2nd century BC, it remained important, evident by it's large Roman theater (apparently the 2nd largest surviving today). It was an amazing experience to walk through it's alleys and streets (for lack of a better term) where people walked previously for thousands of years.

There are images of St. Francis and the Wolf throughout the village. The story goes that the Wolf was causing problems by eating the town's people and their animals at it's gates until St. Francis came and walked to the gate. As he approached, the wolf charged. He put out his hands and made the sign of the cross and the wolf slowed and laid his head in his hands. St. Francis told the wolf that if he stopped eating the town's people and their animals, they would feed him and a truce was solidified as was the story within the area's history.

Deep history and the beauty of the country side made for a ambient place to have lunch and cappucino while listening to the bells ring and the wind blow. We are so lucky to have the privilege to do what we do.

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We have been cranking on harnesses and the last two days (and nights) have been especially productive so when I took a coffee break at noon today and saw cu's popping high over Mt Sentinel, I couldn't resist heading up the hill for a bit of a fly.

Met up with Karl, Chris and Brian encouraged by a sky that was looking organized. Wind direction and velocity was on to possibly allow for an adventure up one of the canyons over the back.

I launched first and scratched around the hill trying to survive the shade cycles until it turned on. I don't think I was encouraging to the other guys as I was above and below launch for the first 30 mins or so.

Karl and Chris launched and it snapped on pretty quick. Chris and I hooked into one that took us over the peak behind Sentinel just over 13,000'. We had a decision to make. Clark Fork or Patomic? In the end, we chose the Clark Fork and Karl (with Brian behind) went up the Patomic Valley. The clouds looked good ether way and with no driver (planned to hitch back to town), it didn't really matter at this point. I must have saved a kitten in a past life or something because karma kicked in as two local pilots showed up on the radio and offered to chase us. Thanks guys!!

Chris and I ended up flying together until out of the mountains and into the flats but the clouds dried up with the end of the range and I knew flying out into the blue was the beginning of the end. We ended up landing about 10 miles apart for a memorable 80k flight. Not huge distance but miles in Western Montana are hard fought and I enjoyed the going with Chris. Turned out to be a nice coffee break.

Now, back to work.

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It's been a crazy month. After losing a good friend in a back country skiing accident (more later), I've been trying to appreciate and to be present for every moment of every day. I've been flying as much as possible, running daily to train for an ultrathon that I signed up to do in the Fall and sewing like a mad man to get as many customer harnesses done before I leave for Italy as is possible. The balance has been complete by being able to work at home where quiet family time happens throughout portions of every day.

I took a short break to run down for a flight at King where Seth Warren stopped to collect footage for his sequel to his award winning KAVU, KEEN, Cliffbar film "Nature Propelled". Unfortunately, although it was looking good at 9am, by 11 the sky turned black and we drove through rain and lightning all the way back to Montana. Either way, it was just nice to be back down there. The Lost River Range is a special place.

I arrived home just in time to take advantage of some scratchy local conditions and was able to squeak out a couple of fun XC flights. A visiting pilot from AZ "Andy" was cool enough to drive for me one day and picked me up in the early evening in this beautiful field. Thanks Andy!

Been sewing ever since. The new harnesses are coming together really clean. I feel like the process of building them (although still very custom) has become refined and the results are tangibly improved. I'm really proud of how they're turning out and look forward to seeing the pilots I'm bringing them to (in Italy) flying in the mountains in their new Coverts.

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Photo of the "Lady of the Rockies"- Don Lepinsky

Yesterday, I traveled with Karl over to the East Ridge site. It overlooks Butte, Montana and I was stoked because this would be the first time I was to fly "the Lady". The ridge line that the launch ramp is on is the home of a large statue of Mother Mary. Kind of reminds me of the Christ in Rio.

Don climbing in front of "The Lady"

Launch is at just barely under 8,000' and has a 12 mile jump over road less, tree covered mountains to get over the back. Once this is done however, the flight travels over beautiful valleys and several other rugged mountain ranges with lots of landing options and big skies.


Don getting up over Elk Park

about half way across the first jump

Don getting to the first of the landing options and a beautiful Delmo Lake

It was a strange day with east winds on the ground, north cycles on launch, south winds in the valleys and almost straight west above 11,000'. The thermals started out quite turbulent but after getting 20 or 30 miles over the back, they smoothed out and the only reason to not be relaxed was the extremely low temps above 12,000'. Base was around 13,500 and it felt like it was about 10F up there. My fingers have still not completely thawed;-) I ended up landing 97 ks out, just shy of Bozeman, right next to I-90. It was a fun flight capped by Karl being right below me in the truck when I had to land, making the retrieve pretty brainless. Nothing like having a H-5 pilot chasing. Thanks Karl.

across the Bulls & heading for the Bozeman Valley

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I took a break today from building all of the components that go into the Covert to take advantage of a slight improvement of the weather. It has been cold and raining every day since we returned from California and when the sky broke open today, the mountain was calling.

Karl Hallman

I called Karl and even though it was blowing pretty hard and in a tough direction for our local site, we were both pretty keen. It was great to meet up with Karl, throw on and head up the hill efficiently. Karl is a very experienced mountain pilot and I always appreciate flying with him. No issues, no worries, no drama.....just free flying with a good friend and a good pilot.

climbing out over Sentinel's launch

We arrived on top less than 45 mins after I left my house and decided to set up. It was blowing pretty hard at times but we both felt it would be acceptable. The direction had changed to be more favorable and it was looking like we might get high. I put on extra clothes (which would prove to be barely enough;-)

looking down the Bitterroot Valley

A one or two step launch and we found the wind had smoothed out the thermals. We went up immediately to 9k' over Missoula in nice thermals. The thermals had enough "meat" to them to block a lot of the wind which kept the drift reasonable. It was blowing 22-25 up high and we raced around for 1.5hrs until the sky started to look threatening. We had to land in a Southwest which is sporty here. The turbulence coming into the field caused me to focus but in the end we both ended up laughing and super happy that we had the fortune to have the flight work out as well as it had. It was improbable but sometimes, those end up being the best ones.

looking east toward our standard XC route, up the infamous Patomic Valley

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Kara and I drove down to Wills Wing toward the end of last week to get a large supply of harness components cut. It is great to continue the learning process and I must say, after cutting several harnesses by hand, operating the cutter and being mesmerized by how fast and accurate it accomplishes the same task that takes me 20 times longer is a good start to getting new harnesses to pilots efficiently.

It was, as always, great to see the whole crew and although OB had to make it a quick trip, Zippy and Erin drove down for a flight on Saturday. The skies above Marshall and Crestline were full of clouds with reliable lift everywhere. Late in the flight, Jonny D and Craig showed up to test fly a couple of Lightspeeds. Always a better trip when I get to see those guys.

Kara and I stopped by the LZ on the way out of town and I got to squeak another quick flight in before the long drive back to Montucky. Bummer was that I didn't have a camera with me because as the clouds built into the evening, the wind picked up and I was able to soar up in front of the cloud line and get above base. It was beautiful looking back at dark mountains under a sun lit cloud bank. Being above cloud base in a hang glider always feels pretty special.

Back to work;-) I should have some harnesses, etc. to post on soon.

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Big weekend here in Missoula for the Nature Propelled tour. As some might know, Nature propelled is a movie that was made by Seth Warren, with the support of great companies like KAVU, KEEN and Cliffbar to promote alternative energy by following the complete cycle of water as it flows from the ocean to the clouds, to the mountains in the form of snow and rain, into the rivers and tributaries after melting and eventually, back to the ocean. Along the way, he filmed athletes enjoying their passion in each of those elements and Jeff and I were lucky enough to participate in the "clouds" portion by flying and filming in our gliders.
The tour is a beginning of the next project to promote outdoor wilderness access. It's great to have guys like Seth and companies like KAVU, KEEN and Cliffbar fighting for us all to have the opportunity to share our planet with our kids and to do it in clean oceans and skies.

Local fest is a huge annual event in Missoula with thousands of people coming down to a large outdoor venue in the middle of town. There was a kayak competition (rodeo) going on at the man made wave in the Clark fork river that happens to run through down town Missoula and is basically connected to the park where the party was happening. KAVU, KEEN and cliffbar, along with several local venders, had booths set up. There was live music and good food galore. It was great to see all the folks involved with each of the companies. Kara and I were lucky to have Shawn Carkonen (from KAVU) and his beautiful family stay at the house while they were in town. Previously, we had talked about maybe doing a tandem some day and on their last morning here, we were finally able to get off the hill together. He mentioned that it was like a dream (the one we all live for;-) and was smiling from the time we left the ground until he and his wife and two kiddos hit the road. It's always great to see the faces of tandem passengers after a good flight. Really hits home how lucky we are to get to do what we do.

Good times. Stay tuned for the next film and for the tour to come to an area near you. If it does, head down and say hey to the folks out there fighting the good fight.

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Upon return from the Florida comps, my first order of business was to finalize the transformation of the ground floor of my house into a work space adequate for building production harnesses. I have been unable to roll out bolts of fabric on my sewing table because of the spacing between the machines and lights. With fairly large (or more accurately long) patterns, this has always been a pain and time drain.

We have one more "guest room" attached to the sewing shop down stairs that until now had been filled with boxes and furniture from the rest of the space now occupied by sewing equipment, material and hardware. My first job was to empty it out and to build a table dedicated for tracing and cutting along with some storage to keep the various harness components off the ground.

Now that it's done, finally getting customer orders organized to figure out who the first run will be built for is pretty exciting. I am going to try to work out a few loose ends today after teaching a quick lesson at the training hill and should be ready to start by finishing Zippy's harness. Here we go;-)

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If anyone has been following, OB, Dustin, Zippy and I (along with pilots and friends from all over the world) are here in Florida competing in the Rob Kells Memorial comp at the Florida Ridge and the Flytec Race and Rally, which will attempt to cover the distance between southern Florida and northern Georgia. We just finished up the Kells comp and started the Rally today.
There was a storm front on the horizon when we woke up this morning and I think most were not convinced that we were actually going to get to fly a task. By noon, we realized that, although it was far from ideal flying conditions, it was safe and we tried to complete a short run north(about 68k's I think) to Lake Okachobee.
It was gray with cumulus clouds popping low under a layer of alto cumulus making it feel kind of dark. The wind was fairly strong up high and the lift was topping out at only around 3,000'. This created a small margin for error for pilots trying to stay in the air.
I got a nice tow but had trouble not getting blown out of the start circle. I, along with others, took a late start blowing down wind (actually it was crossing from the left) low, hoping that we would find usable lift down coarse a bit. After a couple of weak and broken climbs, I found myself low enough to start thinking about the swamp and unlandable terrain drifting fast under me. I flew, groveling in uncohesive lift for another 5 or so killometers before having to land on the only dry patch of ground under me.
It's funny, it's such an illusion how close you think you are to a road from the air in the last moments of a flight. I have had this same experience in the desert where, I think I'm landing right next to a road only to find a 30 minute walk to get to it. Today was one of those days.....but with some adventure.
The grass that I thought was surrounding the "mound" I landed on was actually shin deep swamp. I resigned to the warm, sulfer smelling swamp water saturating my flying shoes while walking out with my harness. The water started getting deeper until I was leaning forward in waist deep swamp just to keep the bottom of my harness bag out of the water. I got about half way across the 100' of deep and was startled by a violent splash 30 yards to my left. I had been so pissed off about landing and having to trudge through a purulent swamp that I didn't realize I was walking though the home of an eight to ten foot aligator.
I have had this feeling before when I saw a mountain lion while bow hunting in the mountains of Montana and it's a stark realization that we as humans are, at times, far from the top of the food chain. Lukily, this monster was likely more scared of me than I of it and instead of submerging to hide from me (which would be normal I think), it ran into a shallow and laid there with most of it's back exposed and it's head pointed away from me (although I could tell he had an eye on me;-)
I tried to calmly walk through the deepest part, eyes plastered to the gator, and cleared the area, laughing at what had just happened. Then, realizing that I had to go back to get my glider, I stopped laughing. How was I going to shoulder my wing and cross this spot with this monster hanging out? Maybe he wouldn't be so tolerant next time. I dropped my harness by the highway and committed. Luckily, when I got back to the same spot (this was a mandatory crossing by the way), the gator was still in the same spot. I figured that as long as I could see it, I would carefully attempt the crossing. If it was gone, I would assume it was under water and try to figure out another plan.
It didn't move on the way across but looked nervous when I picked up my glider which was only about 20 or so yards from where it was now laying. I carefully and slowly walked around to the same place I had crossed before. I must admit, when I was half way across with a 70 lb glider on my shoulder, standing in waist deep water with mud and swamp grass sucking my feet into the bottom, I was scared like a little girl as the gator started to move. Fortunately, it stopped with it's side facing me and I continued until I was clear of the deep water. Relieved, I started to laugh again but it was now different. There are not too many days in my life that I have flown a hang glider in cloudy, windy skies to land with an alligator. I've landed with Emu, Camels and some big, mean looking bulls but never a large reptile like this one. Pretty wild day. Certainly, a flight I will remember;-)
So, tomorrow's another day. Hopefully, the front will pass and we will get another chance to race hard and another chance for me to make up some lost ground after my short flight today. Maybe I can even stay off the menu for the locals;-)

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After almost a year of work, I finally got to fly one of the new WW harnesses. I can't explain how satisfying it was to pin off and zip up for the first time on a nice Florida day after so much work. Fillipo (from the Italian gold medal team) was here and it was such a pleasure to race around on a new sail, in my new harness with him and the others here at Quest.

This project has been so rewarding in so many ways. It has been a true collaboration with some of the people that I have the most respect for in this industry and sport. Objectively and unarguably, Steve Pearson is one of the most experienced and successful designers of hang gliders and hang gliding equipment in the history of our sport. Many don't know but he was the first to do many things relating to harnesses (first cocoon in production, first side mount parachute, etc.) and it's been not just helpful but absolutely necessary for success to have him working with me on this project. Steve and I (along with input from Dustin, Mike and Jeff) came up with what we thought was a good shape as a starting point. Over the months of development, Steve was patient enough to help me understand pattern development, teach me how to use the latest in 3d shapes CAD software and help me to develop some skills necessary to change the patterns to adjust for fit. His experience and expertise were also required to translating what we wanted for components into tangible parts by using the CNC machine and other resources at WW to make our designs reality. Without his involvement, it would have taken me 5-10 years to get to the same place in shape and pattern and it would have been impossible to achieve the same level of component design involved with this harness.

Dustin has been equally important in the product that pilots will receive. For pilots that know him, most are familiar with his scrutiny and "Drag Nazi" tendencies. Believe me when I say, his critical opinion was, and continues to be, necessary to produce what I think people want in a clean comp harness. His motivation to make the best back plate in the world is astounding. He has been working 15 hour days to come up with a lay up and process to achieve the strongest and most durable result possible. He is using ski core technology and believe me when I say, you can stand on top of his back plate and jump up and down on it without it so much as flexing. I am really looking forward to it's test results to be represented by hard numbers after Demo Days. I have a strong suspicion that it will exceed our expectations.

When I arrived at Wills Wing before the drive to Florida, Mike and I had a conversation that made me feel so incredibly lucky to have him support this venture as well. His experience and expertise in establishing industry safety standards for hang gliding have contributed to our sport over the years in a lasting and impacting way. When he mentioned that he wanted to come up with a series of tests and procedures to create a rigorous certification standard for harnesses based on testable structural results, my eyes lit up. I love the idea that we can create a quantifiable test of the structural limitations of the harnesses that we produce. With his level of understanding and execution, it will do nothing but drive the product design to the highest level. I can't wait to start the testing process.

As for my part, I am committed to producing harnesses for pilots needs that fit their expectations based on their flying styles and to the customer service that is helpful both for the customer (pilots) and to me to insure that the folks ordering harnesses get exactly what they want in fit and function. Essentially, the difference in race, comp and XC models will only differ in boot style and choice of options. The construction, attention to detail and overall look of the harness (and certainly customer service) will be vertually the same in most ways.

I have spent a lot of time researching textiles to achieve the balance of all that is required of the material in the place that it is used. For instance, the outer shell material has to be the blend of durability and abrasion resistance along with the correct amount of elasticity to achieve a skin tension that translates the least chance for wrinkles (even with a correct pattern). I feel that things like using a Polyether Polyurethane for the boot area (a thicker version of what is used to build white water rafts and is designed to bounce off rocks) is a huge improvemnt in durability over leather. Coming from a climbing back ground, it is extrememly important to me to balance the duriblity factor with the asthetics and function in a way that those of us passionate about hang gliding will appreciate. I am going to be flying this harness too and want to feel good about what I'm flying in as well as representing.

I wanted to basically say thanks to those involved. I will be taking in air photos to post as soon as the weather improves on Tuesday or Wednesday for pilots to get a better detailed look at the improvements made from the prototype Dustin was flying in the photos on the OZ report. We should be able to start taking orders and will have a sizing and ordering page up on the web site shortly after the Florida Comps are over. During the time between now and then will allow for us to accomplish the load testing and to make whatever necessary changes are required to finalize the harness and ready it for delivery to interested pilots.

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