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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.

all photos courtesy of Dane Burns

A couple of weeks ago, I had the chance to head down to Salt Lake City to attend the Outdoor Retailer show at the Salt Palace. It's always a great opportunity to see the "newest latest" in gear and textiles that most of the major manufacturers in the outdoor industry are offering for the '11 year. It's impressive to see what was considered well designed gear improved. Makes me wonder what developments will happen next year.
The OR show is also an event that attracts many like minded people so it's not uncommon to run into friends that I haven't seen for up to 10+ years. Really cool to see old friends from times past and to catch up on the evolutions in our lives.
One of the best parts about being down there for me was the time I got to spend hanging with the KAVU crew and to catch up with the "boys" from KEEN. Super positive energy while looking toward the future was all about laughing it up and planning adventure. Pretty easy to be stoked around those guys. So psyched to be involved with both companies. First, they provide the clothes and shoes that keep things comfortable and casual during daily life, and, both are all about "giving back" and sharing the positivity with communities around the world. Their generosity has lent to the Cloudbase Foundation's effort to help the kids in Canoa, Ecuador. Proud to be linked to KEEN and KAVU, for sure.

Along with seeing old friends, I had the opportunity to meet some new people. I had heard about Bill Belcourt for years in both the flying and climbing circles. He heads the gear department at Black Diamond and has climbed rock and ice routes all over the world, some of which are routes that I would either love to try or have been lucky enough to have done. He is also a multi time US Paragliding world team member and is still killing it with huge flights in his home state of Utah. A true mountain pilot and climber, he also has a family with a young kiddo. We have so much in common that I was hoping to get a chance to meet Bill and to check out the Black Diamond booth while in Utah.

After meeting up, It worked out for Bill to take a day away from work and the family to go out and swing the tools on a road side route, just up the canyon from the house O'brien lived at while in Provo. I met him and his friend, Dane Burns, at the park and ride next to the Point and we drove up to climb the 5 pitches of ice on a route called "stairway to heaven". On the short walk in, he schooled me on the many ways to strategically convince your partner to allow you to lead the best pitches. In the end, it just stung him as my "nice guy" technique allowed me to get to lead the money pitches but, the truth is, he had done the route so many times in the past that he only allowed me to think I was playing it well. I felt like I lost by winning...or is it won by losing? Either way, I was stoked to be there, so it was winning regardless;-) It was the perfect thing to do before an 8 hour drive back to Missoula. The ice was in pretty good shape and the climbing was fun. After topping out, we rapped off, I thanked Bill and Dane for getting out and was on my way. It was a great end to a good trip.

I had 6 days to crank in the shop, sewing as much as I could before heading down to the WW factory in LA to meet up with Steve and Mike, Jeff, Dustin, Zippy and our good friend from the Italian team, Filippo to get him sorted with his new glider and harness. More on that later.

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Just finished a few harnesses that are on the way to pilots around the country. I have been working hard on the patterns, adjusting the chute zippers, changing the cut and improving the features. The purple and silver one is Greg Dinauer's and is a single chute version (note the two large "in flight accessible" pockets of the left side). The Red and white one is Miller Stroud's and is a two chute version. Neither has chute(s) mounted or drogues installed. When looking at the photos, keep in mind that the outer skin tension will improve dramatically with chutes and drogues in. I'm getting happier with the shape and feel strong about the functionality changes.

the screamer is not laying in the chute area in the above photo and creates the weird bump off the side of the back plate

I wanted to show the fit difference as well. Greg's is really close to what I would build myself and Miller's is 4" larger in circumference and 1.5" longer. I am trying to make a shape that will look good even if it's way too big as some pilots prefer a looser fit. I'm swimming in the red and white one and just a bit tight in the purple one. Both would be easy enough to fly in for me so I'm encouraged. After all, the benefit of a custom harness is to get what you want in fit and shape.

With 2 chutes installed, the shell wrinkles will pull clean

I'm having so much fun building harnesses and dealing with interesting people. Although at times it can be daunting, I'm committed.

Have fun out there

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Therapy continued with a couple of days of climbing frozen waterfalls and melt freeze with Chris. Having substantial avalanche hazard in the alpine, we decided to head over the divide to Bozeman and into Hyalite canyon for some safe travel and the abundance of formed ice lines. We got to climb classic routes in interesting condition with the benefit of "camping" in hotels in town complete with hot food and good whiskey. Certainly better than getting poked in the eye with a stick.

my turn on "Airborn Ranger"

Chris topping out and then starting the last pitch of "AR"

Chris navigates the right side of "the Good Looking One"

"Good Looking One, proper"

"Bulldog World"

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With temps in the single digits at night, snow and ice have been getting progressively better and a fulfilling way to distract from no flying. Chris Gibisch and I got to take a break from work and spent a couple of days in the mountains making turns and swinging tools. The back country skiing has been fantastic in the Bitterroot so on day 1, we met up with a friend and went up behind the house, close to Lolo pass, for a few laps in the trees before waking up early the next day for a drive to Bozeman to climb. A couple of Hylite routes were reportedly in great shape and after doing what we came to do and rappels to the packs, we put our headlamps on and boot skied our way back down the trail to the truck, laughing and talking smack the whole way. Drove by full moon back to Missoula, arriving home last night at 11 pm. Good times, for sure.

With a priority shift in the last few years, It's been super fun reacquainting with climbing. Climbing allows the constant opportunity (just like flying) to be humbled, to feel small and to work on character. There is no faking. When racking up for a lead, you either do it or don't. Either way and for what ever reason, the decision has consequence and at the least, allows you to learn more about yourself. Limits are absolutely created and when those borders are defined and redefined, I learn that life isn't just what I make it, it's exactly what I make it. Just starting to feel the sea legs getting steadier and the motivation with Chris as a partner is high. Life is good and constantly getting better.

Chris firing Airborne Ranger

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The snow is dumping and the ice is forming here in Montana which spells no flying and the beginning of climbing season. I really enjoy sitting at the sewing machines, building harnesses for fellow pilots but it's nice to escape day dreams of thermalling in the sun to get the personal rewards that come from hard work in the mountains mixed in with some good old fashion suffering.

Climbing in the mountains here during winter is really special. There are absolutely no crowds and in fact, it's rare to see much of anyone after a long approach. There are lessons earned that sometimes take us to a place of understanding long forgotten, or in completely new ways because of the uncertainty of it. You don't know if the routes are formed or not, or, if a particular route is formed in a remotely similar way to what you have experienced in years past. Ice is dynamic. A moving crystal that creates a line of weakness to travel high on alpine walls which would otherwise repel us easily. Every year it's different and new. Climbing rock is fun but usually quite sequential, forcing you to do sometimes particular moves to efficiently navigate the route. Ice allows multiple lines and opens the chance to be creative and to use your imagination to discover what feels possible to you.

The flanks of Mt Edwards

Chris and I decided to go and have a look at the intimidating routes on the North Face of Mt Edwards in Glacier National Park. It was still fairly early season so we had realistic intentions and really just wanted to ski in to see what and how things were shaping up. Although, still early in terms of the "cold cycle" of our area, it was pretty late for any Grizzly bears to be out so we were a little apprehensive as we followed a big pigeon toed bastard into the circ. I kept wondering when it would turn off the trail but low and behold, we followed it for the 6 mile ski into the dead end circ we were planning to camp in. It was snowing and the claw holes were not filled in yet which meant, a couple hours max in front of us. It was pretty cool that he broke trail for us though because the further we got into the circ, the snow got pretty F*^&'n deep;-)

We ended up approaching the routes the following morning after hearing the unstable snow pack "whumphing" all night knowing that the avalanche hazard was most likely horrendous from a cold snap followed by a Chinook. After climbing 30% of the slope toward the wall, we dug a pit and confirmed that the slope was primed for wet slab avalanches so we clicked in and skied our way out.

After getting some more work done at home, my jones was far from satisfied so we post holed into the Mission mountains and climbed some local ice in full value conditions. Our friend Justin Woods met us at the trail head which made for lighter loads and a great "bro factor". Although it was not the adventure we look to find when climbing in the Park, it was really cool just to swing the tools and always great to climb with good friends.

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Been working hard to get this batch of harnesses out the door to psyched pilots and also working hard to continually refine and do my best to make improvements. Design is a process that keeps ideas and creativity a focus. Gotta keep up the fun factor, yea?

Apparently, wearing Matt Barkers "inner shell" on my head helps the process.

Took an afternoon off to go pull in one of the Bitteroot canyons. One of my friends from Alaska showed up with his wife, Anna, and their two kiddos, Alder and Oden. Alder came to the crag with us to keep the pup warm and scream out beta to her dad while he was climbing one of the cave routes. Snow is just starting to fall here. Ice is forming;-)

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What a mission! Yesterday, I had a great time taking a stiff look in the mirror of perspective. I love the combination of loosing time in thought while exercising. Running in the mountains is a form of meditation where I can formulate design solutions, introspect, visualize flying strategy or just try to have "no mind" and allow thoughts to free flow and come and go as time does.

One of my best and oldest friends, Jim Chase, has been distance running on and off most of his life. Over the years we have worked together, climbed together, hunted Elk with long bows in the mountains of Montana together, flown together (tandem) and ended up lucky enough that our kids now play together. He is soft spoken but has the fitness and toughness to make him one of the "hardest" dudes I know. He started running 50 milers in the mountains and inspired me to give it a go. Turns out that I loved training for a long event and felt the need to satisfy a curiosity so once again, it's off for an adventure with Jimmy Chase.

Just crossed the finish line after 9 hrs of running. Jimmy beat me in by about 30 mins. He's a beast

The course this year was different than the past 29 years of the Le Griz Ultrathon. Normally, it takes the Western shore which makes it mellow for a 50 because of the lack of elevation gain. Road construction on the Western shore caused this to be the first year that entrants would run the Eastern shore. That side of the lake turned out to be quite hilly with an ass kicker up into the woods at mile 40. I felt great until mile 22, felt like shit from 25-35 and then thought I was getting a second wind, finding a good rhythm. At mile 40, we turned a switchback and started up hill for what seemed like forever. I was able to recover on the way back down the pass but when I got to the finish at mile 43, I was pretty worked. We ran past the finish, down through the traditional "bushwhack" (a 100 yrd push through the woods) to a paved road. From there, we had a little more than 3 miles to climb up pavement to the Hungry Horse Dam which we ran across and back to the finish. The concrete seemed to jar every muscle and bone in my tired body but in the end, I survived, no dramas.

Got to bring home a souvenir for my kiddo

It was a great experience and although I am hobbling around the house today, am already looking forward to another adventure in the mountains. There is still a lot to learn......always

The 50 mile mountain run pedicure. Wouldn't know the light without the dark;-)

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I returned from AZ ready to spend some time in the shop. First task was to finish up a batch of Covert comp harnesses for some good pilots and friends. Always cool for me to work on gear that, sooner than later, I will get to see in the air.

Here are a couple of shots of Katie O'Riordan launching and flying in her new Covert while at the British Nationals in Laragne, France.

One is going to Italy for my friend, Franco, 3 are going down under to the Aussie boys, Dave, Nick and Flocky and 2 to pilots Jonathan Deitch and Davis Straub here in the States.

We spent some late nights and had some shipping challenges to work through but all are on their way and look SWEET!!

Can't wait to hear how they feel about flying in them. Jonathan and Franco both got 1 chute versions and I put an O2 sheath in Jonathan's for those high, Owens and King Mountain adventures.

Started sewing on the next batch of harnesses which will include a couple of unique color combos that should look super sharp. I will post when they are cut.

Meanwhile, as the title of this post points out, even though I love what I do for a living, sometimes it's good to go kick my own arse just to remind me how good I really have it. I love to trail run into the mountains and sometimes loose all sense of time spending hours day dreaming about flying, climbing or design while ticking off the miles and getting far above Missoula. I have been quietly training for a long one that happens to be coming up. Next weekend, on the 9th, I am going to run the LeGriz Ultrathon close to Glacier park. The course is pretty mellow in relation to other 50 milers in the mountains and will take us along the scenic shoreline of Hungry Horse Reservoir through bear and goat country. Should be a good stress release, should be a good chance to learn more about myself but one thing is should be an ass kicker.

31 mile mark. Photo taken by Le Griz staff in 2002

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Day 5- It was even hotter in the paddock on the 5th day but the forecast was for that additional heat to help create stronger lift. I had a decent start with Zippy, Jonny and Craig. Carl and Ben were above and only sightly behind as we headed out on course. When we got to the first mountain about half way to the t-point, we found one of the sweetest climbs of the comp. It was a smooth 500 that felt coastal. Literally like butter. After climbing as high as we felt we needed to and gliding off, my feelings were confirmed by Dustin on the radio saying " that climb was UNBELIEVABLE!".

Task Committee hard at work- photo by Dave Aldrich

As we pushed through the t-point, Zippy, Dustin and I lead out but weren't finding anything. Dustin went one way and Zipp and I went another as we continued to get lower. Luckily, out in front we saw a field break off several small dust devils that soon turned into a house sized pipe of spinning dirt. I was a little worried because we were low enough that we would intersect it just at the top of the dust. I griped the bar tight and flew just down wind of it. I was a bit surprised to not only not feel turbulence but I didn't feel lift, not a bump. Zipp went one way and I went the other and fortunately found 500 that we both climbed in as the gaggle caught us from behind coming in much higher above us. It was a fight for position for the rest of the day and I was not where I wanted to be at the end of the task. Getting close to what should be final glide and I was lower and behind but I felt that my numbers were acceptable and snuck under and away from Jonny, Robin and Dustin as they were taking their last climb. I was definitely sweating it a bit as my numbers got worse for a portion of my final but in the end, I squeaked into goal and won the day.

On glide- photo by Dave Aldrich

Day 6- We had some big dustys roll through the launch line adding a bit of spice to the first part of the day.

Dustin coming out of the cart- photo by Dave Aldrich

Once in the air, it seemed to be a repeat of the conditions we had the previous day. It's funny, during a task it seems like so much can happen and this task was no let down. I got low at the first t-point and HAD to take a climb without getting the t-point. Even though I was less that 2ks from it, I was so low that I was worried I would land if I didn't climb. Unfortunately, the entire gaggle had already tagged it and to make matters worse, the thermal drifted us away from the t-point. I had to leave the climb early to tag the cylinder and drive on course to find some lift. I hear on the radio that Zipp had gone down and I knew it was going to be a little sporty on this leg.

Zippy getting a pull from Greg and his trike- photo by Dave Aldrich

I climbed with Davis for a while and then dove down course line when I saw dust devils busting out of a field out ahead. It was a repeat of the day before and again I was rewarded with a good climb, this time 700fpm, which got me back in the game catching up with the lead gaggle. We turned the next t-point and while on our way back over the resort, it became painfully obvious a gear switch was necessary. Lift went from 4-500fpm to 50fpm and we all struggled to stay in the air. Dustin called that he was getting a stellar line toward the last t-point and I left with less than marginal numbers. I was hoping to get one more climb. Turns out, I didn't hit a bump and with most of the group, landed just inside a couple of miles from goal. Joe Bostik won the day on his T2C with Dustin getting in 2nd. Craig, Carl and Robin were the only others to make it in.

It was a privilege to have a crew of pro's out to film the comp. Zippy's a super star

Last day- I knew I needed a good finish for the day to have any hope of moving up in the standings. It turned into a really good race day which is a good thing because Zippy, Craig and I all found ourselves in a horrible position, leaving the start cylinder almost 12 minutes after the last start. The saving grace was that the first leg was slow and difficult, causing some to land and allowing us to catch up pretty quickly. We ended up catching the lead gaggle when, in the latter half of the course, we all climbed to almost 11,000'. I saw Jonny and a couple others go on final but I was still lower than the gaggle and thought I needed a bit more height. As I climbed, I watched their line and saw that they were getting a killer glide so I left early, taking a risk, sneaking off onto final. The air was indeed buoyant and I got between a 12 and 20:1 most of the way. It was super fun standing on it as fast as I could fly for the last couple of miles, finishing with a strafe of the folks hanging out on top of the resort roof. Turned out that Larry and Robin had both landed short (which was a shame because both had flown consistently well during the comp). This made my 4th place finish for the day just enough to move into 4th overall. Now all that was left was to clean up and party down.
Overall, we flew 7 out of 7 days and had racy conditions for all but 2 of the days. Santa Cruz Flats was run with professionalism and efficiency and I highly recommend it as one not to miss, whether your open class or sport class. Thanks to all who made it possible.

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Unfortunately, neither Zippy, Dustin nor I have taken any photos but I wanted to give a quick update of the first 3 days of the comp. We've been either flying, sweating or sweating while flying in the 100+ degree heat. Other than the hot sun, this place is once again about as easy going a venue for a hang gliding contest as I have ever been to and we are loving it.

Day one was a mix of surviving the shade cycles and occasionally running into a decent climb, although slow, in the sun. Dustin and I hooked up and worked well together with Glen Volk, Davis and Eduardo Olivera (sp?) and a few others on the way to the second t-point but through the mix of soft conditions and a blue sky we slowly became a smaller and smaller group. My day ended when I failed to recognize that I shouldn't dive into the t-point low in the shade, imagine that. Dustin knows the area and stopped behind me while Glen and I rounded the cylinder only to glide our last 1200' to the ground. Disappointing but it was a tough day and as we say, "it is what it is".

Day two was another stable blue day and was quite "social" at the start. Everyone was obviously wanting to stay together as the lift was far from strong and spaced far apart. We took a few long glides and finally found a climb that turned into 400 fpm. I thought that the day was finally turning on a bit and when we topped out, Dustin came over the radio and asked if I wanted to push out. There was nothing left to do and it felt like the right call so we went, along with Eduardo and a couple of others. Zippy was out in front and was low looking for a way to stay off the ground. When we were passing him, he still had not found anything and was flying back up wind to look so we pressed on over a very green area through the t-point. The air felt so smooth and I got that pit in my stomach, feeling that we were starting a death glide. All three of us spread out, looking hard for birds or any sign of lift until one by one, we made a single turn up wind and landed.

Later, about half the field landed with or around us while the other half flew over our heads (including Zippy who had found a good climb from low). Again, pretty frustrating but I'm really not sure what I would have done differently.

Day 3, we staged out at the tow paddock in hot sun and stable looking conditions. No one was rushing to get in the tow line to say the least. We all watched a few pilots circle for over an hour at a height anywhere from 300 to 1200' which further delayed an already skeptical group. Finally it seemed like Dustin (who had been one of the guys up the longest) was getting up and I laid down in the cart to launch just as the first start clock was ticking over. When I got off tow and started to climb, it was better than I thought and the day just got better and better.

We had a good start and traveled together as a group for a few glides until the field started to stretch out. Zippy and I were with a good group of pilots that included Jonny, Craig, Robin Hamilton, Glen, Larry Bunner (who has been flying his WW T2C in outstanding form) and a few others. We made a pretty good run to the first t-point and continued on a long glide over some small mountains/hills with a lot of tiger country below. It looked easy enough to be able to land but it seemed it would have been a nightmare retrieve making us extra motivated to not go down. We found a few good climbs luckily and as we got closer to goal, started to jockey for position, all looking for that last good climb to get us in quick. Craig found a climb on the way to a dust devil and I joined him a little lower. It was a good find as Larry and the others had shaded into the mountains and were climbing already. If Craig wouldn't have found it when he did, they probably would have beat us in. It turned into a race with Craig in front being chased by Zippy and me. We got closer to him but he was able to blaze across the goal line first with us right behind him. There was about 12 or so guys in goal. All that was left to do was to party for Russel Browns birthday.
Happy birthday Russel.

Today (Day 4), the forecast called for better conditions and it proved to be correct. The task committee sent us on a 51 mile "box" that would bring us back to a goal at the resort. After finding good lift around the tow paddock and in the start circle, we took the 3rd clock in decent position. After a long glide and a few slow, weak climbs, it seemed that the day wasn't as good as we thought. We were all low about a 3rd of the way to the second t-point. I watched several pilots land while we were working broken lift trying to stay off the ground. After finally climbing out, Robin Hamilton, Jonny, Craig and a few others caught us from the last start clock. I knew we were screwed and could only try to minimize the damage as there was little to no chance that we would make up the 20 minutes that they had gained by catching us. The slow leg hurt but the day was turning on in a huge way and the flying was really fun. Dustin and I flew as fast as we could toward a dust devil that was the size of our hotel. As Zippy and others came in above us, we all climbed out at 800 fpm to over 9000'.

We continued on to the next t-point and took another strong climb to around 10,000' before our numbers showed we could most likely make it to goal which was still over 20k's away. Some took the climb higher and, I must say, it was really nice being slightly cold for the first time this comp. We glided for a long way, through the next t-point and, with a cross wind component into goal, went for it. Zippy was the only glider in front of me but I was so focused on trying to pick a line that would get me in that I lost track of him. My numbers got slightly better only to get dramatically worse as I flew through massive sink. Luckily, I saw a long, stretched out gaggle of birds ahead and dolphin flew threw the lift they were in which made the L/D required become more encouraging. I ended up making goal a minute, give or take, behind Zach with Robin (who won the day), Jonny and Craig right behind. About 10 or 12 made it in and the benefit of goal being at the resort was in full effect. Get out of the harness, grab a beer and go jump in the pool. Got to love it here in Casa Grande.

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