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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.


Took the day off and advantage of a bright moon for an early start up into one of the alpine cirques in West Glacier Park. My friend, Justin Woods, lives in Whitefish so after work I threw my gear in the truck and drove up the west shore of Flathead lake to his couch. After catching up and racking our gear, we got a short 3 hrs of sleep before getting up and drinking coffee during the short drive to the trail head.

It got light just as we were getting close to lower Snyder lake. With the inversion on Lake McDonald and blue skies above, it was promising to be a nice day. Startling how quite it was and much colder at the upper lake. We skied to the center and jaw dropped at the ice lacing the walls. "Lookin good, eh? Yea dude, looks good."

Then...... The sun hit the mountain behind us and snow started to roll. We hymned and hawed for a long time while slowly cutting switchbacks up the slope toward the base of the wall. It's prime avalanche terrain and we were trying to be smart but wind slabs and propagating cracks had us concerned. About half way up, right as it starts to get steeper, we dug a pit and surprisingly, it was fairly well bonded and felt pretty safe so we continued. After taking the skis off and kicking steps the last 200', we stomped out a ledge and tied in.

Other than Justin taking a chunk of ice to the face when a good sized "dinner plate" came off while placing his tool, cutting the bridge of his nose and giving him a pretty good bell ringer, we had a really fun day on the North face of Edwards. I yelled down to him as he was cleaning a pitch, "how ya doin dude?". "Kinda concussed man" followed by a laugh that let me know he was still lovin it. Funny how many of us (that like to climb ice) have that scar across the bridge of the nose. When he arrived at the belay, it was agreed that we were lucky indeed. That place is always good training.... for something;-)

An adventurous ski out with a long section of our skin track (from earlier that morning) being covered by a good sized swath of avalanche debris was a good reminder of where we were. The GNP is a super special place and demands respect. Back to work

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Last week, I had the opportunity to drive out of the deep snow in Montana and road trip my way down to Big Sur, on the California coast. The coast line is super dramatic and you can't help but to recognize how special and unique that place is. Large rocks just off shore getting pounded by waves, turquoise water filled with kelp forests and mountains rising right out of the ocean covered in Spring green grass that's practically fluorescent. Just driving down the 1 and winding your way down that coast line is an experience.

The plan was to meet Dave Aldrich and his crew and try to film for his new free flight film "Dreaming Awake" while flying from the launch at Plaskett creek, south of Big Sur. He invited Dustin and Zippy as well and the intention was to get a Gyro mounted Cineflex camera, operated by Tom Miller of Blue Sky Aerials ( up on a helicopter piloted by Chris Gularte of Specialized Helicopters - ( to film some flying.

We also had a large variety of cameras for the gliders including some really cool, new camera gear from GoPro (3D) and one of the only 360 cams in existence. This thing is crazy, it's the size of a coconut and had HD lenses pointed in every direction. The idea is that with all lenses capturing images simultaneously, the editor can pan seamlessly in any direction he/she wants to give the viewer any perspective they want. It's as if the camera was smoothly able to turn in any direction to film it all. Pretty cool.

I wasn't sure I would be able to pull it off. The drive is pretty long from Missoula and the forecast was iffy. It was a huge gamble but it was agreed that the weather is always iffy at Big Sur and it' lucky to get a good flight there no matter what so if we were going to try to film there, we should go for it. Never know until you go, yea? Zippy and Dave were going. I called Dustin and he was in so I threw the glider on and made a pot of coffee.

The first day, Dave and our friend, Dusty Rhodes drove up the coast to just North of Monterrey to sort out the chopper while Dave's brother, Brad, Dustin, Zipp and I drove up to the lower launch. We set up and mounted cameras but it was classic Big Sur. Blue above with a thick fog/cloud bank from the start of land, far out to sea. We waited for the LZ to open and eventually, small holes started to form. We piled off one after the other during one of the small holes and had a nice flight and collected some good "on board" images.

Later, we headed up to the upper and main launch as the coast burned clear of any fog or clouds. We were set up and ready for the 4pm arrival of Dave in the helicopter but about 10 mins before they showed up, the clouds started to form quickly. In a matter of 15 mins, the land at the base of the mountain was completely covered and the clouds were spilling up into the draws, seeping up hill. We could no longer see the land and it was disheartening thinking we were quickly getting hosed. Not an issue when there is a chopper in radio contact, especially one with a hang glider pilot in it. Dave had the heli fly out to the edge of the clouds and they were able to tell us that the clouds were 500' off the ground and it was about a 45 degree glide from the far side of the clouds to the LZ. We got the green light and again, piled off together. I'm not sure it could have been any better or more lucky. A beautiful orographic feature in such a dramatic place with such high quality film gear to capture it. Zippy, Dustin and I were all laughing as we flew together out to the edge of the clouds, looping and spinning our way to land after passing from blue sky to thick overcast. The lighting was something that sticks out in my memory.

The Next day, the weather was blue most of the day. We had a decent tail wind when we got to launch but the heat of the day won with nice cycles pouring into the hill. I had a nice flight with a 3D camera mounted on my wing. I flew with Zippy who had the dangle mount hanging under him, filming straight up. A few close passes gave us the result we were after. We took turns looping over the coast line and landed in time to see Dustin spin into a low level loop that made me want to go flying.

Dave got to come up the hill to get some filming done himself and the helicopter was scheduled to show up at 5pm with hopes of getting the sun setting. We were going to try to go one at a time to record as much footage as possible with the stellar weather. For this flight, Zippy was loaded to the hilt with the 3D cam and off of a long nose boom, the 360 cam. His would be the first flight in a hang glider with the new camera. It looked like a disco ball hanging out in front of his glider with the battery and processor inside his sail. The latter is a box about the size of a large shoe box and weighed enough to choke a donkey. Dustin and I looked at each other wondering how the F*&% Zippy was going to get that glider off the hill. He was keen though and somehow, I wasn't that worried.

We all had really fun flights and after seeing some of the raw footage I was stoked to have made the drive, to say the least. Always a good time flying with those boys and the beauty of that place had very real impact on me. Feeling pretty lucky indeed. From what I've seen, Dave's film is really capturing the essence of our sport and will give the person that doesn't fly hang gliders a pretty accurate idea of what its like. Hopefully, it might get some people to step up to their dreams and give it a go. I'm stoked to be part of it and thankful for the opportunity to share what we love to do. He'll be compiling a new trailer soon and the movie itself should be released sometime in 2012. Check it out.

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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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