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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.

Ahhh, Valle De Bravo.  What can I say about that place.  It's a free flight paradise, basically.

I was lucky enough to be invited to compete in this amazing venue by "the man", local, HG instructor and tandem pilot, Rudy Gotes.  I've always wanted to see and visit Valle based on the photos I'd seen and the reports of strong lift, consistently flyable conditions and what sounded like a super cool town.

My good friend, Patrick Kruse and I met in LA, flew to Mexico City and enjoyed a casual 3 hr drive to Valle.  We were again, super lucky to be offered a place to crash at Rudy's house, just 5 k's from town.  Un-shortpacking our gliders in the sun with paragliders soaring a site in the distance promised for a great trip.

The next day, we had a nice practice flight, getting a tour of the area from my good friend, Rodrigo, whom I've flown with all over the world.  It was cool to see him and while on the radio, he was generous with his knowledge of thermal triggers, convergence and terrain considerations.  That, coupled with our own impression made me feel pretty race ready.

Unfortunately for me, a car accident a couple weeks prior (with some neck trauma) and/or something I ate caused for some serious issues on the first comp day.  None of the common stomach issues were involved but, after around 3 hrs in the air,  intense conditions and good racing had me out in front and on my way to goal.  Getting low, I was feeling dizzy and very nauseated.  Unable to concentrate, I landed and proceeded, with a monster headache, to puke my guts out for the rest of that day and all night.  Most is still a blur but, I woke the next day around 3:30pm, having missed the second day of racing.  Needless to say, after waking up to perfect clouds and what looked like ideal conditions, I was disappointed to have missed it.

The next day, I flew and, even though I lost my lunch 3 times on route, I raced in to goal feeling much better.  The following two days (although one was stopped because of storms on course) were some of the best flying I've done in the last few years.  Strong lift, base at over 14,000' and courses that took us toward the snow capped Volcano that overlooks Toluca (where the Monarchs migrate).  So good!

The comp ended with a great party and lots of laughs.  I can't overemphasize how amazing the local Mexican pilots are.  These folks are some of the most accommodating and kind people on the planet, as well as being great pilots.  I can't wait to go back next season.  Sick or not, it was one of the best comps I've ever been to.  Media was present and the event was well organized.  The comp was run with professionalism and felt quite safe.  Retrieve was easy and with how this year went, I hope, and have a strong feeling that next year will be a much larger pilot list attending.  See you there!

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Dustin is again at the Shapiro Skunk Works and, is helping me get a list of new Coverts done (and out the door) before I fly out to Valle De Bravo for the Mexican Nationals.

Always great having him in the shop. We're at the machines for long hours making for long days but, when he's here, it's extremely motivating having another pilot/sewster to talk shit, discuss ideas, all while getting er done and getting pilots their harnesses for the upcoming season.

Knowing that we would be "pulling" day and night for a few weeks, I managed to sneak up to the shores of Seeley Lake for the annual Snow Joke 1/2 marathon just before Dustin flew in. It's a fun event where runners are encouraged to bring their dogs and join the typical 600+ participants to take a lap around the lake. The weather was interesting with heavy snow fall, temps hovering around 29 F and wind gusting to 25mph.  Perfect.  There was no lack of participation showing why I value the people in Montana.

Getting competitive with myself, I managed to shave 20 mins off my time from the last occasion I ran the Snow Joke although, I basically "blew up" with the finish line in site.  Limping my way across the line, still somehow, felt good.  Good times.

Stay tuned for harness photos and images from Valle

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Mt Grosvenor 6376m with "Black Wolves and Blue Poppies" marked

China was a unique and enriching experience.  It has definitely lit a fire within me to continue exploring new cultures, meeting interesting people along the way, and to try to allow my technical and mental limits to evolve while climbing in the mountains.

Starting our adventure to Asia

We began our trip in mid October knowing that the autumn, or post monsoon, was a good time to climb in the Daxue Shan.  The snow would be lean, the ice (hopefully) would be getting better every day and the temps would not be as bitter cold as later in the season.  The weather is always a roll of the dice on trips like this one but after researching the history and trends within the area, we were crossing our fingers for a few stable climbing "windows".

Our expedition consisted of 5 people total.  Chris Gibisch and I would be climbing together, and our good friend Bob Garrety would join us for the experience; trekking, and climbing on subsidiary peaks during our acclimatization period.  Bob is an amazing dude with super positive energy and an easy going attitude about everything.  Our group dynamic was as relaxed as it gets.

Gibisch striking "Blue Steel"


The Sichuan Mountaineering Association had created a regulation requiring all foreign expeditions to be accompanied by at least two Chinese speaking personnel.  This fairly new regulation came on the coat tails of the tragic loss of Jonny Copp, Wade Johnson and Micha Dash during their attempt of a new route on Mt Edgar (right behind the mountain we had a permit to attempt).  Because of this, our Liason Officer, Papaya, and our cook and base camp attendant, Mr. Jong became the fourth and fifth members of our group.

Mr. Jong

Papaya and Jong are employees of Sichuan Earth Expedition, a company owned by the well known Zhang brothers, Jiyue and Shaohong.  For more than 30 years, Jiyue and Shaohong have been helping climbers and trekkers get in an out of the mountains by arranging permits, transport and organizing local horses and/or porters.  In fact, Shaohong made his first big trip as a guide, cook and base camp attendant for our good friends, Gray and Eloise Thompson in '93 during Gray's expedition to complete the first ascent of Mt Lamoshe in a nearby range.

Dinner with Jiyue and Shaohong

Chris getting learnt on hot Sichuan food

The connection with Gray, coupled with learning that they were the same company Jonny, Wade and Micha had used for permits and as their L.O. (Shoahong and Jiyue were two of the first on the search for the missing climbers), I felt an immediate kinship with these two guys and knew our hassles would be minimal. Consummate professionals, their help and attitude toward our trip made it easy to become fast friends.

Beer, Sushi and Sake

Papaya, our L.O for the trip, was a 5'.2" "spit fire" that spoke fluent Japanese and English, on top of her native Chinese. Although she had taken many trekking trips with Japanese clients, this would be her first time on a climbing expedition and her longest trip in the mountains.  Her translation and negotiating skills made everything proceed smoothly, even when our bus driver decided to go "on strike" during the trip to the village of Laouyling.

Papaya with our 3rd bottle of Sake

Late in the drive from the Sichuan capital, Chengdu, to Laouyling, well after dark and after many hours of rough roads and crazy passes, our driver decided he was "over it".  He pulled off to the side of the road in Kangding (the "gate-way to Tibet") and started demanding more money.  It was comical that after 12 hours of driving, he wasn't going to take us another 20 minutes up the hill to our destination.

Kicked to the curb in Kangding

Papaya wasn't having it.  After a heated exchange with the driver, a "Chinese fire drill" to extract our gear out of the back seats of the bus was all we could do.  She was not about to be ordered to do anything by this guy and, after how good she had been to us already, we immediately gained additional respect for her.  She was all up on it.  Within minutes of the bus driver taking off, she had a rig on it's way to pick up Mr. Jong with our stuff and had us on our way to the village.


There we were met by Jiyue's long time friend, Doji, a Tibetan Buddhist who had provided horses and horseman to climbers and trekkers for the last 3 decades.  Doji and his family took us into their home and made us a delicious meal of traditional Tibetan food.  The hospitality floored us.  Yak butter tea and laughs had us thankful for the huge experience the previous 4 days had provided.


Doji's house at the foot of the mountains

Loading up the horses

A smoky room, complete with yak meat (hanging from the ceiling to dry),  Doji quietly repeating "Oṃ maṇi padme hūṃ" in front of a wood stove while counting each of his 108 beads, and our long travel had us all finally relaxing, feeling like we were starting to fit within the rhythm of this new world around us.

In the morning, we loaded up food, tents and gear for a month on Doji's horses and walked up a valley in the light rain toward towering giants we had yet to see.  The cloud level was low and it was early that we were above base and within it's blanketing white.  Rain gave way to light snow as we walked to the sound of the horseman's whistles past bridges of logs and prayer flags spanning a braided river. Stopping in a flat saddle of sorts, we made camp at around 11,500' just before dark.

Thanks boys!

Walking out of Doji's house to begin our approach

It was to be a two day trip to BC but when we woke to a foot of new snow and the news that half of the horses had make a break for home, it was decided that we would wait a day to see what the weather had in store.  The horses were rounded up and we took the day as an opportunity to deal with the dull headaches that altitude and an uncomfortable lack of coffee had caused.

arriving at intermediate BC

waking up the next morn

While loading up the horses for our second day of walking, we all took turns playing "blocker" to make sure that none could make a break for it.  One of the horses was charged with the task of carrying two large propane tanks, one of which had a valve that was apparently not completely tightened.  A loud hiss startled us as the horse ran at full speed with white propane gas spewing into the frigid air.  My amusement and shock turned into worry when I saw how much of our precious fuel was leaking while the horseman was running after the now VERY freaked out animal.  He managed to run it down and to twist the valve shut without too much damage done. Needless to say, when the last horse was loaded and we started uphill, all were relieved to again be making progress toward BC.

One of the toughest of the horse handlers

Following up to our home for the next month

As we were finally cresting the hanging valley that would be home for the next month, the clouds started to part and we had our first views of the mountains we had come for.  Right above camp were three beautiful peaks, E. Gongga (or mini Gongga), Jiazi Feng and Ri Wu Qie Feng (aka Mt Grosvenor).  Mt Grosvenor, at 6376m, was steep, pyramidal and proud.  It's West face looked "notably exciting".

Mini Gongga

Jiazi Feng

Mt Grosvenor

Keeping the yaks out of the tents made for good entertainment

We immediately went to work acclimatizing and establishing a high camp for the ability to sleep at altitude to prepare us further.  When a narrow weather window close to the half way point of our trip presented,  we jumped at our chance and were fortunate enough to climb a new route on the West face of Mt Grosvenor (3rd ascent of the peak) in 4 days round trip.

BC bouldering

First good weather spell spent acclimatizing

Bob at close to 18,000' on a subsidiary peak above BC

We had Chinese and Russian neighbors that kept our time in BC social. It's a Sichuan tradition to eat a group "hot pot" at least once a month. All of the traditional Sichuan food was amazing and very spicy but a hot pot is something that absolutely MUST be experienced.

Sichuan "Hot Pot". Like Fondu but with Chili oil

Eat it! What are you, Chicken?

Months earlier while doing research and looking at photos, we speculated at the possibility of the line we climbed but knew from experience that there was no way to tell from the photo whether or not it was possible.  We would have to get to the wall to find out.  I remember looking at the line as one of the biggest unclimbed routes on the face.  It looked potentially quite difficult and, honestly, I had very little expectation that this would be, in fact, something we would be able to attempt with any confidence toward success.  After the fact, I now feel privleged to not only have this line turn out to be possible but, to also climb it, well..... it felt like a XC flight where the next thermal was always there.

Chris climbing during the first day

Approaching base. We were a little higher than 20,000' here

Chris on steep ice close to the top of the face

climbing up toward the summit ridge line

Morning after 1st bivi.  It was nothing compared to the next night;-)

Our route was perspective changing, requiring us to dig into the deepest resources within.  Our second night on the face, close to the summit, was spent sitting on a small seats we had chopped in the ice, laughing and talking shit to keep us warm. Tethered tight to the wall, the altitude kicked our asses and the dry, cold wind howling off the Tibetan plateau was fierce but, on the up side, at least the stars were out.  I can't overemphasize how lucky we were to have this 2.5 day span of good weather.

Chris topping out

After summitting the next day, we raced a storm down the NE ridge.  Just as I threw a leg over the knife edge ridge to start rappelling down the east face, the fast moving storm overtook the mountain.  Timing couldn't have been better as Chris and I were almost immediately in the lee and able to rappel most of the day out of the wind.  We had to camp in 100k winds that night but at least we could lay down for the first time in 3 days. The tent poles almost broke but actually being in the tent was luxury.

View from the summit.  The mighty Gongga Shan (7556m) in the distance

We woke to sunny skies and strong wind, brewed up, and started the long journey back to BC.  800' of rappelling down the col between Jiazi and Grosvenor, down climbing through a couple of short ice falls and a purgatory of snow covered moraine found us stumbling back to our tents around 5pm.  Our route was over but the personal growth and re-defined perspective will last, burned into Chris and I both.

Finally arriving back at BC

Our time after the route was spent hiking, taking photos of future objectives and waiting for another window of weather that would never come.  I also had unfortunately cold damaged my toes and was having to be careful about not allowing them to get cold again. Actually, it was more likely a problem with circulation than cold I think.  Note to self, when climbing into a sitting bivi, COMPLETELY unlace your boots before stepping into the sleeping bag.  It was hard enough with my crampons off to hang on the anchor and get my sleeping bag up around me that I had forgotten to unlace the bottom section of my boots.  I think this was the main culprit to my numb and swollen toes (took over a month to come back).

partying down with the Russians post route

When time ran out, a quick 6 hour walk out to Doji's had us quickly driving to the hot springs in town. Soaking up the moment, reliving the experience and talk about future trips and routes, our trip had and continued to exceed our expectations.  For us, it was a profound trip which has, as I said, fueled a burning desire for more. The suffering is gone and only the way this trip has changed me remains. Chris and I are anxious for the next opportunity and it's because of our best attribute as an alpinists that the hard work and suffering to make it happen is gone.  Best attribute as an alpinist?  Easy..... a short memory;-)

Chilling back in Kangding. On our way home

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It was a huge disappointment to miss the Santa Cruz Flats comp this year. Kind of a dichotomy of feelings when the weather proved to provide the best year yet over the desert and agro lands of AZ. I was both bumming to miss racing with my friends in such stellar conditions and at the same time, really stoked for them while I enjoyed watching and reading the results and hearing the stories as they unfolded. Congrats to Jeff, Dustino and Mitch. Lights out flying boys. I'd certainly be lying if I said I wasn't proud that they were all in T2c's and Coverts. Well done representing guys;-)

Racking up


The reason behind my absence is that I was given a rare and exciting chance to go on an expedition to climb in the big mountains of Western China. Trying to balance quality time with the family, getting Coverts done for pilots around the world, training hard, tandems, teaching lessons and the endless logistics and bureaucratic red tape involved in a big trip to the Himalaya made it an obvious choice. I couldn't do both, nor could I pass up the opportunity to fulfill the dream to try for a first ascent in one of the Greater Ranges. I am really hopeful that we will find wide experience and personal growth that will help with a solid head space for the Spring Comps. After all, it's all about progress. We will be climbing in the Daxue Shan and have secured permits for two peaks of interest. I'm just hoping for reasonable conditions to allow us to get on a nice line and maybe even do something memorable.

10 new Coverts

Carsten Freidrich's new harness

Speaking of progress, while making the last batch of new harnesses, I patterned a new, bilateral pocket which runs down both thighs. They almost double a pilots ability to store bags and pads in a Covert. Also, with the two pockets packed up, the outer shell behind the chute(s) has a much cleaner look and better tension. I'm really encouraged with how nice it makes the shell look (on top of easing the pack job by a lot). You can now easily pack the harness bag on one side, most pads on the other and pack your glider bag in either the big bag behind your knees or in the hollow boot, leaving the other empty. I'm hopeful it will be a well received addition and improvement to the design.

New pocket zipper is just below the leg loops

Rolled up harness bag in the new storage compartment

I did manage to sneak up to Canada for a 3 day blaster to do a "warm up" climb in the alpine with Chris, my partner on the China trip. We climbed on Mt Andromeda, up a route called "Andromeda Strain". It was a great day in the mountains and cool to move light and fast up a beautiful line in the Rockies.

Flying hang gliders and climbing in the mountains is so inspiring to me. What I learn and how each experience becomes part of me helps shape my appreciation of work, family and friends. I feel so incredibly lucky to build harnesses for happy pilots, to fly WW hang gliders and to see the world in a way that allows for cultural perspective. If your at all interested, please stay tuned. I leave on the 11th of October and will be posting updates when we are back in Chengdu and out of the mountains.

Chris Gibisch

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Chute installation;

The purpose of this description is to detail the methods needed to properly install a parachute into your new Wills Wing Covert harness. Use the following description as a guide but if there are any questions regarding difficulty or specifics not covered below, please feel free to email me at

Your new harness comes with a deployment bag(s) that is specific to the deployment system designed for the Covert. It is a LARA style bag with an embroidered “paddle” sewn to the handle of the bag. Although your Covert comes with a LARA style bag, it can successfully be used with most if not all of the common chutes used for the sport of Hang Gliding.

The first step toward installing your chute properly is to remove the Covert deployment bag from your new harness and to transfer your parachute into that Covert specific D-bag. This is made easier by laying your Covert with the inside of the harness facing down and the harness opened up so the chute handles are facing the ceiling. The harness should be in this position during the entire installation process as this position allows for the outer shell material to be very loose and easy to manipulate (see photo below). Now, to pull the d-bag out of the harness, you first pull the handle and paddle away from the main harness body, separating the Velcro and clearing the paddle from it’s two triangular shaped captures. Next, use your fingers to separate the (3) zippers that close bombay doors to expose the area where your chute will eventually be installed. Finish by pulling free the Covert d-bag. Set it aside.

The next steps involve transferring your parachute into the Covert D-bag. Below is a series of photos documenting the process. It’s helpful to have 4 spare rubber bands on hand for the transfer process. The canopy of your parachute should be accordion in a width to fit by filling out the main compartment of the Covert D-bag as proportionately as possible. If done properly, the chute should be as flat and as wide as the bag allows.

This is a description of what is depicted in the photos above:
Start by removing the bridle from the rubber bands on the old D-bag. Replace with two of your spare rubber bands. This will begin to open your current D-bag allowing access to your canopy and shrouds. Next, remove the first shroud “butterfly” from their two rubber bands and replace with two of the free rubber bands you have on hand. This keeps the shrouds organized and makes it easier during the re-installation process. Now you have access to remove your canopy from the old d-bag’s main container and carefully place it back in to the main compartment on the LARA style COVERT D-bag. Next, remove the shroud bundle and swivel from the old D-bag and replace in the corresponding shroud pocket in the COVERT D-bag. Then, take the butterfly’d shrouds and secure the first cover flap by reattaching them to the bag with the rubber bands on the COVERT D-bag. Then, close the main closure flap by pulling the last two rubber bands through the grommets and securing the first fold of the bridle. Remember to remove the spare rubber bands that you placed to keep things organized during the transfer.

Now that you have your parachute transferred into the COVERT D-bag, you can begin securing the Parachute into the harness. The first step is to connect the chute to the harness structure by using an appropriate link to connect your chute’s bridle to the red “screamer”, or load limiter, that is securely sewn inside your new harness (behind your shoulders). With the chute door zippers open, reach up to the screamer connection and make sure, as it runs into the area where your chute will be stored, that it’s laying as flat as possible. Connect to your bridle with a 8mm Raptide link (or your preferred type of connection) to the 1” loop at the end of the screamer. Next, lay the screamer, with the bridle properly connected, inside the recessed section of the chute storage area (see photo). Organize your chute’s bridle by “butterfly” folding the bridle to fit inside that same recessed area. The goal is to make sure your bridle lies as flat as possible under your chute, and is organized so that in the event of a deployment, the bridle will follow the D-bag out without tangle.

When the entire bridle is stored properly in the recessed area within the chute storage space, lay the parachute (in it’s Covert Deployment bag) on top of the bridle and in between the neoprene flaps that will secure your chute. Make sure the handle and deployment “paddle” are facing up and in the correct orientation (see photo).

To begin the process of securing the neoprene flaps around your parachute, take a length of string or thin cord, approximately 24” long, and thread one end through one of the bungy loops sewn into the rear neoprene flap. Even up the ends and then thread both ends through its corresponding side flap grommet and then through the same side grommet on the front neoprene flap (see photo). Repeat this process with the opposite bungy to have both strings exit the grommets on their perspective sides. Next, thread each of the strings through the grommets to exit the outer shell of the harness and tie the strings together loosely on the outside of the harness to secure them for the remaining steps of the chute installation (see photo below).

Your next job is to zip up the harness chute doors. There are two #10 zipper gliders included with your Covert. You can find them in the top pocket of your harness bag. Take one of these zipper gliders and start by zipping up the door zipper that point toward your hip (if wearing the harness). Note: Make sure the paddle and chute handle are outside of the harness when the doors get zipped. Start at the handle side of the zipper. With the zipper glider facing down (or, inside the harness) thread the glider onto the zipper. Be patient and take the time necessary to line up the angle of the zipper so that it matches (see photo). If they are not aligned, there will be a wrinkle or pleat in the harness shell. Once aligned, zip the glider all of the way down the zipper, under the neoprene “hood” and off the end of the zipper. You can reach inside the shell to remove the zipper glider off of the end of the zipper. Next, repeat this process on the zipper that closes toward the center of your back. The best way to reach in to pull off the glider from the end of that zipper is to reach inside the harness through the main riser slot (behind your main). Next, repeat again with the zipper that closes toward the aero tow loop access zipper. You complete the process by pulling the zipper glider off the end of that zipper through the aero tow loop access.

Now, all of the chute door zippers are properly closed and your handle and deployment paddle are outside of the harness, along with the strings exiting the grommets on either side of the handle. One at a time, pull the string with enough force to see the bungy stretched outside of the exit grommet. With the bungy loop pulled out of the harness, thread the nylon rod (sewn to the handle “paddle”) through the bungy loop to secure the neoprene flaps inside the harness. At the same time, tuck the corresponding side of the “paddle” under its triangular capture that is sewn onto the exterior of the harness (see photo). Repeat this process to the other side.

As a last step, if necessary, reach in through the riser slot again (behind your main) and use your fingers to carefully pull all of the excess webbing (orange) from the chute handle to inside the harness so that the paddle can lay completely flat and to allow the paddle to be properly secured with the Velcro on and under the paddle. When you’re satisfied with the installation, pull the strings from the bungy loops to complete the installation.

Your chute is now installed properly. It is helpful to flip the harness over and make sure the bridle is contained in the recessed area. I like to hang in the harness at this point as well. This starts the process of getting the chute to conform around your body and to make sure the quick link isn’t out of position causing discomfort. It’s been my experience that after about 10 hours in the harness, the chute will be nicely conformed to your body shape and increase the overall comfort of the harness.

Note: the better your chute is installed, IE; bridle laying nice and flat, chute packed flat and wide to fill out the D-bag, quick link laid to not cause discomfort, the better your Covert will look and fit.

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This place has been pretty epic so far. Don't really know how else to describe it. Fiesch is a ski and mountain town situated in the Swiss Alps, surrounded by flowing glaciers. The Rhone is to the N.West, the Aletsch to the North and the Unteraar in between the two. Huge mountains such as the Matterhorn, Eiger, Monch and the Jungfrau are all close by and make for post card scenery.

Feisch itself is located in a fairly tight and deep, green valley offering some of the most picturesque flying I've ever had the privilege of doing. The lift is strong (very strong at times) and has all of the elements of the best of big mountain hang gliding.

The view out our window here in Fiesch, Switzerland

Yesterday, we had a fantastic day with fast racing and intense flying. It was the first flight here for Dustin, Zippy and I (Derreck and James had a chance to take a practice flight a few days prior) and we were stoked that our gliders flew straight after the plane ride over from the States. There's a strong field here with many skilled and experienced pilots from all over the world. We are treating it as an opportunity to learn and to gain experience for the up coming Worlds in Italy. Zippy was on and finished with an impressive 3rd for the day. Dustin was 8th in and I was behind him after getting a little slow and conservative on the last leg. I finished 18th for the day but in a strong field, I was still fairly happy with my flight. Zippy made a nice video on the GoPro that was edited last night and should be up soon.

driving on the train that took us under the mountains

Today, we went up the Gondola for another task. The weather was supposed to be iffy and was looking wet (from the previous nights rain) with clouds forming far below launch and building quick over and engulfing the peaks. After the task was called (94 k's with 6 t-points) we were briefed on the weather which included up to 45k's of wind up high. The problem was that the clouds were not higher than the peaks yet and many were worried about over development.

Soon, we all punched off in a building wind and were struggling with punchy lift and low clouds toward the edge of the start cylinder. I got lucky with good position at the start and began racing down the range with Zippy and several others. Soon, the lift became extremely strong and turbulent with the glider being pitched past 90 several times. Problem was that the lift was, at times, quite close to the hill and it was hard to stay out of the clouds. Wire slaps and holding on tight became the norm on the way to the first t-point. I grabbed the t-point and started back up the range and into the wind.

Soon, I saw pilots start heading out into the valley and spiraling down to land. The clouds were darkening and the wind was strong. Most impressive though was the turbulence associated with the strong lift. At times, it was totally reasonable but at times, I was quite concerned about the possibility of a tumble. I must admit that memories of my tumble at King several years back were on my mind.

After some battle, I was about 12 k's from the next T-point when James came on the radio to let us know that Zippy had landed at the goal field and he was going to do the same. They felt that the conditions were unsafe and made the personal decision to land, feeling that the risk was not worth it considering the Worlds are a couple of weeks away. I was climbing in punchy 1200 fpm and after a good sized keel kick, considered doing the same. Derreck headed to the field to join the team and I turned back down the valley thinking that I would make the same choice.

On my way back, Dustin called a climb from behind that was out in the valley and, although strong, was reasonably smooth in comparison. I flew over and took a nice climb back to base and headed back on course (after a deep breath). Leaving that climb was the worst turbulence of the day for me. I was alternately losing 1200+ fpm and gaining 1200+ fpm from moment to moment and experienced several wire slaps that had me pretty tight gripped. Soon, I agreed that I did not feel it was worth it as the path to the T-point was dark and the wind seemed to be getting stronger. There was a Northerly component which made it so we had to fly into the lee of the range to get the t-point and my fear and doubt eventually won out. I turned around and flew back to the field from almost 10,000' and landed in "sporty conditions". Dustin soon landed behind me along with Gianpietro Zin, a very fast and talented pilot from France. We all agreed that for us, it was a bit too much. Several pilots did make the course and made goal with Primos winning the day. I felt good about our team's decision but I admit, it stung when gliders started coming in from final.

Ready to fly

Funny thing about "fear and doubt". There is a definite difference between "it" and "realistic danger". They can exist apart and independent of each other but at times, one is caused by the other. Decisions are made and when the conservative choice is made and the outcome is good, it can evoke the question of whether it was smart or just giving into the fear. My reality is that the line is often gray and can change from day to day. When I'm on the line of trying to tell the difference between "fear and doubt" and "realistic danger", I can feel one way one day and the opposite the next. The truth, or my truth is, that when the outcome is that I am in one piece and my glider is intact, it was a good decision. The difficulties for me lye in the inner struggle caused by wanting to self reflect and that reflection not having the outcome that I would prefer (making goal) because of my head. I question the reality of the danger and question if it was my head and not the turbulence (although today, there was plenty) that caused me to run. Either way, tomorrow is another day and another opportunity to learn and I'm thankful to have the opportunity to participate in this game of self exploration through flying in the big mountains. Win or lose, I feel very lucky and never forget how fortunate I am to be here, now.

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I picked up a couple of man slaves at the local peoples market. They didn't cost much and require some work, but overall, it was a good deal.

Chris Gibisch


Team pilot, Dustin Martin, is on his way back to the shop to help Kara, Chris and me get as many customer harnesses done, and sent to excited pilots around the world, as is possible before we leave for our next adventure. We plan to sew night and day (with afternoon flights if possible, of course;-) until the drive to meet Zippy at the factory for a flight out of LAX. First stop, to meet Nic, James and Derrek in Feisch for the Swiss Nats. Then, for the main event! Meet up with O'Brien and the rest of the US team for the '11 World Championships in Segillo, Italy.

The US Team is hungry for it, for sure. Should be epic so if your at all interested, stay tuned. The T2C is going crazy good and I'm hoping that the Covert combo will help to make it clear that it's all up to us. Adventure, laughs and strong competition. Sounds like good times to me!!

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photos courtesy of Ricker Goldsborough and Alex McCulloch

It was that time of the year again to leave the remains of Montana winter and to head toward Florida for two of the most competitive US Hang Gliding comps of the season. The thought of walking bare foot in cool grass with the sun on my back while setting up the glider always gets me so stoked to be a pilot. I mean, how good is it to converge with friends from around the world for consistently good racing under perfect clouds? Flying and racing every day for 2 weeks in Florida is my idea of pure life at it's essence.

line up

blue days are social

Stinnett coming out of the cart on his new T2C 144

The first of the two competitions, named in memory for our good friend Rob Kells, took place at the Florida Ridge flight park, located just to the west of Lake Okeechobee. The Ridge is well equipped and is run by consummate professionals. James Tindle and his crew kept us all safe and efficient throughout the week. One of the best parts of the event is that there is a heavy emphasis on a Sport Class which enables newer comp pilots to learn and test themselves by flying challenging tasks accompanied by the ability to fly with more seasoned pilots. Really cool to see some of the up-n-comers making their first goals and flying their personal bests.

Sport class guys were rockin it


The Rob Kells Memorial competition absolutely lived up to my excitement with dream like flying and good racing. One day in particular Curt, Zippy and I were working well together, flying as fast and as efficiently as possible down the day's course line. So cool flying with these guys. During the strongest part of the day, we climbed tip to tip, circling in lift that was going straight to cloud base at close to 900 feet per minute. Just as we were about to be engulfed in the cloud, we pulled in and sped up to 60+mph to escape the lift before being completely "whited out".

As we cleared the cloud, we all flew through the misty white at it's edge and popped out the side above the cloud's base and raced on through the cloud canyons formed by the quickly developing sky. I laughed when I looked down our course line at a perfect cloud street, knowing that we were about to fly it's length without turning. It was one of those moments a hang glider pilot dreams about. Ahhhh, I love racing in Florida!


The comp had it's ups and downs and competitive excitement to the last day. With a field of close to 60 pilots, no injuries and 6 out of 7 days to race hard, the party at the end of the awards ceremony was lively, to say the least. The best part....knowing that we have only one rest day until the next comp and a whole new dream to live.

Jonny boy on the winning pink cart

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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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