Going for the big one

After a dizzying number of triangle attempts and being quite spoilt this season in general, it was finally time to go for the big one, the New Zealand open distance record. The bar has been raised in recent months by Bryan Moore (with Pete Groves) and then Angus Tapper. Both flights ended roughly at Mt Cook (a later flight by Grant Middendorf started there) with Angus’s flight starting further back, on the limits of Queenstown airspace. My flight started a little further west, closer to my base at Glenorchy.

Crossing Lake Wanaka, trying to break open distance

Crossing Lake Wanaka, trying to break open distance

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X-Alps New Zealand style

Every summer I’ve spent flying in New Zealand has been special but this one has been particularly brilliant. Everyone is raving about the weather (except during the national competition, of course), my personal flying has taken a great leap forward and there is a palpable buzz of activity amongst the local pilots with new routes being flown and it “sounds like a broken record” again. Of course we’re also excited about my acceptance into X-Alps and my official supporter Louis, longtime backcountry legend Bryan Moore, and girlfriend Kamila have given me a little nudge to get out there and fly New Zealand’s Southern Alps.

First flight of the vol biv (image: Kamila)

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Dream flights in the Southern Alps

I arrived in late November to a rather frigid New Zealand. The icy winds howled around me as I crossed a snowy mountain pass to meet Chris Streat, to go off to battle headwinds with 5-20kt ground speeds – in a sailplane! But this is the time in New Zealand where the unstable volatile weather sometimes offers brilliant flying – you only need half a day of decent weather to go a long way, and those times you need to be ready to go. As I look back on the month of December, it really was a great month of flying through places I’ve been dreaming about for years.

Slope landing on Mt Alfred, Glenorchy

Slope landing on Mt Alfred, Glenorchy

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Record triangle in New Zealand – Roys Peak

(see the TV3 segment here)

On 16 December 2014 under blue skies and a hot sun we climbed up the popular Roys peak walking track overlooking Wanaka. I’d just returned after a few days vol bivouac in the hills, happily meeting with my girlfriend Kamila and my xalps supporter Louis Tapper. The weather was still good so we set out to make the most of it, and I flew further than I ever have in New Zealand, breaking the national triangle and out and return distance records, amongst the spectacular scenery alongside Aspiring National Park. Normally I like to post things in chronological order but my backlog goes to Kyrgyzstan so I have to skip ahead to keep up.

Louis on Roys peak over Wanaka

Louis on Roys peak over Wanaka

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Ala Archa vol biv in Kyrgyzstan Tien Shan

The biggest mountains in the world are in Central Asia, and many adventure pilots have explored country in this vast area. Kyrgyzstan is not the most popular of destinations but it captured my attention when I saw a video of an American riding a bike around to climb the mountains. I noted the grassy slopes and the puffy clouds and thought, why doesn’t he have a paraglider!? When I found out that it is the easiest place to travel to in the region (visa on arrival) I decided it was the ideal alternative to a troubled Pakistan.

Arriving in Bishkek I saw the grandeur of the Ala Archa range as a backdrop to the dawn. A couple of days later I climbed up the dusty brown grass slope to find a launch to begin my first vol biv adventure of the trip. Travelling alone, I had some scanty information of other pilots flying here but I hadn’t even managed to get to the same launch. Being the 12th of September, it was late in the season and I was worried about two things – stable flying conditions, and cold hands.

Flying the Ala Archa behind Bishkek

Flying the Ala Archa behind Bishkek

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