I arrived in Vancouver on 6 July 2018. The short summer season is wedged between showers and smoke, and my flight from Taipei arcing through the Arctic had no views whatsoever, just blinding white cloud. I had an open itinerary in Canada and intended to see as much of the mountains in southern British Colombia and the western parts of Alberta as I could, expecting to cross into the USA after a month or so and follow the sun south. I had a few friends scattered around that I planned to visit but mostly my modus operandi was hike, fly, camp, and if by the road, hitchhike. I flew with everything with me – warm clothes, plenty of food, tent, sleeping bag and mat – and my backpack being more durable and bulky was hung in a bag off the back of my harness while flying.
After buying new boots and some food I caught the bus to the northern part of Vancouver. Nearby I found a trail and hiked through the forest to a rocky clearing where I joined several other campers for sunset over the sound. The next morning I hiked further along and higher still until I found a place to have my first flight. In the distance over the US border you could see Mt Baker, the glaciated volcano. Things shaded out and I landed by a hut surrounded by snow. Later I was able to fly again and I made a short cross country heading north towards Squamish. I got an enthusiastic welcome when I landed at the golf course and it wasn’t long before I had a lift with an electrician up towards Whistler. There were a few days lost in the forest with some rain but I was well positioned for when the day dawned blue.
My longest flight in the Coast Mountains: I flew around the snowy Rainbow mountain towards the southern flank and began to work a rocky ridge. Initially cloud base was around mountain height, but getting up a second time I decided that was high enough to go on glide. Next stop was a long forested ridge. Most of this flight I was cognizant of long walk outs as I explored this unfamiliar area, although mostly there was logging trail access. I finally climbed out and headed onto more mountainous terrain. Ahead of me were familiar mountains, where 9 years ago I’d done several short flights as part of a multi day vol biv. It brought back great memories and was a special part of the flight.
Opting to bypass the popular flying site of Pemberton, I continued on towards the headwaters of the Lillooet. Here there were impressive glaciers and a lack of cumulus cloud over the watershed between the Fraser river and Vancouver Island. Now I felt like I was heading off into the wilderness. I flew north and crossed the Bridge river in full view of the enormous glacier at the headwater. Here it was windy and after a short time probing I opted to land high and camp the night.
The next morning was beautiful but I had a bit of trouble getting away. It was calm initially but my first flight felt like I was in the lee. Confronting the southwester I flew again, but the lift was broken and I lost height into the valley. Here I had to ascend through bush back past camp being mindful of bears. I walked across minor gulches to the opening of the valley – if you can’t beat the SW, join it. My final flight carried me a long way out of the mountains. The only problem was landing – descending through the chinook I had over 90km/h ground speed through a constriction on the lake before it opened slightly and I landed on a sandy beach.
I found a place to camp on the lake. The next morning a couple of lads gave me a lift into town – quite a drive – they confirmed that the entire valley they lived in had no mobile phone reception. I restocked food in Lillooet – if I had have had more before, I possibly would have tried to fly further north – but now the plan was to head towards the Canadian Rockies. I had a moderate wait at the junction outside of town before a local family took me all the way to Savona, where there is a known flying site. I didn’t have much luck there that afternoon – it clouded up and then a squall came through. But it was a nice place to camp.
The next morning I was very lucky to get away from Savona – I had a low save, and the flying was slow and blue. In the last few hours of the flight I was trying to identify a landing as the heel support in my pod broke and it was uncomfortable to fly. Logging country made this unwise or impossible, however. I made some good distance though and hitched with a couple to a lake for a swim. They were teachers and had been to remote parts of this enormous country. In the evening I hiked up a logging trail on the way to a hopeful take off.
Finding a take off in the morning was very tricky. The air was stable again and I was starting to get anxious that I was squandering time away from the big mountains. Landing on the road, hitching to Salmon Arm was relatively easy – a bloke returning from his cabin. It was very hot in town. There was a paragliding hill nearby but I’d had enough of these forestry hills. Finally a Sicamous local brought me to his town, lamenting that the good old days of young people camping had given way to yuppy-fication and house boats. We had a beer and he showed me photos of his recent flight with his Uncle on a light aircraft through the Rockies. He’d also identified the local paragliding site for me to try in the morning.
Helping a guy with his trailer load (he was going to put a deck on his cabin) I got a lift to the take off in the morning. There was no one else around though and again blue settled air and sloped forested hills meant flying into the Rockies from here would be tricky, even if it wasn’t far. After waiting all morning I had a short flight down to the highway and after another roadside feed I waited in the heat while countless F150 trucks drove by. I positioned myself by a roadsign to take advantage of the shade, and finally a young woman with two kids and a jam packed van stopped to squeeze me in. Sarina mentioned that she would be returning back to Vancouver island in a few weeks, so I graciously took her contact details. But an hour later I was at Revelstoke and the most testing part of the hitchhiking was over.
I hiked up the hill and then got a lift with a young Frenchman, hoping to hike across Revelstoke National Park and position myself to fly. A ranger put an end to that, she said the whole park was being closed tomorrow so they could tranquilize a bear. Back down the hill unfortunately but I made a Plan B with the local commercial paragliding crew who sorted things out nicely for me the next morning. In any case I’d seen what I was in for – the 360 degree views were stunning.
To put a long story short, I had six days in the mountains with no phone reception and as much food as I could carry. On day one I decided based on experience that flying conservatively and landing high was the best option, after decking it on a logging road. Day two I flew past colossal glaciers, top landed to wait for showers to pass, and then into the heart of the Rockies, landing around the corner from the Colombia ice fields.
The next three nights I camped at different points around the high alpine meadow. On the last day I flew over the peak I’d failed to climb before finally flying out to the highway. From there two Quebecois girls took me into Jasper, where I found a rare bed in a hostel for $45 and restocked, satisfied to see showers pouring down.
In the Rockies storms had been a feature at least once every 24 hours but it did seem like I’d timed things well as it was particularly damp – but the forecast was to improve. Fully laded again I hitched out to Mt Robson, the highest peak of the Canadian Rockies. I had a tough hike up a hill after a suboptimal route to bushline when I couldn’t cross a river. The next morning I emerged out of my damp clumpy grassy clearing by the stream and hiked up to reach the ridge and wait for low cloud to lift.
This was the best trip of the entire North America trip so it deserves its own story but here is a quick summary:
Day 1: Flew around the western aspect of Mt Robson. Gave up waiting for low cloud and flew southeast about 50 miles into the sunset.
Day 2: After a tricky (rocky) launch, a long 85 mile flight along the main spine of the Rockies, crossing my track of the Revelstoke trip near Mt Colombia.
Day 3: A high launch and scratchy climb out of a wide open cirque and then over some highways (updating the weather forecast), with two tricky parts on the way about 85 miles to Mt Assiniboine.
Day 4: A good start and 45 miles with another low save before the day was cut short to avoid showers.
Day 5: A short glide, a clifftop launch and a fast couple of hours, then a flight threading between storms to finish the trip.
After restocking it was back into the hills again:
The next morning I soared a northerly before getting impatient. I was keen for a big triangle but was held up by slow conditions at Golden.
The evening part of the flight was certainly a challenge (language warning!) as I approached the Bugaboos.
The next morning dawned clear but unsettled westerlies were expected. I traversed out for a closer look at the Bugaboos and then a long glide out, before getting dumped as the gust front came through stronger than expected! My luck was perfect though – there was a friendly paragliding competition just up the road and the partner of one of the participants had seen my landing (of sorts) and gave me a lift into the camping.
I made some new friends and had a social flight before taking the lift I’d organised all the way back to Vancouver island, where I finished the Canadian leg of the trip catching up with old friends (met in Brisbane) for a few days. Thank you to all the Canadians who helped me string this trip together, there is an abundance of mountains here but I saw my share!
Pingback: Spring in New Zealand | Flying paragliders in the mountains