Through self sufficient travel and hundreds of kilometers glided, three Revelstoke cross-country paragliding pilots spent the past weekend exploring the province from above and pioneering a new line along the way.
Over the course of five days, the three pilots made three flights, beginning with a flight from Revelstoke to Silver Cup Ridge above Trout Lake, followed by a flight to Meadow Creek, before concluding the multi-day trip with a never before completed flight from Kaslo to Nakusp.
Revelstoke Paragliding co-founder Chris Delworth, who made the Kaslo-Nakusp flight along with fellow Revelstokians David Sproule and Jeff Bellis, says becoming the first to complete the flight was not an intentional goal of the trip.
“I don’t think there was a big grand-master plan other than to fly a really neat route in the mountains,” says Delworth. “We’re not doing it because it’s never been done. I think the sport is at a point now where there’s some really neat things that are achievable and they’re starting to happen.”
The three pilots departed from Revelstoke Mountain Resort Wednesday, July 25 along with a fourth pilot, Scott Flavelle of Pemberton, who split off from the group and made his own trip east over Bugaboo Provincial Park and the Purcell Mountains before re-linking with the group at the trip’s conclusion.
The route at the beginning of the trip, according to Delworth, was not predetermined but rather decided as it happened in response to changing conditions.
Through linking columns of rising air known as thermals, cross-country paragliders are able to stay airbourne for hours at a time, with some flights, according to Sproule, consisting of distances of upwards of 200 kilometers.
Their flight from Kaslo to Nakusp, for example, took about four and a half hours due to strong headwinds, crossing about 80 kilometers from Mount Buchanan through the middle of the Selkirks to Nakusp in the process.
While the weekend’s voyage saw a first completed by the group, pilot Bellis says completing first lines isn’t uncommon in the area, as the sport still maintains a fringe following in North America.
“Every time you go flying, outside of the main routes of the valley, you’re flying where no one’s flown before,” says Bellis. “I don’t think it’s a big motivator to do it, it’s just like ‘I want to fly to that cool mountain. Let’s see if I can do this.’”
Though Bellis says being the first to complete flights isn’t a motivator, both him and Delworth agree it adds to the exploration aspect of the sport.
“In other parts of the world where it’s really popular, you can get online and look at the track logs and you’re like ‘Everyone flies to that mountain, there must be a thermal there. Everyone flies there, it must work,” says Bellis. “Whereas here, you’re like ‘Well, let’s figure it out.’”
The group, all experienced in the mountains through work as heli-ski guides, made the trip completely self-sufficiently, carrying all required gear with them, including tents, stoves, sleeping bags and radios.
Nights consisted of setting up camp on mountain sides before continuing flights depending on conditions the following day.
While all three pilots have often previously explored the mountains they visited, Sproule says the appeal of cross-country paragliding comes from reaching the destination through completely different means.
“It’s just sort of been a culmination of all of our years of experience in the mountains and putting it together in a different way,” Sproule explains. “You’re thermaling up at four thousand meters with all sorts of hawks and eagles and vultures — its experiences that you can’t really describe really.”
“It’s just such a liberating way to travel around.”
Despite achieving never-before-done lines in the area, the group all stressed the significance of such flights is not the firsts, but rather the exploration aspects that come along with them.
“I think it’s just the exploratory adventure aspect of it with your friends. Trying to link together multiple days of flying to try and get home,” explains Bellis.
“You don’t go climbing just to climb first ascents,” says Delworth. “But if you happen to tag a few first ascents in your life, that’s always nice if you’re inclined that way. And it’s the same thing with this.”