October, 2013: Yes! We (Evrard, Sean, Stéphane and I) have hit civilization and made it back from the Chinese mountains. Thank God, food tastes so good now. And what a treat it is to be able to take hot showers whenever. Sorry for the lack of news. Again, all sat phone credits had to be sacrificed for phone sex to release some tension in our team, obviously crucial for our climbing.
We spent the first week in the mountains just exploring all the valleys around us, looking for interesting climbing targets. We also tried to climb during that first week but everyday the beautiful weather turned into a snowstorm by the afternoon. We realized with the particularly cold temps and fresh snow, we could only consider rock climbing on the south faces hoping the sun would heat things up a bit. This criteria narrowed down our choices a lot but we finally found what we were looking for: A big wall with plenty of potential to keep ourselves busy for a while. It was, in fact, the 1400m South Pillar of Kyzyl Asker (5842m) that attracted us. It's long, steep and high with rock of great quality mixed in with lots of white “things” on the upper part of the wall. I was excited by the prospect that this experience would be something quite different from all the other big walls I had climbed before.
It took us another week to bring all our gear, food and musical instruments up the long glacier to the base of the wall. The last two days, we finally had perfect weather and started climbing with our load, and fixed the first 400m of the wall. Right away we were very impressed by the quality of the rock but also by its crazy hueco shapes which made for some unique climbing.
The following day the weather remained the same but, fresh from a full day of rest, we decided to tough it up and confront the bad weather. We moved our camp higher which we thought would save us some time. But as soon as we started hauling, we got ourselves caught in a whiteout with heavy snow precipitation. The atmosphere was magical. Everything was covered with 20cm of fresh snow, but we needed to maintain focus to have everything go right because in these conditions any error could be costly. This day it was Steph’s turn to not feel so good with a cold he most likely caught from me. At the end of the day when we managed to set our ledges, slinged around on each side of a horn, Steph was in a more passive mode leaving his feet and hands particularly cold. But fortunately, some hot soup later, heat came back to him.
The sun appears after 24 hours of snow in camp 1. Since the face was too plastered to rock climb, we decided to move our camp upward. But as soon as we folded our portaledges it started snowing again.
After a day of hauling in a snow storm, we finally set our camp 2.
Sunny morning after the snowstorm. Sean meditates on his climbing strategy at camp 2.
The next morning, the good weather was back and Sean and I started the day by cleaning the fresh snow out of the cracks of the two pitches we wanted to redpoint. I jugged up with my big boots and gloves but quickly felt the cold, especially with a light but freezing wind. All the snow didn’t even melt in the sun, and the water bottle hanging on my harness had frozen completely! I cleaned what I could but the pitch remained iced up. Sean’s pitch was cleaner, so he decided to give it an attempt but it was so freaking cold. Before he tried it, I set Steph’s watch in the shade to check if I was being a wimp or if the temperature was really that cold. A little later his watch showed -6° C and it was the warmest time of the day! My hands and feet were so cold that I could not imagine putting my climbing shoes on. But Sean felt OK climbing in these conditions and managed to give it a really good try, falling only at the end of the crux. By nighttime, I set the watch outside the fly and it showed -15° C!
That day, because the weather was perfect but I still couldn’t climb, it made me wonder: What am I doing here climbing in this cold? Where is the fun in this? I fell asleep mentally worn out. Fortunately, with the help of some tricks to keep my feet and hands warm, I climbed well the next day even though I was cold. It gave me back my confidence and enjoyment. Sean got closer to sending his pitch project and I redpointed my personal best pitch of the whole climb – a perfect splitter crack with beautiful exposure.
Sean big-wall cragging on a perfect overhanging splitter crack right above camp 2.
Between camp 2 and 3 there was series of amazing pitches, really nice cracks but also unique huecos. Here, Nico fires a perfect splitter crack above camp 2.
The next day, Sean gave another three tries and got painfully close to send his project pitch, but finally he decided to give up on it because it was our ninth day on the wall and we were still less than halfway up the mountain. He quickly completed an easier free variation so that we stayed in the game of freeing every bit of this mountain. Meanwhile Steph and I fixed the rest of our ropes to the base of the last headwall and finished the day in a snowstorm. The climbing conditions became icy here with lots of icicles hanging everywhere.
More and more, the summit felt just below our noses and we were quite tempted to cut loose from our static ropes to make an attempt to climb to the summit. But the poor weather conditions held us back and instead we moved our camp once more to the altitude of 5200m. Afterward, I was glad we made this move because the summit was still much further than expected. This time the camp move was not as epic. We managed to finish the day comfortably installed, enjoying an amazing view looking over many virgin peaks. After a few days in the same place, it was great to change camp and break our routine.
The next morning it was Sean’s turn to be hit by the flu so he stayed on the portaldge the whole day while Steph, Evrard and I explored the last headwall until all ropes were fixed. I was going to switch lead with Stéphane but when we arrived at the base of the climb, Steph realized he had forgotten to bring his climbing shoes. What a bummer! I was not disappointed by his mistake because the weather was perfect and the climbing was amazing!!! I climbed three full rope lengths of perfect quality splitter cracks running right on the pillar and here we were again at the end of the ropes we could fix. The atmosphere was quite spectacular with icicles hanging all over the place and the view started to dominate with mountains all around us. When we came back to our portaledge we were relieved to see Sean feeling better so we decided to plan a summit attempt and wake up at 5 a.m. the next day in order to reach the top of our fixed rope by light, around 8 a.m.
The rock was spectacular on the whole climb! Nico exploring the last rock pitches above camp 3.
At 5 a.m. the next day, we woke up and were so excited and confident that it took us about 45 minutes, and some porridge in our bellies, to look outside and see that the weather wasn’t all that good. We woke up again at 7 a.m. only to realize that the weather was getting worse. It ended up snowing all day and all night. Our gas was running low from melting water which started to worry us. Even with all the fresh snow, we chose not to miss our chance and decided to make an attempt the next day if the weather cleared up. But of course this meant we would be climbing a rock face that would be completely plastered with ice and snow. Before sleeping that night I was a bit anxious realizing how exposed we would be to the cold conditions and if the weather turned bad on us. We had absolutely no weather forecast, and we knew that often even a perfect morning here turned into a heavy snowstorm by the afternoon.
Fortunately, my excitement erased my anxiety and the next morning, the sky full of stars, gave me confidence that it would be the right day for it. Our start got a bit delayed by Steph who didn’t feel very well while jumaring in the morning. So Evrard and I passed him so that he could take it easy. Luckily, he felt better and better as the day went on. Sean started climbing late at about 11 a.m. and, to our surprise, the wind had already done a good part of the snow cleaning so it wasn’t as plastered as we thought. I switched lead with Sean and from that pitch onward there was ice and snow all over the place, so we kept our crampons and ice axes. It took us another seven pitches of steep and spectacular mixed climbing to reach the summit ridge. It felt very nice just to keep moving and not deal with the hassle of handling a long, static rope to fix.
This last section was a lot longer than what we had estimated. Darkness settled in just as we climbed the final pitch to the summit and the temperature dropped. I was very happy to be on the summit of Kyzyl Asker but the cold was biting me so hard I knew I had to get down quickly. It was difficult for me to really enjoy this moment except for the perspective that soon I would be comfortably looking back at the mountain and would feel complete. In the distance, a light from the Kyrgyz side flashed to us. It was a strange feeling to be seen from the top and have our first contact with civilization after 20 days of just us and the mountains.
Nico started this pitch with his climbing shoes but quickly realized it was not the best idea so he switched to mixed climbing. From there on, we didn't leave our ice axes and crampons until the summit. Here we are on our summit pitch, still early on.
Frozen and happy on the summit at 10pm.
The way down was long but went well, with no issues. My feet were cold so I forced myself to make them do some push-ups inside my boots, but it wasn’t enough to get them warm. On the last few raps it was not only my feet but my whole body that was fighting the cold.
At 3 a.m., I was glad to finally arrive back to our portaledge. It took me a couple of hours to get my body and feet warm with hot drinks. Steph did the same but as my feet were getting warmer, his were still hard like a block of ice. I knew it wasn’t good. The next day they were blue and blisters started appearing. Evrard’s feet were not looking very good either. We were so exhausted from our push to the summit we couldn’t do anything else but spend the whole next day just recovering on the portaledge. But it was obvious: We had to get down as soon as possible so that Steph’s feet could be better taken care of.
The next day we rapped down and managed to slide all our gear down the glacier using our haul bags like sleds. And two intense days later of load-carrying effort, we were back with all our gear to luxury in the city of Aksu. Our adventure was over! It was time to enjoy and value the simple things in life!
With Stephane's frostbite, we hurried down the mountain. We saved a lot of time by pulling all our haulbags at once on the glacier. Behind you see the south pillar of Kyzyl Asker. It's always a good feeling to be able to look back at a mountain after climbing it.
11am in basecamp, the driver finishes loading the camel and the mule. We are leaving this amazing place! Hopefully, Stephane's foot will soon be taken care of.
Stéphane is now in a hospital in Brussels in the hands of specialists. If everything goes well, Stéphane’s foot will be fully healed in a few months and he’ll be ready for the next adventure.
We would like to thank everyone who helped us live our dreams: Patagonia, Julbo, Five Ten, Black Diamond, The Belgian Alpine Club, Seeonee, Sterling Rope, Nikon, Belclimb.be, Petzl, Careplus, Boreal, Crux and Threshold Provision Salmon Jerky.
Also we would like to thank our translator Alli for his good vibes, our liaison officer Yue (who was very kind to us), the camel drivers (who were very friendly and helpful) and Guo from Guide to Adventures & Expeditions (GAE).
Details about the climb: South Pillar of Kyzyl Asker, Western Kokshal Tau Moutains, China, 1400m, 31 pitches 7b, M7, all free, no bolts, no pitons. About 10 pitches on the upper part of the wall are common with the Russian route.
Growing up in Brussels, Nico Favresse bonded to the outdoors through windsurfing, mountain biking and skiing. He started climbing at 15 and immediately found his passion. As an 18-year old exchange student in the United States, he visited Yosemite and discovered a new calling for big walls. Since then he’s climbed big walls in Patagonia, Pakistan, Greenland, Venezuela and Canada.
Evrard Wendenbaum's work as a photographer has led him to the most inaccessible corners of the planet over the last ten years. His first film, Amazonian Vertigo, shot during the ascent of Angel Falls in Venezuela, has won 11 film festival awards. Evrard also leads the Naturevolution environmental association and applies his skills to the preservation of biodiversity.
By Colin Haley
"See you down there, f***er!" writes Ole Lied – a gigantic, hard-drinking, Norwegian party animal. He dresses in dark Scandinavian leather, stuffs his mouth with snus (little tea-bags of chewing tobacco, quite popular in northern Europe), and every now and then works himself into a berserker rage, attacking big, steep mountains, and returning home with beautiful routes as his trophies (such as "Venas Azules" on Torre Egger). Every November, I convene with Ole, some other Norwegian alpinists, and all the other Patagoniacs in El Chalten, Argentina, for another dose of pretty much the most technical, most fantastic, most intense and most fun alpine climbing on the planet – Patagonia's Chalten Massif.
Editor's note: Colin wrote this piece just before leaving for El Chalten. He’s been down there three weeks now and already has a handful climbs under his belt. Visit patagonia.com/vidapatagonia to keep up with Colin, Mikey Schaefer, Kate Rutherford and more of our friends and ambassadors down in Patagonia. We’ll have live feeds to their Instagram accounts, tweets and blog posts throughout the season.
Why does Norway, a country with the population of Washington State, have such a big presence in Patagonian alpinism? Admittedly, the mountains of Patagonia are very difficult, the weather is often very foul, and they certainly have a large amount of dormant Viking badassness in their genes, but I think the real truth is where Ole and his countrymen are coming from.
[Above: The Torres with Aguja Desmochada in the foreground. All photos by Colin Haley]
Sunrise on Cerro Adela from the west face of Cerro Torre.
Jon Walsh on an attempt of "Venas Azules" on Torre Egger.
Jon Walsh descending to the Niponino bivouac at sunrise, after a long night rappelling the east face of Cerro Torre in a storm.
Leo, Max and Lucho sharing mate in a snowcave on the South Patagonian Icecap.
Dylan Johnson belaying the last pitch of the "Supercanaleta," as clouds roll off the South Patagonian Icecap.
Summer lasted a long time in the Pacific Northwest this year, but today the rainy season started. My natural instincts tell me to settle in and get cozy – start wearing a hat and waxing my skis – but I have a plane ticket to El Calafate. It's raining and it's dark at 6pm, but there is a tingling inside me because I know what is coming.
Over the past few weeks I have slowly been amassing a pile of gear that will come to Patagonia – ropes, slings, carabiners, crampons, stoppers, gloves. I have been seeking out steep, burly cracks – one final, desperate bit of procrastination training. And, of course, I've started looking at the weather forecast in El Chalten again. Fall is a relaxed time, and I'd better enjoy it while I can, because three-and-a-half months of non-stop excitement begins soon!
So, here we go... another Patagonia climbing season is about to begin. Time to take a deep breath and get ready for some incredible experiences, dragging our abused bodies up and down some of the world's most beautiful mountains.
Colin Haley grew up hiking, skiing and climbing in the rugged Cascade Mountains where he developed a love of mountain adventure and an indifference to foul weather. His climbing is focused on the mountains of Alaska and Patagonia, where he’s drawn to the steepest alpine faces. You can keep up with Colin on his new website, colinhaley.com.
Live coverage from Patagonia: See Instagram photos, tweets and blog posts from our friends and ambassadors at patagonia.com/vidapatagonia or with the #vidapatagonia tag.
October 15 was an idyllic autumn evening in the Northeast, cool and clear at the intersection of Bowery and Bleecker. As the sun set, amps and guitars and drum kits and crates of audio gear rolled through the front doors of the old CBGB gallery, awakening the musical spirits still lingering in the iconic venue.
Throwing shindigs to launch a new Patagonia store in New York City has almost become a ritual. Hell, I’ve been to three in the last two years – one for each Tin Shed location in fall 2011 and just across town at the Meatpacking district last February. The bash on Bowery, however, stood to be the wildest so far.
My partner shouted at the top of his lungs, causing me to jolt to attention and look down to him and our hanging camp. We were high on El Capitan’s Shield route, and I watched helplessly as a yellow dry bag containing our garbage from the past five days – including twenty-four crushed aluminum cans – grew smaller and smaller as it plummeted toward the ground. After a full twenty seconds of airtime, our bag exploded at the base of the monolith, firing shrapnel in all directions. The blast sent echoes to Half Dome and back.
The yellow bag had been clipped in poorly and detached once I began hauling our supplies to the next station. (In climbing terms: the dry bag buckle was mistakenly clipped into the taut docking line and thus came loose when my partner lowered out the bags.) It was March and, fortunately, we had the wall to ourselves, otherwise the error could have killed someone. Our team was relatively inexperienced and also greatly relieved that we did not drop something vital, like a sleeping bag. Dark clouds lurked and when we finally reached the top we were pounded by a violent storm. We fought our way down the slippery descent in the dark, and somehow found our way to the Ahwahnee Hotel, where we slept on the floor next to a crackling fireplace. In the morning, we exited quickly, forgetting about the yellow bag debacle, and drove back to school without cleaning up our mess.
I’ve returned almost every year since those days on The Shield to climb a different route up the monolith, and this fall I teamed up with three National Park Service (NPS) climbing rangers to do something unique.
We climbed the Tribal Rite route and afterwards, instead of rushing down to hot food and warm showers, met with climbing stewards Cheyne Lempe and Buck Yedor on the top. Then we removed 120 pounds of waste from the upper corners of The Nose route and summit.
The Nose is the most famous climbing route in the world, and the most popular path up the 3,000-foot face of El Capitan. Each year, hundreds of advanced climbers travel to Yosemite from all corners of the world to give it their best – and many fail. The average ascent time is four days, and teams are often mentally and physically spent by the time they navigate the route’s upper sections. Much like they do on Mt. Everest, a percentage of people compromise the purity of their journey by leaving garbage on the route.
NPS climbing rangers and volunteers have been doing the annual Nose Wipe since 2006 to address this issue. This was my second year volunteering. We rappel in from the top with large empty bags and use a twelve-foot retractable pole to remove waste. It’s clear that a lot of the debris was not intentionally abandoned. We found a Gore-Tex glove, sections of climbing rope, and last year pulled a $60 Black Diamond helmet from a deep slot 600 feet from the top.
Anyone who’s climbed The Nose will also confirm that there’s plenty of valuable climbing equipment residing just out of arm's reach within the wide cracks on the first third of the route. However, most often we remove empty plastic bottles and aluminum cans. Some of the stuff smells like piss so we wear rubber gloves and face masks. Since the Nose Wipe began, hundreds of pounds of garbage have been extracted from cracks on The Nose, and we estimate that somewhere between 300 and 500 pounds remain.
Ranger Ben Doyle spends a good portion of his work week doing operations in vertical environments. He patrols routes like The Nose regularly and heroically rescues injured climbers from difficult to reach places. In June, Ben climbed/patrolled both The Nose and the face of Half Dome in twenty-one hours. This required climbing more than a vertical mile of highly technical terrain, and is a feat beyond most people’s comprehension. This was Ben’s fifth consecutive year doing a Nose Wipe.
Ben refers to the Nose Wipe as a Sisyphean task, a reference to the Greek myth of a king condemned by Zeus for his misdeeds. According to the myth, the king is compelled to roll a giant boulder up a hill, only for it to roll back to the bottom once he reaches the top, thus requiring him to repeat the process for eternity. Every year, climbers leave behind garbage, and it’s hard to stay on top of the problem.
However, we are curious to see what will happen if we remove 100% of the garbage from The Nose in one go. The most problematic area is the slot behind the Camp 6 ledge, 600 feet from the top. It’s like an archeological dig up there because we’re uncovering garbage from different generations as we hit the different layers of compact waste. This season we removed several bleach bottles – apparently climbers used them for storing water during the ‘70s, before you could buy water and soda in two-liter plastic bottles. If we restore The Nose back to a pristine condition, maybe future climbers will be more inclined to give it the respect it deserves.
I find myself circling back to Yvon Chouinard’s quote. Although climbers are physically ascending something tangible, there’s also a metaphysical transformation taking place, leading toward spiritual growth. However, this process is compromised if we disregard our environment. Perhaps YC’s words show us the true Sisyphean task, because there isn’t much difference between perpetually rolling a rock up a hill and climbing a mountain if neither produces the desired result: to not come home the same asshole we were when we started.
Our sport is rapidly changing, with a huge new demographic of urban climbers emerging from gym to crag. We must continue to step it up as environmental stewards if we wish to maintain access to these majestic places. Otherwise, we may as well glue feathers to our backs and head towards the sun with Icarus.
Dave N. Campbell is a Pro Sales rep for Patagonia and teaches wilderness survival classes at Truckee Meadows Community College in the evenings. He holds a BA in Chinese and has spent extensive time in the mountain ranges of China. In 2011, Dave worked on a Panda restoration project in Sichuan with The Nature Conservancy and last summer he led a ski/snowboard mountaineering trip in the Tianshan Range of Xinjiang. Earlier this year Dave worked with Sean O'Neill on the first parapalegic lead climb.
We would like to invite you to be among the first to watch Worn Wear, a new film from Keith, Lauren, Chris, and Dan Malloy.
Worn Wear is an exploration of quality – in the things we own and the lives we live. This short film takes you to an off-the-grid surf camp in Baja, Mexico; a family's maple syrup harvest in Contoocook, Vermont; an organic farm in Ojai, California; and into the lives of a champion skier, a National Geographic photographer, and a legendary alpinist. It also features exclusive interviews with Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard.
Released as an antidote to the Black Friday and Cyber Monday shopping frenzy, Worn Wear is an invitation to celebrate the stuff you already own.
[Video: Worn Wear - a Film About the Stories We Wear]
Thumbing through my recently purchased copy of Dan Malloy’s Slow Is Fast paperback, I felt the same elation I had as a teenager buying new vinyl. Listening to Yes’s double album, Tales From Topographic Oceans, I would carefully examine Roger Dean’s ethereal cover art as Jon Anderson and Steve Howe’s highly energized rock transported this Jersey kid to another place. And that’s what creative types do. They grab a hold of you and take you with them. It’s what Dan Malloy does with Slow Is Fast. He creates a beautifully made visual tribute to his native California.
Back in the fall of 2012, Dan and his good friends, Kellen Keene and Kanoa Zimmerman rode touring bikes along 700 coastal miles, documenting their trip with plenty of photographs and interviews. Some pictures are humorous, like the road kill one, where a beanie doll is added to the mix to soften death’s morbidity. Details are everywhere. The book’s front cover has a tiny, red bike-trailer icon and there are pages torn from a calendar scribbled with notes that say four shakas, zero middle fingers and two angry honks – a record of the day’s interaction with motorists.
[“In the last month I have learned more about the people and places along the California coast than I had in 34 years and a thousand car trips.” -Dan Malloy. Photo: Kanoa Zimmerman]
The trip started 100 miles north of San Francisco with just the bare essentials. As they traveled down coast they stopped to surf, work with farmers, and spend time with artists and musicians. They also visited craftspeople and talked to them about their trade. There’s the Santa Cruz surfer kid who expertly makes prehistoric stone tools for the UC Berkeley archeological department, a bladesmith who considers his craft a spiritual practice and, my favorite, a hatchet throwing, jack-of-all trades surfer from Big Sur. These personal encounters make the book pulse with life.
There are photos that illustrate the difference between big and small agriculture. Long rows of tidy crops sprayed with unhealthy chemicals versus a field tended to with wind-chapped hands and a strong body. Growing up, I used to work on my grandparents' farm just outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. They grew corn, tomatoes and whatever else they thought the neighbors might like. Granddad let me feed the chickens and pigeons, and pick ears of corn from a field next to the pigeon house. I remember walking between the tall rows, the warm, clumpy earth feeling good beneath my bare feet. At a smaller field I collected rhubarb and eggplant for grandmother’s homemade fritters and strawberry rhubarb pie. She made the dough from scratch.
Dan and the guys visit Brenton Kelly and Jan Smith, who run the Quail Springs Permaculture Site and Educational Center in Maricopa. Dan asks them what they like about their jobs and what’s important to them. Brenton says he loves teaching and the interaction he has with students. Jan mentions that soil and light are basic connections to life and that she considers herself a wild critter. She feels that feeding people is the highest form of activism a person can do. Their spirited and noble lifestyle is exemplified in a stanza from Dick Gibford’s poem, While An Eagle Soared Like A Desert Lord.
He was just glad to be
Way out here
Still somewhat free
From pressure to conform
To modern times.
South of Cuyama up in the Sierra Madre, Dan sat in a small cabin with a man, wearing a wide brimmed hat and brightly colored bandana. It was Dick Gibford. He lives in the mountains tending cattle with his horse. Dan listens to Dick talk about the Spanish vaquero and their importance to the ranch culture. The American cowboy learned everything from the vaqueros Dick tells Dan. The vaquero move cattle at a slow pace, treating them with tender care. It takes fortitude and patience to do this kind of work, but it’s what Dick loves to do.
The old cowboy poet and everyone else we meet in the book and DVD grabs a hold of us and takes us with them. It’s what creative types do. We are grateful that Dan, Kellen and Kanoa stopped along the way to meet these folks, taking time to listen to their stories and learn about their unique skills. Dan reminds us that when we slow down and listen, we live.
Slow is Fast is now available from Patagonia.com and Patagonia Retail Stores.
[Video: Book trailer for Slow is Fast]
By Gavin McClurg
I've been really fortunate in the last couple decades to explore many of the farthest corners of the globe – thirteen straight years of sailing, chasing wind and waves on a series of kitesurfing expeditions, which included nearly two full circumnavigations, and the last couple years, paragliding all over the Alps, South America, Central America, Africa and the Himalayas. Just like surfers chasing swell, pilots chase seasons and weather.
Reggie Crist, a former Olympic alpine skier and friend of mine who lives here in Sun Valley is even making a movie about how athletes are like migratory animals, hopping on planes or jumping in cars chasing what they “need” be it adrenaline, or escape, or just pure fun. Animals, of course, are seeking food and shelter, which is all we really need as well. But for some people this other “need” is as urgent as the next hit is for a junky. Without it we find life marginalized, gray and drab.
[Above: Gavin McClurg soars. Photo: Jody MacDonald]
I met Matt and two other local pilots, Donnie and Nate, at 3pm, right across the street from the historic Sun Valley Lodge. We were up at launch an hour later, legs and lungs burning but we were all smiles – the conditions looked perfect. In no time we were all off the hill and heading up the ridge towards Otto’s Peak, at the top of trail creek, various singing “beep beep beep” verifying glorious climbs. Cloudbase was nearly 15,000 feet and there was almost no wind. The thermals were gentle, the sky more clear and blue than I'd ever seen in the Wood River Valley, which stretches out to the great basin desert and winds up to Galena Pass, the gateway to Stanley and the stunning Sawtooth Mountains. After a horrific fire season and being evacuated from our home just a few weeks earlier, I couldn't believe everything looked so pristine. The flying was so good I found myself questioning what was happening, and looking over my shoulder for the surprise that never came. Days like this come around very, very rarely.
We made the jump from Otto’s, at the south end of the Boulder range over to the Pioneers and eventually all grouped up and flew right down the range. I discovered Matt had a GoPro with him and we spiraled down, deep into the range, tight into the terrain, something that would be suicidal in summer. We must have flown 40 kilometers out and back and then back out from one end to the other. Donnie and Nate decided to fly back to town after a flight that both would later describe as one of the best they'd ever had. Matt and I carried on until sunset, wondering if someone had snuck some acid into our lunch. This just wasn't possible.
[Video: The Higher You Get, The Higher You Get by Offshore Odysseys]
We landed about 50 feet away from the Pioneer Cabin at 9,500 feet. After laughing, and hugging, and laughing some more we watched the sun fade over the horizon, packed up and moved into the cabin. We enjoyed a hot cup of tea, dinner, star gazing, a lot more laughing and a lot of discussion about this shared addiction of flight – and the irony of how we spend so much time and money and effort chasing what we love around the world yet the best is right here in our own backyard.
I've traveled and moved more than I've stayed put in my 41 years on this very cool planet we call home, adding my own considerable carbon footprint to the abundance that we humans are producing daily. Maybe it's time to slow down and enjoy the horizon that is right here every day.
The next day we fired up the stove, had a coffee, walked no more than five minutes to a slope above the cabin and launched, hoping we could find a place to land in the canyon below us but couldn't see. The sun was already baking the east-facing slopes and as we pilots like to say, “It was ON.” We circled like birds up and up to 12,000 feet and pointed our wings home. A place I think I'll stay awhile.
Gavin McClurg is the CEO of Offshore Odysseys and founder of The Best Odyssey and The Cabrinha Quest. He grew up on boats in the Pacific Northwest and commercially fished in the Bering Sea before getting into sailing in the mid ‘90s. The Cabrinha Quest is a five-year seafaring expedition to seek out the world’s most remote and dynamic kitesurfing and surfing locations. Photo: Jody MacDonald