Kingsbury paraglider crosses the Sierra Nevada
SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. – Somewhere near Onion Valley, soaring over the Southern Sierra, paraglider and Kingsbury resident Stephan Haase thought he was going down. He wasn’t going to crash, but losing the updraft that had would carry him across the mountain range meant a 9-mile “walk of shame” with a 65-pound pack back to the road where he’d have to hitchhike to his truck.
“Initially, I was frustrated,” Haase wrote in an e-mail. “I relaxed and did not focus on the walk.”
Haase found a slight lift, circling slowly, patiently, gradually increasing his altitude. A few minutes later, he was soaring again, shooting upward at 1,200 feet per minute, before topping out at nearly 16,000 feet above sea level. Sitting back under his parachute-like wing alone, he silently skipped by the peaks, Mt. Whitney, Mt. Muir, Mt. Russel, Independence Peak, Gardiner Mountain, over the Great Western Divide, the Monarch Divide and the Kings Kern Divide.
The August flight was the first known crossing of the American Sierra Nevada by a non-motorized paraglider, an achievement paragliders have aspired to for a long time.
“That had never been done before,” said Nick Greece, a spokesman for the U.S. Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association. “The fact that he did it alone is quite an accomplishment. It’s been coveted for years as one of the few adventure routes left.”
Haase launched from a small pull-out known near Lone Pine, Calif. called Walt’s Point. After he was in the air, the wind continued to build, leaving the hang-glider pilots he was supposed to fly with on the ground, unable to take off.
“The toughest challenge was trusting my ability, technology and ‘mountain sense,'” Haase said.
From there, he flew north along the mountain range’s edge before turning west toward Cedar Grove, Calif. The thermals, upwards moving drafts of air, picked up through the mountains, at one point pushing Haase to 17,600 feet above sea level. Federal Aviation Administration regulations limit paragliders to 18,000 feet, so they stay out of commercial air space.
“This was cloud base and I had tiny hints of white whippy clouds around my head,” Haase said. “The ground became slightly obscured.”
After more than 70 kilometers and 3 hours, Haase floated to the ground near Cedar Grove, Calif. The steep walls of Kings Canyon provided few safe places to land, so, without another option, he chose the shallows of the Kings River.
Haase will to continue to fly new routes in the area, he said. He’s eyeing multi-day trips from south to north across the Sierra and a multi-day flight from Lake Tahoe to Salt Lake City.
And, with the Sierra crossing under his belt, he hopes to score an invite to the recently announced Red Bull X-West, a paragliding and hiking adventure race, in 2012.