Saturday, December 22, 2007

The Spot, and Happy Solstice

This is interesting...

I think I'm going to order one and check it out, could be really good for paragliding in remote areas, backcountry skiing, etc. I'm a firm believer in doing my absolute best to self-rescue, but sometimes it's not going to work out. A satellite text message could be just the trick, and a lot simpler and lighter than a satellite phone for sure. In the Canadian Rockies we don't normally have cell phone coverage, this could be just the ticket. The same service is used to track shipping containers and other cargo, it works well for that, although Globalstar phone service is reportedly imploding.

And a big, Happy Solstice! This is the darkest day of the year, from here on out we're all (those of us in the North anyhow) going to find a little more light in our lives, yeah! Most cultures in the northern hemisphere have a huge party around this time of year, some sort of "festival of lights" to mark the fact that the days are finally growing in length and the nights shrinking--hence all the lights on houses, trees, etc. Christmas is great and all, but all the commercialism makes it a bit difficult for me to get very fired up about. I'm also unimpressed with the whole god/supernatural/psychic thing, but more light is a great thing for sure! Less headlamp juice required from here on out for all our adventures.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Outdoor junkies and tech

A comment on my recent anti-PDF screed (and I still hate 'em as they're designed around using paper) got me thinking. The question was, "Does anyone else find it amusing that a PDF topic has generated so many comments on a blog dedicated to outdoor fun & adventure? Are all outdoorsy people really just closet tech nerds?!?!"

I don't know about all outdoorsy people being tech nerds, but I am willing to bet a dual-layer DVD of my recent films that most of us are pretty into our tech, be it analog (cams, shoes, packs, tents) or digital. Most of my garage is devoted not to storing cars but more important stuff--gear. Most of my office is laden not with printed PDFs but with scanners, a dozen or so hard drives, two computers, a printer (which doesn't get much use), editing gear, cameras, GPS units, radio bits, etc. Who among us "outdoorsy" types doesn't have at least a half-dozen weather forecasts bookmarked? Plus various road condition reports, blogs, outdoor forums (for several sports), and of course five or six mailboxes devoted to upcoming trips? Plus various folders on our hard drives devoted to the same, and maybe a map program or four...

Paragliding is even worse than climbing; GPS programs, flight analysis software, digital aviation maps, etc. The truly nerdy paraglider or hang glider pilots will have a minimum of two GPS units plus two flight computers, which they fly with and then download and geek out for hours before uploading the tracks to various forums where other pilots geek out on tracks for hours... I'm sure I'm missing some stuff here but gear, be it analog or digital, is for sure a HUGE part of the outdoor game. The phrase "gear junkie" no longer applies to just outdoor gear from footwear (who among us doesn't have far more outdoor footwear than "dress" footwear?) to tents but also our digital bits.

I also suspect there are a lot of "tech" types who are outdoor junkies of one kind or another. It's certainly true in paragliding, where the stereotypical pilot is an IT guy living in a major west-coast city. Some of the responses to my, "F the PDF" post were very solid from a tech perspective (as well as grammar, sorry about that, this stuff gets written straight off the top of my head--which is likely obvious to anyone who works with words professionally). There are likely still outdoorsy people who don't spend a good chunk of each day in front of a monitor, but they're not the sort likely to post comments on a blog.

So get your tech on, yeah!

PS--someone just emailed me to explain that PDF really stands for, "Print this Damn thing and Fax back." Yep, PDFs sure are great for two-way communication in the digital age. I think I'm going to set my email up to just flat-our reject any email with a .pdf attachment along with a message that says, "You recently sent me a PDF. This shows that you really don't want a response from me, nor do you want me to be able to actually work with the data. I'm going to save us both some hassle and just ignore it."

PPS--my travel agent just sent me an itinerary in, yep, PDF format. It's a five-page document that's near-useless, although it has very nice proportions and scales well (full sarcasm). This isn't two-way communication, but it also doesn't work as I can't drop the info into my calendar, phone, etc. I think I was sort of used to the hassle of PDFs before but all this discussion has made me realize just exactly how retro and bass-ackwards they are for just about anything.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

PDFs and Film Festivals

Whoever invented the PDF file format should be sent to the same sort of hell reserved for whoever took the auto-fill thingamabob off of gas pumps. In this hell, Mr. PDF and Mr. "Stand there and pump gas instead of doing something useful like checking the oil" will argue endlessly about exactly who has wasted more of modern humanity's time--while the guy who invented internet blogs looks on. Here's why:

I send a lot of films out to mountain film festivals, of which there are now hundreds. I receive three or four emails a week asking for my films, which is a really nice compliment in a way, and I usually take the time to send each one a DVD. Unfortunately, most film festival entry forms now require either a convoluted on-line system (total waste of time, usually resets on page 7 of 11) or PDF documents, which are the single greatest waste of time, paper and energy ever invented. PDFs must be good for something, but they are totally worthless as a form of two-way communication in the digital age. You can't fill them out electronically--unless you pay extra for some sort of Adobe secret de-coder ring to open 'em up and actually work with them, instead of just admire the pretty layout some frustrated art-school dropout produced.

I hate it every time I see that file extension on a document; unless it's really important, like a film festival entry form, I'll usually just ignore it. In fact, I've started ignoring even film festival PDFs and just sending back a plain email with the info they want. Seems to work, who would have thought?

Anyone who sends someone else a PDF is obviously either plain clueless or actively dislikes the recipient, perhaps both. The sender is asking the recipient to print it, fill it out by hand (anyone who has seen my writing knows that this is a further waste of time as far as any actual communication goes) and then scan it and email it or fax it back. Twenty years ago this process would have seemed kinda high tech and cool; now it's like a brick-sized cell phone or a voicemail instead of a text: a total waste of time. Lawyers also seem to love PDFs; "Here's a 27-page contract, mind finding a printer while in some no-star budget hotel and faxing that back tonight? We know we've got you by the short hairs on this one, so don't even try to use something modern like a digital signature." Send me a Word document, a text file, a simple email with questions, an "Open Office" form, a Keynote form, even an ancient Quark file and I'll fill it out. But the next person who sends me a PDF? I'm going to do what my mother used to do with those "postage guaranteed" solicitation forms: attach a brick to it and send it back "postage due."

PDFs suck, BAN THE PDF! PDF stands for, "Pretty Damn Fecking Useless," they just forgot the U.

In other news, climbing sure has been fun lately. Fully analog, all physical, no computers, no PDFs, what a great sport. I had so much fun yesterday I ripped a stomach muscle, so today I can't really sit up. Kinda cool to have a new injury. On the left side of my body I have the following problems: Elbow tendinitis, jacked knee, strained oblique, infected cut from the Whistler rock gym's hand crack, and a some sort of pustilence where a spider bit me. I'm really not making this up; my right side is totally fine, but my left side appears to be about age 75 right now. Which is why I'm surly and writing about PDFs. I hope your day was PDF-free and outside.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Haffner Mixed

Haffner is a small canyon near my home. Really small-about 40 feet high, but with at least 20 mixed routes worth doing. I've been hitting it for almost ten years; it's close, has a lot of fun routes, it's close, etc...

Yesterday was my first time in there for a long time. Last year I didn't climb much between the fall rock season and the spring ice season as my elbow was tweaked; no new mixed routes, no 50 days or more of scrabbling on the rock and dangling icicles I so love. Yesterday reminded me of exactly why I love mixed climbing. It's brutal, aggressive, mental, tenuous, annoying, satisfying and downright engaging. No other form of climbing combines so much emotional response in such a short period of time for me. I've done some more alpine climbing this fall, and love that too, but mixed climbing just distills all that I like about climbing into one rope length of giving it.

It's so hard at first; every season I'm definitely a novice for the first few climbs. I don't trust my tools, get super pumped on "easy" terrain, my feet blow and it takes everything I have to not melt down into a quivering pile of mental mush. Then it gets a bit better by the second or third pitch, and usually by the end of the first day I forget about all the mechanics at least for a few moves and simply climb. I find mixed climbing requires a much stronger mind than rock climbing, at least for me. On rock I just climb, but on mixed I've got to get through this mental barrier before I can truly move. I've got to get over the fear of the tools, rock, my feet don't work naturally. But when I finally get that mental boulder off my shoulders it just feels so good...

Then there's just being outside in winter. We had to break trail up to the Haffner Cave, which was a bit arduous for me as I tweaked my knee kite-skiing the other day (not a good idea to launch big when you don't really know what you're doing). I always like hiking through that burned but still standing stark black forest, watching the big peaks, and just being out there with friends. I can get the same experience ski touring in a way, but ski touring doesn't have the same mental "ambush" for me as mixed climbing. I know I can ski, I'm never sure I can mixed climb, and often can't until things get moving again... All climbing is mental, but mixed climbing is definitely more mental than any other form of climbing for me.

Yesterday I flailed on routes I used to do laps on with a weight belt. But by my last go I was linking big sections, and climbing with the pump instead of pumping out instantly. My hands were suddenly warm and my body relaxed instead of frozen and tight. I'm back on the curve, and can't wait for tomorrow, when we'll do it all again. Game on

As always, there's no point to this but damn is mixed climbing fun! I hope everyone is getting out...

Friday, December 07, 2007

MEC pulls Nalgene Bottles

About a month ago I got rid of my epic collection of hard plastic Nalgene bottles. I'd read enough stories suggesting that they likely weren't all that good for me or my family. MEC just did the same thing...

The risk of developing fatal cancer (or breasts or whatever) from these bottles is probably pretty low. But we've got so many "minor" nasty things in our environment today that I'm trying to cut out the "easy" potential problems such as these bottles.

We're all obviously gonna die, I'd just prefer to die while reasonably healthy and from something other than a lingering nasty health issue if I can...

A few other links:

Utah Story

Blog story, good

Wiki article If babies can reach 13 µg/kg/day, and research in mice suggests exposure of 0.025µg/kg/day can cause serious issues (see article), well, I don't think I wanna be drinking out of these bottles when there are good alternatives...

Monday, December 03, 2007

Snow Tires, Slideshows and Subarus

I've just spent two full days trying to drive from Whistler back home to Canmore. Road conditions have been abysmal--ice, snow, freezing rain, truly the worst roads I've seen in years. We left Whistler reasonably early yesterday after the Mountaineer's Soiree the night before (thanks to the organizers and crowd, good fun!), only to encounter crawling traffic on the Sea to Sky. No big deal, just slow, avoid the accidents waiting to happen. In Vancouver the roads were OK, just wet and a bit slushy, but by about Langley we were back to crawl mode with people orbiting off into the ditches regularly. I was feeling pretty good about the Subaru and the four new studded snow tires I'd just picked up in Portland on the way home from England and Scotland--studded snow tires seem like overkill until you're driving for hours and hours on ice and snow... Finally stopped in Kamloops after 11 hours (about a six hour drive normally) figuring that the roads would get better in the morning, and they were initially this morning. Then it was back to rut surfing and powder driving, which is a lot like powder skiing somehow. I was feeling pretty confident with the Subaru and the good tires despite the poor conditions, but you can only drive as fast as the other traffic really... After waiting for an hour outside of Revelstoke for avi control we got back at it, pounding through increasingly rutted roads. I was passing occasionally when I could see well enough, but not driving flat-out in the poor conditions. After a while I noticed a couple of white vans keeping pace with me, and eventually working up until they were behind me. Not surprisingly, I recognized the vans as belonging to the Canadian National Nordic team. Nordic teams have a long history of all-out winter driving--motivated coaches, skiers and a lot of experience on bad roads. My windshield wipers started dying, and I was passed by a white van then two. It happens. I'd been passed a few times on the drive, often by a yahoo with bad control of his vehicle. The National Team passed me with style and solidity, so right on--I'd put the Canadian Ski Team drivers up against anyone else in the world, may their athletes do as well this year!

By Golden we had been on the road for another six hours for a three-hour drive. The Trans-Can was closed over to Lake Louise, so we started toward Radium. About 1oK out of Radium we came over a hill to see green a car sideways in our lane at the bottom of the hill. The temperature gauge had been spiking, from -8C in Golden to +4C, and it had started to actually rain, all in less than 15 minutes. I had tested the traction a couple of times since Golden, and it had been good. But with the rain and rapid temperature rise the brakes did very little... It was like a skating rink with a layer of water on it. Even with the new tires and studs we barely had enough traction to slow down. The money spent on the tires suddenly seemed like a really, really good investment. Studs kick ass on any studless tire, I've tried a few and they all suck in comparison.

It was pretty clear that Mr. Green Car was going to get pasted by the next vehicle to come along, so I pulled up behind and asked the driver if he wanted a push. The camber of the road was enough to keep him from starting again, that's how slick it was. A brief push with the bumper was all it took to get him moving again. At this point my adult passenger fully lost it, she'd had enough. Fair enough, it was horrendous. It was back to Golden, where we are now. All the roads out of Golden are closed, it's raining pretty hard on the snowpack, things are going to get wild up high and on the roads tonight. We hope to make it home to Canmore tomorrow, two and a half days after leaving Whistler. This should normally be a one-day drive.

Winter driving sure is fun!

Friday, November 23, 2007


A good friend recently sent me a few links about nutrition for sport. He's all fired up on this idea of counting "blocks" of carbs, protein and fat. I wrote the following back to him, then thought it was kinda interesting so here it is...

Don't worry too much about what you eat, but eat simple foods when given a choice. Train hard. Drink water like a drunkard. Drink alcohol in moderation. Direct your mental energy toward performance, not worrying about how many blocks of whatever you eat. I think one of all-time classic training errors is to worry about things that you don't need to, especially food. Your body will respond to hard training and sports as it needs to. When I run a lot I get skinny. When I paddle my kayak or fly a lot I get relatively heavy. I travel a lot and don't always have "perfect" food available, but if I make the "best" choice on the menu it's OK in the long run.

During competition food intake needs to be a slightly more organized as the stress of competing or performing can result in low energy levels, but the rest of the time simply eating good solid food and training hard will produce the body type you need for the sport you do. I would wager that the most successful athletes in the world spend far more time and energy thinking about how to perform and compete than how many scoops of cereal they eat for breakfast, especially in the sports we do. I have trained with some of the best climbers, kayakers and distance athletes on the planet. They did not measure their food. I've also trained with some of the most ripped, fit looking individuals on the planet, yet these same individuals don't win, and don't perform at the highest levels in their sports. The best athletes I've ever trained with worry first and foremost about getting their training done so that it leads to success, and how to organize their lives so they have the best possible chance at success. Food is an important but ultimately relatively minor part of that equation.

Sharma is not counting how many fucking corn flakes he eats. Sharma is kicking ass. Tiger Woods is not counting how many caviar crackers he eats. Tiger Woods is kicking ass. My sport climbing results improved dramatically when I stopped worrying so much about what I ate and started focusing more on how to be a better climber. It's always tempting to focus on things that are relatively easy to control such as food intake, rather than the more complicated but more important "real" goal: performance. Form follows function, focus on the function and kick ass. Eat when hungry. Don't eat when not hungry. Get up from the table feeling slightly less than full and you'll get skinnier. Get up from the table feeling stuffed and you'll likely get fatter. Your body is a finely tuned machine for doing what you want. Don't fuck with it or it will get confused.

When the emphasis on food goes from "I need fuel and enough of it train hard" to, "What does the diet plan say I need?" then things are going to go wrong. If you bonk on a long ski tour and then get back to the car and chow down an entire pizza you've blown it. You should have eaten the pizza before and during the long ski tour, no matter what the current diet rage says.

If you're truly fat and that fat is hindering your performance I'd argue that you're not training well and that you're using food as something other than fuel. Focus on how to change that equation...

This is aimed at outdoor sports athletes.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Kendal Mountain Film Festival

I'm over at the Kendal Mountain Film Festival, in Northern England. It's about as English as English gets in my mind. We went out for a hike the other day and walked through green fields filled with sheep, rock walls, rolling hills, little stone houses, older couples in gum boots out walking up hills in the mud and so on before retiring to the pub to sink a few pints.

I think any English-speaking person likely has some sort of mental image of Britain. This small collection of islands exerted a huge influence on me, from nursery rhymes to the Magna Carta to Wordsworth poems. I keep looking out the window at the rain, sheep and all other stuff I just mentioned and feeling that I have seen it all somewhere before, and that it is more familiar than my few brief trips here should make the view. The Kendal Film Festival is definitely an British production,with a full collection of English, Scottish, Irish and even Welsh film makers--somehow this too makes sense, all the accents swirling in a pub. I'm on the jury and sworn to secrecy on that, but I am really enjoying this festival. When I get old I'm going to do nothing but tour around to film festivals. Wait, I'm already sort of doing that, Dundee is next week!

Seriously, this is a fantastic event and worth planning a trip around. The sun even shone for two days, unfortunately I was locked in a basement and unable to see it. Now that we're done judging the sun is hidden behind a layer of clouds and rain that even has the locals commenting on the poor weather...

We've been hitting the Kendal climbing gym hard in the evenings, so much fun! My elbow problems finally seem to be in the past, and I just can't wait to get after it again. I even love climbing plastic, just the feeling of moves, chalk, ropes, friends new and old, climbing is just so damn great no matter what the medium.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Ice Season is ON!

It's that time of year again--Ice Season, yeah! I've already hiked to one non-existent climb and retreated off another, big fun. There's lots of ice in the Rockies now, several big new routes, and lots to do. I've run some ice climbing pages on for years, but this year Eric Hobbs put some work into a nice forum that's working surprisingly well given that it's only a few days old--check it out!

I'm on my way to England and Scotland for a couple of slide shows, some climbing in the rain and a lot of great films and fun at the Kendal and Dundee film festivals. Gotta catch a flight now so out of here but may your winter be long, cold and icy!


Sunday, October 28, 2007

Fearless Planet Shows

Just received the press release on Fearless Planet, the series I've been working on for the last two plus months. The series was insane to work on, definitely one of the biggest challenges of my life. Thanks to every single person who worked on it with me, without so many good people working so hard the experience could have been a disaster but was instead something magical. I have never done so many "stunts" in such a short period of time in so many places around the world. I can't wait to watch the final cuts!

Here's the press release.

"On November 11 at 10 PM (ET/PT), following PLANET EARTH, viewers can catch the debut of Discovery Channel’s new adrenaline-filled six-part series FEARLESS PLANET, a thrill ride through the earth’s most awesome natural wonders, taking extreme filmmaking to a whole new level. Viewers join world paragliding record holder and renowned extreme sportsman Will Gadd as he journeys to some of the most amazing locations in the world – Alaska, the Sahara, Hawaii, the Great Barrier Reef and the Grand Canyon – to understand how these stunning formations were created. The series uses cutting-edge photo-real computer graphics to bring to life the geological processes that created these natural wonders.

“PLANET EARTH and FEARLESS PLANET are natural history for the 21st century,” says Discovery Channel Executive Vice President and General Manager Jane Root. “Viewers journey to the far reaches of the earth, where they discover new animals, new landscapes and all new worlds. And with revolutionary film techniques, these spectacular places are closer than ever before.”

FEARLESS PLANET – Episode Guide:
Episode One – Hawaii
Sunday, November 11, 10 PM (ET/PT)
How does a mountain shape the perfect surfing wave? What creates a paradise—yet also destroys it? And how could an island wipe out a metropolis an ocean away?

To get at the truth behind these questions, Will Gadd takes to the air in his paraglider for a unique perspective on paradise. But climbing a 40-foot waterfall, diving in a mysterious undersea tunnel and mountain biking through 10 of the world’s 13 climate zones on one mountain isn’t enough. With the help of geologist Lloyd French, Gadd is able to discover with the astonishing natural forces at work just below the surface. Using the skills of super surfer Kaleo Amadeo, Gadd finds what processes turned the tiny patch of real estate into the greatest surfing paradise on earth. Diving beneath the waters of the Pacific, Gadd discovers how the islands are formed.
- more -


FOR THE FIRST TIME: In an epic sea kayaking adventure, Gadd uncovers new evidence showing the processes that created one of the islands. This leads to a compelling insight into the death of the islands and the very real dangers this could hold for cities as far away as Los Angeles.

Episode Two – Alaska
Sunday, November 18, 10 PM (ET/PT)
What makes Alaska the last great wilderness on earth? Why is it the best place to see the northern lights, and why are the mountains full of sea creatures?

Skiing from the peak of Mt. Muir, paragliding to the top of a glacier, ice climbing into a moving ice crevasse, kayaking down a dangerous melt stream and climbing an iceberg, extreme adventurer Will Gadd takes all Alaska can throw at him. He discovers where the iconic Alaskan mountain ranges come from and why they look the way they do. With help from experts Professor Peter Haussler and Dr. Tom Douglas and extreme skier Lel Tome, Gadd goes back hundreds of millions of years to uncover how the massive mountains – and the state itself – were formed. Deep inside a glacier he comes to grips with how these massive giants carved the landscape and looks into the future of this epic landscape illuminated by the awe-inspiring northern lights.

FOR THE FIRST TIME: Follow an extreme skier as she takes on Alaska’s most active volcano. And for the first time, photo-real CGI shows you the hidden processes that shaped this awesome landscape.

Episode Three – Sahara
Sunday, November 25, 10 PM (ET/PT)
Where would you find the biggest dinosaur ever? The oldest glass in the world? A cave so precious it changed history? In the same place where you can fly forever, ski at 58 degrees centigrade and drink million-year-old water.

- more -


The Sahara Desert provides unique challenges. Rock climbing in the extreme heat with geologist Matt Genge, Will Gadd discovers the ancient history of a lost superdesert. While Matt Genge and palaeontologist Matt Lamanna explore the eastern side of the Sahara, Gadd’s journey takes him south, deep into the western side. Between them, they discover a world of deserts, savannahs and oceans, and Gadd uses the extreme heat to try and reach the Holy Grail of paragliding—never-ending lift. He finds a new way to cross the oceans of sand and discovers what happened to the lost waters that once made this ultradry world a lush, beautiful land.

FOR THE FIRST TIME: An exclusive view of 12,000-year-old cave paintings previously seen by only handful of people in the world. We uncover previously unseen evidence of a massive meteorite strike. It is now estimated that the rock that slammed into the Sahara was half a mile wide.

Episode Four – The Great Barrier Reef
Sunday, December 2, 10 PM (ET/PT)
How can the biggest living thing on the planet survive almost anything? How did it get to be so big? And who really is the biggest killer on the reef?

Diving with angry sharks, riding Australia’s biggest ocean current, flying over the volcanoes that helped create the reef and witnessing how the reef makes an island. Working with geologists and marine biologists, extreme adventurer Will Gadd gets up close and personal with the largest living thing on the planet (the only one you can see from space) – the Great Barrier Reef. The story of what makes this place the perfect location for the largest reef in the world takes Gadd far inland in search of clues to Australia’s mysterious past. This is the hidden story of a world that has died and been resurrected many times, and it takes Gadd on an incredible voyage above and beneath the waves of Australia’s eastern seaboard.

- more -


FOR THE FIRST TIME: It has long been known that the remains of a much older reef are buried beneath today’s Great Barrier. But just how old is it? The mission: to get a piece. Scuba diving to depths of 190 feet, the team retrieved a rare piece of that ancient reef. This was a first – scientists can now date that forgotten ancestor—12,000 years old.

Episode Five – The Grand Canyon
Sunday, December 9, 10 PM (ET/PT)
How did the Grand Canyon get so deep? What are the secrets revealed in its mile-high walls, and what makes a world-class white-water rapid?

Will Gadd climbs a sheer 400-foot pinnacle to see what the birth of the Grand Canyon looked like 70 million years ago. He reveals the hidden worlds buried in the layers of rock in the canyon’s walls. From deserts to oceans to tropical forests, it’s all there as you go down. When he reaches the bottom, one mile down, he goes white-water kayaking down the canyon’s interior to see exactly how those famous rapids are made. And just beneath the water line he reaches the bottom of the Grand Canyon. He discovers America’s basement, a layer of dense black rock the United States is built on. This is the story of lost mountains, epic adventurers and gigantic volcanoes that have shaped one of the most iconic natural wonders in the world.

FOR THE FIRST TIME: In the biggest, most dangerous stunt of the series, Gadd flies across the Grand Canyon using just the power of the massive thermal lift generated by the intense temperatures formed deep within the canyon.

Episode Six – Earth Story
Sunday, December 16, 10 PM (ET/PT)
What forces created our Earth? What do the Grand Canyon, the world’s tallest waterfall and the Sahara have in common? What is a hot spot, and how did it make Hawaii and the Great Barrier Reef? And what does it really take to move a mountain?
- more -


The world’s great natural wonders are works in progress. Getting up close and personal with them gives adventurer Will Gadd and scientists from around the world unique insights into the colossal forces that created the whole planet. This is big geology, and Gadd’s unique skills make him best suited to reach the rocks science needs in order to tell this epic story. Written in folds of the northern lights above Alaska a clue to the formation of the planet is uncovered. On the island of Hawaii Gadd sees the processes that created the continents, and in the Grand Canyon he experiences the power of water. In Australia’s Great Barrier Reef he discovers how continents move and how erosion created the perfect stage for the world’s tallest waterfall.

FOR THE FIRST TIME: A unique all-action view of how the world was created, told through its most iconic natural wonders and the eyes of its most extreme athlete.

A high-definition format was needed with incredible contrast and color rendition comparable to film but with the ability to adapt to the extreme conditions and stunts. For this reason the series was primarily shot with Panasonic AJ-HDC27 VariCam® HD Cinema cameras. As well as its incredible resolution, the camera has astounding rendition at higher ISO speeds and its 640 sensitivity helped create a gritty, visual canvas for the stunt sequences. To achieve this, Discovery Channel filmed the action with an average of six cameras from the air, under water and in specially designed mounts that were attached to Will Gadd. To enhance this immersive concept, the shooting style mixed shutter speeds and slow motion. The 45-degree shutter was used to further augment the speed of the action.

A special thanks to Will Aslett, series producer, who got me the job, and David Warren, the only person to do all five shows. We survived it mang!

Friday, October 12, 2007


I'm at about 30,000 feet cruising south with a plastic cup of wine, checking out a sunset over the Rockies and en route to Australia. A good place to think, and do what I most often do on flights--write. When I'm at home the phone rings, emails appear, and I can find an easy out. In a plane, with the headphones on, well, it's time to either sleep or write.

Alaska Notes:
The excitement of the heli-wash experience led my initial list of Alaska memories, but after over a week at home (yeah!) more memories are starting to pop into my mind. I'd never visited Alaska before, and that was a mistake. Alaska is amazing, and I was very lucky to see the southern end of the Chugach mountains both on the ground and from the air for a week straight. Every morning Dave King would show up with his A-Star and take us someplace amazing, where we would get to climb, kayak, paraglide, paramotor or whatever was in the script for the day. We flew over and landed on huge glaciers, grappled with crevasses, and generally had a fantastic trip with good people. The climbing community is small, and it felt almost like someplace I had been before do to the people I knew there and the close circles of friends I shared with the locals. I can't wait to go back, great people and place, thanks to everyone on the trip.

Training: the Joy of the Jungle Gym

I sometimes find myself sitting on a hotel or my own couch late in the evening with a long string of reasons why I haven't worked out: Travel, time, sleep deprivation, work, and my personal favorite, no "location" such as a gym or whatever. But I'd like to publicly hang the last reason out to dry: There is always a gym pretty close to wherever I am, almost anywhere in the world: a playground…

I've gotten really into playground "jungle gyms" in the last few years while traveling, there's enough to do at even a small playground to work myself into oblivion. It takes some creativity and the willingness to share with the other kids, but with some creative thinking a good jungle gym is a great "real" gym... Little kids bust out all kinds of swinging, jumping, stretching and just generally physical mayhem on their playgrounds, which is exactly what we as adults need to keep our bodies in reasonable shape. I do a sort of modified Cross-Fit thing my friend Josh and I started doing in Brazil a few years ago, heavy on the pushups, pullups, situps, and whatever else fits (often dips, handstand pushups, "knees to elbows" or whatever, just do it fast and give it hard, flowing with the different opportunities available in a new playground gym). Each new playground is a new gym, so things change. I love it when little kids start trying to do pullups and stuff while their parents watch, it's good for a smile every time. In the midst of a long drive home the other day (Portland to Canmore), I found a small but nice "gym" in Sand Point and went after it in the time I had.

A set of parents looked at me with concern as I did offset pull-ups on the support poles of the swing set alternating with situps while their kid swung and wondered why I was grunting so hard. Part of working out in public is letting go of inhibitions about being an "adult" and just getting it done. Like anyone, I'm sensitive to making a fool out of myself in public, but am I a fool for busting out front levers in public or are the often rather large onlookers fools? Or so I tell myself, it helps, and walking away from a five-round blast of improvised dips, lock-off traverses of the monkey bars, lateral raises on the chains and whatever else fits just feels GOOD. You don't need a Gold's gym with all the pneumatic bullshit and free weights, you just need to revert to being a kid and go at it like recess is over in 20 minutes….

Monday, September 24, 2007

Alaska helicopter wash

Heli Wash

I've flown paragliders around helicopters for filming a fair amount over the years, and always thought that flying a paraglider into helicopter wash would be a bad idea. I'm working on a series of TV shows at the moment involving a lot of paragliding and helicopters; somewhat inevitably perhaps, I've confirmed that paragliders and helicopter wash don't mix. Here's the rather long story I wrote on a recent jet trip home.

I always set up some basic rules for working with helicopters: a minimum of 1,000 feet separation to the sides, 500 behind, don't fly directly in front of me at my altitude at any distance, don't fly directly over or under me, don't fly within a 2000 feet of me while I'm under 500 feet (the most vulnerable place to be on a parglider is close to the ground, and this is also where a heli's wash spreads out the most). Rotor wash can last a surprisingly long time in the air and you can't generally see it after hover altitude, you just have to assume it's there and respect it. I've always thought heli wash would be particularly violent; the rotor is moving very fast, and moves a lot of air, especially at the slower speeds helis have to fly to match my speed. I also set some rules for myself: have a minimum of 500 feet of ground clearance, don't do anything but watch the heli pilot for the first shots so I can get a feel for his situational awareness, and keep an eye on the heli at all times. I do a thorough briefing with the pilot before each shoot that lays these protocols out, and in general it's worked well.

In Hawaii we had very good communications with the pilot, and despite shooting at cloudbase with good thermals things went well. I did have to alter course when the pilot flew directly in front of me at my altitude on my flight line (the direction I was flying would have put me into his wash maybe 5-10 seconds after he went by); I was on my normal paraglider (no motor) and had no problem turning. Part of the program with these shoots is that I'm often doing "pieces to camera," or PTCs, which just means that I'm talking to a small camera on a pole that I hold with one hand while flying the glider with the other, or just let go of the glider entirely if the air is smooth. I've done this a lot over the years and have gotten pretty good at flying one-handed even in strong air, the air in Hawaii was no problem. When the heli cut me off (he was far away from his perspective, no danger of hitting the heli or blades, just the wash) I was able to turn quickly with one hand. I still got a piece of his wash and took a small frontal, but no big deal. The pilot and I had a discussion on the radio, and worked well for the rest of the shoot.

In Morocco I again had a heli sequence, but there was a bit of a language barrier and poor coms with the heli. At one point the pilot flew directly in front of me at about 1000 feet of horizontal separation, so I wanted to turn and fly the other direction but it took a few seconds to get my hands back on the controls as I was flying a paramotor with high hook-ins and had let the brakes go in the smooth evening air. This put the controls at the limit of what I could reach, but I was able to turn away and totally missed the wash. I wanted a motor with lower hook-in points, but somehow that didn't happen despite my best efforts. High hook-in points are OK if you fly a glider with short motor-specific risers, but I also fly my glider a lot without motors, sometimes in the same day, so switching risers continually isn't an option, and I couldn't find risers with low and high hook in points for my glider. My normal motor has low hook-in points, I really prefer that system for many reasons but that's another story. High hook-in points and normal paraglider risers are a bad combination to launch as it's difficult to control the glider and impossible to front launch so a running reverse is the only way to go, but I got it done after some technique mods.

In Alaska we worked with one of the best heli pilots I've ever flown with, Dave King from Last Frontier. We were flying from near Palmer into different locations about 10 to 30 minutes of heli time into the mountains, it was always the highlight of my day to fly with Dave. He had a great feel for the air and machine, and taught me a lot about flying, truly a fine experience to fly over glaciers and among the peaks of Alaska. We did a few scenes where he dropped me high on a peak and then I flew off and landed on a massive glacier; tricky flying to put a heli on a sloped and convoluted icy glacier safely, but he did it smoothly as usual. I had a cameraman and the director in the heli shooting aerials, Dave kept distance well and I was very comfortable with him. He did fly in front of me at about 2,000 feet horizontal separation and I caught a small piece of his wash, just a "bump bump" movement, we talked about this and agreed that was about the limit for flying directly in front of me at my altitude...

We then did a paramotor (paraglider with a motor on my back driving a small prop) scene late one evening. We were all tired from a long day of shooting, but I managed to get into the air with yet another motor with high hook-in points, a real hassle. We were in a rush as it would be dark in about an hour, so I climbed to about 600 AGL as Dave took off and the camera team started shooting aerials. As the light was going I immediately started doing my lines to camera, which meant letting go of the glider completely due to the high hook-in points. The air was very smooth evening "glass," not a bump in it, so no big deal. When I do pieces to camera my situational awareness is greatly reduced, but I was trying to keep an eye on the heli as best I could. It flew in front of me at about 2,000 feet and slightly lower than me, no wash, no problem, I became more focused on doing my lines to camera before I lost the sun. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the heli cross in front of me exactly at my altitude and kinda close, but I was tired and the heli was only kinda close but not crazy close, and getting ahold of the brakes and turning would have taken time, plus the cruise control on the motor was broken (I'd rigged it to work with a sock I somehow had in my camera bag) so I didn't want to move my legs where I had it pinched and then have to mess with it again, and I'd just had a thought about how to do the PTC better, nah, it'll be OK. I did check my altitude quickly, still at least 500 feet, back to work. BANG!

The glider folded up violently. I haven't had an unexpected massive collapse like that in about ten years, it just doesn't happen. I knew immediately that I'd hit the heli wash. I dropped the camera onto its safety, and went for the brakes, which were harder to reach than normal due to the high hook ins. The glider re-inflated behind and to my left side judging by tension, then shot violently overhead and sideways to the right. With no brake input it carried on flying well below the horizon and to the side with one wing still stuck into the right lines, collapsed hard again as expected, and I fell back under it with the brakes finally in my hands. Quick ground check, still plenty of altitude to throw the reserve, good, glider doing a funky spin thing right, left brake, surge, start to stall left side, get it flying, easy, OK, stable smooth turn to the right with about 20 percent of the right wing still locked into the lines but the rest clear. I was able to hold flight heading with light left brake. I wanted to get the stuck side sorted but was totally unable to reach the lines that would help me do that, and a tentative pump on the right side caused an aggressive turn/stall feeling, nope. By this time I was only about 200 feet off the ground, and figured maybe I could motor back up and work on it with more altitude. I managed to find the throttle, which I'd lost during the maneuvers, but when I gently powered up the glider didn't like it, stall/spin feeling, nope. Throw reserve or not? I decided the glider was landable in its current configuration as I could fly it straight so I pointed it into the wind and sunk toward on the huge gravel flat below me. I had a clean landing then sat down and shook like a leaf for a bit, that sucked. I had about a half second of anger towards Dave, but that passed quickly as the real reasons for the situation had far less to do with Dave than a long string of poor decisions on my part:

1. I was flying late in the day when I was really tired, as was Dave. It was the fifth straight day of shooting and dong a lot of intense activity. I should have called the day.
2. I didn't repeat a thorough pre-flight planning session and briefing with Dave as we had done with the other flights; I was so focused on getting into the air that I forgot that any "stunt" with more than one person involved is a team effort, and it's my job to keep that team organized.
3. I rushed the situation to try and get a job done on a tight schedule (and because I wanted to fly).
4. I was flying a motor with high hook-in points on a glider with long risers. This greatly increased my reaction time 'cause I couldn't immediately grab the brakes.
5. The same high hook in points prevented me from reaching the proper lines (stabio) and possibly sorting out the stuck wing.
6. Everyone in the air was working to make a film and distracted to some degree. Dave is an excellent pilot I trust, but he is listening to the film crew and trying to get shots for them. I'd talked with the director and cameraman about safe distances and watching out for me, but they are primarily focused on their job, which is getting great shots. Nobody in the heli was paying full attention to absolutely keep that heli a set distance and position from me, nor was I properly watching the heli.
7. I did not have good coms with the heli.
8. I was not following my own protocol for distance, and was also letting the heli fly directly in front of me rather than all heli turns going away from my flight line and not crossing my path. I'd been lulled into a false sense of security with the heli's wash.
9. I was lazy about turning away from the heli when it crossed my path. Tired, etc.

What I did right:

1. I had 600 feet of altitude. There was some discussion of flying lower for the shot, but I kept to that protocol for exactly this situation. At the time I questioned whether I was being too safety oriented; my glider doesn't fold up very often, etc...
2. I was still one step away from a really bad crash as I was high enough to throw my reserve, which I had carefully attached to the motor that day. I actually had the option of flying another motor I'll call "B" that showed up at the last minute, but choose to fly the original motor as I'd hooked the reserve up to it. I knew the air was smooth, I've never needed my reserve in over 3,000 hours of flying, and motor "B" was lighter with slightly better hook-in points... It was very tempting to fly it, but I choose to fly the original motor with the reserve "just in case." What woke me up in a cold sweat was not the collapse, that's happened lots over the years, but realizing how close I had been to flying motor B without a reserve. Maybe things would have been totally different, but then again maybe I wouldn't have gotten control of the glider as quickly or I could not have recovered it in a flyable configuration... I would really have hated to be in that position without a reserve parachute, I literally woke up in the middle of the night with that realization.
3. I was flying a Gin Rebel, a DHV 2 glider that recovers well with no pilot input. I really blew that wing up, and it did recover. Thanks to Gin for that one. I often fly comp gliders, but I take the game down a bit for filming so I don't have to pay as much attention to the glider, and so it will recover better if it all goes bad. It all went bad.

What I'll do differently on the next shoot with a heli:

Go through the list above and correct each and every item on it. I also won't fly around helis again unless there is someone in the heli who knows paragliders and whose sole job is to watch the overall situation.

I also now know what it's like to fly a glider directly into rotor wash; it's been a bit abstract to this point, it's not anymore. If the heli had of been 100 feet lower or 100 feet higher it would have been fine I think, but I got the direct "slap." I can communicate this to future heli pilots based on personal experience and not, "Here's what I think will happen..." Concrete experience is better than abstract theory.

Some broader lessons learned:

1. Getting away with something stupid doesn't mean it's a good idea to continue doing the same thing. I let the heli fly directly in front of me, and then let it fly closer. The first clear sign of serious trouble could have been much worse. We do this in the mountains sometimes; ski a slope that's questionable, OK, that worked, little more questionable, OK, gee, I must be working with a "too safe" attitude, boom, it all slides. Apparently heli ski guides are very conscious of this progression and try to minimize it, but it happens in all risk activities, including things like trading stocks... A bad decision can work out OK for the wrong reasons, but it's still a bad decision that may have harsh consequences when that realization is finally made.

2. I do a lot of TV work and am very familiar with the "just one more shot" program. I've done hundreds of days of film/stunt work with no accidents, always under time pressure. There's never enough time on TV shoots, but I never let that define my safety margin. I let this one get away from me a bit, not due to any sort of direct pressure (in fact the director encouraged me to quit for the day, respect to him for that), but because I like working hard, and so did the team of good people I was working with. I normally try operate at less than about 75 percent of my "max" mental or physical capacity on a TV gig to keep myself sharp and strong enough to deal with the unexpected. I was operating near my mental and physical limit on this day, and it bit me. A good lesson to re-learn.

3. Like most accidents or near misses, this one wasn't the result of just one mistake. We use protocols in risk sports to safeguard not only against the obvious problems but to have a margin of error for the unexpected, including our own inevitable bad decisions. I broke most of my protocols but the two that I respected may have saved my life or at least prevented serious injury: I kept enough altitude to recover a fully collapsed glider, and I had a reserve "just in case." There have been a lot of times in the mountains where the "just in case" bit of thinking has appeared useless, but the few times I've needed the "bonus" it's been very, very important. In the long term respecting basic protocols and having the "just in case" mindset is very important for survival. You can shave the margin only so thin for so long before it isn't there when you really need it.

I'm off to Australia and then Arizona for more of the same great job, this experience will help me do a safer job of it all both on this shoot and on my own adventures. I hope the above makes it clear that I have no bad feelings toward anyone on the shoot, but just to make it clear I absolutely don't. I would definitely do the same job again with the same people, and would actually prefer that as the experience has made us all a bit more heads up. When we do a stunt or anything dangerous it all looks easy and like there is loads of margin--until there isn't. Experiences like this drive home the point. I'm very glad I had a reserve, as I was still one "level" away from this being a "I survived by the skin of my teeth" story, but that doesn't make it right. Play safe out there.

PS--The aerial shots look fantastic, the whole reason for doing this sort of flying in the first place!

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


Skydiving has always struck me as a silly sport: Flop out of a plane, fall for a bit, pull the handle. The last sentence combines arrogance, hubris and ignorance rather nicely, as I recently found out. Due to an on-going film gig I've had to learn how to skydive, it's just simpler than doing some other aerial stunts. I've done three jumps out of a plane previously (instructor holds your pilot chute, jump) and a handful of BASE jumps off a bridge. I did all of these reasonably well, so I signed up for an accelerated free-fall course with Skydive Vancouver, and naively assumed I'd kick ass at it. I was wrong. From the first trip out of the plane with an instructor on either side of me it just didn't go all that well. I simply don't like falling; I've spent my whole life NOT falling, and the rush of wind and spatial disorientation was horrendous for me. I pulled the first skydive off OK, pulled OK, but screwed the second one up pretty good. Nothing all that dangerous thanks to the instructors, but I did a lot wrong and failed the second level of AFF. I haven't "failed" at a sport in a long time, it was humbling. I spent the night thinking about the whole experience and finally decided that I needed to stop thinking I knew what I was doing and start asking more questions, start listening better, and generally get my head around a sport that I find really overwhelming. There's just something wrong about falling. Finally on my third AFF jump I managed to start flying my body, but only after I got past the rush of the wind and the general feeling of, "Oh shit, I'm about to die." I think I would have pulled after about .02 seconds without the goal of passing the AFF program--once the canopy is out I'm totally happy (learner skydive canopies are a lot easier to fly than a paraglider), but that freefall business terrified me...

It's also been a good re-education about being a novice in sport. I don't generally get all that scared flying my paraglider or climbing anymore, I know the systems and have faith in my skills. I'll be a better instructor in those sports having experienced the terror of learning something really overwhelming again. Before my third jump I spent literally hours visualizing how the wind would feel, what I needed to do FIRST, second, third, the motions in the air, etc., and had a much better jump. On the fourth jump the instructor let go of me and I fell stable, turned a bit, and had good altitude awareness throughout. I even enjoyed it a bit, starting to feel my body in the air instead of just the huge siren going off that says, "FALLING, FALLING, FALLING, DO SOMETHING ABOUT THAT!"

The whole experience has also been an education for me about how I learn; I need a lot of repetition to get good at something. Usually I can "fake" the opening sequences of a new sport (stand up on surfboard in easy waves, stand up water-skiing first go), but all the sports I've learned recently play off of other sports that I know something about. Water skiing is different than normal skiing, but it's also not all that different than surfing a kayak and skiing combined. Surfing is just like standing up in my kayak while surfing. Skydiving was totally different, I couldn't "fake" it with existing sport movements, and had no mental comfort zone to operate in. In fact, many of my existing sport patterns are negative for skydiving (look at the ground while falling, keep my feet oriented toward the ground, keep my legs together like I did for years as a diver/in the air skiing, etc). Skydiving is also really short, only 30 seconds of freefall per trip at my level, which doesn't allow much time to work on skills. I need time to dial in my movements and get comfortable. I've only ever gotten any real level of skill at any sport through endless days of practice. It's hard to do that with skydiving...

I've spent some more time thinking about falling through the air and running better movies in my mind, I think I'm actually going to enjoy jumping out the door of the plane next time I go. It will be my last AFF level (they way they do it in Canada) so the instructor will huck first and I'll chase him or her out the door. I am really enjoying the instructors and scene at Skydive Vancouver, they're safe and good people, any problems with learning are due to my mind. But I'm heading back for more!

WG, not yet a skydiver.

Sunday, September 02, 2007


The last ten days have passed in a blur of travel, filming, climbing, flying and the places and people of Morocco. I'm working on a new series for Discovery, crazed but good. Highlights of the trip included climbing a new route on absolutely the worst rock I've ever climbed, flying over the sand dunes of the Sahara and some other stuff that will have to remain secret until the series starts airing late this year.

I last traveled in Morocco about 20 years ago, this trip was a lot more fun. First off, we were working a with Moroccan crew, and I always enjoy working with people in their own culture instead of just being a tourist. Last time I was in Morocco I was dead broke and pretty much at the mercy of everyone, which I honestly did not enjoy all that much at times. Every developing country comes with a certain amount of "You're a white tourist with a $ sign over your head" and I don't blame the locals at all for that, but it's been taken to a much more aggressive level in Morocco than in some other countries I've visited. On this trip we were usually in remote locations, and the people were a lot more chill than they are in the cities.

Morocco is a relatively tolerant Islamic country (you can buy and drink beer), but it's still a total trip to see women in eyes-only clothing, had some good talks with our Moroccan crew about all of that--there are some perspectives that are just hard for anyone not brought up in that culture to understand, but good to talk about in a 4wd blasting across the desert. I'm feeling pretty lucky to live as I do. One thing that always strikes me while traveling all over the world is that the level of comfort, medical care and general ease of life that defines North America and Europe just isn't the way in most of the world. Our opulent lifestyle is just that, it's not the rest of the world that is poor but us that are very rich in comparison--financial poverty is the norm globally. I always come back wondering why I was born into such relative luxury, the world is not a fair place.

We shot way out in the desert near the Algerian border for most of the trip, fantastic place to be, a lot like the Mojave desert between Vegas and LA but stripped down and even drier in general, stunning. I mangled the French language aggressively as per usual, (Morocco was a French colony like much of northwest Africa at one point, French still the common language) and had a great time in what was for me insane heat--temps over 45 (110+ American).

Writing this up on the flight back home, the first time in a week I've had more than about ten minutes of "free" time, feels good to just sit back and not worry about drinking liters of water every hour. One thing I discovered on this trip is that plain water doesn't cut it after a certain point in extremely hot weather, mixing with electrolyte powder is WAY better. I suspect I've had some go-arounds with hypernatremia in hot weather in the past, electrolyte mixes are the way forward.

I'll post some more details about the air dates on this series when I'm done with it, off to Alaska next week then two more shoots and it's a wrap. I'm the "presenter," which is a new role for me, definitely a huge challenge to do well. Good presenters make it look easy, but it isn't...

Thanks to Josh, Tom, David, Tim, James, Claudia, Jimmy, Aziz, Omer, Salim and the rest of the crew for making it a great trip despite the insane schedule and temperatures. I'd like to visit Morocco again with more time...

Photo courtesy Josh Briggs, thanks.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Mountain Light

I'm up early this morning to do some work on Europe time and finish some other things that need doing before the day really starts. I'm not a morning person in general, I've spent far more nights that ended at 4:00 in the morning than I have getting up then, that's just the way it is. I crawled out of bed all bleary-eyed in the darkness before dawn and went to work at the kitchen table while swilling black death coffee. My surprise reward was watching the sun rise on the peaks around Canmore. At first it was just a thin sliver of delicate light creeping along the tops of the peaks, then as the minutes passed the light show grew into a mad symphony of light and cloud swirling through the peaks. Beams would lance down through the clouds and light a rock pillar so perfectly, then fade out into the grey of limestone as another beam blasted somewhere else on the range. It was almost like watching a really good fireworks display, where each eruption of light was better than the last, and made somehow sweeter because you knew it had to end. The show made the work seem pretty irrelevant but getting up early so very worthwhile. I always love the feeling of being up early hiking into a climb or even just driving as the sun comes up on new terrain, so why don't I get up early more often? Who knows, but it sure was a fine morning. Mornings like this remind me exactly how cool the Rockies are; I get to travel a lot, but my home mountains still always leave me in awe.

Mountain light has got to be one of the greatest things going, it's a treat each and every time I get to watch it.

Here's a photo of it all, better in person but had to share this.

Sunday, August 12, 2007


Hawaii is one of those places I've always meant to visit and never have. Less than 10 hours after finishing up the Canadian Nationals was on a jet to Hawaii, and then spent a week there on a film job with a good crew from Impossible Pictures. The whole experience was a great--if fast-paced--time. Scuba diving (first time with an "Aga" mask), climbing waterfalls (not the frozen kind), ocean kayaking, paragliding (a big thanks to the Oahu pilots for all their help!) and some mountain biking to round it all off. We were only on the big island and Oahu unfortunately, but it was one of those full-bore trips that seem a lot longer than a week. Hawaii is an amazingly diverse place, and I only saw two islands and not even close to all of them. So much in such a small space... I hope my next trip will run at a slightly more relaxed pace with more time to dig into the islands, there's a lot to see and do besides sit on the beach.

-San Francisco Airport lounge.

Canadian Paragliding Nationals

We had a really fun event off of Mt. Seven, it brought back meets
from yesteryear. Sixty five competitors, six tasks in seven days, and
minimal injuries. I'd like to thank everyone involved in the event
one way or another, especially Ross, Dale, Lucille, Devon, Caroline,
Nancy (and everyone else back in the kitchen) and all the drivers and
volunteers, who were many. Then there was our Australian Army
Logistics Team, David and Lee, who really made a messy situation flow
well. As always Vincene was everywhere she needed to be, thanks. The
meet would not have worked without all the sudden help from many
unexpected directions at key moments. I've done some meets outside of
Canada recently that sometimes made me question why I fly in comps;
this meet was the opposite of that thanks to everyone who helped make
the vibe what it was. I've already received a stack of emails from
competitors around the world saying they want to do it again next
year, mainly due to the fun atmosphere everyone "local" helped
create. It's way too soon to think about next year (biannual?), but
it was fun to share Golden with both old and new friends.

A special thanks to John and Cathy-Anne for creating GEAR. Without
their vision we wouldn't have such an absolutely incredible place to
base from in so many ways.

Also thank to Keith, Nicole, and Bill for their efforts, the
"Collective" continued to work. And thanks to the free flying HG and
PG pilots who worked with our launch windows and the parking. I know
setting up an HG in the dust isn't great, but by keeping the parking
area free of vehicles we at least had enough room for everyone to set
up and get off the hill. I was told there had been some bad politics
with parking on top in the past, but we had no issues until the last
day and even then it was pretty minor. Thanks.

Finally, congratulations to Keith and Nicole for the very solid
flying that led to their new titles as Canadian National Paragliding
Champions. Results will be up shortly...

Best of luck to the Hang Gliding Worlds Team in Texas!


Thursday, July 19, 2007


We loaded up the "outfit" and headed out to Squamish via Golden last week. We're here for the Squamish Mountain Festival, which has been rocking all week. Last night was a photo shootout with four good photogs followed by a DJ throw down at the Howe Sound Inn, good times although I was worked and checked out early. The weather here is of course shite at the moment, but the kayaking has been great. If I can't climb I can at least boat...

On Tuesday night I ran the Upper Cheakamus with local Steve and Becky from the 'Stoke, the river was pumping (2.95 or something on the gauge, about as high as it's been this year?), which meant a fast trip. Steve gave us a great "Paddle right, avoid the huge hole, paddle left, avoid the hole, paddle through the hole" tour, no scouting on the run, just blasting down through some huge waves and holes, super fun. I haven't paddled a hammering river like that in about ten years, felt good. Paddled an H3 for the first time, it was a bit big for me but dealt well, bit hard to turn.

Wednesday morning saw us walking to the put-in for the Seymour, a cool canyon I've always wanted to run. The water was really low (big change from the Cheak), but John, Derek, Becky and I bounced through the canyon anyhow, very low-volume boating but super fun, that's just an amazing run so close to downtown Vancouver. Paddled a Crux, nice boat, like the way it turns and boofs, bit easier than the H3 but also very different water...Then it was off for a TV interview, back to Squish, Mountain Fest, good fun...

The weather is rainy, cloudy, cool and not really sorted for flying or climbing, but it's also beautiful in its own way, the soft mist and rain very different from Alberta "normals." Lots to do here in the rain too, more kayaking to come I think, loving it!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Situational Awareness

I just finished teaching an XC clinic with Keith and the Muller Windsports crew, great conditions in Golden (14,000 foot base!), good group, fun times. Whenever I teach a course in climbing or paragliding I invariably learn something new myself. Sometimes just a bettery way to present an idea, sometimes a new way to look at a movement or mental pattern, always something interesting.

I always try to teach students in whatever sport I'm working with to look at the mountains and themselves and try to see things as they actually are, not as they at first think things are or as they want them to be. This is a basic Buddhist idea (never mind that everything is also supposed to be an illusion, haven't figured that out yet. Wait, maybe if we see everything as an illusion then we're seeing the world as it is? Nah, couldn't be that simple...). Anyhow, another way to look at "seeng thing as they are" is to analyze how aware we are in any given situation. Are we really looking at conditions and watching them change, or are we just running an already-created movie in our minds and ignoring what's actually happening right in front of our eyes?

The most important part of doing any sport safely is knowing what to look for in any situation, and being aware of those clues. For example, a novice paraglider pilot may not equate lenticular clouds with potential high winds. Or a novice back country skier standing at the top of a nice-looking north-east facing slope may not notice that every north-east facing slope on the whole drive to go skiing had slid the night before... I like to think of situational awareness radiating in rings from me. My first ring is my mind--how I feel, what my attitude is, why. If I have a "bad" feeling then usually I'm missing something in my wider rings of awareness, or haven't connected something consciously yet. I don't believe in "mystical" mumbo jumbo, "premonitions" are just my mind trying to reconcile a small clue...In my "immediate" exterior ring are things like my harness buckle, rock quality under my hands, my harness knot, all the holds I'm going to climb up etc. A little bit farther out is the "action" ring, which is about the length of a rope, a rapid, or a glide on a paraglider. This represents roughly the next "unit" of action in whatever sport. Then there's the "big picture" ring, which includes the day, past conditions in the season (gotta remember that November rain crust in the snow pack), what I read in the winds forecast for paragliding that day vs. what I've seen that forecast mean in the past, etc. All of this is "situational awareness." I think many very good athletes have excellent situational awareness, while most novice athletes don't. For example, a novice climber's situational awareness field is can shrink down to the size of a coffee can--the six inches of rock directly in front of their eyes. Anyone who has taught climbing will relate to the novice with the leg shaking like a sewing machine needle--with a two-foot flat ledge just below their foot to stand on. A novice driver may not see all the brake lights going on a half K down the road...

Over the years I've been at with several master athletes in different sports who were past their athletic prime but still had excellent situational awareness. I especially remember being out with an old guide on an easy climb about 20 years ago. I was loving the climb and the day, and totally missed the black clouds brewing over a nearby peak. We bailed when he mentioned them, and arrived back at the car and cold beer as hail pounded the walls of the canyon... I've now seen this same difference in situational awareness in many different sports, I think it's the most important or defining mental aspect of adventure sports.

Next time I teach that Cross-Country flying course I hope to do a better job defining how to see things as they are through developing better situational awareness.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Hips and Head, Cool Paragliding trip

I'm on a "common sport themes" kick right now. I'm looking for a sort of unified feild theory for the physical side of sports, or at least pieces of them. Last night I was running (literally) a kayak shuttle and had some time to think. I had been watching people on the river all evening and seeing a lot of the same errors (and some fantastic paddling too). To keep it simple I'll focus on the roll, a basic move in kayaking that's not that hard to do well. Back in the day I taught kayaking a lot (thanks to Otter Bar for the education!), that was where I first learned to read a student's movements and teach them how to correct them. There are a lot of ways to roll a kayak, but they all flow from the hips and head position. Most novices pull their head above the water first (makes sense, that's where the air is), but the head is a heavy object on the end of a relatively long lever (neck and body). If the head comes out of the water first and is the high point then a roll will seldom be effective. The kayak has to be flipped right side up first, and the hips do that, then the head and body follow. I only saw one roll yesterday that I would use as a "good" example of a roll; in all the rest the head was high and off the shoulder, and the hips snapped well after the head came out of the water. This started me thinking about how the hips and head work in climbing, paragliding, skiing, mountain biking and most other sports.

I'm starting to think that the hips drive and the head controls almost every movement in the sports I do. To turn a paraglider you have to drop a hip bone lower than the other one; it's not about "lean" but putting weight on the inside of the turn and the inside riser. We do drill in kayaking where we sit on the ground and ask people to lean the boat; most of the time they lean over with their body, but the boat doesn't move. The boat only starts to move when they start to lift the opposite hip with the obliques and some other muscles, driving one hip lower. Drop the head in this position and the boat goes back to flat and upright, which is the end of a roll. Paragliders need to do this drill too, I've taught it on the grass. Many people who heave been "leaning" for years suddenly discover they weren't leaning at all, but just flopping sideways with their head still between the risers...

Skiing has the same component--the hips drive the motions of skiing, and the head's position often determines balance over the skis. Mountain biking too-- the hips determine the basic balance point, and the body follows the head, and we go where our head is pointed...

There's a unified "head and hips" theory in here somewhere. I love teaching these sports and understanding how students think and progress, teaching is how I've learned the most about the technical (and psycological) side of any sport. Hmmm....

And for something completely different, check this out.
That's one hell of a paragliding trip!

Keep yer head down and drive with yours hips,


Tuesday, June 26, 2007


In one of those, "Can you be here tomorrow" type situations I'm suddenly in London to work for a few days. I'm always a bit shell-shocked when I land in a city like London after the mountains and Canmore--so many people from so many different places, the bustle, the cars, the noise. It's oddly enervating and and draining at the same time. The main reason I agreed to come over in the midst of a lot of other stuff going on was to eat a massive Vindalloo curry. Found one last night, a mind-blowing quantity of red fire in a bowl... I've yet to find a good curry in Calgary or Canmore, any suggestions?

Today I'm going to go and shoot in a climbing gym somewhere here, fired up. All the kayaking, running and general not-climbing have left my elbow in good shape. Even though I'll be on plastic warts in the middle of one of the world's great cities it's gonna be great to PULL a bit. I've taken climbing for granted for a long time, it's a treasure. Maybe I'm a freak for being psyched to climb on plastic, but I actually really like it, the moves are clean and I also enjoy seeing the local scene. I feel reasonably strong after all the kayaking I've been doing this spring, trying to learn all the new play tricks. I haven't paddled much except the occasional river run for the last ten years, it's been fun to jump into the Kan in the evenings and playboat like mad in in my old X ("Dude! Vintage boat!" is a common comment, but it can still do more tricks than I can so I'm not upgrading).

The Ice Mines movie is about done, there will be some podcasts up in the next week or so, I'll post a link to those. This latest film is again done with Emerge Media in Calgary, good people to work with as always if you need some professional assistance with anything video related.

Right, into the fray of London, feeling a bit out of place in my shorts and T-shirt, lots of ties, suits, mod clothes, I always forget that this is "normal" and we're the freaks in the mountain towns...

Monday, June 04, 2007

Golden Flying

The flying in Golden has been really, really good. I wrote a little and posted some photos on Gravsports.

I also figured out how to make a Google Earth file of the GPS log, if you have Google earth you can download the file at the bottom of the page linked above.

Great weather here in the Rockies!


Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Positive Power of Negative Thinking: No "Secret."

With full credit to the old Bad Religion song, I've always found thinking negatively to be very positive--the positive power of positive thinking is also powerful, but it's an empty hope without building a foundation dug in the dirt of reality. Right now there's a surge of interest in this book called "The Secret," which advocates that all you have to do to receive something is ask for it and believe you will get it (something to do with a "law of attraction" which most physics textbooks don't apply to new jobs or plasma TVs). I see a lot of this type of thinking in the world right now, from the invasion of Iraq to American Idol contestants. I find this attitude of, "I want it, give it to me now world!" kinda funny in a little kid writing letters to Santa Claus way. Except that in life we had better not rely too heavily on Santa Claus, at least if we want to stay alive or in business. I sometimes give talks about how to deal with risk; if we simply hope for a good outcome when climbing or flying we're likely dead. No, we have to think "negatively" about what could go wrong and how to avoid that in order to mitigate the risks, or at least understand them.

I often think up crazy schemes and then actually do them, from climbing icebergs with Ben Firth to setting world records for paragliding so I'm all for big dreams, but I also know that those dreams won't become reality without understanding the risks before going all-out. It's like the old Boy Scout motto of, "Hope for the best, prepare for the worst." I believe in the power of a big idea, but I also believe that hard work and critical thinking will lead to success a lot more than just, "I hope it works out..."

There's a good article at Slate today on the whole subject, check it out.

PS--I just found that there's actually a book with the same title, haven't read it but sounds kinda interesting.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Flow Sports

It's been a while since I wrote anything on here, but I've been crazy busy with travel and a video edit, so I've been playing when I have the time to do something non-work related. In the last few weeks I've been in the water and air a lot more (surfing in LA, thanks to Sheldon for that), paddling on the Kananaskis after work, flying in Saskatchewan (really good despite it's flat reputation, thanks to Jim Bahr for the hookup!) etc. My elbow is coming back strong, but every time I go rock climbing (bouldering in Squamish a few weeks ago, crazy fun!) it tweaks out, so I've decided on an active recovery program based on any sport but climbing, which is going great, definitely much stronger and happier, climbing will come.

I've been thinking a lot about the differences between what I call "flow" and "static" sports of late. Flow sports include kayaking, surfing, mountain biking, skiing, paragliding and any sport where the motion doesn't easily stop mid-action. "Static" sports include climbing, hiking, tennis, landscaping (been doing a lot of that, it's a sport for sure, anything you can get really sore at is a sport of some kind) etc. Now, static sports can have an element of flow and even brief moments of truly dynamic movement, but in general you can just stop doing them at almost any time and not much happens. In flow sports you can't stop without at least something interesting happening relatively quickly. In kayaking you're in the flow from the top of the rapid to the bottom, same with flying. In skiing you can also stop, but there's a much stronger sense of linked movement and reaction to the every-variable snow than in climbing, so it's a flow sport also.

I think we as mountain sports athletes often think the sports we do in the mountains are all related, but I don't think they're related beyond being in the same geographic area. Flying is far more like kayking than climbing, and surfing is far more like skiing than climbing. What's interesting to me are the mental links between these sports; someone who enjoys climbing may not enjoy or be mentally cut out for flying, it's a completely different form of stimulus and response. A pilot may not enjoy climbing, or be any good at it. The best pilots and best climbers are usually very good athletes and can cross over relatively easily, but I'm starting to think that the sports are best grouped not by their geography or physical movements but by the mental patterns a participant experiences..

When I first start flying and paddling every spring I can literally feel my brain working completely differently; it's not a physical response, but a mental re-wiring that needs to happen. When I'm paddling and flying a lot my reflexes are noticeably faster; I'll catch a dropped pen before it hits the ground, or respond on a "hard wired" level to stimulus that wouldn't effect me at all when I was climbing a lot. Driving feels very, very slow when I'm doing a lot of flow sports--I truly see traffic in a totally different way. When I go climbing after paddling a lot I'm too "twitched," and my motor skills are definitely messed up--it feels like I'm waiting for something to happen. I'd bet that I would respond much faster to a falling rock after a spring spent paddling than a spring spent sport climbing. Bouldering crosses a little more into the flow side of sports, but it's still relatively short, and often about grunting a well-visualized movement out smoothly than responding to new stimulus. The rock doesn't change a lot, and it's easy to step back and analyze things carefully. When I'm climbing well I see patterns and sequences better; I'll automatically sequence getting in and out of my car, or think about how I'm going to open a can of tuna--I can't help it, that's just how my brain works when doing a lot of climbing. I'll bet a CAT (Edit--MRI or PET is the correct technology) scan would reveal real differences in brain function; someone more educated than me can probably come up with what parts would be lighting up while paddling a big drop vs. climbing a sketchy 5.11 high above gear. Climbing is much more thought and visualization-intensive, paddling is much more reaction-intensive.

There are experiences that are common across flow and static sports, such as standing on top of a peak enjoying the sun or floating between rapids deep in a canyon. There's the same sense of appreciation for the power of the natural environment, at least for me, but the tools to access that state are totally different. I love the experience of blasting through deep powder just as much as giving blood and skin to a hard crack in Indian Creek and the physical "cook" can be similar, but they are totally different on a mental level.

No real point to this obviously, just interested in how my mind responds to sports. Flow, static, it's all good but so different. I look forward to thoughts others may have...


Thursday, April 19, 2007

The "P" scale

I've been on the road near-constantly for the last two months (Oz and Sweden and then LA) plus a bunch of writing projects, slide shows and other stuff that's reduced my writing time, but here's the quick report: The Sweden trip was insane, we climbed a lot of wild ice deep underground. There's enough underground, climate controlled ice in Sweden to keep the average ice climber happy for a very long time. It's sometimes difficult to access, but it's the future in a world that's warming up. Expect to hear more about these mines in the future, thanks to everyone on the trip, it sure was fun (most of the time, had a few adventures with falling ice that weren't so fun).

All of the underground climbing and some I've gotten done locally lately have made me realize that technical grades don't really convey the experience of climbing a route, or even just having adventures outside in general. Years ago I wrote a sarcastic article about a new grading system called "GAG," which stood for both how I feel about grades in general and also the acronym for Gadd Adjusted Grade. It basically combined technical difficulty with exposure/commitment etc, with "your couch" gettting a GAG of 1 and soloing 5.14 naked on the top of Everest a GAG of 20 or something. But I missed a few major components with the GAG scale, namely that the experience of climbing a route is really subjective and not at all about how hard or whatever. Plus I wanted a scale that covered all aspects of climbing that I do, from ice to bouldering to mountaineering to sport and some other stuff in there. So, in a slightly less sarcastic but still firmly less than serious effort, I'd like to introduce the "P" scale, which should both take the Piss as the Brits say and also define the important characteristics of any climb. These are "Position, Personal experience, Photographs, Partner, Posing and Post-trip posing," mostly all subjective.

"Position" refers to just how damn cool it is to be in the place or on the route. Routes with a high "P" score should make you stop and think, "Damn, this is great!" They don't have to be hard, just a really cool place. Anything from being 20 feet deep in an offwidth to standing on top of your local hill at sunset to looking down from halfway up El Cap get a high P rating. A gym generally gets a very low P rating.

"Personal" experience refers to how psyched you were with the climb. I give my first 5.11 (one of the Ski Track lines in J Tree, can't remember which) a very high "P" 'cause I fought through some some fear about the grade, gear, and was just so stoked when I got to the top. Same with some easy climbs that I had a hard time with, such as doing the North Face of Athabasca at -20 with my brother years ago. I give doing laps on a local training route a low P, 'cause it's just not that cool.

"Photographs" are just that--a great photo on the top of Mt. Alberta scores huge, a butt-shot on the local crag that's under-exposed gets nada. Photographs can be posed or combat, but they define the route in our own memories and often other's eyes. I have some photos from high school that are actually really good, and just evoke why I like to go climbing. Big helmet, Fire boots, rugby shirt, painter's pants, two-inch pink swami tied with a huge knot, yeah!

"Partner(s)" bring a lot to the experience of climbing. Good ones elevate the trip to something great (blasting into the desert and climbing Primrose with Nod Revils back in the day), bad ones the opposite (I still think about hunting down and killing the SOB who had me soling some Eldo slopefest in about '84, that was just wrong, sandbagging on a solo...). Partners are the only part of the scale that can be a negative number.

"Posing" is just that, and always involve photos or video. As a "professional climber," I've learned to split climbing into "climbing," which is what I like to do and live for, and "posing," which is work and what I have to do. I've climbed routes with very high grades but with lousy posing potential, and vice versa. I remember the first time I saw some of Wolfgang Gullich's climbs in Germany and realized that he was not only a master climber but also a master poser--I could have cleaned the entire route with an extendo brush on some of 'em, but I had thought they were at least a hundred feet high... Still rad climbs, but it was the Pose factor that made them well-known around the world, not just the grade.

"Post-trip Posing" is just that. This can take the form of "Dude, we climbed the Andromeda Strain at -20 with constant spindrift, sick!" to lengthy photos and editorial in a major manufacturer's catalog (OK, so I'm talking about Steve and Vince on the Rupal Face as portrayed in Patagonia's catalog--it was a magnificient post-trip posing piece as well as climb, and they deserved every word and photo). These are the stories about our climbs both verbal and in print, anything that makes the climb something speical to talk about publicly with friends or the world. Note that post-trip posing can backfire, as it did on Dean with his ascent of Delicate Arch (I'm not getting into that one, I respect Dean and just don't know what really happened, but it did definitely back-fire less than delicately).

Add all the factors above and you get the "P" grade. The "P" scale is fluid and adaptable to any climbing trip, or any sport really. It's also deliberately transient--climbs you did ten years ago perhaps aren't going to get as high a P grade because experiences since then knock them off the top of the list. My P scale goes from 1 to 10, but nothing says it can't get from 1 to 3 or 1 to 1,000, it's all about how damn cool it was based on the above. A "P10" from 1990 might only warrant a P3 now, because you're a better photographer and have reached deeper on other climbs.

Disclaimer: Many climbers seem congenitally unable to handle attempted humor--this handicap is a form of near-autism. The above isn't a serious grading system but should be.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Travels in Sweden

Finally back home after the Sweden Ice Mines trip. It was insane, but thanks to a great team we did a fair amount of climbing, made an interesting film and came back safely. Thanks to the many, many people who made the trip possible and fun, incredible. I'll write about it some more once I get dug out from under the many messes littering my life after being on the road for the last two months. I have seen the future of mixed, and it is dark...


Thursday, March 22, 2007

Searching for Ice in Sweden

A few years ago I met some Swedes in Norway who told me about some amazing ice in abandoned mines in Sweden. It sounded cool, climbing ice underground... Now I'm here with my Norwegian friend, Andreas Spak, chasing around in mines looking for ice. Of course, this has been the warmest winter in history in Sweden, but the idea is that the mines hold the cold and the ice like giant refrigerators. We've seen some ice and a lot of dark holes in the ground, very strange to gear up in the Swedish spring and then drop into the dark and find glittering ice... Not much time to report on it all, but it sure is interesting and a crazy change from Australian summer just a week ago!


Tuesday, March 13, 2007


After years of access issues we finally have an opportunity to secure access to one of the best climbing areas in North America, Skaha Bluffs. All we need is a million dollars--not really so much in today's world. I'm going to pitch in $100 now and more when I have it--that's barely more than a lift ticket, and I've definitely had a lot more than $100 of fun at Skaha over the years. If every climber who has visited Skaha throws in $100 we'll get to that million mark relatively quickly. I know some of you don't have $100 and some of you have a lot more, whatever works, if we can get this done it will be a good thing. Just think of it as a "pump appreciation donation," grin... Spring climbing season is already on in Skaha!


And now for some thanks...

The Worlds are done, some thanks:

To all of those who bought 50/50 tickets, Columbia View Homes, Invico, Dave Urock, Vincene Muller, Amir, HPAC, AHPA and everyone else who my lousy memory is skipping over for the team support. I thought about that every day, thanks.

To Nicole for being our Team Leader at the World Championships. She had to get up earlier and walk into town more than any of us, yet still did more sandwhich making etc. Somebody should really hire her to run exotic paragliding trips to distant lands or something, not only is she a good pilot (despite having a tough worlds) she's also very well organized with a good atttitude. So thanks Nicole.

To Keith for being Keith. Hard to spend a month in a "caravan" with any guy, but Keith kept it reasonably entertaining with daily electrical pyrotechnics (how many electrical appliances did you fry again Keith?) and a solid result. It's also nice to get beat by a young pup occasionally, but don't make it a habit.

To David and Lee of the River Gums Caravan Park in Manilla. All I can say is that I hope to see the both of you in Canada this summer, thanks for a very long list of things way beyond the call of duty. For anyone thinking of a flying trip to Manilla, consider staying in the caravans or "crash pads" at the River Gums, it's just a great base.

To my fellow River Gummers--I made some new friends in the Gums that I also hope to see around the world, that 40th Birthday Party was great due to all of you also staying in the Gums, yeah!

To Team America, Fuck Yeah! Great results from Tom and Josh, but just nice to have good friends around, especially on those days when I was melting down from the gaggle stress and whining a lot.

To Godfrey and especially every volunteer who worked on the Worlds. It had to be like herding cats in the rain a lot of the time, but it was a an overall fine event due to the hard work from all the Manilla and Oz people.

To Oz--I will be back, not just to fly and climb, but to meet more locals, drink more beer and get stung by more strange things. Great country.

To you, the readers, for all the emails and comments during the worlds, both the "nice" ones and the "Get yer head out of your ass" ones, perspective is good.

I'm back home and gearing up for a Sweden trip starting Sunday. The elbow is working pretty well (I actually had some decent training in Manilla with ice tools on a local swing set), so fired up to finish the winter out with a good climbing trip, yeah!

Play safe enough,


Thursday, March 08, 2007

The Secret to Success

After last night's party the morning was a bit rough. The sky just kept getting better, so up the hill we went. On launch I found a shady spot and worked on my hydration levels while the usual gaggle formed in front of launch. Eventually I couldn't put it off any longer and staggered off the hill. The climbs off launch were ragged, weak and inconsistent, sort of like my thinking. But I just didn't care. The ground looked really hot, and I just wasn't up for that level of suffering. Eventually I flew down the ridge to the edge of the start cylinder and got to base, then up the side of a cloud. Suddenly it started to be fun--edging along a cloud, way up high, that's what flying is all about. I forgot about the start cylinder until I noticed gliders turning back for it. There were four start "gates," and I exited about five minutes after the third start--not ideal, but I was at base so I just kept going. Keith was just below me, we had a quick conversation and decided to just head out rather than play start games.

For the next two hours the flying was just super fun--some real climbs, lots of flying through cloud canyons above base, just great stuff. I wasn't racing hard or worrying about other gliders ahead of me, just flying along. I pushed out front a couple of times with a few other pilots, each time we would get caught by the horde, but each time there were less gliders, and those in my thermal were fun to fly with, good pilots who were flying the lift and not the glider in front of them. Suddenly I was with the lead four gliders, and high. We worked the next 20K as a team, and for once nobody was circling in anemic lift, everybody left and fanned out looking for the next climb, which one of us would find. About 20K from goal we started what might be our final, and had a great glide under a dark cloud. A little bit of bar to stay out of the cloud, then I got left as the other three gliders went hard when it became clear we were going to make goal with some altitude. I have been convinced I had goal in this meet before only to dirt, so I had a snack on glide rather than push hard, it sure was nice up there. I came over goal line around fourth for the day (other pilots may have been faster than me with later starts), but it sure was fun to be at base over the goal line. Keith and Tom came in a few minutes behind me, then Josh about 30 minutes later (he took the last start so that's really only 1o minutes back).

Today was a good illustration of how fun competition flying can be. Conditions weren't great, but they were better and the cloud edge surfing was just stellar. I could pretend that I had skill today instead of better luck, but this been the most random, frustrating competition I've ever flown in. My best memories will be of the people I've met here, especially our hosts at the River Gums, David and Lee, as well as the ranchers, school bus driver, bar tenders and just the general population of Australia. If I had to sum up the flying, I would say, "Never have so many pilots flown so close together in so little lift for such a long time." We saw what it can be like in Manilla during the XC comp--fantastic. This Worlds was like a big-wave surfing contest with six-inch waves; it takes skill to do that, but it's a different game. I now know what I like about competition flying and what I don't, I hope I can carry a more balanced attitude into future paragliding competitions both as a competitor and meet organizer.

I'm going to close this off with one experience that stands out and puts the whole deal in perspective. One day I didn't make goal and ended up there only after a car ride. Goal was about a K from the River Gums (our campground), so after doing the GPS download I started the walk of shame back to the campground. There was a beat-out old Holden "ute" parked in the shade, and as I walked by an old guy stuck his head out the passenger side and asked, "Are you a pilot?" I didn't feel like one, but I said, "Yes." He said, "That sure looks like fun--you get so high up there! What's that like?" I was hot, tired and pissed off that I hadn't made goal, but his lined face showed such enthusiasm that it cut through my pissy attitude in an instant. I said something about the clouds being really nice to fly under, and he said, "Wow, I'm 89 years old and that's just amazing, never seen that. I'll bet it's just great." In that moment I realized that I was really missing the point of the day and experience--it sure is fun up there, and it took this old guy to make me realize that beating other people isn't why I fly. I'll try to keep that guy in mind next time I'm short of goal and getting pissy. The flip side of that is getting all wound up with doing well--both are external judgements, the true quality of a day is not found in the results card. That said, I sure am fired up to fly in Golden when I get home, a good strong thermal is a good thing.