Talk about tales from the gripped. Paraglider Benjamin Jordan shares his first-hand reports from a record-breaking sojourn waaaay above the Rockies.
I have a decision to make. I’m circling my paraglider above a tract of green farmland north of Golden, British Columbia, and eyeing the jagged grey peaks that make up Jasper National Park’s Endless Chain Ridge to the northwest. Should I head toward them and become the first paraglider to fly along the 16-kilometre (10-mile) expanse of unbroken summits that tower above the famous Icefields Parkway? If the winds don’t cooperate, I could get swept southwest into Banff National Park, where it’s illegal to land. Or I could be dashed into the side of a mountain.
I circle for two hours before spotting a pair of bald eagles soaring past. They head straight for the Endless Chain, and I follow without further thought. We climb thermals in unison, but too soon they disappear into the distance. I’m alone, gliding between two of the biggest glaciers I’ve ever seen, and I’m terrified.
This isn’t the first time I’ve felt my butt pucker above the Canadian Rockies. Two years ago, I completed a record-breaking paragliding journey from Vancouver to Calgary, and when I crossed the Rockies, I couldn’t help but be awed by their majesty. As scary as they seemed, I couldn’t wait to return, which is why I’m now flying along the Continental Divide, attempting the first south-to-north paragliding journey along Canada’s Rocky Mountains. The adventure started 20 days ago, when I launched from a clear-cut peak just north of the US border near Roosville, Montana. I packed minimally because my paraglider wing can only carry 230 pounds, and the majority of that is my body weight. I had an ultralight two-person tent, sleeping bag and pad, Jetboil stove, backpack, water bladder, camera, cell phone, emergency transceiver, and enough peanut butter, ramen noodles, and coffee to last me 12 days. My only luxury item was a ukulele.
That first day, I covered 90 kilometres (56 miles) and landed on a summit east of Cranbrook, British Columbia. But ensuing days weren’t so easy. At one point, poor weather grounded me for a week. Other times, I ran out of food and had to land near towns to restock. Then I’d hike up nearby peaks, unfurl my paraglider wing, and launch northward. I flew over glaciated summits, raging rivers, and dense, untouched valleys, jumping from one summit to the next, back and forth across the Continental Divide. I averaged 80 kilometres (50 miles) each flight, and during the downtimes, I kept sane exploring the alpine and rocking out on my ukulele.
But no amount of strumming can help my anxiety now, hovering here above the Endless Chain Ridge. I can’t see the eagles or any other birdlife, perhaps because the north wind has increased and is producing some of the most turbulent air I’ve ever flown. I’m being thrown down, up, and sideways, and it’s all I can do to keep my wing from crumpling like a dirty sock. One moment I’m a few metres above the rocky ground, the next I’m kissing the clouds 1,000 metres (3,280 feet) above it. Finally, after two wild hours, I set my paraglider down on the west slope of Clevis Peak at the northernmost point of the Endless Chain. In the encroaching darkness, I stare back at that perfect, unbroken spine of rock and express my deep gratitude to the eagles who guided me and to the Rocky Mountains for showing me my place in this magnificent world.
Jordan’s entire journey took 52 days and ended on August 27, 2018. From Clevis Peak, he flew to Jasper, Alberta, and then west again into BC. Strong winds forced him to land at Yellowhead Mountain, and he spent the next 30 days alone in the wilderness during the province’s worst wildfire season on record. He was only able to fly four more times, eventually alighting near the town of McBride. From there, he chose to avoid flying in the smoke and walked the remaining 214 kilometres (133 miles) to Prince George, thereby completing the longest unsupported paragliding trip along Canada’s Rocky Mountains and the first crossing of Jasper National Park. For more about his epic trip, visit: benjaminjordan.com.