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SOUS LE SOLEIL DE MINUIT

June 23, 2016

Dave TURNERvient juste de revenir à la civilisation après une expédition épique en Alaska.
“L’Alaska a constitué l’extraordinaire expérience d’une vie et -bon sang- nous en avons des histoires à raconter !Voici deux jours, nous sommes arrivés à Cantwell, après avoir effectué une traversée en vol bivouac d’une grande partie de la chaine montagneuse de l’Alaska en marchant et en volant. Notre itinéraire s’est étiré sur quelque 450 km de long et nous en avons survolé environ 64 %. Ce furent 29 jours de grande aventure. A Cantwell, nous avons poursuivi en direction de la partie Nord de la chaîne en faisant face au mauvais temps et à un relief escarpé difficile. Ah, oui !; j’ai oublié de vous dire que nous avons dû brasser de la neige jusqu’à la ceinture pendant deux jours, pour franchir le col Sled, 12 heures par jour, pour franchir 10 kilomètres !!! Heureusement que nous avons dans le même temps pu accomplir quelques vols courts, ce qui nous a donné le moral pour poursuivre notre périple.
Etant donné que personne n’avait jamais volé en parapente dans la région traversée, nous étions complètement dans le doute sur les conditions que nous allions rencontrer. Y aurait-il assez de thermiques ? Le relief permettrait-il la marche lorsque le vol serait impossible ?

Would there be enough thermals? Would the terrain allow hiking when weather was bad, or was the forest too dense and the rivers too big to cross? Would the animals attack us? We had a lot of unanswered questions those first few days, and after struggling through the first quarter of the route, we were truly unsure if we were going to be able to pull this one off.

After we made it to the north side of the range after battling through the first 25% of the route, we were nearly starving because of our over estimation of how quick we would travel, and the reality of our slow progress was painfully apparent. So out came the fishing pole and gun to obtain food, it was a good thing I brought them!

We were hoping that on the north side of the range that conditions would improve substantially, but that wasn’t really the case. Yes, the terrain became slightly easier to hike through, but the weather still wasn’t cooperating. So we saved calories at first by posting up on a nice peak and waited 4 days for better weather. It never really came, so we went into full on hungry beast mode and flipped the switch to X Alps style flying- running up mountains on their west sides, and then flying short flights to the east as quickly and numerous as was possible. One day, on 300 calories, we hiked a total of 10K feet vertical with four flights, the last of which was at 12:30 in the morning. We had made well over a dozen flights at this point, but none longer than 28 km.
We had to make some huge efforts to get to our pre placed food caches in order not to starve. Well, we didn’t really anticipate how difficult and slow this would be, and getting to our food caches we basically starved each time.

But conditions slowly improved, and we made it to our second food cache for an epic top landing and way too small of a feast, only to be greeted there by seven days of bad weather. But here was the catch- at food cache two we were right on the border of Denali National Park and the highest peaks of our route, and they are totally illegal to launch or land from since they are in the park. So our strategy was to sit out the bad weather and wait for an appropriate window that we could just maybe get lucky and try and fly the entire flight over the park without landing.

After 4 days of waiting up at high camp and running low on food again, we had a brief window without storm for a few minutes, so I grabbed two thermals and flew a few miles out into the flats in order to return at the end of the day with a stringer of Greyling fish to help stretch the food supplies longer.
Luckily, after 7 days of waiting for better weather, it finally came. Well, kind of.

On our eight day of waiting up in Heart Mountain it started to get sunny again in the early morning. We raced up the ridge and set up to try the big flight. We had to. We were low on food again, and I was running low on time and would need to return home in another week.
The sky went from looking promising while hiking up, to completely improbable once we laid out wings out and clipped in. It was snowing and raining all around us due to over development, but I saw a slim line of dark clouds heading in our desired direction that were not dumping yet. I punched off and Gavin followed.

We nearly bombed out right there, twice. But both times we found a scrap of lift, which eventually got us to to cloud base, and then before we could control it, way above cloud base while encased in ice with wet gliders. It went from nearly bombing out, to extreme cloud suck. But just as the Honey Badger, we didn’t give a shit. We had hiked enough. We were over the national park. We HAD to make this one happen. So we did. The wind was too strong to fly safely, but again, we didn’t care. We came here to send, not hike.

On that flight we flew past Denali, Foraker, Hunter, and the highest peaks of the Alaska Range. Wecrossed countless glaciers and raging rivers, both of which would have been nearly impossible on foot. We were making rapid progress, but at somewhere around 50 miles out, we lost communication from each other up in the clouds, and now we had full blown walls of rain, snow, and over development in front of us. We were shut down by the clouds and had to land in the park. Shit.

The next few days passed in a blur of spectacular scenery, epic mountains, and high passes. We crossed the immense Muldrow glacier on the way over Anderson Pass, and eventually made it to Cantwell.
At this point we had covered over 2/3 of our prospective route, but alas, my time was up and with real life waiting for me back home, this was my exit point. But not for Gavin, as he has an unlimited amount of time to try and see this one through, so he’s still out there trying to finish.
I came here to Alaska for adventure, and in the end, it turns out that I truly found what I was looking for and so much more. This land is truly epic, and add on top of that some crazy flying, dangerous animals, raging rivers, man swallowing glaciers, and difficult weather- well, you get Alaska over the last 5 weeks”