UNDER THE MIDNIGHT SUN
Dave Turner just got back to civilization after an epic journey in Alaska. Here he shares his experience:
“Alaska has proved to be an experience of a lifetime- and oh boy, do we have some stories to tell! Two days ago we popped out at Cantwell, having made a vol biv traverse of most of the Alaska Range by hiking and flying our paragliders. Our route was about 450 kilometers long, and we flew approximately 64% of the distance covered. It was 29 days of pure adventure.
We started out at the SW tip of the Alaska Range, right at the border of Lake Clark National Park. From there we headed up towards the north slope of the range, battling bad weather and brutally rough hiking terrain. Oh yeah, did I mention that we had to post hole for MILES through waist deep snow over Sled Pass? Two days for six miles, hiking 12 hours a day!? Luckily we had a few short flights in these first days as well, which gave us hope that our route would work.
Since no one has really ever flown a paraglider where we traversed through, we were totally unsure of what conditions we would encounter. 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”