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Searching For Wingsuit Flights in the Alberta Rockies

by Alistair J. Clark
by Alistair J. Clark

I don’t name the mountains or give directions, but if you read carefully, have the skills and knowledge to look for, find and open jumps; all the clues are here.

Chapter 1

My cell phone alarm startles me on a cold morning a few days before Christmas. It’s four am, we have a three hour drive to get to the parking lot, we need to get moving if we hope to complete our objective before nightfall.

We arrive at the parking lot just outside the Ya Ha Tinda ranch on the eastern front range , it is still dark. This is where we will start our 6 km approach down a decommissioned road that leads into the Banff National Park. Fortunately our objective sits just outside the park boundary and the landing zones are too. We will need to cross the Red Deer River before we start our hike up the mountain. I am not looking forward to this, I would rather be in bed, but some strange part of my brain is in charge and I don’t have a choice in the matter.

A while back I stumbled across a picture of my objective and noticed some cliff bands on it; they look gorgeous!! There appears to be a nice cliff at the summit and lower down on the mountain. The cliffs look a bit small but maybe I can find a nice slider-off jump if not a wingsuit flight. My girlfriend and I are always looking for new hikes anyways.

I start out by looking at the legalities and park boundaries, no problems there, everything I need appears to be on crown land…. barely. Then I look at the height of the mountain and the distance to some clearings, it all seems to fit my http://www.flysight.ca/ numbers with good margin. I slap my https://baseline.ws/ file on the mountain using google earth; there are several landing zones I could potentially use. Everything looks good, the only thing left to do is to hike the mountain and do some measuring in person…

After crashing through the thin frozen edge of the Red Deer river into what seems to be slush growing like moss on the slippery river bottom, we wade through knee-deep in our water shoes and pulled-up pant legs as miniature icebergs scrape past our legs. We dry off on the other side as pebbles freeze to our feet making it difficult to not get that pesky rock-in-the-shoe situation. The hike on the frozen creek bed and horse trails goes easily up the west side of the main drainage into the alpine meadow that sits like a perfectly designed camp spot below the summit. I can’t stop taking in the views on the way up. There is something very special about finding new places in these mountains. I like to compare the feeling to being an infant where every sight is for the first time, curiosity and wonder warp the passing of time and all I see here are endless possibilities; there are more cliffs in the distance that will need my future attention. We chose a steep snow gully that leads directly to the summit, there is a better one to the south that I will use next time, it’s longer but way safer and easier.

Contrary to a wind App I have since stopped using, it is nuking out. It is so windy you can lean right on it like a tracking jump, I dislike going near cliffs when it is this windy. At the summit I see a super sketchy-looking, crumbly, garbage diving board. After getting a closer look it is a solid piece of rock and safe to stand on, it’s just covered in decaying limestone chunks that will need removing if this is my exit. I carefully crawl out onto the diving board and peer over the edge; I can’t imagine what my girlfriend thinks of me right now. It is so secluded out here and I know 100 percent there is no-one below me, I toss a rock, it falls for nearly 5 seconds and it looks like it would work but I want to find a better spot. A little farther down the ridge I find a much better spot, I throw a rock off and it sails cleanly through space for about 5 seconds, it is time to measure. It’s so windy and cold I am afraid I will drop my range finder and cell phone with my numb fingers. I carefully take shots with my http://www.lasertech.com/TruPulse-360-Rangefinder.aspx and yell through the wind to my cell phone voice recorder “ 309’ down 19’ out, 359’ down 46’ out, 435’ down 97’ out, 497’ down 160’ out, 926’ down 341’ out”. With each shot I get more stoked knowing if I jump this one I won’t be any closer to the rocks than 90’ unless I choose otherwise. I had just found another sick jump, too bad the winds are nuking. Jumping this will have to wait for another day. It’s time to head home; we had 13 km and a river crossing ahead of us before the comfort of the car heater would thaw us out.

After making short time by sliding over 1,000 feet down a snow gully we hike the horse trails down to the river. I have to smash my frozen water shoes with rocks to soften them and cut the laces to get my feet back into them, they soften more as I step into the icy water. On the other side where we dry our feet I feel like I am going into vapor lock, uncontrollably shivering and franticly trying to get warm again, throwing on more layers. I need to get moving again or I will get into bad shape quickly. We manage to get moving. Aside from getting slightly lost in the dark zigging rather than zagging at a crucial intersection and having to navigate by gps we made it back to the car after 9.5 hours. Finally, it is time to drive the 3 hours home. Until next time and thank you for the good times Alberta Rockies, you never cease to amaze!!

To be continued……

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