The Colorado Trail Project: Winging it

More specifically, thru-paragliding the Colorado Trail (CT). Similar to thru-hiking, but the big difference is that flying the route will be the ultimate goal. In other words, vol-bivouac, but I like “thru-flying” or “thru-paragliding” much better since we’re cowboys here in the West; let’s give this type of adventure our own terminology.

Flying the 570-mile length of the CT has never been attempted before, and as far as I know, it’s never been talked about either. At work, I’m taking unpaid leave to give this project a crack and I plan to make a go of it this August and September- aiming for around 45 days. I will have my glider with me during the entire thru-hike, along with ultralight backpacking gear. When opportunities arise, like good weather and good terrain, I plan to fly as much as I can along the length of the CT, while aiming to stay within several miles of the trail and not taking major shortcuts. Weather and terrain are the biggest factors and once monsoon season subsides, I hope to fly as much of the trail as possible, while being aware of Wilderness Area restrictions. I’ll be taking the Durango-to-Denver route direction, to take advantage of the general synoptic winds aloft.
Planning has been extensive and the weight of such a task is mimicking a crescendo now that I’m only a few days away of beginning. I hope that I have the courage to fly, and the wisdom to dial it back, or up. In the end, it’ll be a game of constant decision-making, a game of getting enough calories, and a game of keeping the body healthy. Life dialed down.

So, in the final few weeks here, I query you to throw any and all advice my way- I’m open to it all. Further, if you’re in the Silverton, Lake City, Salida, Gunnison, Leadville, Copper/Breck, or Kenosha Pass area in August and September, ping me (970-903-1260) if you want to join for a segment, or drop me any food! I’ll be in the former locations early-mid August, and latter locations in late August and early-mid September. I’ll be on and more info can be found here

As the Safety Director for RMHPA, I will obviously be away for a few months so if anything comes up safety-related, be sure to contact any of the officers and/or bring it up at a meeting.

Lastly but not in any way the least, my wife, Lindsey, is the most patient, understanding, and overall bad-ass wife there is, so- thank you my best friend!

P.S. Next go, I’d like to do it for a cause, so if you do something cool, consider Kickstarting it for a good cause.

Good luck on you journey.

The Colorado Trail appears to head pretty much over launch at Whale so you should try to be near there the Villa Grove for Fly weekend over Labor Day.

If you take the Eastern part of the trail where it splits just North of Whale you could launch at Mt. Princeton to eventually head up to Leadville.

Have a great adventure.

Awesome Jake, can’t wait to hear about it!! Stay safe out there.

Update 1 - 8/10/17, silverton, 74 miles in
Wx: been monsoon, more persistent than most years, lots of thru-hikers suffering. Extra management layer to keep backpacking and flying gear dry and flyable. Rain in the mornings waking up, few hours of mid-morning clearing immediately followed by convective development. Expected, but still.
Miles hiking: 73.9
Miles to go: 490 - 73.9
Miles flying: zero
Altitude gained: 16,000 ft
Kit weight: 22 lbs
Vol-biv kit base weight b4 water and food: 38 lbs
Body health: wrecked. Been to several deep places aided through by thoughts of my wife and Peter Gabriel’s Red Rain. Feet in triage mode with the wet weather, heavy load, and more than expected trekking. The body will adapt, before injury is the trick. Posting up in Silverton tomorrow to recover.
Lessons learned, flying related: instinct trust without wx reports, models, soundings, etc, and all that other crap we wade through. For instance, this afternoon I almost flew only because my body was suffering so much that I didn’t want to trek anymore, but then as I was getting ready to set up, it occurred to my dehydrated and wrecked Mindset that I was about to launch midday at 12,500 in the Rocky Mountains with a crosswind at 18+ , slightly in the lee but not lee since it was unstable. Not to mention the OD about to go off. I packed up and continued on by foot.

So, I challenge you, at least from time to time, to go with your gut and instinct instead of diving in. Dial things down and everything will become more clear.

Pioneering this so that others can follow here, if ever. Screw the standards of how we get to our launches. Explore. Innovate. Suffer. It’s good for the soul. Next time…

You can do it Jake!!!

Update 2 - 8/19/17, Lake City, 128 miles in
Wx and General: better widespread monsoon-wise, but the OD and convective development has been intense… by 10-11 am the CBL breaks and energy from above transfers down to further enhance convective development. Winds aloft have been okay- Last Saturday I flew from 12,998’ Kendall Mtn in Silverton, after hiking the road from town, with a 60-70 knot jet streak above, but didn’t feel it’s affects due to robust capping. Wx during the next 105-mile stretch looks to retap monsoon moisture mid-week then drying thereafter. During the next stretch, I’m looking forward to launching the San Luis Peak/pass area (one of the more remote 14ers in CO) to fly over the remote, and dry, Cochetopa Hills region- BFE. The next stretch ends at Monarch Pass for the next re-supply, and shower, and wife! Took an early morning sledder from ~12K to my re-supply in Lake City. Great way to get down and take some miles of the trail. As approaching the Lake San Cristobal to find a landing, the areas i though would work were actually very steep with not many outs. Thus had to deviate slightly up-valley to find a spot to land. The hooking in after launch to a cliff band was magical. Sheep baa’ing in the background during launch.
Miles hiking: 118 (flown off about 10 miles of trail- hoping with better wx that this ration increases dramatically)
Miles to go: 490 - 128 (~25% complete in 9 trail days)
Miles flying: ~10
Altitude gained: lost count by now, but probably around 35K
Body health: feet destroyed. Had to go to the Dr. in Lake City and am laid up to recover for several days before continuing.

Lessons learned: This last stretch has been all about mis-timing launch windows WRT to gustiness and convective development. The CT partially controls progress through water resources and by the time, on at least 3 days that i got to the next launch-XC position, it was too late and things had gotten too rowdy/dropout/cross/OD/general high-country gnarliness. The body was hurting too much to make fast progress to get to the next locations, and i ended up at launches too late. The freezing temps in the AM didn’t make things easier to get my rush on. Frost on most things.

If anyone wants to follow my painful footsteps in the future, at this point I have at least 83 tidbits of info to make your journey successful! The CT line will work, it’s all about the wx, timing, body triage, and calorie intake. I guess that’s the nature of pushing into a new landscape. Till next time…

Rock it, Jake. Red Bull X-Rockies!

Update 3 - 9/10/17, Breckenridge, 385 miles in, 105 to go:
Wx , flying, and trekking: 4 flights in 385 miles- not great but have learned a lot about next time and if others want to attack this in the future. I can help to make your thru-flying, or section-flying adventure more successful flying-wise. Of the 380 or so covered miles, at least 300 of them have great XC potential with adequate to great launches, including XC routes to drool over. It’s all about timing and positioning, where Wx is the main influencing factor. Knowing what I know now, but that’s how it goes being the first to make a crack at it. Since the last update, I’ve flown from Hope Pass in the Collegiate range, CW01, down toward Twin Lakes, but didn’t make the ridge due to winds aloft and thermic trigger management. That launch was at about 12.5K and included one heck of a climb over Hope Pass. Fast and tight landing next to the CT. On 9/7/17, flew from Copper Mountain’s launch (thanks for the help Jason and Bob!) over the Ten Mile Range and down into Breckenridge, which covered Segment 7 in entirety. Got worked over in the lee on the Breckenridge side, but knew that was coming as I crested the Ten Mile range at about 14K and knew that diving into Breck. was diving into the lee.

Need to do the official math at some point, but here are some updated number estimates:
Miles hiking: 350 (about 35-40 miles flown off the trail, so around 10%)
Miles to go: 105, should be done later this work week

Body health: adapted and strong. 20-25-mile trekking days no problem.

Lessons learned: Wx assessment without forecasts and data. Dialing the conservation factor in. Mental fortitude. 'Till next time…

Great Jake
An experience of a lifetime

Update 4 - 9/14/17, Home, COLORADO TRAIL COMPLETE:
Well, it’s done, licked, complete, and toasted. Actually, my body is rather toasted, but strong and adapted, after 32 days on the trail. The past 5 days summed up to 105 miles, with four of those days being 20-plus mile days. This past week, I took an athlete’s perspective, because at the heart of it I’m still an endurance athlete, and wanted to see just how much mileage my body would take. Today amounted to a 27-mile plus day, and other than my feet, I feel strong. I can take more.

At around 16:30, I hiked into the Colorado Trail Denver Terminus in Waterton Canyon, where I’ve flown over many a time, so it was kinda’ nostalgic. I’m currently trying to re-integrate into day-to-day life operations and I suspect it will take some time after being “out there” for the past 39 days (32 trail days). In so many poetic words, it’s “weird” to be back. I’m coining it PTSD (post-trail stress disorder).

Flying, Wx, and such: This past 105-mie stretch saw no flying, with not much potential in the final 75 miles due to foothills tree-covered and lower-elevation terrain (all in the woods). From Breckenridge to Kenosha, Georgia Pass was a hope but is very shallow to launch from and the glide in any direction is high, meaning that launching in a thermal is required and top-landing/side-hill landing a necessity if no lift is found. A work-around by gaining nearby peaks or saddles would be required to fly from Georgia Pass. Kenosha, well, Kenosha is Kenosha, which means it’s a very fine line of getting blown out and getting up.

Still need to do the official math, but here are some updated number estimates:
Miles hiking: 460 (about 35-40 miles of the trail flown “off”)
Miles to go: 0
Altitude gained: somewhere in the 90,000-foot arena
Miles flown: around 25 (was hoping for much more, even though going into it I wasn’t setting expectations, but you know how this sport goes…)
Packets of Knorr’s consumed: 50 something
Jars of Nutella destroyed with tortillas: 5
Family-sized Peanut M&Ms: 15-20
Most memorable flights: 1. Lake City re-supply flight, 2. Copper to Breckenridge

Lessons learned: So many, too many to write here now.

Thanks to those, mostly including my wife, who helped, encouraged, prodded, and sustained me- it takes a village and no one person alone can make something like this successful. And to Mark, no reserve toss!

My end hope here is that others, those who don’t mind some hurt, will be encouraged to explore the possibilities of what a paraglider can do, where it can go, and that it can be carried to magical places where, with some creativity and courage, great things can happen.

Quite an achievement.

Sweet! Jake,
I am sure you could write a book about all the emotions, feelings, and experiences you must have gone through,
can’t wait to hear more about it,


Is this article about the same journey?

Maybe same journey but different pilot maybe Jake and Pete crossed paths.