FIRST FLIGHT FROM MOUNT ABRAHAM
At 4,052 feet above sea level, Mount
Abraham is the fifth highest peak in Vermont's Green Mountains. Like Mount
Mansfield and Camel's Hump, the summit of Mount Abraham is above tree line,
where only arctic grasses and low shrubs survive, making it an excellent
site to launch a paraglider.
Sunday, June 13, 1993 was predicted to
be a fairly calm day with light winds out of the south. My wife, Ruth
Masters, and I arose at 5:30 a.m. and headed to Lincoln to rendezvous with
one of our paragliding students, Stu Codding, who would be joining us for
the two hour ascent up the Long Trail from the Lincoln Gap.
It was a beautiful sunny morning and
we all enjoyed the 2.6 mile hike up the Long Trail with our packs containing
our paragliders on our backs. We all marveled about the technological
breakthroughs of the 1980's that would allow us to fly thousands of feet
over the Green Mountain National Forest with a mere 25 pounds of equipment.
Paragliders are the newest form of
sport aviation, invented in the European Alps in 1985. Over 90,000 people
now enjoy paragliding in Europe; 45,000 in Japan. But in the United States,
paragliding has taken much longer to get established, with only 3,000 pilots
nationwide today, most of them residing in the West.
We would be the first paraglider
pilots to launch from Mount Abraham. We arrived at the summit shortly after
9 a.m. to find a light westerly breeze coming in at about 10 m.p.h. Perfect.
The sun was bright and warm and light puffy clouds dotted the horizon. The
view from the summit was fantastic. It felt like we were standing at the top
of the world. I opened my backpack and spread my canopy out over a broken
granite boulder field. My heart rate quickened with anticipation as I put my
harness on, checking my quick links, carabiner, suspension lines and straps.
In only a few minutes, I was ready.
My variometer would tell me whether I
was rising or descending and provide me with digital readouts of altitude as
I approached the landing zone. I strapped it onto my leg and turned it on.
The audio indicator sprang to life with a loud beeping sound that indicated
lift. I turned into the crisp morning breeze and concentrated all my
energies on my launch.
Then I ran forward, tugging on my A
lines until the canopy flew up over my head. I visually checked the canopy
quickly to be certain that it was fully inflated and ready to fly.
I said "See you later" to my wife and
Stu and stepped into space.
The wind rushed by me and I felt the
suspension lines tugging me into the air. Perfect launch. I banked the
glider and made a left turn immediately after launch to follow the ridge to
the south, using any available lift to extend my glide to the primary
I settled back into my harness and
enjoyed the great view as I sailed over the Green Mountain National Forest
below. The feeling of freedom, joy and exhilaration, being a part of that
wonderful morning, was a lifelong dream come true.
I checked out alternate landing
zones as I flew down the ridge. The clearing closest to the peak that we
thought might be a swamp turned out to have trails running through it. There
was a house with a pond and a tennis court and several grassy meadows before
I reached to road to the gap.
My vario told me I was descending
steadily. The altimeter read 3,400 feet, then 3,300, 3,200, 3,000...I was on
course to the primary landing zone with plenty of altitude.
I began to set up my final approach at
about 1,600 feet above sea level, 300 feet above the meadow, banking right
to turn south for the landing. I cleared the trees at the edge of the field
by 100 feet and began to apply the brakes just above the ground. My feet
touched the ground and I landed ever so softly.
"LZ to Abraham summit," I radioed to
the top. "Piece of cake."
Ruth launched next following the ridge
south and landing in a field just short of where I had landed. Stu had a
hard time getting his canopy inflated and finally had to pack it up and walk
down after the winds at the summit got too strong.
He was disappointed, but we all knew
that safety came first. Mount Abraham would still be there to fly at a later
Ruth and I rode home with broad smiles
on our faces, knowing we were the first paraglider pilots to launch off
Mount Abraham. We knew thousands of other pilots would eventually enjoy the
exhilaration of launching from Vermont's fifth highest peak in the years to
come. We were merely the first of a whole new generation of pilots about to
dawn over the Green Mountains.
Over the course of the summer we flew
most of the highest peaks in Vermont, blazing the way in a budding new
aviation sport that, like mountain biking, roller blading and alpine slides,
may eventually bring thousands of tourists to Vermont's ski resorts in the
summer months, and with these tourists, a thriving new summertime economic
Paragliding is common at European ski
resorts where people routinely ride to the mountain tops on tramways and
chairlifts built for skiing in the wintertime. Aspen, Colorado and Jackson
Hole, Wyoming are among the first U.S. ski resorts to open ski lifts to
paragliding enthusiasts in the summer months. By the turn of the century, it
is very likely that Vermont resorts will be attracting thousands of visitors
from throughout New England and the northeast as it becomes the Switzerland
of the eastern U.S. for this emerging sport.