California Solo Vol-Biv 2014
Mission Complete, I have reached Nevada!
The vol biv traverse of California and the Sierra Nevada has been completed! I arrived at Verdi, Nevada for the finish line, having flown 56% of the route and hiking the other 44%. The 800 kilometers (500 miles) were amazing! Scroll down to see the trip evolve, from an idea to an epic adventure!
(Scroll towards the bottom of the page for current updates)
Spring has arrived, and it’s time to have an epic adventure!
I am embarking upon another hike-and-fly mission: to start on the Pacific Ocean in Ventura, California, and travel all the way to the northern end of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range by using only foot and paraglider travel. This epic 500+ mile (800+ km) route will take me from sea level at the Pacific Ocean, up through the coastal mountains, out to the dry desert peaks of the Mojave, and eventually up to the cool, high Sierra Nevada.
I will be traveling alone and unsupported, relying upon myself the entire way. I will be accepting no transport of any type, and the entire distance will be covered either by hiking or by flying my Ozone LM5 paraglider.
The route is going to be very difficult, as it crosses remote and inhospitable terrain on my way north. I will start flying from the Ventura area after leaving the beach on foot, and proceed from there. The coastal mountains will soon run out, and I will move more inland around Ojai. From there I will try and dive deep towards Frazier Park and cross Interstate 5 on my way over the Mojave Desert peaks towards Tehachapi. This section is very dry and remote, but will lead to the southern tip of the Sierra once I cross highway 178. From there the true Sierra starts, and runs clear past Tahoe all the way to Honey Lake and highway 36, which is the northern end of the Sierra Range. This is where the Sierra ends, and the Cascades begin. Complex, but amazing.
At first I thought of this as being a nice warm-up for my plans for Europe this summer, but all things considered, flying the Sierra can be more committing and difficult than traversing the Alps. They are their own different beasts, and this one has a stiff reputation- the Sierra is for real.
I hope to travel as far north as possible with the time I have, with Interstate 80 or highway 36 being the proposed finish line. I have one month to make it happen.
To keep up to date on what’s happening during the trip, follow along-
Facebook- I will be keeping up to date posts on my page ‘Dave Turner, Mammoth Lakes CA’
Live Tracking Map- Very easy to follow along on my live tracking and GPS updates
Sierra Paragliding home page posts- When possible, I will update stories and photos from along the way
The kit all packed up and ready to roll:
The gear weighs a total of 37.5 pounds (17kg) for everything you see here (including a full fuel canister). Add on top of this food and water, and that’s everything.
For this monster mission I have put together a very nice hiking/flying/camping set-up:
Items (clockwise from top right):
Glider: Ozone LM5 EN-D lightweight cross-country paraglider- Light and fast, and packs down very small. I am very happy with how this glider behaves, and it is the perfect blend of performance and safety for adventures like this. Thanks Ozone!
Harness: Ozone Ozium lightweight pod harness- Very light and compact, while still retaining plenty of storage room for all the goodies. This sleek and elegant harness is at the cutting edge of the new breed of lighter pod harnesses, I’m very happy with it.
Reserve: High Adventure Beamer 3 Lite- Absolutely the best balance of sink rate, pack volume, weight, security, and maneuverability. Every mountain pilot should have this reserve, I am very glad to have it on these big vol biv adventures. Thank you High Adventure!
Pack: Ozone’s X-Alps lightweight pack- Nice and trim. Much lighter than the normal series of packs from Ozone.
Clothing: All of my clothing for this adventure is from Patagonia, as they produce the finest outdoor apparel in my opinion. For this trip I have chosen the Dragonfly jacket, a Fitz Roy down jacket, a R1 hoody, a wool/synthetic blend t-shirt, a collar t-shirt, zip-off pants, and three pairs of socks.
Shoes: New Balance trail running shoes- very light, yet supportive.
Trekking Poles: Black Diamond Ultra Distance carbon fiber three-piece trekking poles. Best poles around, hands down.
Tent: Black Diamond One Shot one person tent- not the most comfortable, but at 2 1/2 pounds, it has redeeming qualities. This is the tent I took on my 900km vol biv adventure over the Alps last year, it’s a proven performer.
Sleeping Pad: Thermarest ProLite 3 Regular- A new lighter one has come out, but this is the one I have. Maybe for Europe this summer I will get the new NeoLite.
Sleeping bag: North Face ultralight down sleeping bag- I think it is a 20 degree F.
Helmet: Black Diamond climbing helmet.
Sun Hat: Patagonia’s Booney hat, very nice on hot days.
Water Storage: I have a 10 liter MSR bladder, as well as two 1 liter Platapus flexible water bottles.
Solar Panel: Goal Zero 7 with additional battery and cord.
Camera: GoPro Hero3+ with cord and 64gb card.
Headlamp: BD headlamp, light and bright.
Emergency Beacon/GPS Messenger: Delorme InReach SE- awesome. Able to send and receive texts and emails from anywhere, as well as other functions. It has bluetooth interface with the Iphone, complete with a do-everything app.
Vario: Sonic vario from FlyTec
Phone: Iphone 5s with cord and headphones
Stove kit: MSR butane stove, MSR non-stick pot and lit, pot gripper, fuel can, coffee filter, spoon, wind screen, stuff sack, food bag, coffee cup.
Toiletries: Toothbrush and paste, Dr Brommers soap, sunscreen, lip balm, toilet paper, deodorant, ibuprofen.
Other items: money, ID, credit card, sunglasses, knife, 2 lighters, gloves.
I would like to thank Ozone Paragliders, High Adventure, Patagonia, Asolo, and Black Diamond for their support. Having the best gear out there makes a difference!
Updates from the Field!!!-
Days 1 thru 6 Update:
Even with windy non-flyable weather conditions, I’m having a great time! The wind has been moderate to strong from the north most days, so the majority of progress has been made by foot. Here is a recap of what has happened in the past 6 days-
Day 1 (April 19th):
I started out from Ventura on day one, leaving in the dark after having a grand final dinner with Peter. I really wanted to get the adventure started, and did not want to wait until the next morning.
After a big steak, I started walking. I hiked out of town, and camped halfway between Ventura and Ojai after a good few hours of night hiking.
I woke up and got out early, as I needed to get past Ojai and to the NutHouse launch. I had another 10 miles or so to get to launch, and had already hiked 8 miles last night. I made quick progress, and even got to meet up with O.J., Robby, and Peter at different times during the morning hike. They were all watching me on live tracking, and had dropped by to say hi. O.J. took off, and both Robby and Peter came up to launch with me.
Robby laughed at me when he asked how the hell I was gonna fit all this crap in my little pod harness, as I replied that I had no idea since I never did a practice pack/hang with the full kit. I knew it would all fit no problem, but because I was diving deep into the Sespe area, I had 12 liters of water and 4 days of food on board. I was over loading the glider by a solid 10kg’s, and even had to tie the pack on the outside of the pod!
Launch went well, except I started bombing out right off the bat. I was trying my best to find the tiniest bit of lift to surf up, but it was slim pickings. The vertical drop of the launch above the level of the ‘LZ’ is maybe 1,500 feet if that, so there is not much time to find a thermal. I lost over half of this altitude before hooking into a nice little something, and I took it up over the summit as they cheered me on from below. The link to the ground had been broken, I had climbed out. I pointed down range and started flying XC.
I did not get too far until I had to make a choice as passed Nordoff Peak and approached Chief Peak. The route I wanted to take was the next range to the north, the Sespe Range, and continuing towards Santa Paula was not option #1. As I approached the top of the Chief, I had to either top land and hike down the backside, or get blown over and take the tail wind to the next range or LZ. The wind was strong on top, and I was just above summit level. I was too close to the peak to turn tail and run, the rotor would get me. So I top landed in strong wind, and started hiking down the shorter back side.
Sometimes in vol biv you must not think ony like an XC pilot, you must take into account the overall strategy of what you are trying to accomplish. In this case, I probably could have continued heading east, but I needed to go north. If I had not top landed and gotten low, I would of had to land on the south side of the peaks somewhere. That would mean a grueling hike up over the peaks, and wasted time. So I chose the best course of action to me at the time, and landed on the summit.
I hiked down the backside after pouring out most of my water, and made my way towards the wild and scenic Sespe area. As I approached a campsite for the night, another friend had tracked me down by my GPS live track. Theo lives very nearby this area, and had come to say hi. He ended up camping with me, and seeing me off the next morning.
After a bad start, I got lost for 45 minutes, I was on track and heading deep into the Sespe. This is one of the most remote areas in all of SoCal, absolutely beautiful. The wind was forecasted to be gusty, so I just hiked. And hiked. All the way to a campsite at the base of a hot springs.
A very difficult day.
After starting out over the giant peak to my north on a trail-less cross country hike, I soon realized that I was in for one hell of a bushwacking adventure! I zigged and zagged my way through the peaks, and crossed directly over the highest peaks. I looked for a suitable launch site, but the wind was not going the way I needed it to, there was nowhere to lay my wing out in the dense brush, and the velocity of the wind was highly questionable for flying! Dang, another day of no flying, so I made my way down the horrible backside on my way to Mutau Flat.
Once at the Flat, I was rewarded with mountain topography instead of high desert peaks. Big pine trees, cool clear creeks with trout, and granite boulders greeted me. I finally started to feel back at home in the higher peaks. I made my way down the drainage to find a campsite for the night. I instead found giant bear tracks crossing the creeks on the trail in front of me; his giant tracks were still filling back in with water as I passed over them. We camped together, I’m sure.
I hiked up Lockwood Creek towards the town of Frazier Park for a resupply on food. I was completely out of rations now, and was hungry. I had brought four days of food, and now was day five. I also got a GPS message from my mom saying that she would meet me at the local market for a quick meet up. So I headed out hiking and found her in town.
We ended up camping and hanging out, and had a great time.
We woke up from our nearby campsite, and started the day. She drove ahead in the car, and I hiked my way to meet her at Interstate 5. Here we are now, sitting in the Denny’s after having a big breakfast.
I have now bought more food, and am ready to continue. Motivation is high, but the forecast is not cooperating much. Springtime is generally hit or miss, and right now it seems like more of a ‘miss’. The forecast looks like copious amounts of north wind over the next few days. Whether or not I will be able to get any progress in by air is questionable. But thats ok with me, as it will just make it all the more sweet once I hit the southern Sierra and start chewing up the miles by paraglider travel! I have another 60 or so miles of lower peaks to make it to the southern tip of the Sierra, lets see how it goes….
May 11th UPDATE (Days 7 thru 22)
I’ve been on the move!!
It has been two weeks since I last wrote in with whats been going on, and a lot has happened since then. The bad weather has continued for much of this section, but I have had four nice flights despite the lack of good flying conditions. It was seeming like I was hiking the whole damn route at first, until I started to hit the real mountains and make up distance in the air. Just yesterday, I logged a 88 mile flight from Walt’s Point up to the Mammoth area. Times are improving.
When I left Frazier Park and the Interstate 5 area, my pack was bursting at the seams with food and supplies. I was heading through the remote Mojave peaks and Southern Sierra, and wanted to have at least 8+ days of food with me because of the lack of re-supply points on the high route. I was planning on not dropping off the peaks and high trails whenever possible, and hiking or flying the high line. Slower and more rugged than hiking down in the deserts, but I wanted to be ready to fly at a moments notice and always sleep up high.
The next day after the re-supply at I-5, I unknowingly came upon HikerTown and and the start of my Pacific Crest Trail section. I weighed my pack here- ughhh 73 lbs! I kept on hiking through the wind and upcoming storm for another three days, meeting all sorts of hikers and great people along the way. One of them most notably was Cory aka ‘Night Time’ a PCT thru-hiker who I hiked with for almost four days throughout the bad weather. We cranked out anywhere between 18-30 miles per day, and really moved along headed north.
But close to Kelso Valley he went on ahead, as the next day looked flyable and I wanted to stay at the peak to take advantage of this. I bid him farewell, only to fly over him the next day after he hiked his ass off, and I glided along. I made it to the Walker Pass area before I got low and had to land. I landed in front of him on the trail, and gave some hoots as I flew overhead. He caught up as I finished packing, and we started hiking again. Keep on moving.
The next day was forecasted to have some potential as well, so I decided to make camp on the peak top not far from where I landed, as he kept on hiking. I took off the next morning and instantly got boosted high over the Southern Sierra. I was finally on home ground, and in the air. I cruised north and passed over our ‘Nine Mile Canyon’ launch, and pressed on towards Whitney. As I got about halfway to Walt’s Point, it started to get quite windy. I made the choice to turn inland, and cross over the west side of the crest and land in Kennedy Meadows for a much needed re-supply and burger. I had wanted to make it much further, but I had to make due with what I had.
I was lucky to get these two consecutive flying days in, because the next five days were bad weather. I hiked north to Walt’s Point to be in position, and that is exactly where I was when the weather improved.
Launching Walt’s felt great as it is my favorite place to fly in California, if not anywhere. I climbed on out over the peaks, but instantly I could tell that the west wind was going to be a big problem for a long flight, and also the clouds were gonna over develop and blow up. No matter, I was here to make distance, and this is what I was going to do as long as I could sustain flight.
I soared past Mt Whitney and Williamson on my way north, as the wind increased. I took a beating while crossing in front of Onion Valley, only to be boosted up and up in the strong thermals above Kersarge Peak. While crossing the Palisades it started to fully cloud in and snow lightly, but even with 100% cloud cover, the thermals and clouds were pumping! It was weird to be on full speed bar, vario screaming away, while in a snowstorm. Gotta love the Owen’s Valley- it makes you feel alive.
While passing Bishop the sky became sunnier, but the WSW wind was cranking. I had to slow down and fly the smaller Buttermilk Mountains back towards Mt Tom, as the cloud base was too low over Coyote Ridge to take the quicker back route. I made it over to Mt Tom on the weaker flatland-ish thermals, only to be boosted up and over to Wheeler Crest.
At this point I had been hiding behind the High Sierra and it’s wind shadowed eastern escarpment. But once I rounded around the corner of Wheeler and pointed it towards Mammoth and the west wind, I knew I would not make it to the town of Mammoth Lakes. It was blowing 20+ where I was over Red Peak, and I knew it was probably 50+ mph through the Mammoth venturi coming over from the west side. All I could do was stay low behind Mt Morgan and McGee, and scoot through to the Green Church just past the LZ for McGee. I landed out in the nice grassy field, and was extremely psyched to make this 88 mile flight. It was just what I needed after all the hiking, bad weather, and shorter flights down south.
I hiked into Mammoth the next morning to meet up with friends, eat good food, and relax for a few days. The weather forecast has given me another mandatory 3 day rest break- winds on the summit of Mammoth over the last few days have been 50-130 mph! I write this now with high hopes for flying tomorrow, as the wind is supposed to die down. Lets see what happens.
I have now completed 305 straight-line miles of hiking and flying, and I have another 215 to go until I make my goal of the Southern Cascades and the end of the Sierra at Highway 36. The total length of the route that I am attempting is 520 miles, so I am already over half-way there.
Of the 305 miles that I have completed, 46% of the distance has been covered by flying, and 54% by hiking. I will not hike any more long sections of trail at this point. It is too difficult to cover ground quickly through the High Sierra on foot, so I hope to be flying most the remaining distance. Plus, it’s not cool to hike for distance when the terrain is perfect for flying. My goal is to always have any vol biv route at least have over 50% of the distance made by flying. If not, then your just carrying your glider around and thats not very sporting.
All is well here in Mammoth, but I can’t wait to leave.
May 11th, 2014
Here are the daily updates and pics-
Flying above the NutHouse launch by Ojai during the beginning of the trip-
Flying above Nordoff Peak, headed towards The Chief and Sespe-
Looking towards Santa Paula along the Coastal Mountains-
Top landing up high-
April 24(Day 6)
I’m either gonna wait here, or make my way to Lone Pine to wait it out for better flying conditions. Now that I’m in the High Sierra, it’s not logical or efficient to keep hiking big sections. You could spend 10-14 days hiking to Mt Tom from here, or just 3 hours flying time from your magic backpack.
Uh, yeah. I think I’ll wait for the weather to get flyable.
Lone Pine Peak, with Whitney in the back right-
At over 14,500 feet, Mt Whitney is the highest peak in the range. And I’m well below it!-
Scary looking clouds above Williamson and Tyndall, indicating high winds aloft-
Starting to cloud in and snow-
At least it is coming down as light snow and not rain. But somehow there are still big thermals-
Almost to Mammoth Lakes, getting low as I pass McGee-
It was one of my most difficult flights to date- big headwind, nasty strong thermals, snow storms, OD’ing clouds filling 90% of the sky, and only a Sonic vario. Dang, I needed that!I’ll be hanging with friends in Mammoth this evening most likely, unless I decide to walk back to the McGee launch. The LM5 absolutely kicks ass! The R11 would of been a handful in these conditions.
Now it’s all smiles and resting for another two days- the weather has crapped out yet again. No worries, it’s looking better on Monday. I’m planning on hiking up to Minaret Vista and finding somewhere to launch once it’s good again. Man I love it out here….
FINAL UPDATE FROM THE FIELD
The trip has been completed- I have arrived at the end of the Northern Sierra after 510 miles (820 km’s) of solo adventure!
What an amazing time I have had along the way. Big thermals, demanding flights, steep hikes, heavy pack, sketchy conditions; all were encountered on this south-to-north traverse of California and the High Sierra. I started out from the beach at Ventura, California, on the 19th of April and traveled alone and unsupported to my destination 30 days later, up at the northern end of the Sierra in Verdi, Nevada. I travelled 510 straight line miles to arrive there, with 55% of that distance covered by flying my Ozone LM5 paraglider, and the other 45% by hiking my ass off through the rough and remote terrain.
I am extremely happy to have completed the complete traverse of the Sierra Nevada by vol biv flying, and extending it even further by starting on the Pacific Ocean down in Southern California. It was the first solo and first unsupported traverse of the range, it was a great adventure for me. It was much harder going solo and unsupported instead of having a chase car or using help for re-supplies and logistics. Having no support or assistance forced me to carry more supplies than I wanted, and to make safe conservative decisions while out there. It also created a blank canvas to create whatever route and adventure that I wanted. Pure freedom.
The first third of the adventure was mostly hiking, with a few short flights thrown in. It was unusually bad weather for the first half of my trip, with very few opportunities to fly. Once I arrived on the northern Mojave Peaks and eventually the Southern Sierra, I was rewarded with decent weather and made most of the remaining progress by air. All in all, I was very happy to have flown more than 55% of the distance, otherwise it would have been more walking than I would have been happy with. If another party were to repeat the entire route in say, late Spring or early Summer, I’m sure you would be able to fly over 75%+ of the route without too much trouble. That is, if your up to taking on the big conditions of the Sierra at that time of the year!
I had some very ‘spicy’ times up there when the conditions proved to be challenging. The LM5 glider just plowed right on through most of it, only getting my feathers ruffled a few times. One thing about flying in the Sierra is that it is usually big, strong conditions with plenty of turbulence associated with the lift. Our prevailing wind is from the west, creating large helpings of nasty rotor most afternoons since we are flying on the lee side to the east of the crest. Welcome to paragliding heaven, just be aware of what you are getting into.
I had originally intended to go about 45 more miles north to Honey Lake, but upon summiting the Mt Rose massif and looking north over the last few peaks, it was obvious that they were much smaller and more heavily forested than the peaks I had just come from. The last of the big peaks had been crossed, the trip was over. I hiked down to goal at Interstae 80 and called it good.
Now I’m gearing up for another big adventure starting in two weeks- a solo vol biv traverse from one side of the Alps to the other, and back. Life is good.
I want to thank my sponsors, they really helped out by supporting the trip. Big thanks go out to:
I will be creating a video of the trip, stay tuned as I’ll try to get it posted before I head to Europe.
May 21st, 2014
Here are my updates from the field as it happened, from where I last left off in Mammoth Lakes-
I had high hopes for today’s flight from the Mammoth area, but the day did not turn out as planned.
I hiked from town early this morning after having coffee with my mom Beatrice, and made my way up to the Main Lodge of Mammoth Mountain. Once there, I met up with Huntley Badger, who was psyched to come along and get some XC action for the day as well.
We hiked up to the top of the peak, and suited up. The wind was fairly strong, but the bright blue skies and and lack of birds made me suspicious. It seemed like it could be high pressure or too stable. But cycles were coming in, so I punched out first.
It was ok soaring at first, but I couldn’t get much above peak height. I pushed on to the next peak, and Huntley launched after I turned the corner. I found no real lift, just some punchy crap ridge lift, but kept scooting to the next peaks. I finally had to put it down just short of June Lake, up on the peak. He had to land in the valley below launch, but did so safely. Good thing too, as it was bumpy!
I am now at a great little bivy site, tucked in between beautiful peaks and tall pine trees. A great take off for tomorrow is close nearby and looks great. I hope tomorrow has some actual thermals.
I spoke with Mitch who is flying up at Copper Peak with the Tahoe crew, and he reported the same conditions up there today- no lift above peak height, just wind and soaring.
Tomorrow is gonna be great! Tonight’s Sierra campsite, a room with a view-
Wow, last night was cold! I’m not sure if there was an inversion holding down the cold air in this high cirque I’m camped in or what, but last night was considerably colder than any night of the trip so far.
I awoke to very low temps around 3 am and could not go back to sleep. By 4 am I couldn’t take it anymore, and built a raging fire right next to me. It definitely warmed things up! But since I fell asleep at nearly 8:30 last night due to a lazy afternoon, I couldn’t get back to sleep as I was already well rested.
I am looking forward to climbing this next peak and getting back in the air today! I’m fully addicted to this sport like a drug, and need my fix for the day. Hopefully there is a big fat hit of some chronic flying up there today! Ha!
Ready for takeoff! Huntley Badger has hiked up with me this morning, and the day is looking good. The cycles are building and hopes are high. Good times up here on Little Cannon Peak.
Sweet flight- I made it all the way to Minden, Nevada, which is next to Lake Tahoe!! Yes!
Huntley Badger launched with me, but I think he might of had to top land in no mans land- I lost sight of him shortly after launching. (turns out he made it to Markleeville)
Looking down at Huntley (bottom left) and out at the snowy peaks-
Committing to the deep line-
‘No man’s land’-
Land here and it’s a two day hike out-
Or keep going and land somewhere nice-
Great flying conditions to start with, but another strong NE shut me down once I got to Nevada. All good though, I’m close to the Kingsbury Grade launch, I’ll be there for tomorrow’s flight most likely. But there are some nice peaks directly above me here in case I don’t want to hike (likely).
On a more serious note- I had a full speed frontal today, and got the risers twisted up. Bad. About ten twists were between me and the wing as we bucked around for probably 90 seconds and about 3,000 vertical feet. It was the worst cascade I’ve had so far, but I just kept calm and kicked and forced the twists out. I was pulling on my brakes so hard at times to stop myself from going in the wing that I broke the sheath of the brake line.
I didn’t want to throw my reserve over the big snowy peaks again, so I just waited for the twists to come out- for a long time. Once it did come out, it was super cravatted on both sides, almost five more full stalls to get it out. Holy shit, god damn.
I was about 800 feet over the top of the ridge when it all came back, and I finished the second half of my flight like nothing happened.
Fun times in the Sierra- be ready, it’ll get ya!
Anyone in the Incline Village Lake Tahoe area want to meet up for lunch?? Or any recommendations for a good restaurant with big, tasty portions?
Looks like I’ll get there just after noon or so, as long as I stop sipping coffee and get my ass up and start hiking this morning!
Well I was hoping to land in goal today at the highway instead of walking, but a big forest fire to my east has closed down the airspace I’m in. Either way, I’m totally psyched to be on my last two hours of this incredible journey.
It has been almost exactly 500 miles (800km) of straight line travel by only foot or paraglider. I started out from the beach in Ventura, and have had the time of my life.
I had wanted to travel the last few miles north to Honey Lake, but the peaks that lead there do not look anything like ‘Sierra’ peaks- they are low and forested. Heading for Interstate 80 now, will be arriving in Verdi, Nevada, for GOAL!!!!! Hell yes!!
Anyone driving from the Reno/north Lake Tahoe area headed towards Sacramento or the Bay Area today? I’m looking for a ride that way from Verdi around noon or so.
This trip was excellent. It showed that you do not need to travel half way around the world to find big adventures, sometimes they are waiting for you in your own backyard. I hope that more people take up the exciting sport of vol biv flying, but be careful out there. This game is for real, and it can bite. Make sure you bring your ‘A’ game when you come to the Sierra- she has teeth!!
I am headed to Europe in two weeks from now for another big solo vol biv trip, details can be found here. It’s going to be another great adventure, I hope you guys follow along on that one as well. I will be updating my website and facebook as I go, hoping for another great outcome.