Even while winter was still in full swing, I started thinking of the best way to prep for a nice, relaxing summer. Since I had already committed to a cat skiing in Oregon, speedriding in Chamonix, and skiing and speedriding in Alaska, I wanted a (warmer) location to enjoy as many different activities as possible.
It didn’t take long to decide on Moab for BASE jumping, powered paragliding (PPG) and Stand Up Paddle boarding (SUP).
Now the only task – and typically most difficult part of any adventure – was to rally the troops.
I started with an old friend, whom I hadn’t seen in years but had kept in touch with through email and phone calls. Recently, Travis (Carl) Weathers had all but given up skydiving and taken up powered paragliding. Which is basically paragliding with a motor attached to a frame attached to a harness attached to your butt.
I also extended the invite to my buddies Troy Keys (skydiving OG, paragliding badass, speedriding freak of nature and PPG enthusiast) and Mike Semanoff (former Army paratrooper, publicist and rad dude at anything involving air, gravity and nylon). They were super psyched about the idea and penciled it into their calendars. I made sure to contact several other BASE jumping buddies, including former Ranger colleague and best friend, Chris Carnahan.
Unfortunately, as the weeks and months went by, a little thing called “obligations” got in the way for many of the guys. Travis, whom the trip was intended to revolve around, fell victim to his own success and became involved in a very awesome project with the History Channel. Of the eight guys invited, only four of us (plus one Moab resident) were able to make it. It was quite the group, as it would turn out.
With our rendezvous approaching, everyone tied up their loose ends at home. Troy made sure the grass was cut and the house was in order. Mike lined up a few new accounts while fulfilling obligations on preexisting accounts. Chris, well, I’m not sure he has any real obligations or even works considering he travels nationally and internationally at least 6 months out of the year.
In any case, our vectors converged on the Mineral Bottom region just west of Moab alongside the Green River.
The first morning, our good friend Mick, a local transplant, decided to meet us and help crack off the first jump. The Mineral Bottom area is a wide canyon with walls that face almost every cardinal direction making it really versatile in different wind and weather conditions. Since this was an early morning jump and the winds were nil, we decided on an east-facing wall. It put us in the suns early light, and the walls lit up like they were on fire. Ironically, the exit we were jumping was named “Dark Star.” With gear checks completed, we gave our handshakes and off we went.
Mike and Troy weren’t super stoked on the tight, uneven dirt roads for their PPG launches. After a failed, rain soaked, morning attempt at jumping and flying the Parriott Mesa in the infamous Castle Valley region east of Moab along the Colorado River, we headed into town to find a more appropriate runway for the PPG boys.
While this made for safe and easy take-offs and landings and some pretty awesome two-way flying for Mike and Troy, it just wasn’t the spectacular, red rock, cliff-buzzing flying we had all envisioned. So, we tried our hand at a little river action.
With warmer mountain temps and the increased precipitation, the mighty Colorado River was not nearly as tame as it was when I visited last August. As red as the cliffs that surround it, the river was busy with people and roaring with adventure.
While Troy is an avid river enthusiast, I politely asked him to keep us in some of the more mellow sections of the Daily Section, as my white water skills on an SUP aren’t quite to his levels in a kayak. He reluctantly agreed after attempting to convince me that we would be fine in the sections farther upriver. We received several snickers and jeers from the local river guides as we put in and began paddling.
The next few hours and 11 miles were filled with challenging, mellow, fun and scary moments that involved a few headstands, rescues and overturned/flooded SUPs and kayaks. We all survived and only our stomachs were sore from laughing so hard.
That evening, we set out for sunset PPG/BASE jump action in Mineral Bottom that included everyone. Unfortunately, the tight take-off/landing area that Mike and Troy had available to them would jump up and bite Troy right in the tail fan when a thin limb on a small bush would hit the prop of Troy’s motor and shatter the delicate carbon fiber prop. With no spare in his kit and the winds not quite right for launching his free flight paraglider or speedwing, Troy was out.
While we all felt horrible for Troy, we didn’t feel horrible enough to skip an awesome evening and early morning BASE jump/PPG session in the low angle late and early morning light. Troy was a good sport about things. He hung out at the exit point and shuttled us back up from the bottom of the canyon.
We had the canyon almost to ourselves. The cracks of our opening canopies, slaps of our high fives, and the yuks of our uncontrollable laughter echoed up and down the canyon for hours.
All good things must come to an end, and Troy and Mike departed before Chris and me so they could return home to family and business in Salt Lake City. Chris and I had one more evening and morning of good times. We decided to include Mick on a slightly secret jump and a chance at redemption at Parriott Mesa early in the morning on our last day. We met Mick, spent the night at the bottom of the Mesa and watched the sun cast its bright energy across the magical Castle Valley.
The hike in consisted of a little bit of everything – light hiking, scrambling, light climbing, and amazing views – we finally made it to the top and geared up. I couldn’t really think of a better jump to cap off such an amazing trip. One of the higher (to impact) jumps in the Moab area, it also includes a fairly long canopy flight along the talus. Approximately 1500’ total from exit to landing, it’s one of my favorite jumps, and I got to enjoy it with two of my favorite people.
While my days of aerials aren’t completely behind me, I typically enjoy going “flat and stable” on the majority of my BASE jumps. Chris, on the other hand, has become quite the aerialist and decided the trip wouldn’t be complete without adding a little flare.
He pulled one of the sweetest barrel rolls off the roof of the exit. The proverbial nail on the coffin, we pointed our remaining personal vectors back to our own base camps and await the call for our next adventure.