This is the recap I wrote to the Santa Barbara Soaring Club
Hey all you birds and rad humans!
First I’d like to express my gratitude for this Paragliding community. I’ve learned so much over the three November‘s that I’ve been visiting. You all have been so dialed with welcoming all pilots into your beloved Mountains. This speaks volumes to your character and life visions. Thanks for all the hard work that the club members do to keep the sites open and to help us all fly safe.
It’s been a wonderful ride from my first flights with Dale Covington at the point of the mountain in 2012 to opening new mountain sites in Colorado and trips to the alps.
I look forward to flying with you all next November but I may have to transition back into flight progressively and stick to those soft and beautiful Guadalupe Dunes at first!
San Rafael Mountains California
Mitch Riley, Brian Black and I hiked up Little Pine Mountain from Paradise road. We all agreed there was an ideal forecast back there for the day to head west. Mitch was considering Big Sur being possible. I was focusing more on flying my own day and staying ahead of the game with terrain, keeping options as I flew a new zone. Brian Black is Canadian and always dialed and stoked!
After launching at about 10am SSE from near Little Pine summit, we were able to work Alexander Peak and the Old Man Mountain ridge up to around 5000’ before making the first move West to Santa Cruz Peak. We had a nice tailwind 5-9 out of the SE with a northern wind on the N side of the taller back range of the San Rafael Mountains. It formed the convergence as Mitch forecasted. We worked a cohesive cloud bank/street but out in the front range as to not get too deep out back as cloud base was at about 5400’. And you could actually start to feel some rotor/sink from the north the higher you climbed toward the summit ridge line. The cloud bank was directly over the spine of the range. We found the best lift along the shoulders of peaks like Santa Cruz. I got a little low on glide and found sink across Happy Canyon so I enjoyed a nice flat grassy landing.
Yes it’s called happy Canyon ha!
I found a good place to hike up about a thousand feet and 1.5 miles/30 minutes to relaunch as it was only about 1 o’clock and great conditions. The darker cohesive cloudstreet I had been following was breaking up over happy Canyon, so it was partly sunny with just a few small cumulus clouds obscuring the sun as I was setting up. It was a bit of a cliff launch with some rocks on either side but a couple mild scoop shaped runways to launch south, southwest through south south east. Also nice North east and west options, all with smooth tundra/grass and perfect grade to set up with plenty of steps before it rolled over. I noted the primary hazard to launch were the rock outcrops on either side, for potential rotor or a heading change. The thermals were coming straight in from south face. I waited as I noticed the cycles coming down after a cloud came over. With the nature of the launch, I wanted to trade stronger lift on launch for more predictable mellow air. (Would love to talk more about this as Mitch made some points about how to find more stable thermals on launch based on taking the mid cycle instead of when they are lighter for less turbulence etc. longer explanation and details here) It had been a great flight and I would have been happy with a sledder further out the valley and love hiking but thought I may be able to keep heading west behind Brian and Mitch. A cloud was obscuring the sun and cycles came down seemingly almost too much. I expected the wing to surge a little once I got it out of the wind shadow. When it did I stepped toward it but I think I was a touch late to check it because as I stepped forward to decrease the power it did overshoot me a little bit and I got plucked gently a couple feet off the ground and was in the air reversed. I did not want to get in the brakes too much to spin or stall or to get more lift. So I was basically airborne reversed.
In that moment I could hear my instructor and mentor Dale remind me to not be in a hurry to turn around. Fly the glider reversed to clear terrain first before turning forward. I felt calm and after the brief pause (should have waited longer, again lots to talk about here and many variables to consider) I started turning slowly, but as the risers opened up, I was swung wildly into the rock on the side. It may have been some rotor under the left-wing tip that I didn’t feel or check, or a stronger thermal edge or rotor lifting the right tip, but it also may have been accidentally pulling brake with the left hand as I slowly started to turn back to forward and or a weigh-shift. I may have just pulled that left control and carved into it as I went slowly from reverse to forward. I do remember coming up off the brakes some after trying to stay on the ground when I got lifted up. When I thought, “fly the glider don’t spin around quick” it’s hard to say. I impacted the small vertical wall with both ankles first, then wrists and right hip. The pendulum swing was immediate the impact was violent. I had one of those strange moments of clarity a split second before impact and thought, “Yep this is really happening.”
I already knew my right ankle was very bad as I rebounded off the wall and dropped a couple feet onto the decent ledge. I immediately did a self assessment and was 100% sure that my spine head and neck was unaffected and that my right ankle was badly broken, my left ankle was sprained or minorly broken. Both wrists felt a little dinged up maybe fractured but not terrible. I unclipped from my wing to get safely free as I was sort of on what I’d call a comfortable cliff. I had set up a group text the night before that we all had responded to. It was Mitch, Brian, and Mike Pennings who was on the ground in San Luis Obispo available for support and retrieve. I texted that I had crashed, broke both ankles, could not walk and would need a helicopter if available. Total time elapsed after impact was maybe three – minutes. Brian Black immediately initiated the rescue from the air. Fully dialed as I said. Once I crawled 10’-12’ up around the 4’x6’ wide rock wall to the top and safer spot and positioned on my harness with my feet uphill, about 2 minutes, I called 911. Also got my wing free in case I needed it to stay warm and disabled it for the heli.
They told me that Brian had called and the rescue was underway. She kept coming back to confirming that we were paragliding on Little Pine Mountain. Despite being clear that little pine was currently irrelevant for the rescue and that I had flown and hiked to my current location high in Happy Canyon She was confused ant thought it a mistake. She told me that the coordinates that we had confirmed did not make sense if I had started at Little Pine. I also mapped and confirmed that I was exactly 1.33 miles due west of Cachuma Campground on top of the high point, with glider out but disabled. I feel like this is an interesting sidenote to consider for rescues because the 911 operators may have no concept of the ground that we can cover with a combination of hiking and flying. So I was just very clear with the coordinates and she said that search and rescue would be calling me to find out more, and that I should keep the line clear.
They never called they just flew right to me with the helicopter and told me they flew right to the coordinates that we gave them. I think I maybe waited for 20 minutes. I’ll have to look at the actual times still. I believe I was at the hospital within about an hour to an hour and a half of the accident. Backcountry rescues don’t get any better than that.
I had surgery Saturday night to fix my shattered talus, right ankle. I have a couple very small minor broken fragments on left ankle, though weight bearing in a boot. They should be a non issue. A small minor fracture in left wrist that is about the most non-problematic bone you could break in your wrist. Non-structural and wearing a removable brace. and and a little fractured scaffoid bone in the right wrist that is casted. Zero spine or head injury. I’m super fortunate for that.
Just got results back from the final images today to confirm all this.
Mitch and Mike got my truck to the hospital and visited. They were awesome through all of this couldn’t ask for better partners. My wife came out to help and my primary goal is to be a happy cooperative patient so that she doesn’t divorce me! Ha ha! I wouldn’t want to lose her she is an angel. Two of our best friends from Breckenridge are flying out tomorrow for Thanksgiving and to help with the drive back whenever we are cleared to travel maybe Sunday.
I would love to share my basic wrapup and assessment on what went wrong and what I think I could’ve done differently,but I’d rather just leave this for us all to just take in, our own ways, and make our own assessments of basically what happened and how, and add it to our tool box of awareness and understanding of the sport.
So much gratitude to Trevor and I believe it was Bryce the flight medics and John the pilot. So much gratitude to a truly incredible, comfortable attentive and capable hospital. I think it’s the best hospital I’ve ever visited whether a patient or visitor. The food is actually really good! Hope you never get to enjoy it! A massive thanks to my surgeon Dr. Danielle Thomas orthopedic ankle specialist. She’s also the orthopedic surgeon for UCSB an I am incredibly fortunate to have her mega ortho skills!
I would love to chat about the details and what I think happened and I would love to hear from the community. So much knowledge and experience out there. Its all good food for the brain in a most wonderful mountain sport that involves a beautiful and raw balance of great risk and perhaps greater rewards, that we may ever experience in life.
Thanks again for each of you
See you birds next November.