Even while winter was still in full swing, I started thinking of the best way to wind down spring and prep for a nice relaxing summer. Since I had already committed to a cat skiing trip in Oregon, speedriding top in Chamonix and skiing and speedriding trip in Alaska, I began thinking of a location and time frame for which I could enjoy as many different activities as possible. It didn’t take long to decide on Moab for some BASE jumping, powered paragliding (PPG) and standup paddleboarding (SUP). Now the only (and typically most difficult part of any adventure) was to rally the troops together.
I started with an old friend, who I haven’t seen in years, but we had conversed 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. The invite was also extended to my buddy Troy Keys (skydiving OG, paragliding badass, speedriding freak of nature and PPG enthusiast) and Mike Semanoff (former Army paratrooper, publicists and rad dude at anything involving air, gravity and nylon), who were super psyched about the idea and penciled it into their calendar. I made sure to contact several other BASE jumping buddies like former Ranger colleague and best friend, Chris Carnahan. Everyone began to work it into their schedules. Unfortunately, as the weeks and months went by, a little thing called “obligations” got in the way of much of the guys’ plans to have fun. Out of the eight guys that invites were extended to, only four (plus one Moab resident) were able to make it. Travis, who the trip was intended to somewhat revolve around, would fall victim to his own success as he would become involved in a very awesome project with the History Channel that cannot be disclosed at this time. The other three victims would also succumb to various other last minute obligations. It would just be the four of us. But what a foursome it would be!.
With our rendezvous approaching, everyone was tying up their loose ends in their responsible lives. 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. I’m not sure the guy even works considering he travels nationally and internationally at least 6 months out of the year. In any case, all of our vectors converged on the Mineral Bottom region just west of Moab alongside the Green River. First thing the first morning, our good friend Mick, who is a local transplant, decided to meet us out and help us 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 to different wind and weather conditions. Since this was an early morning jump and the winds were nil, we decided on an east-facing wall. One that would put us in the suns early light and make the walls light up as if they were on fire. Ironically, the exit we were jumping was named “Dark Star.” With gear checks completed, we gave our handshakes and of we went, one by one.
Mike and Troy weren't super stoked on the tight, uneven dirt roads that they had available to them for their PPG launches. So after a failed, rain soaked early 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 that we had all envisioned. So, we tried our hand at a little river action.
With the warmer mountain temps and the increased amount of rain in recent times in Colorado and Utah, the mighty Colorado River was not nearly as tame as it was the last time I visited in 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 some challenging, mellow, fun and scary moments that involved a few headstands through rapid sections by Chris, more yahoo’s than I could count, two rescues, at least a dozen overturned SUPs and a capsized and filed up kayak. We all survived and all hard sore stomachs from laughing so hard. While there were definitely times that I thought to myself, “what in the heck are we doing here!?!?,” we are all fairly competent and able individuals who recognize what “in over our heads” looks like.
For the evening, we decided on some sunset PPG/BASE jump action in Mineral Bottom that would include 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 not put together an awesome evening AND early morning BASE jump/PPG session in the low angle late and early morning light. Troy was certainly a good sport about things by hanging out at the exit point and helping shuttle us back up from the bottom of the canyon. We had the canyon almost all to ourselves and the cracks of our opening canopies, slaps of our high fives and the yuks of our uncontrollable laughter could be heard echoing up and down the canyon for hours.
While all good things must come to an end, Troy and Mike’s fun came before Chris and I’s as they had family and business to return home to in Salt Lake City. Chris and I had one more evening and morning of good times that we decided to share with Mick on a slightly secret jump and a chance at redemption at Parriott Mesa early in the morning on our last day. The forecast looked great as we spent the night at the
bottom of the Mesa where Chris and I met up with Mick and watched the sun cast it’s bright energy across the magical Castle Valley. With the hike consisting of a little bit of everything, (light hiking, scrambling, light climbing, 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 certainly one of my favorite jumps and I had two of my favorite people there with me to enjoy it with. While my days of aerials aren’t completely behind me, I typically enjoy just going “flat and stable” on the majority of my BASE jumps. Chris on the other hand has become quite the aerialist and decided that the trip wouldn’t be complete without adding a little flare. So he pulled one of the sweetest barrel rolls of the roof of the exit. The proverbial nail on the coffin, we were forced to point our remaining personal vectors back to our own base camps and await the call for our next adventure.