Friday, August 12, 2005

Paraglider sets Baldy distance record

Travels 92 miles to point near Salmon

Express Staff Writer

Flying almost to Salmon, Hailey resident Nate Scales last week set a distance record for paragliding flights launched from the top of Bald Mountain.

Scales, 33, does remodel work for a living, but he lives to paraglide. When the morning of Thursday, Aug. 4, dawned nearly windless, he decided it looked like a good day for a long trip. He hoped to travel at least 100 miles.

Scales landed eight miles short of that goal, but his hunch was right. His 92-mile flight from Ketchum to a point along the Salmon River 18 miles southwest of the town crushed the old Baldy distance record by 12 miles. That earlier flight had been to a landing near Arco.

Scales' five-and-a-half-hour trip took him north of Trail Creek Road and over the Copper Basin, then northeast across the Lost River Range, passing close to Idaho's highest peak, Mount Borah. He glided over the Pahsimeroi Valley and crossed the Lemhi Range, then traveled north until he lost too much elevation to continue and landed in a back yard. At first annoyed to see someone standing in her yard, the owner of the house changed her attitude when Scales told her where he had come from, and started him on his trip home with a ride to Challis.

Scales said he was at over 12,000 feet for most of the trip, but his elevation changes brought him low enough to scare a herd of elk on the western side of the Lost River Range and high enough to wave to the pilots of two sailplanes as he rose above them over Copper Basin.

Throughout the trip, Scales used clouds as indicators of thermal activity, where air is rising and can carry a paraglider with it. He said he climbed thermals 18 times, reaching a maximum elevation of 17,000 feet, to stay aloft as long as he could. His rise to that elevation was above Dickey Peak in the Lost River Range, when he climbed from 8,000 feet at the rate of 1,000 feet per minute.

"That was the strongest thermal of my life," he said.

Scales said paraglider pilots want little wind for long flights because even with a prevailing tail wind, there are spots where the wind direction changes. He said paragliders' weak point is that they get slowed considerably by a headwind.

Scales said he determined the distance he had traveled by plotting a string of GPS coordinates on maps.

Chuck Smith, owner of Fly Sun Valley, a Ketchum-based paragliding outfitter, said distances flown can be proved by recording the trip on a GPS, but that claims of local records are taken on trust.

"It's such a small community, people are pretty honest about what goes on," he said.

The state's distance record is 101 miles, set by a pilot who launched from the top of 10,600-foot-high King Mountain, north of Arco.

Scales called Idaho "one of the best places on earth to fly," noting the state's many mountain ranges and dry air.

"Paragliders are such a good way to see the state," he said. "And paragliding's the coolest thing ever."

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