It took 35 days to complete, and covered 650km, stretching from the remote Canadian Rockies to the US border. When Gavin McClurg and Will Gadd set off in August they knew it wasn’t your normal ‘vol-bivouac' flight, but the longest ‘true paragliding trip’ ever – all forward progress had to be done flying, so they could create a continuous flying GPS trace of the route, from start to finish. Was it worth the effort? Apparently – the pair are now among those nominated as National Geographic Adventurers of the Year. (Vote for them to win the people's choice here.)
“It’s completely humbling, phenomenal and I’m excited. Thrilled!”
“For me it's clear that you can complete any geographic objective if you carry your paraglider instead of flying it,” says Will. “There is nothing new to be learned by walking along a road in the valley bottom. But there are a lot of cool experiences to be had by focusing on the flying, and then exploring the landscape on the days you can't fly.”
This style of flying and camping wild is known as vol bivouac or vol bivy. Because the terrain was so wild they wanted to fly as much as they could and land high each night.
The crossing was truly mind blowing. “It epitomised everything I love about this sport in one hit,” agrees Gavin. “It’s the scariest, riskiest thing I’ve ever done. It was intense. To fly through a vast area where no one had ever flown through before was really cool. That it can still be done in today’s world is amazing. Other people have flown for longer but end up hiking for days, so this is purer,” says Gavin.
It’s the scariest, riskiest thing I’ve ever done.
Indeed, they did it their own way. “We camped in tents high in the remote alpine, where the grizzly bears far outnumbered the people. It’s hard for people who haven't been in the Rockies to understand just how little of the mountains are “civilised,” says Will.
There is nothing new to be learned by walking along a road in the valley bottom.
Gadd continues: “It was impossible to walk where we went; no roads, no trails, big rivers you couldn't swim across, just a truly wild landscape compared to the Alps or any other range I've flown in. We only crossed one paved road in the first 350km we flew, and maybe ten towns where you could buy a beer in the whole distance. We had to fly to get out!”
The month-long challenge suffered two long bouts of bad weather that shut them down completely for more than a week at a time – but in the end, it was worth it. And as for that award – “I lost my shit…” said Gavin when he heard about his nomination. “It’s completely humbling, phenomenal and I’m excited. Thrilled!”
Will agrees. “There were so many amazing moments; where we were waiting for the weather to improve and found huge new caving areas, flew in strong conditions that really pushed me, flew over wild peaks that literally no one had ever flown anywhere near before; so many things that I never dreamed possible. But by showing up and trying we won, and that's a lesson I just have to keep learning…so good!”
The award isn't the only bit of good news for McClurg. He's just been accepted to take part in the Red Bull X-Alps next summer, the 1,000km hike and fly race across the Alps from Salzburg to Monaco.
“It's the definition of true adventure,” he says. “I'm so excited.”