A New Look at Flying Big Sur
 by Bob Reiter

I've been flying hang gliders since 1982 and one of my favorite sites has been the Pacific Valley area of Big Sur, about 60 miles south of Carmel above Highway One. My first flight there in a paraglider came in the fall of 1998 and I was just as thrilled as on my first hang gliding flight there 15 years earlier.

The launch was from the top of the Wild Cattle ridge. It's a clear flat area with a good slope aiming between an opening in the trees. The light winds necessitated a forward launch. I'm a Novice rated paraglider pilot and don't have a lot of thermalling experience in my PG, but the conditions were mellow and the launch went off without a hitch. I easily cleared the trees on each side and flew left to the saddle of the ridge where my hang gliding experience told me I had the best chance of finding lift. Sure enough, my vario started beeping and I could feel a slight tug on my canopy.

Banking into the turn, I learned how much easier it is to work light lift in a paraglider. With one or two turns I was back to launch level, then slightly higher. While that was hardly an accomplishment I'd even mention in my hang gliding log book, it gave me a thrill to do it for the first time under a canopy.

The lift didn't last long and soon I was flying out the mile or so of ridge before it drops off steeply to the coast. Most of the flight was only a couple of hundred feet above the ridge top, so the wonderful view was an intimate one of oaks and deer trails and valleys to both sides. I had been nervous about the lower glide ratio of my paraglider, but it soon became obvious that this was not a problem and I could just concentrate on flying and watching the spectacular scenery unfold below me. There's no other way to experience this kind of look at the world, a hundred feet over the tree tops, silently soaking it all in!

At the face of the front ridge, the open fields I would be landing in gave way to the awesome and rugged Big Sur coastline. I had plenty of altitude and cruised out towards the beach, watching the waves break on the rocky shore. Aqua water dotted with kelp and the occasional seal swirled clearly over the sandy bottom before sliding up the sloping beaches. I was alone in my bird's eye view of all this on a sunny and warm morning.

But there was no lift out here, so I banked into a turn and flew across the field to find the wind streamer along the fence. Flying into the light breeze, my paraglider settled gently down. I stepped back to earth and dropped the canopy behind me.

I think I want to do this again...

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