If human free flight is on your bucket list, then Chilliwack is the place for you! Perhaps this place can’t offer you true free flight, but arguably the closest thing to it: paragliding.
Many people who have lived in Chilliwack and her surrounds for a while have probably looked up towards Mt. Cheam on a clear sunny day and seen a handful of brightly colored paragliding wings soaring on thermals in the sky.
I grew up in Chilliwack, not far from the base of Mt. Cheam in Rosedale, and I always wondered what that experience was like, what it felt like to hang in suspension in the air, and what the views of the valley might look like from up there. A few years later as a gift, my family bought me an experience that I will never forget. Prior to opening that card on my high school graduation day I had not realized that it was possible to hire a pilot to take you on a tandem paragliding flight in the Fraser Valley. I redeemed the gift on a beautiful sunny day in June, light fluffy cumulus clouds spotted the sky, and the mountains were flush with spring bloom. We drove up to the jump site on Mt. Woodside on the North side of the Fraser River, and as we stood on the crest of the steep launch site slope, I could feel the rush of warm air rising up the mountain into my face.
“This is exactly what we are looking for,” my pilot announced. “Those thermal updrafts are what will keep us aloft and even allow us to gain altitude and stay in the air as long as we wish.” This concept blew my adolescent mind at the time, as I had somehow envisioned that we would jump off a cliff and slowly drift to the ground; something like parachuting.
What I experienced was entirely different. We strapped ourselves into the harness and laid out the elliptical shaped “wing” with precision, checking the lines and making sure our equipment was secure. With the rush of a warm thermal my pilot, Kevin Ault, pulled on the lines and brought the wing into the air above us. He instructed me to begin running down the slope and not to stop until he said otherwise. Within only a few short strides our legs were treading air and we had lifted off from the Earth with ease. The next hour was spent in suspension as we soared above the mighty Fraser River, up over Mt. Woodside and out over the expanses of farmland surrounding Kilby.
This one short ride was amazing and I have been counting the days until I could get back into the air and try paragliding once again. In doing a bit of research I came to realize that Chilliwack is home to one of the most vibrant paragliding communities in Canada and also some of the best terrain anywhere. We have many jump sites that are drive access, as well as countless alpine locations that allow for more extreme hike in and fly out experiences.
Fly BC is located close by in Harrison Mills and offers some of the best paragliding training anywhere in the province.
I am actually signed up to take a weekend course of my own this spring with Jim at Fly BC, which will teach me all of the skills necessary to begin flying solo. My goal is to be able to use some of the ulta-light equipment, some weighing as little as 10 pounds for the whole paraglider and harness, to hike and climb into remote locations and fly back down, thus eliminating the arduous and time consuming down climbs that I often have to contend with.
If paragliding sounds like your dream come true than don’t delay in getting yourself up in the air. A tandem flight is possible for only $150, and weekend courses like the one I am taking, can be done for under $400. It looks like the summer of 2014 is the year of ticking things off of your bucket list in Chilliwack!
“For once you have tasted flight you will walk the earth with your eyes turned skywards, for there you have been and there you will long to return.”- Leonardo da Vinci
– Sam Waddington is owner of Mt. Waddington’s Outdoors: “Equipping you for rock, water, snow, sand, wind and anything else the outdoors can throw at you.”