Maxim de Jong snaps a selfie while paragliding down from Mt. Cheam during a training climb a couple of years ago in preparation for the record attempt.

Setting the record for adventure

Chilliwack aerospace engineer Maxim de Jong sets unofficial world record on Mt. Cheam.

On June 4, Chilliwack resident and aerospace engineer Maxim de Jong lost eight pounds and burned 15,000 calories. He also set an unofficial world record for traveling the greatest vertical distance in one day by scaling Mt. Cheam four times.

“It was a fun objective done for the love of being in the mountains. Nothing more, nothing less,” said the 53-year-old owner of Thin Red Line Aerospace.

De Jong climbed 7,925 vertical metres that day, gaining just under 2,000 metres of elevation during each of the four runs. This vertical distance is similar to the summit height of Mt. Everest.

“The idea is to ascend the greatest vertical distance in one day—with no outside support, vehicular or human; i.e. this is an ultra-endurance event that is self-propelled and self-contained,” he wrote in an email to The Progress.

For each of the four laps, de Jong climbed for about five hours on a special “climber’s trail” he created on Mt. Cheam. At the top, he unfurled his mini paraglider and jumped off the peak. Traveling at up to 90 km/h, his feet touched the ground eight minutes later. De Jong repacked the glider into his backpack, and set off through the woods and snow towards the summit again.

It took him 21 hours and 11 minutes to complete 7,925 vertical metres. He doesn’t know how many kilometres he actually hiked because he measures ascents by vertical distance and doesn’t follow existing measured trails.

The freedom of the wilderness regularly draws de Jong to extreme outdoor adventures. The long-time expert flyer and climber has many first ascents under his belt, as well as a 6,187-vertical-metre climb on Elk Mountain in 2009, which is the equivalent of eight laps on the Elk Mountain trail. Requiring all of his mountaineering, ice climbing, flying, and running skills at once, Mt. Cheam is a particularly interesting challenge for de Jong, who rejects limits, and prefers asking “why not” instead of justifying inaction.

“You can balance things in life and still do things that are cutting edge. Balancing trying to be the best dad and husband in the world. Trying to be the ultimate spacecraft engineer. And at the same time, still having some ‘me’ time as well,” he said.

De Jong’s Chilliwack company, Thin Red Line Aerospace, has pinpointed the city as a Canadian aerospace centre. The trendsetting company builds high-tech inflatable structures that become habitats for astronauts exploring other worlds, or undersea storage units, or aviation safety gear. Clients include NASA and Lockheed Martin.

Mt. Cheam is a “world class mountain,” according to de Jong, and is one of few to enable an attempted record for greatest vertical metres in one day, because the base is relatively near sea level, and a climber can gain a lot of elevation quickly.

Even so, de Jong had to time the attempt just right to make it possible. Snow level, temperatures, and wind were all factors. Any later in June, and mosquitoes would have shut down the effort. Much of the steep traverse was through icy snow, and de Jong risked avalanches as well as bears that frequently wander the area, and had to cross a creek at the mountain base.

He attempted the record two years ago, nearly to the day, but managed only three laps before “flaming out.” He has scaled the mountain, or parts of it, 107 times in the past two-and-a-half years, bushwhacking to create the trail he used for this successful ascent.

To his knowledge, this is the first time that a record in this category — climbing on foot and paragliding down between laps — has been set in Canada.

The next-highest record of this type, also unofficial, was set in Austria by 29-year-old Christian Amon in 1998. Amon then climbed 7,600 vertical metres, 325 metres fewer than de Jong’s ascent on June 4.

De Jong set the record alone, without a crew helping with gear, and every piece of equipment was ultra-compact and lightweight. The 18 pounds he carried included his clothing, glider and harness, ice axe, climbing boots, helmet, hydration fluids, and camera.

The experience was lonely, said de Jong, and because he started at midnight, much of it was dark and wet.

“The only energizer I needed came from the open arms of wife and children at the landing between each lap,” he said.

Because the record is unofficial and will not be verified by an external organization, it is possible that another athlete has beat it somewhere in the world, but de Jong doubts it. To set an official record, he would have had to carefully log the climb to make it verifiable.

But for nature-loving de Jong, a down-to-the-metre measure of the climb would defeat its purpose: surpassing limits on a mountain adventure, and escaping the regiments of modern life.

Note: This text has been modified from an earlier version.

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