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39 days in the air: paragliding from BC to Alberta

December 8, 2016

Found in Activities, Stories, Travel and places

In the summer of 2016, Benjamin Jordan gave a whole new meaning to the idiom “feels like flying.” With the support of an MEC expedition grant, the photographer and filmmaker soared 1000km via paraglider from Vancouver to Calgary. The Toronto native is no stranger to unconventional ways of travel; in 2006, he rode his skateboard across Canada with three friends – a trip that led him to his passion of producing adventure travel documentaries.

Following months of staring at maps, obsessing over ridges, valleys, cut-blocks and logging roads, Ben walked over Vancouver’s Lions Gate Bridge, ready to make history. Here, through colourful photos and captions, he chronicles the experience:

Part one: the struggle

View from the air by Grouse Mountain; Benjamin Jordan playing ukulele near an alpine lake

Left: From overconfident beginnings to humble proceedings, my first-ever flight from Grouse Mountain was not the glorious 100+km cross-country soar I had dreamt of. Instead, it was a 45-minute struggle just to stay airborne as the thermals became weaker and weaker in the sea breeze air. I spent a total of five days at Grouse Mountain before realizing it was the wrong season to fly in that region.

Right: Staying sane on the mountain for days at a time required me to branch out my activities. This activity is called standing on an island rock, singing at the top of my lungs.

Benjamin Jordan with Lighthouse Park; road to Whistler

After a last attempt to fly out from North Vancouver, I walked across West Vancouver to Lighthouse Park and made camp for the night. In some ways, this felt like the true start: bathing in the Pacific, a week of dirt already caked to my exterior, and a feeling that the worst was behind me. What lay ahead, however, was 100km of asphalt to pound out on the way to Whistler, and all uphill.

Benjamin Jordan's gear; pointing down to a landing area by a highway

Left: I have two modes: hike and fly. In either mode, one thing is for certain: weight sucks. Thanks to MEC and my other amazing sponsors, I was blessed to have the lightest versions of everything I need.

Right: Trees, a busy highway or the sea? Hrmmmm … no, wait! There’s a tourist pullout! Looking back, I was such a fool to even attempt to fly this section. It was almost certain I wouldn’t make it to the open space in Squamish, still 30km north. Truthfully, I was lucky this pullout existed.

Part two: now we’re flying!

Paragliding in the Whistler area

After arriving in Whistler, I met up with local pilots Scott and Al. Together we hiked and flew from Rainbow Mountain. At long last, I’d escaped the effects of the sea breeze and was making real distance under wing. Together with my aerial brothers, we danced in circles up to clouds and moved steadily along our way to Pemberton for the next potential launch.

Benjamin Jordan playing ukulele outside the Marty Memorial Safety Hut

My sweet reward, after I just had my first real cross-country flight to Pemberton with top landing, was getting to stay overnight in the Marty Memorial Safety Hut on Upper Mackenzie. I don’t have the right word for the feeling of this moment, but it’s a mix of love, pride and gratitude.

Benjamin Jordan at a mountaintop landing area; tent set-up in the alpine

However short (less than 40km) my first two flights were, they ended with spectacular top landings, higher than where I’d launched that day. At this point, I was not only 2300m above sea level, but I was also set up for an east launch, which allowed me to take advantage of the morning sun the following day. Coffee, oats, ramen noodles and the occasional visiting marmot were base camp staples.

Benjamin Jordan next to an alpine lake

A stark realization I found myself having again and again on this journey was how much it sucks to become dehydrated. And I don’t mean thirsty, I mean dry mouth, dry throat, hallucinating, not knowing up from down and making bad choices dehydrated. It happened from time to time, as I could only carry 2L of water in my normal bladder and certain hikes didn’t lend themselves to streams, so when I spotted a watering hole, I got up in it.

Benjamin Jordan standing on a cliff edge, and using a stick to hold his camera in the air

Left: Having flown for 12 years, I can safely say that most launches don’t really intimidate me anymore, but this cliff was giving me vertigo like something else.

Right: I’m proud of my rustic tech, but the weight of my camera stabilizer (a must) was too much for the system and kept flipping upside down.

Benjamin Jordan playing ukulele while paragliding above the mountains

After what was the most remarkable day of this entire project – a 140km straight shot over pure wilderness and the entire West Kootenay region – I just couldn’t resist an aerial jam session.

Aerial view of the Pinnacle Watershed in Monashee Provincial Park

Successfully crossing over the Pinnacle Watershed in Monashee Provincial Park was a heart-stopping experience. Although there were still over 20km to glide to safety, little else was on my mind when I spotted the emerald lakes and snowy peaks.

Benjamin Jordan flying over Kootenay National Park

Left: Ever since my first time driving from Banff to Radium ten years ago I dreamt of this day. While Kootenay National Park is a no-land, no-launch zone, I knew that wouldn’t be a problem.

Right: I felt as though my heart might stop from the beauty of this moment. Not one minute before I was on the verge of tears, when I realized I’d gotten myself way too low in a bad spot. Then, I was reminded why I’m so addicted to this incredible sport – I was dealt a wildcard that not only allowed my passage onward, but left this scene as a parting gift.

Sunrise with the Three Sisters mountains at camp

It was late when I began hiking up Cougar Creek toward the Lady MacDonald trailhead and set up camp for the night without the shelter of my cozy tent. I woke up at sunrise with the Three Sisters watching over me.

Part three: home free

Benjamin Jordan paragliding above Lady MacDonald mountain

Whenever I step up to launch, I struggle with the feeling that I will just bomb out, landing at the base of the mountain in frustration. But time after time, a greater force proves me wrong, which makes my fantasy of crossing this mountainous divide as real as anything. This photo captures my first climb from Lady MacDonald. I knew then, without a shred of doubt, I’d get beyond the mountains.

Benjamin Jordan flying over farm fields

After 37 days of massive mountains, glaciers, deep valleys and man-eating crevasses, I had completely forgotten that any other type of landscape existed. Like warping through space to an entirely separate planet, there I was: staring at a level horizon with farm fields as far as the eye could see. Ironically, now that there was no danger to avoid, I couldn’t figure out where to best fly and bombed out shortly after arriving in the flats.

Benjamin Jordan setting up camp along the Bow River; storm cells above fields in Alberta

Left: I set up camp along the famous Bow River. No longer concerned about running out of food, I spoiled myself with two packs of ramen noodles and a piece of chocolate to celebrate.

Right: Alberta had been struck by storms almost every afternoon all summer. Though it would have been nice to fly all the way to Calgary, I was happier beholding the power of these mammoth storm cells from the ground.

Benjamin Jordan outside MEC Calgary

MEC was the first business to hop on board this project and the catalyst for many of my other sponsors to do the same. Having begun my journey from the flagship MEC location in Vancouver, it felt right that I complete it by arriving at the MEC Calgary store.

Benjamin Jordan camping out without a tent

Ben made history as the first paraglider to take a solo flight over Canada’s southwest mountains and the first person to vol-biv (that’s fly-camp) from Pacific to prairie. MEC was proud to support his journey via expedition grant funding. Way to go, Ben!

Curious about what he brought along? Check out his full gear list.

This is a highlight reel of Ben’s original photo essay. Check out the full story on and follow him on Instagram for updates on his forthcoming film about the trip.

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