Watching Paragliding off Mount Lady MacDonald

After our long hike to the Giant Steps on Saturday, we dialed it way back on Sunday and spent much of the day watching coverage of the London 2012 Olympics.

By evening, growing tired of the recaps and (mostly) inane commentary, Mr. GeoK sat down with the spotting scope to see whether anyone was up on Mount Lady MacDonald – one of his favourite long-distance people watching spots, as it’s interesting to see whether people stay on their feet or find some other body part to slide back down on once they summit and begin scrambling back down. We’ve never done this hike/scramble, but understand the winds can be absolutely ferocious at the top and that scrambling back down on all fours or on the seat of your pants might be the only safe way to descend.

Anyhow, to Mr. GeoKs’ surprise, there were a couple of people at the unfinished teahouse / helicopter landing pad, with what he thought might be a paragliding harness and sail. He watched for 10 or 15 minutes while I pulled out the tripod and set it up, mounting my Olympus E-P3 with its longest lens (a Lumix 100 – 300 mm) so that we would have two ways to watch the action.

Over the course of the next hour and a half or so, we watched two paragliders take off, one for a pretty short flight and the second for a much longer, higher flight before we eventually lost sight of the second paraglider (behind some tall spruce trees across the street).

Since then, we’ve learned from Will Gadd’s website that Mount Lady MacDonald is one of the most regularly used paragliding take-off locations in the Canmore area.

Mount Lady MacDonald (right), then Mount Charles Steward and Princess Margarent Mountain as viewed from just off the Three Sisters Parkway
Viewed from the meadow just off the Three Sisters Parkway, Mount Lady MacDonald towers more than 1200 meters over the town of Canmore. The yellow arrow points to the paraglider launch site.

Keeping in mind that their take-off site is over 6 km (4 miles) from where we were taking photos, here are just a few of Mrs. GeoKs’ many attempts to record the evening’s activity…

First paraglider just over Mount Lady MacDonald
This was pretty much the apex of the first paraglider’s flight, just cresting the main peak of Mount Lady MacDonald. We lost sight of this sail soon afterwards, as our attention was fixed on the second paraglider’s preparations for take-off.
Second launch
The first paraglider had some help with take-off from this second paraglider. It was impressive to watch this paraglider take off unaided as the sail opened and he/she ran back towards the sail to ensure all the lines were in order before lifting off.
Second paraglider, over the secondary summit of Mount Lady MacDonald
The second paraglider was either more skilled, more lucky, or maybe both! He/she generally followed the first paraglider’s flight path for the first few minutes, but then soared much higher, travelling back and forth over Mount Lady MacDonald a few times before we lost track behind some trees in our neighbourhood.
Nothin' but blue sky
The second paraglider was soon just a speck against the blue sky and white clouds. Mrs. GeoKs’ Lumix 100-300 mm lens was stretched beyond its limits trying to capture a few decent shots of this paraglider some 7 to 8 km (approx. 5 miles) distant.

Finally, for those of you who might be curious about the old helicopter pad / abandoned teahouse, a little bit of history:

  • The location of the these slowly-decaying relics is on a small piece of land carved out of the Bow Valley Wildland Park.
  • The unfinished teahouse was in operation in the mid-1990s, opening Friday through Sunday each weekend during the summer.
  • Access was via hiking up or helicoptering in (no wonder a helicopter pilot was apparently the driving force behind this project).
  • Whether for lack of funds, lack of community support, lack of customers or some other region, the teahouse was never finished and Mother Nature is slowly reclaiming the site.
  • This is the turnaround point for those hiking up Mount Lady MacDonald, especially for those not comfortable with the easy scramble to the first crest or the more difficult, exposed scramble to the actual summit. It’s a great place to take photos of Canmore and the Bow Valley before heading back down.

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