Black Squirrels* and Mosquitoes


A contingent of Kiwis descend upon Pemberton, British Columbia, to take part in the Canadian Paragliding Nationals at the beginning of August. Xen Zambas and Kris Ericksen report from the Pacific Ranges on their adventures with Shelaine Xambas, Janice and Evan Lamberton, Robbo Robinson, Rodger Kerr, Nick Francis-Stead, Matt Senior and Don Smith.

Kris Ericksen

Competition diary

Xen, Shelaine, Robbo, Rodger flew into Vancouver on 29 July, with Evan, Janice and Nick flying in on 1 August and Kris flying in on the day in between.

1 August

A SUV was picked up from Vancouver Airport… It was an AWD, and Evan, Janice, Nick and Kris were assured that it was suitable for off-road driving…. More on that later….

Pemberton is about two and a half hours north of Vancouver. Heading up we passed lots of power pylons and rafts of logs – confirming that we were indeed in British Columbia!

We arrived into Pemberton and discovered Xen, Shelaine, Robbo and Rodger ensconced outside the local bar, where we quickly joined them. Later that night as we drove to our hostel there was great excitement as we spotted a black bear and the vehicle came to a screeching halt. This was to be the first of MANY bears…. 

2 August 2012 – Practice day 1

A quick discussion with the locals confirmed that our AWD would not be suitable for the road up to launch – not enough ground clearance. Nick then initiated the first of many calls back to the rental company and an exchange 4X4 was delivered to us the next day. 

We relayed up to launch in the other SUV – about a 50 minute trip each way… It was very warm on launch – maybe in the early to mid 30s. The problem was that in the shade the mosquitoes attacked with ferocity, and even if full sun you weren’t safe. A bit of breeze seemed to keep them at bay, but the breeze was usually only found on the steeper parts of launch…

We all took off about mid-afternoon to do a “reconnaissance” flight up the valley. We flew for several hours and many of us got up to over 10,000 feet. It was mighty cold up there! But the views compensated for the coolth. Some of the day’s track-logs.

3 August 2012 - Practice Day 2

Friday was a very warm stable day - so not much distance achieved.... In the landing paddock late that afternoon we all caught up with Matty Senior, who had come up from Seattle. (Track-logs for the day)

4 August 2012 - Registration Day

While we were registering at the Black Squirrel Restaurant, the competition headquarters at the local golf club, a mother bear and her two cubs ambled across the greens! Later that day a 52 km practice task was set by someone on the organizing committee to fly up the valley to the Paulin turnpoint, then across to Camel Hump and back to launch. To participate in the practice task (or at least to see the results) a $10 fee was being charged. Evan offered to process track-logs for free, but in the end most people flew the task and got into “goal” and just enjoyed the flying without worrying who came where when…

That night was registration, so we ambled down to the Pemberton recreation centre. Briefing was scheduled to start at 6pm. At about 7:30 the briefing started, and then a few minutes later the management of the centre advised that the booking for the room had finished at 7pm and that the staff needed to go home… This was the first of many exposures to “Pemberton time” that we were to have… We trooped outside to feed the mosquitoes to continue on with the interim safety briefing on what to do when confronted by bears, cougars and mosquitoes, and the gear that we would all need to extricate ourselves from the 60 metre trees that we should avoid landing in at all costs (and never mind that most of the gear required would need to be purchased in specialized outdoor shops not during a weekend back in Vancouver…). Dental floss was viewed with high distain!

5 August 2012 – Task 1

We were told that we had to be promptly on launch at 10am for the safety and competition briefing and election of competition and safety committees. At about 1pm we were then assembled to be told what the day’s task was to be, sans safety briefing or elections!

We launched at about 3pm - the task involved "chunky" conditions with the first leg into wind and the task was stopped at 6:30pm as a helicopter was being bought in to retrieve three of the five pilots who had "landed" in the trees – including three as a result reserve deployments. Fortunately no injuries but several shredded wings - including Don Smith's.... He caught his fall on his GoPro, and which makes for "interesting" viewing!  Matt Senior came in second in the task, and Evan made goal, but after the task was stopped. (NZ league results)

6 August – Task 2

Morning briefing focused on the various tree rescues that had occurred the previous day, with a “reminder” that if we weren’t injured it was our responsibility to get ourselves out the trees AND the forest. The other focus of discussion was the fact that almost all the VHF radio users weren’t licensed, and that other radio operators were complaining to the authorities. The instruction was that radios were to be only used in emergency situations or by the safety committee when assessing conditions.

Task two of the Canadian Nats had a slightly earlier start at 1:45 because of the risk of thunderstorms....

Evan and Matty made it to goal, with Nick and Robbo "just short"....  (NZ results for the day)

The task was stopped (eventually) at 5:10pm because of an approaching gust front. Two pilots, however, continued towards goal (downwind from the gust front) and one of them, John Clifford, was blown over the flooded Lillooet River and then had a low level collapse at about 5:30pm. His body was recovered the following day from the melt-water swollen river…. (News article). The other pilot reached ground speeds of up to 99km/h in the final stages of his flight.

I had been on the radio at about 4:30pm to others in the NZ team asking if the task was still on, given the storm that was obvious over Pemberton at the far end of the valley. It was… However, ten minutes later, having bagged the second to last turn-point I decided that it was time to go on glide out to the centre of the valley, expecting to be landing a few minutes later. However, while I was going down it wasn’t at a great rate. Fifteen minutes later it leveled out at a zero sink rate and I decided that I really needed to be on the ground. (Why is it that you can never find lift when you want it and do when you don’t want it?) A spiral dive and I was very pleased to be on the ground five minutes later (track-log). I rapidly packed up and Evan, Nick and Robbo arrived to pick me up. Along with the farmer we then watched a lone paraglider heading downwind high up on the ridge – and we all wondered as to why he wasn’t attempting to descend more rapidly. We then headed back to Pemberton. Several kilometres down the road we were enveloped in heavy rain. Ten minutes later a police car with sirens on screamed the other way, followed a few minutes later by a fire engine and then an ambulance….

Nicole McLearn’s blog gives an account and assessment of what happened. The lesson for me was to not rely on the competition organizers or safety committee stopping the competition, or the fact that there were other wings still in the air, and that if I am feeling uncertain about the conditions I should go and land sooner than later.

7 August

Briefing at the Black Squirrel restaurant was a rather somber affair… The competition task for the day was cancelled, so we went for a “walk in the woods”. That afternoon we headed up the hill to have a free flight. No thermals were occurring so we opted to have a “sled ride” competition and see who could stay up the longest. Those who launched shortly thereafter sledded straight to the LZ (landing zone – as the bomb-out is called in Nth America) while those who hung around on launch ended having flights over an hour in the very light conditions. (Some track-logsfrom the day)

8 August

There was too much wind - so the day was canned. Denis Cortella (who owns Kortel Design) then gave a brief workshop on how to set up harnesses and techniques to use in collapses. A very useful one is that when having an asymmetric collapse to use your arm on the un-collapsed side to brace yourself on the riser, which un-weights the collapsed side. After that we went to Whistler for the day. I thought it was a rather boring overpriced resort town.... However, as we were killing time and had no “purpose” being there maybe my view was a bit jaundiced.

9 August - Task 3

The weather gods were once again cooperating and a glorious day was promised, and we were instructed to be up on the hill be 11am. However, by this stage we had become well accustomed to “Pemberton time”, so went off to a local café for an hour or so to catch up on internet and caffeine. We headed off up the hill at about mid-day with an “efficiency competition” to see which SUV could achieve the least litres per 100 km. More on this below.

The task that day was a conservative “up and back” along the valley to keep everyone in safe territory. One of the turn-points was Camel Hump (and when you see it is appropriately named!) I thought I flew low through the “gap”, but Robbo skimmed along a logging track below tree height! He received an “honorable mention” at the next day’s briefing for this feat. (Look at the western-most part of his track-log!) The other thing that both Robbo and I did on this flight was to just miss the final turn-point by 100 metres and 40 metres respectively…. If only we had arrived with another 50 or so metres of height we may have then made it to goal! The joy of “ifs”….

10 August Task 4

The air seemed very reluctant to move with few thermals and lots of haze from forest fires. The task briefing being pushed further and further into the afternoon. Eventually a 3:15pm start was announced for an elapsed time race. The flying, however, improved into the evening. Land-by time was 7:30pm, and Rodger had to spiral down at that time! Five Kiwis in goal for task 4! Matty Senior (3rd), Evan Lamberton (4th), Robbo Robinson (22nd), Xen Zambas (26th) and Nick Stead (29th).

This task was also the final one in the NZ League. Overall results: Matt won, with Evan coming in second and Robbo third.

11 August Task 5

Final day of the Canadian PG comp. Another "cats cradle" task, with a lot of pilots going down at the second turn point. Prize giving dinner kicked off at about 9pm and the winners of the competition were announced at 11:30pm. "Pemberton Time" ruled until the end!! Denis Cortella won with Matt Senior coming second, & Evan Lamberton came in 6th. Results and track-logs for the whole competition.

Xen Zambas

It’s the wild life

The bear story (Rodger)

The safety pamphlet read: “When confronted by a bear speak in an authoritative but respectful voice. Make eye contact. Do not run. If the bear advances and you are within swiping distance, increase your distance.”

So, when Rodger landed and was walking down a farm track and he came across a bear and its cubs he phoned up Shelaine to be be reminded about the instructions. When he asked what it meant if the bear stood up and snapped its jaws the advice was to back away, don't run. Easy for her to say on the other end of the phone. The bears then disappeared and he proceeded on. He then heard a gruff sort of bark above his head. Looking up he saw a bear, and her cub! Mindful of the safety pamphlet warnings, he increased his distance… a run! Later that evening as he recounted the story wide-eyed he said: “Nobody told me they could climb trees.”

The mosquito story (Xen & Robbo)

What’s the first thing you do when you get to launch? Go for a pee of course. Robbo and Xen walked a few paces in to the bush to do the business but within a few seconds came hurriedly out urgently zipping up flies and swatting at the blood hungry mozzies. The sport over the next few days was figuring out what chemical concoction would keep mozzies away. A local “expert” said that clothes drier fabric softener sheets were the way to go. What looked like toilet paper was seen sticking out from underneath caps soon afterwards.

The horse story

We get back to our accommodation and while with the hosts we were told that one of their horses had died. The truck hoist wasn’t strong enough to lift up so some of the team went to the field to manhandle the dead beast on to the truck. “What do you do with it now?” we asked. “Oh, we’ll dump it over the hill on the river bank 10 minutes away and the coyotes and cougars will take care of it.” Yes, over the hill right where the walking track is,….

Deer on launch

Just our favourite bambi that would hang around the back of launch or even get on to the nice freshly seeded grass on launch every chance he got.

Other stuff

Fuel efficiency competition between our rental Jeeps: when there is no other competition we’ll make one! 51.1 litres per 100KM on the 4WD track up to launch was the greatest efficiency that we could achieve!

Polishing the scratches out of the Jeep before taking them back to the rental company.

Value for money! It’s a long way to go, but for shear quality of flying. If you think that trip is expensive work out what it would cost you to fly that number of competition XC hours in NZ!

Colourful characters.

Mr. Overheated - one of the organising committee who didn’t have any water for his vehicle when it overheated getting to launch. You’d think he had been up there before? He was also overheated in other ways…

Mr Loud. Guy who was always vocal at briefings and flew with big speakers on his flight deck pumping out hip-hop.

Memorable Moments

What was your worst / most memorable "in-air" moment?

“Well, worst moment was for certain when my reserve opened, and two seconds later I crashed through 100 foot trees shredding all of my was great to not have a scratch and have a scotch 3 hours later :) Double....” (Don) Video

“Needing desperately to 'dehydrate' myself and realising I was too high to make it to the ground in time.” (Rodger)

What was your best "in-air" moment?

“Working out how to 'dehydrate' using an empty drink bottle and continuing my 4 plus hour flight.” (Rodger)

“I had the most amazing glide back down the valley from 8500ft on the practice day, smooth and buoyant right down the center arriving 2000ft over the LZ, amazing first fly in Pemby.” (Don)

“Chasing Jim Orava across and between the snow covered peaks and glaciers west of Pemberton. The beauty of the surroundings combined with the thrill of a fun chase made it unforgettable.” (Evan)

“11 days flying out of the 13 days there, and a total of 25hrs flying time” (Robbo)

“Finishing a task! Number of hours in the sky. The view at 11,000 feet” (Nick)

Most memorable "on-the-ground" moment?

“Being given an ice cold beer by a random person after landing out near the road.” (Rodger)

“I had the greatest chat with Glenn Bitterman and his First Nation mate whom he had just taken on a tandem. We chatted about First Nation arrow shooting competitions, the state of the planet, weather patterns, and not about bull riding which is what Glenn’s mate did for a living :)” (Don)

“Most memorable on the ground was watching a storm move up the valley and then realising there were still gliders in the air. Not a good moment but memorable.” (Evan)

“Getting onto the ground on Task 2!” (Kris)

“Safety briefing: the comp safety officer gave a detailed briefing of what to carry for getting yourself out of a tree. (A not insubstantial amount of gear/ballast). Then the next day he gets stuck in a tree with no retrieval gear. (He got a loud round of applause when he came into the pub that night and a prize the next day at morning briefing…)” (Xen)

Random thoughts about the competition.

“There is no need to sky out on a thermal that takes you over 10,000 feet.” (Rodger)

“There was no tiger country but heaps of grizzly country, or as Jim Orava (Comp organizer) said, ‘Furries everywhere down that valley…’.” (Don)

“Best thing about the whole trip was the camaraderie and friendship of the team we traveled with.” (Evan)

“Folk in Pemby seem to have too much fun. Everyone seems to be connected to the ski industry in winter, commuting to Whistler 30 min away. But unlike Whistler with its uniform pine lodge destination ski resort look, Pemby has an old hotel, one pub, and miles of wilderness in three directions. A great little town with an amazing flying culture.” (Don)


Many thanks from “Team Kiwi” to Janice Lamberton and Shelaine Xambas for being such fantastic retrieve drivers!


Insurance for competition flying in Nth America

Travel Underwriters via Karlene Ostrosky at Westland Insurance


Hostel Shiloh_Works

Romy Schranz


Canadians comps fly using VHF – and a radio operators license is required…

UHFs can be used casually.

(* black squirrels is the local nickname for bears!)


Competition web site: 

Canadian Nats results:

Leonardo Comp track logs:

NZ League results:


Canadian Nationals Facebook page:

Article about John Clifford (PG pilot that died)

Nicole McLearn’s commentary on John’s death:

Nicole McLearn August blogs:

Brett Hazlett’s vimeo:

Xen’s YouTube video:

Don Smith’s “tree” video:

Blogs and videos link:

Photos of competition:

Evan Lamberton’s Facebook photos:

kartal escortantalya escortalanya escort