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Riding the Wind: Snowkiting to New Heights on Mount St. Helens
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First Third


I launched my bright, 14-square-meter kite and struggled to get up the first steep section. Similar to sailing, kiting requires tacking back and forth. In this case, on each tack I would gain 100 vertical feet, then lose 50 feet on my downwind reach. But I was still making uphill progress. 


I knew I was pressed for daylight but kept climbing anyway. The farther I climbed, the cleaner and stronger the wind became. I now had the power in my kite that was ideal for climbing. Within 20 minutes, I had traveled 1,000 vertical feet – one-third of the way to the summit.



Second Third


The next portion of my route was an 800-foot face with a 35- to 40-degree angle. The great thing about kites is they can provide an enormous amount of power for climbing and jumping. The problem on steep terrain like this slope was that if the kite is flown directly overhead and a strong gust hits, I could be lifted off the snow and go into flight – what we call “kite gliding.”


Kite gliding is something we practice on smaller hills but if it were to happen this far up a mountain, this glide would turn into a massive 5-minute flight several hundred feet over the snow. Just in case this was to happen, I used a kite harness wrapped around my waist and a climbing harness for my legs. They connected to the control bar used for steering, so I wouldn’t have to dangle like a monkey and rely on my arm strength to hold on. It’s quite similar to paragliding. A huge flight of this caliber was not my intent.


As I leaned back and powered my kite up the face, three of the HMK crew passed me. They positioned their sleds near a cliff for safety. We had previously discussed the cliff as “super sketchy.” 


As I worked my way past the cliff, I thought to myself, “This is high enough.” Mentally, I had to work through a new level of discomfort I had never experienced previously. I knew I had the skill under the right conditions, but I was now at an elevation on a mountain I never had reached before. 



Third Third


With only a thousand feet left to the summit, I just had to make it through one very narrow canyon with a 40-foot cornice on my downwind side and the crater rim would be within sight. I worked up the next 300 vertical feet.


As I entered the gully, I had very little room for error. If I flew my kite too high, I would go into flight. If too low, I would hit the cornice, not to mention I was still traveling up a 40-degree face.


As I flew my kite above the cornice, one of my lines clipped the top of the cornice and immediately crashed the kite onto the back side of the wind lip. In most situations, relaunching my kite would be no problem, but I was dealing with a kite I could no longer see in a very precarious place. 


Without hesitation, I pulled my safety quick release that kills all power in my kite and all chances of climbing any higher. I felt like I had run a marathon, and on the 25th mile, I had to pull out. 


Surprisingly, I wasn’t that disappointed. The reality set in that I was only 700 feet from the summit, and now I knew it is possible. 


I took a few photos, packed my kite into my backpack, and had the best snowboard run of the year – 2,500 feet of untracked snow, top to bottom.



The Next Attempt


The Mount St. Helens mission has been an ongoing project of mine for nearly 10 years, and I truly believe this is my year to reach the top. It’s the vision of standing on top of the crater rim with my kite and staring into the volcano that keeps me going.


Although I haven’t reached the summit yet, I will remember my time on Mount St. Helens as the place where I discovered the endless potential kites have in the backcountry. This is just the beginning!



About the author: Aaron Sales is the former editor of Kiteboarding Magazine and is the co-founder of Global Sessions, an events company that builds business relationships through recreation in Hood River, Oregon.




See the Drive article on the related sport of kiteboarding in the Fall 2012 issue.




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