Paramotor Mountain Flying

Mt. Campbell - TopoMountains – Pushing Your Comfort Zone a Little

Deep in the heart of California’s Central Valley is a special little “mountain” known as Mt. Campbell. If you’re not from around the area, chances are that most likely you’ve never heard of it. But if you are from the area then it is the mountain southeast of Fresno with the big R and S painted on its western facing slope. These letters stand for the neighboring towns of Reedley and Sanger.

Being a central valley resident, I am very familiar with this mountain simply because of these familiar and pleasant markings on its side. But one day after I started paragliding, I was driving by and like everything else now since paragliding entered my life, this little mountain took on a different meaning. Specifically, I would ask myself “Was it soarable, or even flyable?” On that note, I find myself asking this question every single time I see a place now that looks alluring from the ground.

Mt. Campbell, from the south looking northMt. Campbell, from the south looking north

Turns out, Mt. Campbell does have a very prominent slope on one side, with a smooth, southeast glancing face that holds a nearly constant angle from the entire distance of about a mile or more from one side to the other. “Wow…” I remember thinking to myself. “That peak must be 1,500 -1,800 feet high.” Turns out it’s 1,729 feet. “But check out that southeast facing slope!!!” “With the right wind it would be heaven to soar!” I found myself thinking.


Turns out the wind here in this part of the Central Valley does indeed blow from the southeast, and just about every day. Not anything too exciting mind you, but occasionally just tempting enough to make places like Mt. Campbell seem very attractive. You see, the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range lies just beyond where Mt. Campbell is, in the distance to the east. At night, the cool mountain air from the Sierras flows into the valley from the southeast, in what’s called a Katabatic flow, or “drainage” flow. Then in the afternoon, the valley heats up and the wind direction switches 180 degrees the opposite way, blowing out of the northwest and back up into the Sierras.

Yesterday, my friend Ryan and I decided to motor up Mt. Campbell’s southeast facing slope. I had motored around Mt. Campbell before, but in the late afternoon and on it’s northwest face. That time I was looking for camping spots. Yesterday was different. We were specifically looking for soarable winds on it’s even southeast face. We’d need anywhere from 8 mph and up to even be able to think about floating up there with the weight of our heavy motors on our backs. Although we didn’t get the free flight experience akin to legendary places like Dunlap, The Point of the Mountain, or Pacifica (not to mention we had motors on), what we did get was still nothing short of awesome, to us…

Our private 3,000 foot runwayOur takeoff site

For a little over an hour, we flew to our heart’s content. I was able to get us permission to use a nearby private paved airstrip owned by a friend, so we started off there.. But not before driving out there in the early morning hours from Fresno. We arrived to a typical, crystal clear late winter morning in the Central Valley. It was certainly cold, but not frigid – A clear sign of winter’s gradual demise into a much-anticipated spring time. Another nice thing about operating out of a private airstrip is that there’s no need for security where you’re personal belongings are concerned. Usually where I fly in Fresno, I have to lock everything up while out flying. Not here. It seemed like nobody was around for miles.

3D Image of the flight, looking southwest3D Image of the flight, looking southwest

Ryan got set up first, laying his wing out into the southeast 5mph breeze that was coming right down our very own private paved runway. We warmed our motors up, only to find that two extra last-minute rubber motor mounts I had recently installed at the Salton Sea Fly-In were severely cracking. Being as they weren’t required, I elected to just remove them. But this meant a sizable delay in getting up in the air as all four engine mounting bolts had to be pulled, something that’s further prolonged when it’s 43F outside. But between Ryan and I we were able to get it done in only 20 minutes.

3D Image of the flight, looking northeast3D Image of the flight, looking northeast

Ryan got airborne first. It took me a little longer as I was hauling up my camera. We proceeded to fly around the east side of the mountain, into the wind. With the power of that Vittorazi 185 Moster engine on his back, Ryan went high right away. It takes me a longer as my HE 120 is a little less powerful. Either way I didn’t care as I wanted to ride Mt. Campbell’s lift anyway. We came around its southeast side and with a pleasant yet subtle bump from beneath, I could feel the lift. I went to half power and was able to climb just about the entire face that way, albeit with occasional bursts of more power. When I got to the top I rode the spine to the southeast, marveling at a running herd of deer, staying directly above the spine and being careful not to get behind it and into possibly dangerous rotor. I estimate the wind at the top was probably only 8-10mph or so but I wanted to be careful. Once at the tip of the southeast side I turned around and proceeded back the other way. This is where the mountain climbs in elevation and eventually I was around 1,900 msl at it’s very west tip. Turning around again, I was facing right into the lift and at 30% power I was able to ride it another 200 feet or so according to the GPS and… There I sat – Perched up at 2,100 feet and flying out into California’s Central Valley at 27mph, at only around 30% power. What a wonderful way to see the morning sun, riding the air like a bird.

Following Ryan, Mt. Campbell in the distance...Following Ryan, Mt. Campbell in the distance…

Ryan was one thousand feet below and skimming the face of the mountain, already having gone high. I thought I’d join him so I spiraled down. Seeing a mysteriously wonderful looking meadow on the way down, I knew I had to go check it out. I ventured the 1/2 mile over there and it turned out to be “not all that,” but the simple fact that I had the freedom and ability to do so is the point here. Heading back to Mt. Campbell, Ryan and I joined up again and together we proceeded around its backside and roamed the terrain to the north thru northeast.

Following Ryan back to our takeoff pointFollowing Ryan back to our takeoff point

I then headed south, over what seemed like a million miles of farmland, dotted by occasional homesteads. At one particular homestead, an elderly couple was out on their deck, staring up at me in total disbelief. I waved and they both immediately waved back, in unison no less. There was a wonderful winter wheat field directly off their back deck, and it had the typical foot high green grass that is winter wheat. I knew I had to drag my feet in it or at least skim it… Plus, I wanted to say a more personal hello to this couple, who were on the deck overlooking the field. I flew probably no more than a foot or two off the blades of grass. Going by the deck we shared a wave. Ryan joined me, and after about 10 minutes we climbed out, off to the next place that stoked our curiosity. After a brief look at another interesting small hillside, we decided to call it a day. We flew back to our takeoff point, in formation at around 600-700 feet off the ground.

Helmet off and in my lap next to the DSLR, in order to get this personal shotHelmet & attached camera is off and in my lap, to get this personal shot

After landing we experienced what we always experience from flying this way – An extreme sense of thankfulness to our Creator for allowing us to see the world this way. With an ear to ear smile for the rest of the day, I knew that just about nothing could top my experience that morning. I look forward to the next time I go to Mt. Campbell and I’m sure it won’t be long, as I’m again feeling tempted by what’s become its own little sense of mystique and beauty.

The entire flightThe entire flight