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This is the Wills Wing Team Pilots competition blog. Here you can keep up with the various members of our team as they progress through the competition season.

Ahhh, Valle De Bravo.  What can I say about that place.  It's a free flight paradise, basically.

I was lucky enough to be invited to compete in this amazing venue by "the man", local, HG instructor and tandem pilot, Rudy Gotes.  I've always wanted to see and visit Valle based on the photos I'd seen and the reports of strong lift, consistently flyable conditions and what sounded like a super cool town.

My good friend, Patrick Kruse and I met in LA, flew to Mexico City and enjoyed a casual 3 hr drive to Valle.  We were again, super lucky to be offered a place to crash at Rudy's house, just 5 k's from town.  Un-shortpacking our gliders in the sun with paragliders soaring a site in the distance promised for a great trip.

The next day, we had a nice practice flight, getting a tour of the area from my good friend, Rodrigo, whom I've flown with all over the world.  It was cool to see him and while on the radio, he was generous with his knowledge of thermal triggers, convergence and terrain considerations.  That, coupled with our own impression made me feel pretty race ready.

Unfortunately for me, a car accident a couple weeks prior (with some neck trauma) and/or something I ate caused for some serious issues on the first comp day.  None of the common stomach issues were involved but, after around 3 hrs in the air,  intense conditions and good racing had me out in front and on my way to goal.  Getting low, I was feeling dizzy and very nauseated.  Unable to concentrate, I landed and proceeded, with a monster headache, to puke my guts out for the rest of that day and all night.  Most is still a blur but, I woke the next day around 3:30pm, having missed the second day of racing.  Needless to say, after waking up to perfect clouds and what looked like ideal conditions, I was disappointed to have missed it.

The next day, I flew and, even though I lost my lunch 3 times on route, I raced in to goal feeling much better.  The following two days (although one was stopped because of storms on course) were some of the best flying I've done in the last few years.  Strong lift, base at over 14,000' and courses that took us toward the snow capped Volcano that overlooks Toluca (where the Monarchs migrate).  So good!

The comp ended with a great party and lots of laughs.  I can't overemphasize how amazing the local Mexican pilots are.  These folks are some of the most accommodating and kind people on the planet, as well as being great pilots.  I can't wait to go back next season.  Sick or not, it was one of the best comps I've ever been to.  Media was present and the event was well organized.  The comp was run with professionalism and felt quite safe.  Retrieve was easy and with how this year went, I hope, and have a strong feeling that next year will be a much larger pilot list attending.  See you there!

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Dustin is again at the Shapiro Skunk Works and, is helping me get a list of new Coverts done (and out the door) before I fly out to Valle De Bravo for the Mexican Nationals.

Always great having him in the shop. We're at the machines for long hours making for long days but, when he's here, it's extremely motivating having another pilot/sewster to talk shit, discuss ideas, all while getting er done and getting pilots their harnesses for the upcoming season.

Knowing that we would be "pulling" day and night for a few weeks, I managed to sneak up to the shores of Seeley Lake for the annual Snow Joke 1/2 marathon just before Dustin flew in. It's a fun event where runners are encouraged to bring their dogs and join the typical 600+ participants to take a lap around the lake. The weather was interesting with heavy snow fall, temps hovering around 29 F and wind gusting to 25mph.  Perfect.  There was no lack of participation showing why I value the people in Montana.

Getting competitive with myself, I managed to shave 20 mins off my time from the last occasion I ran the Snow Joke although, I basically "blew up" with the finish line in site.  Limping my way across the line, still somehow, felt good.  Good times.

Stay tuned for harness photos and images from Valle

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Digging through receipts while doing taxes, I re-discovered a notepad I had forgotten. Good times.

I like LIFT!

I like the abrupt ending - Hwy 20, 816pm, 5 miles E (of Big Spring)... then silence. I was almost at base, the sun was almost on the ground, and it was almost good enough. Laura, the legendary chase driver, was in the field near Ackerly when I touched down. Too windy to walk the glider to the car without wire assistance.

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Cleaning out the closet and trying to fund the upcoming comps. Here's what I've got:

One brand new over/under tandem harness. All black, 600 denier outer, antron inner, 1/4" volara padding. Continuous webbing construction, Austri Alpin quick disconnect buckles on leg and back straps, cushy padded shoulder straps, rubber gripped passenger handles, 8000 lb mains, biner and hook knife included. Ropes are adjusted, harness is ready to hook in and fly tandems. Fits little kids on up to about 6'6". Has accommodated bigger though. After years of flying tandems and wanting to improve the over/under system, and based on the feedback of many tandem instructors with my earlier models, this is the latest model that incorporates all the features:

Rotor Vulto-S racing harness for 5'10.5" and 160 lbs. I added some trick arm fairings, it has a super-thin main, and it fits like a glove. Well used and worn, but has a season left in it. This is the harness:

Pre-production instrument pods in BLACK. I have a couple of the new Flytec 6030/Garmin 76 pods ready to go. Not carbon. All black gelcoat finish ONLY. I have in-stock carbon mounts for Aeros, Moyes, and Wills carbon bars ONLY. The production pod is a couple weeks out still. These protos may have very slight blemishes from hanging around the shop the last few weeks. Here is one of the proto pods:

Finally, the original 6030/Geko mold has been refurbished and is turning out new pods. They are still available thru Flytec USA/Steve Kroop.

Email me with questions.

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Winter break is traditionally a time for me to dig in work hard to fund the upcoming season. This holiday I was adopted by the Pearsons and spent every waking moment at the Wills factory while all their employees were away, allowing me to work on a lot of projects without getting in the way too much.

The pod mold is done, jigs are built, an infusion pump arrived, and it's just a matter of ordering a few bits of material and glue to start the transition to resin infusion. Looking forward to that, but the need for $$ has shelved the project for another few weeks.

The primary project last month was to build four tandem harnesses - that is, eight cocoons. Feedback from my last two customers resulted in some major improvements this time around. I was using a straight pattern to build the last few harnesses but switched to a pattern Steve Pearson gave to me that's basically the bottom half of a Z5. The harness seems a little more supportive than before.

After shipping the harnesses and building one more just to have in stock, I started in on some of my own projects. My covert got its annual overhaul with an updated foam liner, new teeth on the pitch lever gripper, and new bungees throughout, along with a vacuuming and a wash. Looks amazing as it just about finishes two years and 500 hours of flight.

Final piece of business was to make a cocoon for myself. I've been talking about it and talking about it, but wasn't ready to pull the trigger until the trip to point of the mountain a couple months back. I got to get hands on with some of the latest ultralight paragliding gear and that's when the weight of all of our hangie gear just came crashing down on me. I think ultra weight reduction and return to simplicity will be a theme for me this season. I begin with this:

Using the same pattern as used on my tandem harnesses, with an eye for simplicity and minimalism in every aspect of construction, I managed to finish this cocoon at just a hair over four pounds. Weight in a drawstring, ultralight bag, with lara gold 175 chute, 5/16 quicklink as biner, and lubin helmet: under ten pounds.....

It turned out extremely comfortable and, even more than the weight savings, it's compactability is crazy:

Using scraps of odl06 literally from the trash can, along with other scrap laminate cloths in places where heavier woven fabric wasn't necessary helped save a little here and there. I went without legstrap padding or buckles, and the backstrap cincher is aluminum. The interior cloth is light but could be lighter! There is plenty of room for improvement but for now it will be cool to put the entire harness kit in my backpack in the overhead compartment..

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Mt Grosvenor 6376m with "Black Wolves and Blue Poppies" marked

China was a unique and enriching experience.  It has definitely lit a fire within me to continue exploring new cultures, meeting interesting people along the way, and to try to allow my technical and mental limits to evolve while climbing in the mountains.

Starting our adventure to Asia

We began our trip in mid October knowing that the autumn, or post monsoon, was a good time to climb in the Daxue Shan.  The snow would be lean, the ice (hopefully) would be getting better every day and the temps would not be as bitter cold as later in the season.  The weather is always a roll of the dice on trips like this one but after researching the history and trends within the area, we were crossing our fingers for a few stable climbing "windows".

Our expedition consisted of 5 people total.  Chris Gibisch and I would be climbing together, and our good friend Bob Garrety would join us for the experience; trekking, and climbing on subsidiary peaks during our acclimatization period.  Bob is an amazing dude with super positive energy and an easy going attitude about everything.  Our group dynamic was as relaxed as it gets.

Gibisch striking "Blue Steel"


The Sichuan Mountaineering Association had created a regulation requiring all foreign expeditions to be accompanied by at least two Chinese speaking personnel.  This fairly new regulation came on the coat tails of the tragic loss of Jonny Copp, Wade Johnson and Micha Dash during their attempt of a new route on Mt Edgar (right behind the mountain we had a permit to attempt).  Because of this, our Liason Officer, Papaya, and our cook and base camp attendant, Mr. Jong became the fourth and fifth members of our group.

Mr. Jong

Papaya and Jong are employees of Sichuan Earth Expedition, a company owned by the well known Zhang brothers, Jiyue and Shaohong.  For more than 30 years, Jiyue and Shaohong have been helping climbers and trekkers get in an out of the mountains by arranging permits, transport and organizing local horses and/or porters.  In fact, Shaohong made his first big trip as a guide, cook and base camp attendant for our good friends, Gray and Eloise Thompson in '93 during Gray's expedition to complete the first ascent of Mt Lamoshe in a nearby range.

Dinner with Jiyue and Shaohong

Chris getting learnt on hot Sichuan food

The connection with Gray, coupled with learning that they were the same company Jonny, Wade and Micha had used for permits and as their L.O. (Shoahong and Jiyue were two of the first on the search for the missing climbers), I felt an immediate kinship with these two guys and knew our hassles would be minimal. Consummate professionals, their help and attitude toward our trip made it easy to become fast friends.

Beer, Sushi and Sake

Papaya, our L.O for the trip, was a 5'.2" "spit fire" that spoke fluent Japanese and English, on top of her native Chinese. Although she had taken many trekking trips with Japanese clients, this would be her first time on a climbing expedition and her longest trip in the mountains.  Her translation and negotiating skills made everything proceed smoothly, even when our bus driver decided to go "on strike" during the trip to the village of Laouyling.

Papaya with our 3rd bottle of Sake

Late in the drive from the Sichuan capital, Chengdu, to Laouyling, well after dark and after many hours of rough roads and crazy passes, our driver decided he was "over it".  He pulled off to the side of the road in Kangding (the "gate-way to Tibet") and started demanding more money.  It was comical that after 12 hours of driving, he wasn't going to take us another 20 minutes up the hill to our destination.

Kicked to the curb in Kangding

Papaya wasn't having it.  After a heated exchange with the driver, a "Chinese fire drill" to extract our gear out of the back seats of the bus was all we could do.  She was not about to be ordered to do anything by this guy and, after how good she had been to us already, we immediately gained additional respect for her.  She was all up on it.  Within minutes of the bus driver taking off, she had a rig on it's way to pick up Mr. Jong with our stuff and had us on our way to the village.


There we were met by Jiyue's long time friend, Doji, a Tibetan Buddhist who had provided horses and horseman to climbers and trekkers for the last 3 decades.  Doji and his family took us into their home and made us a delicious meal of traditional Tibetan food.  The hospitality floored us.  Yak butter tea and laughs had us thankful for the huge experience the previous 4 days had provided.


Doji's house at the foot of the mountains

Loading up the horses

A smoky room, complete with yak meat (hanging from the ceiling to dry),  Doji quietly repeating "Oṃ maṇi padme hūṃ" in front of a wood stove while counting each of his 108 beads, and our long travel had us all finally relaxing, feeling like we were starting to fit within the rhythm of this new world around us.

In the morning, we loaded up food, tents and gear for a month on Doji's horses and walked up a valley in the light rain toward towering giants we had yet to see.  The cloud level was low and it was early that we were above base and within it's blanketing white.  Rain gave way to light snow as we walked to the sound of the horseman's whistles past bridges of logs and prayer flags spanning a braided river. Stopping in a flat saddle of sorts, we made camp at around 11,500' just before dark.

Thanks boys!

Walking out of Doji's house to begin our approach

It was to be a two day trip to BC but when we woke to a foot of new snow and the news that half of the horses had make a break for home, it was decided that we would wait a day to see what the weather had in store.  The horses were rounded up and we took the day as an opportunity to deal with the dull headaches that altitude and an uncomfortable lack of coffee had caused.

arriving at intermediate BC

waking up the next morn

While loading up the horses for our second day of walking, we all took turns playing "blocker" to make sure that none could make a break for it.  One of the horses was charged with the task of carrying two large propane tanks, one of which had a valve that was apparently not completely tightened.  A loud hiss startled us as the horse ran at full speed with white propane gas spewing into the frigid air.  My amusement and shock turned into worry when I saw how much of our precious fuel was leaking while the horseman was running after the now VERY freaked out animal.  He managed to run it down and to twist the valve shut without too much damage done. Needless to say, when the last horse was loaded and we started uphill, all were relieved to again be making progress toward BC.

One of the toughest of the horse handlers

Following up to our home for the next month

As we were finally cresting the hanging valley that would be home for the next month, the clouds started to part and we had our first views of the mountains we had come for.  Right above camp were three beautiful peaks, E. Gongga (or mini Gongga), Jiazi Feng and Ri Wu Qie Feng (aka Mt Grosvenor).  Mt Grosvenor, at 6376m, was steep, pyramidal and proud.  It's West face looked "notably exciting".

Mini Gongga

Jiazi Feng

Mt Grosvenor

Keeping the yaks out of the tents made for good entertainment

We immediately went to work acclimatizing and establishing a high camp for the ability to sleep at altitude to prepare us further.  When a narrow weather window close to the half way point of our trip presented,  we jumped at our chance and were fortunate enough to climb a new route on the West face of Mt Grosvenor (3rd ascent of the peak) in 4 days round trip.

BC bouldering

First good weather spell spent acclimatizing

Bob at close to 18,000' on a subsidiary peak above BC

We had Chinese and Russian neighbors that kept our time in BC social. It's a Sichuan tradition to eat a group "hot pot" at least once a month. All of the traditional Sichuan food was amazing and very spicy but a hot pot is something that absolutely MUST be experienced.

Sichuan "Hot Pot". Like Fondu but with Chili oil

Eat it! What are you, Chicken?

Months earlier while doing research and looking at photos, we speculated at the possibility of the line we climbed but knew from experience that there was no way to tell from the photo whether or not it was possible.  We would have to get to the wall to find out.  I remember looking at the line as one of the biggest unclimbed routes on the face.  It looked potentially quite difficult and, honestly, I had very little expectation that this would be, in fact, something we would be able to attempt with any confidence toward success.  After the fact, I now feel privleged to not only have this line turn out to be possible but, to also climb it, well..... it felt like a XC flight where the next thermal was always there.

Chris climbing during the first day

Approaching base. We were a little higher than 20,000' here

Chris on steep ice close to the top of the face

climbing up toward the summit ridge line

Morning after 1st bivi.  It was nothing compared to the next night;-)

Our route was perspective changing, requiring us to dig into the deepest resources within.  Our second night on the face, close to the summit, was spent sitting on a small seats we had chopped in the ice, laughing and talking shit to keep us warm. Tethered tight to the wall, the altitude kicked our asses and the dry, cold wind howling off the Tibetan plateau was fierce but, on the up side, at least the stars were out.  I can't overemphasize how lucky we were to have this 2.5 day span of good weather.

Chris topping out

After summitting the next day, we raced a storm down the NE ridge.  Just as I threw a leg over the knife edge ridge to start rappelling down the east face, the fast moving storm overtook the mountain.  Timing couldn't have been better as Chris and I were almost immediately in the lee and able to rappel most of the day out of the wind.  We had to camp in 100k winds that night but at least we could lay down for the first time in 3 days. The tent poles almost broke but actually being in the tent was luxury.

View from the summit.  The mighty Gongga Shan (7556m) in the distance

We woke to sunny skies and strong wind, brewed up, and started the long journey back to BC.  800' of rappelling down the col between Jiazi and Grosvenor, down climbing through a couple of short ice falls and a purgatory of snow covered moraine found us stumbling back to our tents around 5pm.  Our route was over but the personal growth and re-defined perspective will last, burned into Chris and I both.

Finally arriving back at BC

Our time after the route was spent hiking, taking photos of future objectives and waiting for another window of weather that would never come.  I also had unfortunately cold damaged my toes and was having to be careful about not allowing them to get cold again. Actually, it was more likely a problem with circulation than cold I think.  Note to self, when climbing into a sitting bivi, COMPLETELY unlace your boots before stepping into the sleeping bag.  It was hard enough with my crampons off to hang on the anchor and get my sleeping bag up around me that I had forgotten to unlace the bottom section of my boots.  I think this was the main culprit to my numb and swollen toes (took over a month to come back).

partying down with the Russians post route

When time ran out, a quick 6 hour walk out to Doji's had us quickly driving to the hot springs in town. Soaking up the moment, reliving the experience and talk about future trips and routes, our trip had and continued to exceed our expectations.  For us, it was a profound trip which has, as I said, fueled a burning desire for more. The suffering is gone and only the way this trip has changed me remains. Chris and I are anxious for the next opportunity and it's because of our best attribute as an alpinists that the hard work and suffering to make it happen is gone.  Best attribute as an alpinist?  Easy..... a short memory;-)

Chilling back in Kangding. On our way home

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Things were going so well..

After buffing the mold halves to a fine shine, I layed up the first part. Anxiety was relieved when it practically jumped out of the mold the next morning. The first thing I did was trim the flashing and squeeze the 76 into its slot - and I really had to squeeze it - both hands, one on the back of the pod, one on the front of the 76. Unfortunately removing it basically required a crowbar. That was not going to work - this was supposed to be a friction fit, tool-less removal slot. The project came within a breath of being abandoned after weighing my limited options.

I won't go into the numbing details of the mold modifications. It's enough to say that had it been too big a slot, a little sanding and polishing would have done the trick. Since it was too small, I would have to add material. Adding to a mold is the worst possible outcome and that's what I spent last week doing! A thick spray of gelcoat in the concerning area (about 20 mils) followed by about 40 hours of blending and refinishing brought the mold back to life and as good as new:

Masking the offending area in prep for gelcoat.

Bringing the width to within 1/50th of a mm along the length of the GPS box.

Sanded to 1500 and ready for endless polish and wax - two days of just waxing.

SUCCESS tonight!

Since I was in remodel mode, I brought both mold halves to an even finer finish than before. Next two photos are directly out of the mold, no polish.

Garmin 76 slides in - and out - by hand, all is well in Scottsdale, AZ.

I'm setting up the shop for resin infusion to reduce exposure and have an overall cleaner work environment. As soon as that's done, production will begin. Should have parts rolling by new year's.

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After repeating the process for the back half of the mold, this morning I went out to the shop and separated the mold halves to see if I was successful.

The anxiety with molds, especially multi-part molds, is the investment of time. You have to completely finish the project before you can know if the very first layer of gelcoat actually cured out.. or if the plug was prepped well enough to release from the tool.. or if print through has ruined the mold surface.. etc.

This mold was a six week project. The details between all of the steps have been skipped here. Between each picture there were usually days of sanding or spraying or buffing or sweating, often just to fix a mistake. Each small step took a painful amount of time.

Another week will be spent improving the mold surface for production quality - and constructing jigs and flanges that will allow me to pull a joined and fully completed part from the mold without any work after the layup process beyond drilling a few holes and buffing out the finish.

Cross-bracing the back side mold, just like the other side. Bondo is used to space the wood away from the glass, preventing print through and pooling of resin under the wood - which would go nuclear during the curing process and compromise the mold surface underneath.

The final step: glassing the cross-braces on as well as the 16 tee nuts that will align and join the mold halves later. Bolts are already holding everything together and will be broken free of the resin with an impact drill later.

Sneak peak.. All is well inside the mold. The roughness and flaking is left over mold release film that hasn't been cleaned off. The mold surface looks awesome. The plug broke in half in the process of removing it, but I was expecting that considering the lack of relief in the gps and vario boxes. Same thing happened on the Geko/6030 mold.

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The front mold half is finished and being prepared for the layup of the second this weekend.

Stabilizing boards were added to prevent warping and curving. Attached with bondo first to insulate them from the glass itself and prevent resin from pooling underneath and printing through to the mold surface.

Next, they're glassed on.

Fender washers are glassed around the perimeter to give perfect bolt alignment later.

Here's the mold and plug fresh off the parting tray after some wet sanding. Next, wet sanded down to 1500, polished, and then waxed endlessly.

Here's the front side mold after two days of waxing.. two more coats today and the gelcoat for the back mold gets sprayed.

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