Paragliding Sunshine Coast Queensland Australia
Paragliding Sunshine Coast

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Crossing the Great Divide

by David Pearson [aka] Krusty

David Pearson can be reached under

It was task 5 on day 7 of "The Canungra Cup 2000 ", the area's first national paragliding competition, when I took the opportunity to cross the Great Dividing Range. The weather forecast for Friday 9 November indicated that the broad surface trough which had brought significant rainfalls to western districts of Queensland the day previously, was likely to move eastwards bringing showers and possibly thunderstorms. We were gathered on launch at Beechmont, and when the task was called, I didn't think it was possible. Given that the conditions looked terrible, it had been raining overnight, & the cloud cover was just about 100%, and they called goal as Killarney, some 92.4km away, and the other side of the Great Dividing Range.

"The Range" hadn't yet been crossed by a paraglider flying from any of our Canungra Hang Gliding Club sites, and it was less than ten years ago that a hang glider, flown by club legend 'Davo' Staver took the opportunity and first made it.

It's not that "The Range" in itself is any great barrier, it's just that from our sites you have to cross about four smaller ranges, and some big wide valleys. And then add in the fact that our sites are on coastal ranges, and susceptible to "coastal" weather conditions, and "The Range" is at the closest, 75km further inland. So now you can see why I had been dreaming of the near perfect conditions you'd need to cross "The Range", and that's NOT what we had.

Krusty I climbed slowly away from launch, after a bit of scratching, hit a low inversion and drifted down wind in lift, Adam Nienkemper and I worked well together to stay in weak lift to cross the Beechmont Plateau. Adam headed to the north of the course line, while I headed for a big fire two valleys away, and to the south of the course line. I later heard that Adam had got a personal best that day, fantastic to hear, and congratulations buddy.

I hit the smoke low and climbed rapidly in the superheated air above the fire, this was only the first of many fires for the day. As a matter of fact I flew fires most of the way, linking up with Rhett Rockman [of Manilla fame] several times, first near Tamrookum, and later to the south of Maroon Dam, some 50km plus from launch. I first saw Rhett when I was on a big glide between fires, he had found one of the few thermals of the day not caused by fire, I topped up with Rhett enough to go for the next fire, and off I headed, toward the next fire.

Why so many fires you may yourself, well after over 120 days of no rain, with farmers loosing stock, and householders buying water, we of course had been under total fire ban here in South East Queensland. The obvious way to break any drought is to have either, a hang gliding competition, or a paragliding competition, well, we here at Canungra did our local farmers a huge favour, and held both. During the hangy comp, it rained, but not enough to lift the fire ban. The week between the two comps it rained, just enough for the fire ban to be lifted. Then, during the paragliding comp. it rained some more, finally giving the farmers a chance to burn off without risking setting fire to the whole state. So with wet ground, more rain forecast, and low winds, it seemed lots of farmers chose that day to burn off. To my good fortune, it seems, although with all that smoke, my photos turned out pretty bad, it seems this is one of those "you had to be there" occasions.

Rhett followed me when he saw the climb I was getting in the hot rising air above the fire, and he hit a boomer, we were soon climbing wing tip to wing tip, holding a conversation [we're both loud people]. I told him I was impressed how the Omega 5 proto. climbed, he said I should buy one, I told him that I was happy with my sponsors, and would stay with APCO flying the Bagheera until my new Simba arrives. We agreed we were both happy with our wings, and that we should head for the fires on the other side of Maroon Dam, only thing was, we headed to different fires.

View towards the Graet Dividing Range

Not that it mattered as we were flying together again less than an hour later, right on the eastern side of "The Range". Another quick chat and we agreed we were both going to make goal, we only had 25km to go, so lets go for it. Rhett picked up a little bubble, got higher and away from me in the valley between Wilson’s Peak & Mt Clunie [east of Carr's Lookout], I thought I'd blown it. I was low and in smoky conditions and on my own, I could see Rhett disappearing into the smoke haze further up the valley, not going down, but definitely not going up. I couldn't just follow him, and I'm glad I didn't. I noticed that the land features on the 'far side' of the next valley to the NW, looked only as hazy as the ridge top 'between' the two valleys indicating clean air in the valley to my Norwest. So I took a gamble that cleaner air would give me better quality thermals, and took a run for the ridge which I only just cleared. I was rewarded with a nasty lee-side thermal, I worked with it till it turned better in the middle of the valley, and I climbed and drifted with it over the top of "Carr's Lookout".

I now had a good glide into goal for a distance of 92.4km, and still yet another fire to fly over if I wanted. I called Gordo, one of the local hangy legends, who was in goal as the "goal marshal", and asked him if anyone else was already there, or looked like making it, he said no and encouraged me to stay high and try for either Warwick or Stanthorpe. I was pretty excited, as I've had the opportunity to cross "The Range", took it and was the first for paragliders who achieved this task, and I must have sounded so on the radio to Gordo, as a lady called me, to ask where on "The Range" I was. We were both amazed, as she was in Grafton, and sounded closer than Gordo, I explained the significance of my achievement, and she shared my excitement. The one sided conversation Gordo must have been hearing in goal, should have at least kept him entertained. With goal achieved, and plenty of height, I headed off along the Warwick road. The record stood at 106.something km, and Gordo radioed that I needed to break the record by 2%, a quick calculation gave me a rough target of 109. The cloud cover was now total, with a fresh easterly pushing me along, drifting in zeroes when I was lucky, I eked out 111km before I was finally decked just 4km short of Warwick.

Paul from Woollies at Warwick was kind enough to give me a ride right to the goal line, back in Killarney. Gordo met me with a beer, Fran Ning, fellow APCO Bagheera pilot, and Queensland's top female paraglider pilot, arrived with our driver Murray Charters not long after, to share the moment. I had just made aviation history, the first paraglider to cross "The Range" from Beechmont, and like "Davo" Staver, after his first crossing in his hang glider, I know that I will do it again, and so will many others, my site record, and hopefully my new PB, will both be beaten, [ but ahh, not today, not today, and never again the first ]. Fran later asked, "had I crossed any tiger country", of course I had "crossed" tiger country, but I had always had altitude to spare, and landing options galore, even if the walk outs would have been hell. So I am as proud as punch, a record breaking flight, and as safe as could be.

I have to thank my retrieve team Fran, Olga, and our driver Murray, and give honorable mention to those pilots who came so close but somehow lost the opportunity, Rhett dropped about 19km short, Ivan Anissimov was about 20km short, and Andrew Horchner, long time Queensland stalwart, fell about 25km short, congratulations one and all.

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