We were dropped off north of the continental divide and headed into the heart of the Brooks Range. The weight of our packs were savage at 65lbs. Any more weight and our gliders would have been too overloaded to launch. We cut every ounce possible; packing the lightest dyneema tents, minimal amount of food, and leaving all luxuries behind.
When the weather looked flyable, we were hiking up to a launch. After several 10-15 mile cross-country flights, we found ourselves standing at a perfect launch overlooking one of the most intimidating valley crossings I have ever seen. It was miles wide and covered with braiding rivers, tussock, and permanent ice fields. We had to fly across this thing, and if we didn’t, we’d have to hike the several thousands of feet back up to try again. After assessing the importance that this flight meant to the trip, Jeff and I pulled our gliders out and began to transfer all of our gear from our backpacks into the paragliding harness. Our hearts were racing.
Thermic cycles began to build and we found ourselves in the perfect conditions to launch. We spent the next 90 minutes turning tip to tip like eagles. The climbs were weak so it took some serious teamwork to stay in the drifting lift. This was the first time we climbed up to cloud base which revealed an ocean of mountains as far as the eye could see. As we flew down the valley, we laughed out loud at the thought of walking that treacherous terrain. We would cover over 40 miles in the next hour. This was more than we could cover in an entire week of hiking. Nothing could wipe the smiles off of our faces.
Jeff Shapiro and I had planned for 18 days of hiking and flying paragliders across a large section of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a 19-million-acre wilderness home to much of Alaska’s protected wildlife. This flight, in that moment, was the very reason we traveled here; to experience the mountains, to grow as friends, and see a land that has been completely untouched by human development. A true wild adventure.
Jeff and I yelled back and forth and decided it was time to land. We turned into the wind, blowing more than 25 miles an hour now, and found ourselves flying backwards. We spiraled down and landed safely in a meadow where we would spend the next few hours reminiscing about one of the most magical flights of our lives.
Cody’s last flight ended tragically after a paragliding accident in Owens Valley, California on August 14th, 2019. We feel grateful to have been a part of Cody’s adventures, through the lens of his camera and his vivid storytelling. He’ll be missed by many and our team at Big Agnes. Cherise Tuttle shares a few words about her late husband’s legacy on our blog In Honor of Cody Tuttle.
About Cody Tuttle: Adventure Photographer, Filmmaker and Big Agnes Brand Ambassador.
Cody Tuttle, paragliding pilot, film maker, and humanitarian from July 2, 1987 – August 14, 2019. With a deep-rooted love for the mountains and her people, Cody’s mission was to create emotional documentaries that change the way people view the world, helping to create an atmosphere of kindness and compassion.