Landing near Hadley Peak
Steve Stroming flies from Crater Mountain with Snowfield Peak in the distance.
Steve Stroming flies from Crater Mountain with Snowfield Peak in the distance. (Click photos to enlarge.)
In 1991, I took up paragliding, inspired by a climbing friend, Steve Stroming, who had been active in the sport for several years. As a mountain sport, paragliding was first popularized in Europe. In the late 1970s French parachutists tried launching their ram-air canopies by running down mountain slopes. These experiments gave birth to the sport of parapente (or, in English, paragliding).

I flew paragliders for about a decade, but eventually drifted away from the sport. (A collection of writings and photos can be found on my website here.) I published a retrospective story about the early days of Northwest paragliding in the Northwest Mountaineering Journal in 2007. That article received a commendation from the U.S. Hang Gliding and Paragliding Association for its account of Northwest paragliding history.

Today, most paragliding in Washington takes place at established hang gliding sites like Issaquah's Tiger Mountain or central Washington's Chelan Butte. But in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Northwest paraglider pilots (who were typically climbers) found their greatest inspiration flying from mountain tops.

Mt Si, near North Bend, was the first mountain paragliding flight in Washington, in 1987. Within a few months, adventurous climbers had flown Mt St. Helens, Mt Stuart, Mt Adams, and several sites near Washington Pass on the North Cascades Highway. Scott Northey, Mark Shipman, Michael Koerner, and Bruce Tracy were among the most active early fliers in the state.

Hiking the trail
Hiking the Crater Mountain trail above timberline.
  Near the summit
Steve near the summit of Crater Mountain. Snowfield Peak is visible in the distance at left.
  Jack Mountain
Jack Mountain from the summit of Crater Mountain.
Steve Stroming hikes Crater Mtn trail.   Near the summit of Crater Mountain.   Jack Mountain from Crater Mountain.

In the early 1990s, Steve Stroming and I were looking for scenic and inspiring places to fly. A few that we found included Granite Mountain near Snoqualmie Pass, Green Mountain near Darrington, and Crystal Mountain ski area near Mt Rainier. In the fall of 1994, we decided to try Crater Mountain, an 8128-foot peak above the North Cascades Highway near Ross Lake. I had hiked up Crater a couple times and was impressed by its great view and prominent location.

Crater Mountain is unique among the peaks surrounding the highway. Rising over 6000 feet above the confluence of Granite and Canyon Creeks, the peak is accessed by a well-maintained trail that begins at an oversized parking lot, providing an excellent landing zone for a paraglider.

In the 1950s, the lookout was staffed by Gary Snyder, the inspiration for the character of "Japhy Ryder" in Jack Kerouac's book, The Dharma Bums. The lookout was abandoned some years later and the summit has been empty since then.

For our October 1994 trip, Steve and I arrived at the Canyon Creek parking lot on Friday evening and slept by our car. Starting by headlamp at 5:15am, we climbed the trail to the south shoulder of Crater Mountain, some 5000 feet above the road.

Preparing to fly.
Steve carefully lays out his canopy before buckling in.
  The launch.
A energetic run inflates the canopy.
  Up and away.
Gliding away from launch.
Preparing the canopy.   A powerful run begins the launch.   Off and away.

As we approached the steeper rocky section near the summit, we decided to leave our gliders, due to a significant breeze that was blowing. We figured that launching above the cliffs near the summit would be risky because of turbulence caused by the wind passing over the cliffs. Instead, we hiked unburdened to the summit, took a few pictures, then returned to our gliders on a shoulder around 7000 feet.

Steve launched first while I took pictures. The wind at that location was light and blowing straight in, perfect for a running launch. Through the camera lens I followed Steve flying against a background of Snowfield Peak, Ragged Ridge, and farther north, the Picket Range, Ross Lake and Jack Mountain. During my own flight, I worried about the breeze that had picked up in the Canyon Creek valley. If the air became too turbulent over the landing zone, I risked a wing collapse, which could send the glider into a spin, resulting in a crash landing. Though I experienced a bit of rough air, the glider remained stable and my landing was uneventful.

By 11:45am we were back at our car. Several motorists had stopped to watch our adventure. But no rangers or State Patrollers were seen. We packed up without delay and started for home.

Some twenty-two years later, in June 2016, six paraglider pilots would complete a cross-country flight over the North Cascades from Sauk Mountain to Mazama. In 2023, I hiked Crater Mountain again and experienced powerful memories of my day with Steve in 1994. I pulled together this story to remember that unique experience.

—Lowell Skoog, July 2023

Crater Mountain view
Mt Logan (left), Dome Peak (center) and Buckner Mountain (right) are a few of the peaks visible from Crater Mountain in this photo taken in July 2023.
Crater Mountain summit view in July 2023.
The Alpenglow Gallery