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A Brief History of Umpteenth
By Jules Gilpatrick and Friends

Of course there were always soaring birds. But soaring humans? Best records and recollections start around 1972 when then early hang gliding record-setter Chris Price is reputed to have set a world distance record at Doherty Slide, flying an unheard-of 18+ miles on a Standard along Guano Rim. Anybody remember "Standards"? If you ever have a chance to see one, please do. If nothing else, it is remembered for its unique ballast arrangement, a sack carried between the pilot's legs carrying two huge "stones" ... but, I disagree.

Regular soaring in the land of Umpteenth started in the mid-seventies, with early Rogue Valley hang gliding pioneers like Dr. Doug Hildreth, Mike Christensen, Mike Patton, Dave Baleria and Lakeview local Greg Christensen. Greg built Easy Riser and was consummately skillful in soaring it in the land of Umpteenth just about anywhere he chose. The others drove the 175-mile trip from Medford ostensibly to do some soaring themselves. We now know that they really came to watch Greg.

gallery image 5 The trek settled into an annual 4th of July affair for the Rogue Valley Hang Gliding Association (RVHGA). From 2-6 families would come over for the long week-end and join Greg and Glenda Christensen for 3 days of mostly combing the various rims and mountains of southern Lake County for new launch and landing sites with some soaring thrown in, particularly when a viable new launch was discovered. I was invited to join the gang in 1987 and the trip would prove to be a major life-altering experience, resulting in permanent residence, which continues to this day.

I had so much fun with the group that I had to come back in 1988 and every year subsequent. Each time I came over, the world had spread and there were always a few more pilots than last year. The number of vehicles with gliders on them, parked at various food stores, restaurants and camp grounds became noteworthy. By 1989 we had 18 pilots along with their vehicles and crews.

Barb Gover, then the Executive Director for the Lake County Chamber of Commerce, was one person who took great interest in the ever-increasing number of freeflight pilots in the area. In 1990 she applied to the Oregon Lottery Commission for grant to fund an effort to make Hang Gliding a tourist attraction. She explored the ideas with a number of the Rogue Valley pilots who enthusiastically contributed their own efforts to develop Hang Gliding (and later Paragliding) as a regular summer activity in Lake County, Oregon. She prevailed upon the Lake County Road Department to improve the launch site above town, Black Cap, and the Town Council officially declared Lakeview to be "Hang Gliding Capital of the West".

gallery image 6 The "Lakeview Hang Gliding Festival" (later to become "Festival of Freeflight" because we didn't want the ever-increasing number of paraglider pilots to feel left out) was born.

The effort worked, almost too well. With excellent cooperation from the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) we believe that the Lake County Fremont National Forest management team, headed up by the Chief Ranger Joe Tague, was the first in the nation to officially recognize Hang Gliding as a legitimate recreational pastime and to establish an official launch site (Tague's Butte) on Forest Service land.

Not to be outdone, the BLM followed suit the next year, officially allowing the launch site at Doherty Slide to be created. A greatly relieved Oregon Department of Transportation was only too glad to furnish materials to build the launch and parking area as they had long lived in fear of a major vehicle tragedy due to gawking motorists attempting to negotiate Doherty's somewhat steep incline while trying to watch freeflight pilots launch from the roadside. Labor was furnished by RVHGA members. This was followed by the Paisley Ranger District who established an official site at Hadley Butte and later Ponderosa, specifically for paragliders.

gallery image 1 Like Black Cap, Sugar Hill in the Modoc National Forest down in California had also been used as a launch site unofficially for a long time before being recognized officially. Pawley Creek launch (popularly called "Buck Mountain" but not being anywhere near there) was also included in the official list of Lakeview freeflight sites.

The freeflight "prosperity" brought on as word spread about the unprecedented happenings with all the new launches and lots of cooperation from wonderfully friendly landowners who allowed pilots to use their property, nearly did the effort under. In 1991, we had some 320 pilots registered and probably another 20 to 30 who flew but did not register. Local facilities were jammed, especially the campgrounds, to gross over-capacity. The result, despite the great flying, was a lot of unhappy pilots, many of whom had to wait until midnight before they could finally take a cold shower. (All the hot water had long been used up.) Pilot populations never again reached that lofty number, despite efforts that included large cash prizes for winning the many contests that were being held.

Even the crash incentives ultimately proved to be a negative. In 1998, Rick Higgins, a champion paraglider pilot, ran off with virtually all the money in a week of weather that greatly favored paragliders. Day after day the paraglider pilots floated off on 60, 70 and even 80 miles X-Cs from Black Cap while hapless hang glider pilots could only curse and shake their fists at the sky from Snyder's and Hunter's LZs. Hang Glider pilots demanded separate events. The entire administration of the Festival by the volunteers was becoming too complex for anyone to have fun and so in 1999 the committee decided to do away with the large cash prizes and the complicated contests with all the "places" and simply get back to the original roots, which was to just have a fun gathering of like-minded souls who could schmooze and party with each other while enjoying some of the best flying in the U.S. Contests were reduced to a few friendly encounters, cumulative distance and spot landings for paragliders, and a trophy dash from Sugar to Hunter's and spot landings for hang gliders, rules were relaxed and only enough cash was offered to basically allow a winner to pay for his gas to get here and back.

gallery image 2 Next to getting all the official launches established, it was the best move the committee could have made. With the pressure to win big money gone, pilots started having real fun again. So much fun, that our pilot population has increased each year with virtually everyone leaving with big grins and vows to return. Exactly what we had in mind. We have over 85 pilots this year from all over the planet and hope to have even more next year.

This year, Caro Johnston, our current Chamber Executive Director, arranged for a Pig Roast at Hunter's in lieu of traditional Pilot Party at the Gilpatrick's, who thought their home would be sold before the party could be held. Two local citizens, Gary and Sherrie McCleese, prepared the absolute BEST pig-in-the-ground I have ever eaten, from an old secret family recipe. It was so good that plans are on track to repeat it next year.

So here we are, we now have six official sites established, all on public land. We have a lot of friendly ranchers and farmers allowing our pilots to use their property for landing zones. We even furnish site-specific daily soaring forecasts during the Festival, but also on request with 24 hours notice to the Chamber and provided that the local forecaster is in town.

Oh yeah, the "Umpteenth" part. Nobody could remember exactly when the proto-gatherings began, so we couldn't have the "First Annual" "Second Annual" and so forth. Thus, we just decided to call the gathering the "Umpteenth" Annual. Now that you know the "rest of the story", be sure and come join us next 4th of July for relaxed fun with all your flying buddies, some great partying and some really great soaring to boot. Hey, if you're good, you might even win your gas money back as well as having a really great time.

Penned in August of 2008
In Memory of
Jules Gilpatrick

Be sure to check out more images in the Festival of Free Flight Gallery.

This page last updated on August 15, 2016
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