Walking As Penance, and the Thin Red Line Scorched Earth review


There’s a belief loose in the world that the best flying sites have roads to launch, but it ain’t so. Most of the best flying sites have little more than goal trails to launch, most of which climb steeply for somewhere between 300 and 3000 feet. I like these walk-up sites because walking is moral penance for flying, surely one of the most hedonistic pleasures we at the top of the economic food chain in the 20th century are blessed with. We who fly have lives of unmitigated luxury compared to about 99 percent of the other apes on this planet, something I’ve always felt guilty about. Sweating up a hill to earn the pleasure of flight is like beating yourself with a birch branch in a sauna while it’s minus 40 outside; too much pleasure isn’t a good thing, unless tempered with pain. Some nature freaks will talk about the zen of hiking, but some nature freaks also smoke way too much pot and can’t remember anything before the last step, which helps a fair amount for hiking the three or four thousand necessary steps to launch. Unfortunately I can’t smoke pot because I’m mildly asthmatic, but I wouldn’t even if I could. What I do like is a little aerobic suffering on the way to those perfect sites without roads, I’m talking Beaver in Jackson (the only place I’ve ever flown where you need clothespins to launch and the Beaver Burrito isn’t about sex), Lady Mac in Canmore and the summits of thousands of other peaks no one could come up with even a half-assed excuse to build a road up. For these non-idyclic sweat-fests leading to some of my most memorable flights, I want gear that’s light, for too much gear means I won’t even bother lifting that 50 pound bag of nylon and other plastics and heading out the door. Know your pain tolerance and push it, but too much pain is a direct fire hose on whatever small flame of vertical ambition you might have. To lighten my load I fly walk-up sites in super-light windproof garments from Hard Corps, with a Ball Cricket vario weighing less than the average caviar serving, a first aid kit consisting of a roll of tape and four industrial-strength Percodans, and my latest tool, the Scorched Earth Harness from Thin Red Line.

The AFNOR-approved SE weighs in at under a pound, compared with 20 against my normal rig. It doesn’t have anything that isn’t necessary, but it does have everything that it is—and, amazingly, a few improvements as well. The first time I flew it I thought I had forgotten to put my harness on; you’re just hung out in space, nothing but a layer of very thin textile between you and the earth. Surprisingly, it’s quite comfortable and fully adjustable—you can can fly almost recumbent, or sitting straight up in the spastic star-fish position common in more interesting air. The best way I can describe the feeling of flying the SE harness is that it’s like being naked, but in a very good way. I wish all my harnesses leaned and weight-shifted like this. The first time I threw a mild weight shift I ended up with a smooth wingover; this harness translates weight shift and pilot movement to the wing faster and with less wasted energy than any harness I’ve ever used. The Scorched Earth genuinely flies well--I think I can prevent more collapses and really feel the air far better in this harness, like driving fast in an Audi instead of an SUV. This is good, as I don’t generally wear a reserve while flying mountain sites, although it’s easy to hook one up to the SE if you want to. The seat "board" is split, which allows each leg to move independently, a nice feature for those high-altitude and running no-wind launches (no more harness board slapping you in the butt like a dominatrix). I’ve found myself flying the SE at drive-up sites in the evening just for grins, it’s that much fun. I suspect future "full-fat" harnesses may incorporate some of the SE’s design concepts—a strange thought considering the SE is engineered for minimalism.

I’ve been using an Ignition for mountain walk-up sites, as it’s lighter and still performs well, in addition to being very reassuring when the air gets mid-day big. The total weight of the Ignition, vario, clothes and the SE harness is less than 20 pounds, compared to the 50 I use when flying my Rocket and XC harness at drive-up sites. This Slim-Fast version of my flying outfit reduces the amount of pain per second immensely on long walks, enough that I’ve started thinking about taking it up some really big peaks for flights, say Everest. Oathar Lawrence borrowed my Scorched Earth for the Red Bull Dolomiten Man, which is an event where a runner (that was me for some twisted Red Bull reason) cruises up a peak, tags a PG pilot (Oathar), who flys off, lands in a farmers field on the side of a peak across the valley, then runs up a another mountain with his wing before launching, an anaerobic death event for sure. Oathar liked the harness, and even added a speed system to it, which I’ve kept as it weighs about an extra 50 cents (Thin Red Line now makes an add-on speed system, and new SE harnesses take all standard back protection).

The SE isn’t for everyone, but, for anyone who pays for flight with sweat, it is a tool without equal. I suspect a lot more pilots will discover the joy of hiking with this harness--here may even be more than three of us at some of the more popular walk-up launches soon, and I keep discovering new walk-up sites on a daily basis…

The Scorched Earth is available from Thin Red Line, www.thin-red-line.com.