Day 6 of Mission 100

Without having built a record as hoped for yesterday, we were on the field at 6:30am with full gear, anticipating at least 3 jumps this morning. Unfortunately, the Sherpa pilot needed to be back in Illinois by mid-afternoon, meaning we had a small window to skydive, with 12 noon being our deadline. The first jump of the morning was extremely close to successfully building a 100 (or so) way. It felt that if we had only had another 1,000 feet, we would have been successful! Geez, not a great time to be scrimping from our promised 20k (we had 18k on that first jump). The next jump was kind of a zoo (I didn’t even get a chance to dock with so much zoomy traffic in my quadrant), so with the final jump being lined up, we all gathered together, breathing deeply in sync, praying for peace and success in our final skydive. Had a fellow jumper not had a premature deployment at 19,000 feet, I truly believe that we would have built our Canadian Record. The formation flew so quiet and beautifully solid. Only one sector of the opposing helix was incomplete (due to the preemie jumper still under canopy at altitude). Dang, it felt good to fly together as a collective flock, smooth, slow and safe in our maneuvers. But alas, 6,500 came too quickly, and we realized our Mission 100 record attempts were over for 2011. Collective as a group, we had some pretty spectacular skydiving this week. Much improvement in skill and flying was seen. Although a Canadian Record was not set at this event, we can all hold our heads high, having achieved much success and many wonderful memories in the little jumping that we did do. Well done friends! Here’s to trying again next year :).

 

Success is not the key to happiness.
Happiness is the key to success.
If you love what you are doing you will be successful.
~ Herman Cain

Day 5 of Mission 100

We made 4 jumps today … I was on a 44 way, 65 way and after more weather delays, two 100 record attempts in the late afternoon. We had no luck at building the 100 ways, but it certainly was fun using all 4 airplanes. The visuals were spectacular!I was incredibly pleased with my flying skill and patience. However, after the last jump of the day, I’m feeling a bit nervous about jumping …. unfortunately, I sprained the fingers on my right hand when trying to exit the Otter. When it came for me to exit, the bench seat dropped down, not locked in to place. And as a late diver, I was crammed near the back with the only real room for movement being in the aisle. The bench fell down to my side, pushing me and slamming my fingers before I managed to upright myself and catapult like a rocket out the door. There must have been at least a 5 second delay between the last jumper and my exit. Made for an incredibly steep dive to the base. I found it extremely challenging when everything looked like specks from afar and with no visual colour reference, it made for difficulty in finding my quadrant and radial (in situations like these, I need my glasses, or contact lenses).

New for me on these big way jumps was our high altitude breakoff at 6,500 feet (I was on the outer ring), turning in sync with our tracking leader and group – – from 4-8 other skydivers, keeping close together for 2,500 feet (that’s a good 10 seconds in a tracking group — kind of like our own personal tracking dive!) and then individually fanning out to a minimum deployment altitude of 3,000 feet. I often saw people down and dirty when opening, but I was fairly consistent about being in the saddle comfortably collapsing my slider and unstowing my brakes at 2,000 feet. I prefer being on the outer edges of the formation because I know that I can track well and be clear of most other traffic. It’s only when I have the off-heading openings that I find myself concerned, facing a sea of traffic.

What I loved most about our jumps was the fact that the organizers were extremely positive during the debrief of our big way attempt, emphasizing our accomplishments first and foremost, and then offering detailed critique where needed and kudos when deserved.

It being Canada Day, a group of skydivers jumped in with smoke and a Canadian Flag, kicking of an evening of wonderful food and entertainment. Awesome fireworks and an amazing drumming band called Zuruba ended the evening on a high note, sending me to bed with a huge smile on my face. Life is indeed good to me!

Day 4 of Mission 100

The plan yesterday was to complete three 50 way dives (3 helixes off the base) before starting with 100 way attempts. However, the weather hasn’t been on our side and we are somewhat behind the power curve in getting through our practise jumps prior to attempting a record building formation. At 7:15am, 90+ skydivers were on the field in full gear with our oxygen hoses, ready to dirt dive our planned jump and then depart with the hopes of building at least a 50 way before our 100 way dives. Dirt dive we did, jump we did not. A solid layer of clouds were visible from horizon to horizon with a few breaks of sunshine left to test us with hopeful glimmers. The reality of our situation is that the Sherpa needs a longer runway to depart from than what is currently available at Parachute Montreal. This means that 2 plane loads of jumpers need to be ferried to an alternative airport 5 minutes away by plane before the actual formation load can take off and climb to altitude. With narrow windows of visible skies, this makes planning for a jump in sketchy marginal weather rather risky and tricky. If the planes do get to altitude in formation and there isn’t a safe opportunity to drop us in our groups (2 passes on this next jump but one big group of 100 for the remaining jumps), we have to abort the skydive and land with the plane. Imagine the cost of doing this with 100 skydivers and 3 very expensive-to-fly airplanes? The cost of a jump to 13,500 feet is $35 and to 18,000 feet with supplemental oxygen is $45. Thats a whole lotta money to be literally thrown out the window on an aborted skydive. Hence, here we sit on the ground, anxious to jump but remaining patient with the hope of better weather as the day progresses. Now is as good a time as any to catch up on the blog + my multitude of photo editing; stretch and breath; play yoga instructor; catch up on a fews ZZZZZZZZssssssssss. 🙂 I’m still hopeful for success. With one final break in the clouds, we loaded up the 4 planes to attempt 2 44 ways. We made it all the way to altitude, with several passes around the dz from 16,000 feet, but we ended up landing with the plane as the clouds were too thick for the safety of our group, at break-off and under canopy. Not to mention, the spot could be way off. Been there, done that :).

Day 3 of Mission 100

Rain day. Blah …. we were in constant limbo throughout the day as the organizers held us on standby whilst the crappy weather blew through, hopes held high that an opportune moment would have us jumping with our 40 way groups once again. Hour by hour we would meet up for an update of the situation. At one point, we were briefed for relocating our two forty ways to an alternate skydiving airfield (NovelAir) about 30 minutes away which is co-owned by this drop zone. It’s very handy indeed when the event organizers have two dropzones. Albeit kind of complicated as it involves 3 airports …. First, an air taxi from our current cloudy Parachute Montreal to the local municipal airport where the Sherpa aircraft is stationed. Then after transferring planes, we would take off and skydive in to the potentially sunny NouvelAir dropzone. The thought was extremely exciting and enticing. Having an alternative jumping plan is kind of cool and highly agreeable. Sure beats sitting around and waiting. But unfortunately, it was socked with inclement non-jumpable weather in at this airport as well. No luck for us today. The weather goDS would tease us with moments of beautiful blue clear skies and then the rapidly moving upper clouds would blanket the area with darkness and bouts of drizzle. Low altitude clouds are NOT a large formation skydivers’ friend. Not having the ability to 100% visualize the other skydivers surrounding us, especially when we’re tracking and under canopy, is asking for an accident of mammoth proportions to happen. For me, it’s totally not worth the money to have 110% controlled safety. As with any and all skydiving activities, safety is a paramount feature in big way camps and record attempts. I’m thankful for experienced captains who are being smart and cautious in their organizational efforts.

During one of our group meetings today, we were briefed on the characteristics and inherent possibilities of hypoxia, when jumping from altitudes of 18,000 feet or higher. Hypoxia is a physiological condition experienced whereby there is a deficiency in the amount of oxygen reaching the tissues and brain. So far on our skydives since Monday, we haven’t had to use supplemental oxygen, but come Thursday when we hopefully jump form 18,000 feet or higher, it’s important that we are familiar with the equipment and use of oxygen.

Oddly enough, I have about 100+ jumps from 18,000 feet when I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to make regular skydives from high altitude at Skydive Monterey, California. Those were the days when I paid $18 to 18,000 feet (this included a bonus scenic flight over the Pacific Ocean and Hwy 1 each climb to altitude :)). At the time we never used oxygen, but today under these circumstances, when the potential for long jump runs as the 4 planes maneuver in to position (possibly evading weather or imperfect spots), it’s better to have oxygen available to us than to find ourselves with skydivers who might pass out or skydive unsafely because of the reduced oxygen in our systems.

At 6:30pm in full gear dirt diving our planned skydive, the organizers called the day, releasing us until tomorrow morning. Early rise, early start. Fingers crossed that we’ll make lots of skydives!

Day 2 of Mission 100

40 way Skydive Exits En Masse from Three Jump Planes

Two 40 way jumps from 3 planes were today’s dives. The best skydiving visuals of my life EVER (well, scratch that …. the Blue Hole is up on par with today’s jumps). With me being situated on the second pass of the left trail Otter, I was in a fabulous position to watch the right trail Otter floaters literally climbing out and hanging from the plane as the Sherpa 6 way base lined up in the door and exited with smooth fluidity. Watching a cascading flow of tiny people in the air with dazzling puffy clouds scattered across the sky made for a wicked experience that I will never forget. In between the clouds and jumping, there were a few weather holds where skydivers found time to entertain themselves. It’s kind of a hurry and wait sort of event where weather is concerned and involved quite a bit of plane choreography. The Sherpa was unable to fly out of Parachute Montreal’s grass strip because of the short length and the gravel capping either end of the grass runway, so several Twin Otters were needed to fly jumpers to a close-by paved municipal airport for loading before any formations could even consider taking off. Once the jumpers were jumpers loaded in the Sherpa at the alterante airstrip, the two Otters then flew back to Parachute Montreal so that the rest of the skydivers could be picked up and climb to altitude, finally reuniting in spectacular formation somewhere around 8,000 feet. It was an amazing dance, and surprisingly, I heard not a single complaint the entire week. That in itself was remarkable and heart-warming. Kudos to all the participants who upheld the team spirit, treasuring both the moments of success and the set-backs.

Day 1 of Mission 100

Excitement courses through my veins as anticipation of this event is about to begin. The last (and only time) that I’ve participated in a 100 way attempt was in Orange Massachusetts in 2004. The largest completed formation I’ve been on was a Woman’s 37 way record at Skydive Burnaby in July 2002. It was a tremendous success and an honour to be a part of. The buzz that exists on completion of something of this magnitude is hard to explain. it still sends shivers down my spine!

At 9am sharp, 60+ skydivers gathered on the patio of Parachute Montreal’s incredible facilities. What a beautiful drop zone! A main briefing of the day and the upcoming event unfolded during a meet & greet of sorts. It was nice to meet the event organizers …. basically the drop zone owners + the Lemay family (aka Team Evolution, which happens to be a Father and his talented 3 young sons).

The first day was spent working on 20 ways from one plane. We managed a glorious 4 jumps in … 2 from the Twin Otter and 2 from the Sherpa (this meant being ferried to another airport where the Sherpa had an acceptable runway length to depart from (too short at Parachute Montreal). Unfortunately, on my first jump from the Sherpa, I somehow managed to trip and fall heavily on my right knee before exiting the plane. Not only was I concerned about my body jolt but also, the thought of the jumper behind me belting my rig hard with his foot had me a tad worried. Not the time to have a premature opening on my reserve, when at altitude. But all ended well, and I managed to make it in to my slot on every skydive toad. Fabulous :). I learned that if one is diving out of the Sherpa (and we’re talking late late diver), one needs good grippy shoes for the slippery floor and for dodging the bundle of scattered seat-belts that are a ready target to be tripped on.

It’s amazing what ice and arnica will do when put on injuries asap. I spent the rest of the evening babying my shoulder and banged up knee, praying that an injury wouldn’t stop me from enjoying a complete week of record big way jump attempts.

Mission 100

Parachute Montreal is host to the 100 way Record Attempts that slaDE and I have been accepted as participants (aka Mission 100). Parachute Montreal is located in St-Esprit Quebec, 25 minutes east from the centre of Laval (home of the Skyventure Windtunnel!) and 40 minutes from downtown Montreal. The 100 way event will run between Monday June 27 at 9:00am and will continue through to Saturday July 2. The goal of the record is to build the largest freefall formation by Canadians (bonus that this happens over Canadian soil — this winter an organized group attempted a Canadian record in Perris California, but weather + number of participants was their foe). So far, the record to date was in 2007 where 59 Canadians established the current formation record at Skydive Burnaby.

Our schedule:
Monday

  • 9:00am : Close of final registration
  • 9:30am : Group meeting
  • 40-way skydives – 20-ways from Otters, 20-ways from Sherpa + Otter

Tuesday & Wednesday

  • Meet @ 8:00am
  • 60-80 way skydives with 30 way base training from the Sherpa!
  • Helix arms training (40-way)

Thursday, Friday & Saturday (backup day, if necessary)

  • 100-way record-breaking attempts with the full fleet of aircraft (3 Twin Otters and 1 Sherpa — think a stretch Skyvan that kind of looks like an Otter / Caravan inside)

Saturday evening

  • Final get together over dinner and celebrations

The plan thus far: there will be 25 skydives total with 10 jumps from 13500ft and the remaining 15 skydives from high altitude (16000ft – 18000ft) using supplemental oxygen. Sweet! Hypoxia, not so much 🙂 Should be a blast!  slaDE and I are both really excited about the possibility of being Canadian record holders (this will make #2 for me if successful)! Wish us luck and safety please ….

More Rain

Weaving our way to the drop zone north of Montreal, the day started beautifully with warm temperatures and sunny skies. The moat around our trailer had vanished, yet the mosquitoes remained, poised to attack. But not long after our departure, the rain set in again. Miraculously, and as if a sign, crossing the Quebec border, the wet weather ceased, opening to beautiful blue skies :). But alas, on arrival at the drop zone, we started setting up the trailer when the rain retaliated in full splendour. I must admit, it’s never taken us 2 hours to set up the trailer’s level before. And it’s still not right.

Fingers crossed that wind and weather will be on our side here in Montreal, starting Sunday. Tomorrow (Saturday) looks like a wash out … a good day just to catch up on photos and blogging :).