«

Update April 2020

8. April 2020

Greetings All

Some time has passed since last posting (December 2016) and many have requested an update so here goes;

2017 captured a few little adventures. Early in the year a Russian visa was obtained and I travelled to Moscow and then a train journey to Nizhniy Novgorod where the MiG jet fighters are made.

After a tour of the museum, a medical by the aviation doctor, an intro and discussions with Yuri the pilot it was time to be fitted with a pressure suit. Next was an intro to the MiG 27 and pre-flight checks before being strapped into this great flying machine and final briefings from Yuri. The canopy was closed, the MIGs powerful engines started and we were taxiing out to the runway. At 55,000 feet the visuals of seeing the earth’s curvature with the blackness of space behind was quite something and certainly whets one’s appetite for the visuals that will be experienced with Virgin Galactic’s space flight to 300,000 feet above terra firma. The highlight for me as a pilot was taking the controls and doing some steep turns and rolls. I was surprised at how docile the MiG felt. A low altitude high speed pass down the runway pulled up into an inverted roll capped off a fantastic 40 minutes in what was the leading Russian jet fighter in its day.

Next was some time at a Spanish Skydiving Centre near Seville, preparing for jumping from some nice Italian mountains in June. In Italy I was to join a group of clients from Snake River BASE, Twin Falls, Idaho. The aim was to make “tracking” jumps from Monte Brento (approx. 3000 feet high) in the Trentino region. To do this one wears a tracking suit which is basic and pre-wingsuit. The wingsuit which most will have seen some footage of on You-Tube is much more advanced and powerful. Still, the tracking suit is very effective at moving one away from the mountain just launched from ..if you fly it right.

The safest way to practise with this equipment is from an aeroplane and 40 jumps later I headed to Italy. For BASE jumping, Brento is a very forgiving object and we all made around 10 successful jumps. For some weird reason I always feel more relaxed exiting from lower BASE objects and find these higher ones very intense. Thanks to Eric & Tom of Snake River BASE for organising and leading a great event and cheers to the other jumpers of the group, some of which I had been on courses in Idaho with, for making it a great trip.

Next it was time to get the feet back on the ground so spent some time exploring some parts of the USA I had not been to. Wyoming and Montana had some fantastic scenery and great motorcycling up around the Glacier National Park area, Chief Joseph Highway, Bear Tooth Pass and Yellow Stone National Park.

On the approach to clocking up 60 years I was long overdue for some triathlon racing so decided to get enough fitness to enter a couple of low key races in Montana and Utah. The competition might not have been the strongest but I will take the two podiums!!

Nepal was the next target. A country that is rather special for New Zealanders with Ed Hillary being the 1st man to climb Everest and then devoting much of his life to building schools for young Nepalese and other projects in Nepal. Making it to 60, I decided to celebrate by skydiving next to Everest. One of the organising group was Wendy Smith whom I have known for years and she asked if I was up for some trekking and a small climb prior the Everest jumps. Do bears poop in the woods?? So a flight into Kathmandu, some gear organisation and then a flight into Lukla which has one of the world’s more interesting aircraft landing approaches. A week later we had trekked into Everest Base Camp and from there trekked around to Island Peak base camp. A short rest then a very early set off and 10 hours later we stood on top of Island Peak mountain at 20,000 feet on a clear day and an absolutely superb view of all the surrounding mountains covered in snow.

15 minutes of taking in this fantastic sight then a long trek back to base camp. I was suffering a bit from altitude sickness so our Sherpa guide elected to head back down to a lower altitude. Last thing I felt like doing but necessary. After a night’s rest down in Chukhung we trekked back down to Syngbouche to meet up with the skydiving squad. The scenery was quite spectacular along the way. Cheers to Wendy and our Sherpa guide & porter.

Before jumping, a ceremony is conducted by one of the local Buddhist Monks who blesses the jumpers, parachutes and equipment. Some safety briefings and then the first loads were made for all jumpers to familiarise with equipment and the area. With the dropzone being at 12000 feet AGL, temperatures at exit well below zero and the thin air requiring oxygen equipment these are not standard skydives. With the familiarising jumps complete, the next two days were for two more jumps each. Jumps were from a Squirrel AS350 B3 helicopter and from 23,000 feet AGL.

I had teed up with Wendy for something a bit special as my 2nd jump was my 2,000th skydive. I am grateful to Wendy (20,000 + jumps) Omar (25,000+ jumps) and PH (6,000 + jumps) for making a nice 4 way with Everest in the background. Cheers to you legends ..and PH for the great photos. Also thanks to the late Ted Atkins for the oxygen equipment and supervision that was essential for the jumps.

If anyone is trying to figure out what to do for a special birthday I can recommend a skydive over Everest or a MIG flight in Russia.

2018 found Russia ending up on the list again. From the days of competition skydiving back in the 80s & 90s jumping had taken a back seat for many years. The recent jumps had rekindled the interest so I took the plunge and ordered some new equipment. The sport had changed dramatically over the last two decades and I knew absolutely nothing about the types of jumps common at most dropzones these days. All my jumping had been face to earth or “belly flying” so I decided to invest in some indoor skydiving (wind tunnel) time to try and learn something about “sit flying” and “head down”. So it was off to Artfly, a state of the art wind tunnel in Moscow. I had simply had no idea if these new skills would be difficult to learn but I soon found out. There is truth in the saying “hard to teach an old dog new tricks” and my coach Alexandr now understands this!! Cheers Alex. Anyway it was a great time at the Artfly facility and taking in some more of Moscow.

On the way back to NZ I visited a couple of countries that I had not been to for years (Romania, Norway) and a few that I had never been to (Estonia, Latvia, Iceland, Philippines). Other than Norway where I have spent a reasonable amount of time over the years, the others were brief snapshots to get a feel for if I may want to return and spend more time. Yes to all.

2019 starts a new phase of my life having exited my businesses at the end of 2018 which means figuring out what this next phase might look like. After 30 years of being in business it is a huge change so to get this new phase moving I attended a rather special skydiving event in Egypt for some jumps over the Giza pyramids. No idea how the organisers obtained approval for a bunch of skydivers to jump over one of the world’s 7 wonders including airlifts by an Egyptian Air Forces C130 cargo plane, but they did and approx. 150 of us obliged. Rather special exiting off the stern ramp of a C130 and being in freefall looking down over the pyramids and then flying around them under canopy before landing alongside.

While in Egypt I decided to also rekindle interest in another long lost hobby so joined a one week live-a-board dive boat out of Hurghada for some diving in the Red Sea. Some great diving on mostly old ship wrecks including the famous THISTLEGORM wreck.

A bunch of Spanish punk rockers on the boat didn’t seem to fit the typical diver profile but they were all very accomplished divers and also provided entertainment. A small video of the dives produced by two of their group is in the photo gallery.

Hurghada is also a popular kite surfing region. I had tried rather unsuccessfully to learn this a few years back so decided to give it another go. Managed to get up on the board a few times but it would be a gross exaggeration to say I can kite surf. Teaching old dogs new tricks comes to mind again.

Dog sledding in Siberia was the next target but obtaining a Russian visa in a foreign country proved a challenge so settled for a Swedish dog sledding experience in Lapland, northern Sweden. Petter Karlsson, a very successful Swedish dog sled racer runs a very large kennel with 120 dogs and provides trips into the Lapland wilderness. I was fortunate to have Petter guide myself and one other client for 6 days through some fantastic scenery crossing the Norwegian border and back to the kennels. A great experience learning about dog sledding and taking care of your team with each client driving a team of 5-6 dogs.

Back to the good ole US of A and some skydiving at Perris Valley in California where I had done quite a few jumps back in the 80s so a bit of a nostalgia trip. This was a gathering of SOS or Skydivers Over Sixty for some record attempts. Lots of old dogs!! We were targeting an 80 way to conquer the standing record of 75 but we could only manage around 70, so the record stands.

While in California a very timely Virgin Galactic event in Mojave desert provided for a tour of Virgin’s spaceship & rocket building facilities, their rocket motor test pad, mission control station and flight simulator. Seeing first-hand the manufacture of spaceships & rockets that will actually propel us into space and discussions with the team making it all happen was very cool indeed. As with all Virgin events it was top notch and following in the Virgin family way we had a lunch meeting with the staff where we explained why we had signed up with VG and then answered their questions. The cross section of Virgin clients and their backgrounds at these events is always an eye opener. One of the clients at this event I had the pleasure of chatting quite a lot with was ex chief engineer of Aerodyne who provided all the NASA shuttle engines. A highlight that evening was dinner with Dave MacKay, Virgin Galactic’s Chief Pilot, and Beth Moses, Virgin’s Chief Astronaut Instructor, who was a “client” on the recent test flight, which reached apogee. Beth under took tests during the flight to provide knowledge of what we as clients will experience.

Next day we visited the sister company, Virgin Orbit, in Long Beach and a guided tour of their rocket manufacturing facility. Virgin Orbit is in the final stages of testing of “Launcher One” rockets that will deliver space components for customers into low earth orbit. The “Launcher One” program follows the launch from air concept used by Virgin Galactic with rockets transported to approx. 40,000 feet under the wing of a modified Boeing 747-400. A very impressive facility.

Another catch up with Virgin Galactic folks was just around the corner with a VG event at Kennedy Space Centre Florida to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first Lunar Landing on 20th July 1969. Another top notch VG the event. A very special tour of the rocket assembly building where the Apollo and Shuttle rockets were assembled. This building is being refurbished for assembling rockets in the new Artemis programme which is scheduled to revisit moon by 2024. A tour of history and the future. We were also treated to a ride out onto the runway where the shuttles landed and a photo opportunity at the position of where the last shuttle Atlantis STS135’s nose wheel came to a stop on the runway concluding the shuttle programme on21st July 2011. Dinner that evening was under a version of the Saturn V rockets that powered the Apollo missions into space. One of NASA’s astronauts who worked on the Hubble Space Telescope gave a very entertaining talk during the evening.

Time for some more skydiving and a revisit to the type of jumps I did back in the 1980s. USA champion skydiving team Rhythm run 4 way & 8 way skills camps at Skydive Chicago so I headed for Illinois. The techniques and resulting speed of formation construction is very different to when Nemesis, the 4 way team I was in, won the 4 way event at the NZ Nationals in 1989. It was nice to be doing 4 way again. Thanks to Rhythm and congratulations to them for winning the 2019 USA Nationals.

Next call was Twin Falls, Idaho to regain some currency with BASE jumping by joining one of Snake River BASES’s courses. Always nice to jump the Perrine bridge and spend time at the school. Cheers Tom. Also what better way to celebrate turning 62 than to do an early morning sunrise jump off the bridge!! From Twin Falls it’s only a couple of days on a motorcycle up to Canada and with a week of excellent weather on the radar that was that was needed. Some great motorcycling up through Idaho, Montana and across into Canada before heading back down a different route to Twin Falls.

With Idaho not being a huge distance from northern California, Andy who had been my flight instructor a few years earlier suggested I shoot across and fly his latest acquisition. For the aviators, Andy’s machine is a Maule, a lovely little 4 place tail dragger with short take-off and landing capabilities. Perfect for the numerous off the beaten track short landing strips around the US. A plan was hatching!!

With my allowable time in the US coming to an end it was time to think about returning to NZ though via Africa with some skydiving in Namibia. Jorg who was the organiser of the jumps over the pyramids had organised a boogie in the coastal town of Swakopmund. Cheers Jorg.

With heading to Africa, climbing Kilimanjaro and a safari seemed like reasonable things to do so flew to Tanzania from the US. Climbed Kilimanjaro Lemosho route and summited around 0440 hrs on 29th October just as light was starting to glow on the horizon. Stunning views. Had suffered from altitude sickness as in Nepal but it was certainly worth pushing on to the summit.

Few days’ recovery then met up with friends from the US and went on a 10 day safari starting in Arusha and traveling in a 4 wheel drive. We certainly covered some ground from Arusha to Tarangerie National Park to Ngorogoro crater and then several days in central Serengeti. What fantastic scenery and just hard to describe the animal encounters. Seeing the big five of lion, leopard, rhinoceros, elephant and buffalo were great but they were only part of the experience. Cheetah, giraffe, zebra, wildebeast, hippopotamus, jackal, baboon, many of the gazelle family, hyena, ostrich, numerous birds, and of course the Maasai people, were all part of this fantastic experience with Africa and its nature. We stayed in tents during the safari but to say it was “roughing it” would be a gross exaggeration. Hard to pinpoint a visual / animal encounter that stood out as the whole safari stood out. Cheers to Sandy & Shirley.

2020: From the cancelled Siberian dog sledding expedition a new adventure popped up. Viktor, the Russian bloke who operated the dog sledding happened to be the leader of the group I skied with to the geographic North Pole in 2009. In the email communications I spotted that Viktor was planning an expedition which involved skiing across the Bering Sea from east Russian to Alaska. Had to be done. I met the others of the group (4 Russians & 3 Slovaks) in Moscow on 24th February. We then flew to Anadyr in the Chukotka Region, far east of Russia. From there we travelled 800km by these 6 wheel drive behemoths over frozen isolation including over frozen parts of the Chukchi Sea to the tiny village of Enurmino where we packed our sleds (pulks) and were joined by Barsek, a village dog. Barsek’s role was to alert us if polar bears should venture near, particularly during the night when we were sleeping. On 1st April we started off, each hauling an 80kg pulk. It was only a couple of km to the Bering Sea and there we were immediately dealing with very broken ice rubble. The area had been subject to high winds a few days earlier which resulted in the sea ice becoming very broken and forming mounds of twisted ice shapes that are very difficult to pass through even on foot without the 80kg pulk. We spent the next 10 days hauling the pulks across the frozen sea and through what seemed endless ice rubble, zig zagging to avoid water. We also had some interesting water encounters. After 10 days we had hauled for almost 100km but were only 25 km closer to our destination of Point Hope, Alaska, 280km away. We had expected the journey would take approx. 15 days and had food & fuel for 20 days so by this stage it was very obvious we were not going to make Alaska. Still being just inside Russian territory made evacuation much more straight forward by being a commercial operation rather than a military one which would have been the case had we been in international territory outside the Russian border line.

With a storm heading our way the decision was made to evacuate and a Mil Mi8 helicopter picked us up off the ice on the afternoon of 10th April and ferried us to the village of Lavrentiya. Very disappointing to have not made it across to Alaska though very few have achieved this. The going was tough but that is the Arctic. Conditions are always weather dependant and this is very unpredictable. The physical work, sleeping in tents on the ice, freezing temperatures were all very familiar to me from South & North Pole expeditions and it was good to be on the ice again. It would have been great to complete the mission but that’s life!! One highlight was something that had eluded me in previous Arctic adventures, the sighting of a polar bear. Early one morning Barsek was barking so I shot out of the tent to see Barsek definitely interested in something out amongst the ice rubble. Sure enough there was a large adult bear about 100m away just wandering around the rubble. Viktor who had joined me fired several flare rounds which the bear paid no interest but he must have then caught our scent and looked directly towards us. He turned and headed in the opposite direction.

Lavrentiya (population 1500) is an interesting place in the Chukotka region. There are no roads in or out, as with almost all of Chukotka, aircraft being pretty much the only mode of transportation, particularly in the winter months. The vast Chukotka Region, an area bigger than Texas (literally) and total population of 50,000 is apparently utilised by the Russian military though we never saw any anything that confirmed this. There was a hotel there though this was apparently reserved for military personnel so we ended up in a small flat of one of the village fire chaps. A basic grocery store, a school and a library were the main buildings of Lavrentiya. With weather often limiting being outdoors it was an interesting 10 days until a flight back to Anadyr was available.

A few days in some very interesting accommodation in Anadayr and then a flight back to Moscow. With covid19 causing the closure of countries borders it was time to return to NZ and I managed to get on one of the last flights out of Moscow and then back into Auckland before flights shutdown.

We are all now in this very unusual period with a world-wide pandemic. As of today, 7th April, it appears some countries are starting to get control of the virus spread so hopefully COVID-19 will soon be contained.

Other than the resulting health issues, the biggest factor will be the effect on populations from ailing economies.

Everyone stay healthy and stay motivated.

A few pics relating to the above adventures can be accessed by the following four dropbox links;

2017:

2018:

2019:

2020:

Best to all

Ross


date Posted on: Wednesday, April 8, 2020 at 9:10 pm







Ross Maxwell is powered by WordPress