Zion National Park, Utah
November 16, 2011
Zion Balloon Expedition: A Modern Adventurer.
Steiger is the first pilot to navigate a hot air balloon across Zion National Park in the third flight of his 10-flight expedition.
10 flights are planned to explore Zion from above including photographing the unique perspective and documenting the preparations and behind-the-scenes story of this Modern Adventurer.
Steiger is a world-class FAA certified commercial pilot with an Instructors rating and holds the highest degree of balloon pilot training made available by the FAA. His taste for High-Adventure and Precision Stunt Work combined with his attention to detail and safety have specifically qualified him as the resident balloon stunt pilot and expedition leader with “Incredible Adventures, Inc.” a Sarasota, Florida based Adventure and Expedition company specializing in unique and world-class adventure opportunities. Steiger is also the exclusive performance stunt pilot for the GoPro™ sponsored “Bomb Squad” flight team comprised of 4 “X-games” style extreme athletes specializing in a variety of parachute, BASE jumping and speed-wing paragliding rigs.
What makes this expedition noteworthy according to Steiger?
“Like any of my Alpine Crossings over mountainous terrain or flights across a body of water, there quite simply is no place to land. The terrain in Zion is particularly treacherous with its monumental geological sandstone formations, isolated buttes and 1500’ slot canyons. These elements combine to pose a formidable challenge. Far from going over Niagara Falls in a barrel this has been a highly engineered and researched project, which has required weeks of preparation. I will be the first to pilot a balloon across the park.”
“Significant pre-flight planning and an intimate knowledge of the wind patterns of the area are required to make a flight of this caliber. Predominant winds aloft from the North, West and South combined with careful selection of launching points (which require landowner permissions) may be utilized to cross the park in several directions in order to navigate to the very limited landing options to the eastern and southern borders of the park.
Balloons are subject to FAA regulations; which make such a flight legal.
Flights are made in friendly coordination with the National Park Rangers. While balloons are allowed to “land anywhere” there is no Special Use Permit provision for launching from or landing in a National Park, so while there would never be any intention of landing in the park, if a landing were to be made within the park boundaries, at the pilots discretion, he would be responsible for any damages to the natural landscape of the park and extraction of the equipment would be performed under the direction of the Park Rangers to minimize any visible evidence of the landing.
Launching and landing on the BLM lands is welcomed as a private recreational activity and requires landing on a road since chase vehicles are not allowed off the roads at any time. Breaking down 1600 lbs. of equipment and hand carrying the components to the vehicle is sufficient motivation for an extremely high percentage of roadway landings. Special Use Permits are available for commercial operations on the BLM lands under certain qualifying criteria; which are not applicable to an expedition of this nature.
Steiger notes: “I am relatively experienced in this sort of high adventure and in so many cases I have “been there and done that”, however all my previous experience could not prepare me to absorb the visual neuronal overload from the indescribable vistas and the unique perspectives made possible only by a balloon. Such icons as West Temple, Kinesava, the Watchman, Angel’s Landing, the Eagle Crags, and the view directly into the North and East forks of the Virgin River and archeologically closed Parunuweap Canyon are personified as a result of such an intimate experience.”
The First 3 Flights:
Flight 1 launched from Springdale at the mouth of Zion National Park as an exploratory mission to establish bearings and preview the challenge. The flight path straight up to eye level with West Temple (7900’) provided a view across the park, upper level winds from the west would have obliged a Zion crossing however this was only meant to be a preliminary flight and I was not prepared with enough fuel to make the crossing. I then descended 1000 feet into the river canyon relying upon predictable canyon winds to deposit me “downstream” onto the Gooseberry Mesa. Flight time: 1 hour.
Flight 2 launched from the nearby Rockville river valley and proceeded to divide the Smithsonian Butte and the Eagle Crags across the rolling red rock of Canaan Mountain and over the Vermillion Cliffs into Apple Valley landing on the boarder of Arizona. Flight time 1.5 hrs. The wind shifted on this flight and fuel became an issue requiring the navigation of the many layers of wind at differing altitudes to direct the balloon to a comfortable landing. This flight was designed as the first of several close up and personal flights over the Eagle Crags. Equipment with longer flight time duration would be required to cross the park.
Flight 3 of the 10-flight expedition launched from Kolob Reservoir on November 16 after scratched attempts on the two previous days. Utilizing N and NW winds at varying altitudes up to 21 mph we crossed over the monumental geological sandstone formations and 1500’ slot canyons on a 5 hour and 15 min. flight to the Coral Pink Sand Dunes. A “postage stamp” landing in a gap within a tall stand of pinion pines required a vertical envelope deflation depositing the fabric in a 576 lb. heap next to the basket rather than the preferred horizontal downwind deflation method which would have required about 120’ of clear meadow. But that is the luxury reserved for the typical “wine country tour”.
The 10-flight expedition over Zion National Park is set to continue between Thanksgiving and Christmas and space for a limited number of passengers is available.
Although Steiger travels with hand crafted hors d’oeuvres on board make no mistake, this is an expedition and not a typical wine country tour.
Steiger is a true Modern Adventurer and passengers are not catered to with white gloves and red carpets, Steiger’s passengers receive a higher honor in becoming members of the expedition team. Each team member realizes that this trip is not governed by the principles of public transportation and must be prepared to hike or helicopter out of a less than convenient landing scenario.
Interested prospective passengers would enjoy the honor of joining the expedition and being among the first to cross Zion in a balloon.