Cloud ripper

Times Staff Writer

Swirling over the Grand Canyon at 17,900 feet, paraglider Will Gadd started doing windmills to warm up his hands.

Though he wore thick ice-climbing gloves, his fingers were so cold he had to operate the controls with his wrists.

"It's not the most pleasant thing, but it works," says Gadd, 37.

In a bid to become the first paraglider to cross the 10-mile chasm, the Canadian took off Sept. 7 about 15 miles south of the canyon and flew in 16-degree air for half an hour while strong winds and down drafts nearly ripped him from the sky.

Gadd, who also ice, rock and mountain climbs, spent hours circling upward to a cruising altitude roughly 3,000 feet higher than Mt. Whitney to make the crossing. He knew he would have to aim for bone-chilling altitudes because flying lower than 10,500 feet over the Grand Canyon is illegal, and some airspace below 14,500 feet is restricted.

He wore a Gore-Tex jacket and pants over two layers of insulated clothing, a balaclava and the gloves — all of which felt bulky when he launched his glider from a truck-mounted tow in desert temps of about 80 degrees.

"The temperature extremes in paragliding are more radical than anything else I do."

— Mary Forgione

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