With its golden hills, lush green forests, and turquoise-colored ocean, Big Sur is one of the most beautiful places you can visit, but it looks even better from above — while paragliding.
My girlfriend isn’t inherently the “outdoorsy” type, but she does appreciate amazing scenery, good food, and relaxing in nature — so for the last couple of months I’ve been setting up outdoor experiences that we’d both enjoy; camping at Big Sur was on the top of our list.
Around the same time I was planning our trip, I got a call from my buddy Cormac O’Brien — who I met for the first time in Bangkok earlier this year. Cormac is a certified tandem paragliding pilot and we’d been talking about embarking on an airborne adventure together for months.
As it turned out, Cormac and some of his friends were going to be flying around Big Sur the same weekend that Katherine and I were heading up for her birthday. A plan was in motion.
Big Sur is home to Prewitt Ridge, one of the best car camping spots in the world. If you show up early, you can get a (free!) site that is perched midway between the ocean and the clouds, where you can drive your hatchback all the way up to outdoors bliss.
Normally to get such iconic views, one must backpack dozens of miles into the wilderness (depending on where you’re adventuring); in those cases, your experience is limited to what you are willing carry on your back. Due to the ability to have your car parked so close, you get all the perks of glamping (think big roomy tents, delicious cooked food, etc.), along with amazing scenery. It’s a win-win.
For paragliders like my friend Cormac, Big Sur features two incredible launch areas: Prewitt Ridge (where Katherine and I camped) and Plaskett Ridge. Prewitt Ridge is higher and offers longer flights, but the drive there can take up to an hour each way. Plaskett Ridge on the other hand is just a 15 minute drive up the hill from Plaskett Creek Campgrounds — where Cormac and his friends were staying. Though the ridge was lower, its quick access would make it ideal for multiple launches throughout the day.
I seem to enjoy giving surprises more than people like receiving them; this case would be no different. Katherine was in for a big, high-flying, gravity-defying surprise.
We pulled up to Plaskett Creek Group Site #1 midway through the Friday afternoon. “Is Cormac around?” I asked? The guy in the parking lot responded, “You just missed him, he flew right overhead.” A glance from Katherine. Her curious eyes asked, “What’s going on?” My assurance: “We’ll stick around and wait for Cormac.”
Fifteen minutes later a Toyota Tacoma went blazing up the dirt road on the ridge behind us. We jumped in the car and followed it up to the top. “Cormac!”
His response, “You must be Katherine. Ready to fly?” It was clear at last. Katherine shot me a glance that said, “I hate surprises” before getting harnessed in. The wind picked up; off they went!
I met them 20 minutes later down at the beach. “How was it?” I asked. “Peaceful” was not my expected response, but Katherine loved it none-the-less.
“You ready to go?” Cormac asked me. “Let’s do it.” We all drove back up to the ridge.
The two of us harnessed up, went over some brief instructions (it wasn’t my first rodeo) — and as soon as the wind picked up, started running off the side of the mountain.
Four strides in; we were airborne. “WHOOOOHOOOOOO!”
The cool breeze perfectly complimented the warm sun; the sky’s blue barely contrasted the ocean’s turquoise hue. We were soaring over paradise.
Once we got out over the beach, Cormac shook things up a bit, sending our craft into a glee-inducing downward spiral. We wrapped a dozen rotations around an imaginary pole, whooping and hollering the entire time. Though they were just ants, the entire population must have been looking up from below.
We leveled out after that — lining up an imaginary runway over the beach.
People appeared as specks on the beach below. (Photo by @cormacpara.)
The specks below grew into people as rapidly as our descent. “3... 2... 1... FLARE!” Our feet plunged into the soft sand; pieces of the beach exploded around us as Cormac and I ran in tandem. Moments later our wing was down, but our spirits were high. This was living life.
The rest of our weekend was filled with good food, long naps, and a deep desire to take paragliding lessons — making for the perfect birthday getaway.
Camping gear. The more comfortable, the better. You won’t have to hike far, if at all.
Lots of delicious food. I normally eat the freeze-dried fare in the backcountry, so bacon-wrapped sausages were a tasty, inexpensive, and did I say — delicious? — improvement.
Follow the directions in Wes’s article.
Prewitt Ridge is dog-friendly, so don’t hesitate to bring your pooch. Unlike most places they can even run around off-leash, but if your dog steals your Kimera Koffee, you may have to get them back in line. Give it back, Sadie!
There’s a lot to do in the area. Paragliding, spearfishing, surfing, hiking, hot springs, SUP. Pick your poison.
The Snow Peak Hozuki Lantern 2.0 ($99) provided much more pleasant lighting than a headlamp, or the $600 Big Agnes Gilpin Falls Powerhouse 4 mtnGLO’s built-in LEDs. The name is easier to remember too.
The first night we arrived to Prewitt Ridge pretty late; most of the good (good being relative here) campsites were already claimed. We nabbed the best one around the following morning when its previous occupants left. Get there early to get the best spots.
Photos: Chris Brinlee, Jr., unless otherwise noted.
IndefinitelyWild is a new publication about adventure travel in the outdoors, the vehicles and gear that get us there and the people we meet along the way. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.