Senate candidate shares story of hang-gliding off Denali
By Polly Lynn Mikula
Summiting Denali in Alaska, the nation’s tallest peak at 20,310-feet, is a feat only the toughest and most daring
adventurers even attempt. Rochester resident and Windsor County senate candidate Mason “Cloud” Wade not only summited the peak, he did it carrying a hang-glider – and then flew off the top! He was part of the first, and only, Mount McKinley hang-gliding expedition on June 2, 1976, he told the Mountain Times. (Mount McKinley’s name was officially changed back to its native name, Denali, in 2015.)
“It was an all-Alaskan expedition,” said Wade, who grew up in Alaska and was 20 years old at the time, according to and AP story on the hang-gliding feat published in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner June 3, 1976.
“We were just local boys and girls deciding that they’d climb Mount McKinley with more equipment than has ever been taken to the summit,” he said of carrying gliders. “Back home, there was a lot of gambling on us – on whether we’d make it or not. Keep in mind, we were doing this before extreme sports were even talked about… the story actually got more press in Europe than in America,” he said, noting that mountaineering culture has a longer history there.
Wade was one of four pilots on the expedition, which included 12 people, two of whom were women. “Most of the crew summited, but that wasn’t the mission. The mission was to fly gliders from summit,” he said.
“I owned the largest ultralight hang-gliding shop in Alaska,” Wade noted. It was called “Klean Fun Kites” and located in Anchorage.
(Wade’s nickname, “Cloud,” which appears on the ballot, is a reference to his days of flying “with my head in the clouds,” he said.)
After almost a month on the slope of Denali, they reached the summit. However, there was “no wind and a settling air,” he said. “The conditions were bad for flying.” But the forecast didn’t look good; they decided to go for it anyway.
The plan was for the four hang-gliding pilots to fly “in formation” so they took off quickly one after the other. Robert Burns was the first pilot. Shortly after he took off he clipped the cornice with his wing, Wade said. The Daily News-Miner reported it as “despite a brush with some rocks Robet Burns soared into the air Wednesday night to become the first man ever to hang glide off the top of Mount McKinley.” Despite the rough start, Burns successfully glided 30 minutes down to the 7,000-foot level, as “Alaskan’s summer midnight sun illuminated the dazzling terrain,” the Daily News-Miner reported.
Wade, who did not see Burns clip the cornice, took off moments later, but was not as lucky.
“I lifted my feet as I went into dive, which was the technique I used, not knowing that the first pilot had hit the cornice,” he said. “I hit cornice, too, then cartwheeled down the South Face of Mount McKinley, a 10,000-foot vertical face.”
Luckily, “a piece of glider stuck to pieces of snow in between pinnacles of rocks and stopped me. The glider crunched around me,” he said. He had crashed only 800 feet from the summit, according to a report by ABC Sports.
A rescue mission ensued. “A story for another time,” Wade said.
The other two pilots didn’t attempt the flight that day, but two days later they had very successful flights, soaring 300 feet above the summit with air drafts before descending, Wade reported.
The senate race
“Today, this is another race to summit,” he said. “Running as independent for Windsor County’s senate seat is a huge mountain to climb. But I know how to get to the summit.”
“This race is about Vermonters taking responsibility for Vermonters,” he continued. “There is a groundswell of Vermonters ready to elect an educator, to elect an independent.
“I’m a team-player, I know that from climbing Mount McKinley… It’s been over 40 years since the expedition and now I live off the grid in ‘little Alaska’… I’m a homesteader. I’m quiet. There’s a reason why I live in the national forest. But I wanted to share this story now, so voters know that I’m a guy who knows how to get to the top.”