Written By Linda Bausch
If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard someone say, “I want to go skydiving.” I bet I’d have a hundred dollars (probably more), and every time my reply would be short and certain, “Not me!” and I meant it. I couldn’t imagine having the courage to step out of a ‘perfectly good airplane’ and tumble to earth, with-or-without someone strapped very tightly to my back.
A couple of years ago, I went with some brave friends to watch them jump, while my feet remained firmly on the ground. My heart pounded as I watched the tiny plane climb high into the Northern California sky. Eventually, the door of the plane opened. I could barely see them, but soon enough, their descent was apparent. Watching the free fall took my breath away—until the chute opened and they slowed to a gentle float. It took what felt like minutes to me, for them to slowly return to the ground. That day changed my mind. I couldn’t wait my turn to skydive, if only I had the courage . . . maybe, someday.
Recently, while conducting research for a novel, which takes place in the majestic Yosemite Valley, up to Hetch Hetchy, and beyond, I wanted to refresh my memory of the lay of the land to create accurate descriptions. (My first trip to Yosemite was at age four, from then, until well into my teenage years, my family spent two weeks, every summer, in and around Yosemite.) At first I used Google Earth for my research. The ground level and aerial views were helpful; I could see the birds eye view—virtually. The visual fell flat. I was missing something . . . something real. Suddenly it hit me—what if I could see it for myself—as the crow flies? I wondered, could I skydive at Yosemite?
Already sitting at the computer, I put two words in the search bar and BINGO! Skydive Yosemite popped up at the top of the page. It was the only skydiving option with views of the iconic valley. I called the 800 number, and the owner picked up. Paul Wignall answered the long list of questions I nervously rattled off. He was an experienced skydiver with many solo and tandem jumps to his credit. Paul’s expertise, confidence, and kind manner made me comfortable from the start. I told him my plan to see Yosemite Valley and Hetch Hetchy from above. Paul assured me the pilot would fly that direction for me and it would be easy to see. While I listened, I thought, it’s now or never. In order to commit, I had to stop thinking and let my intuition to trust Paul take hold.
Two weeks later, I made the scenic, three-hour drive from Napa to the Mariposa-Yosemite Airport. Paul, and his wife, Julia, greeted me with warm hospitality. Their son and his faithful, canine companion did the same, keeping me company with hot wheels and water color paints, while Paul took care of details and Julia gave her attention to the parachutes she was packing for our adventure. Our pilot, Luke watched on.
John, my tandem partner, introduced himself. His wide smile was my first clue to how much he enjoyed his job. He soon began the task of preparing me for the experience of my life. John’s instruction technique has been well-honed over years. Every few minutes, in a calm tone, he told me what to expect and how to go through the motions, in the plane and throughout the jump. The one thing keeping my (hopefully, invisible) fear at bay, was knowing John wanted to go home at the end of the day––just like me.
We were joined by another first time skydiver, Laura Wattles, Communications Manager of Yosemite Mariposa County Tourism Bureau. She was on an important mission, to see the effects of the recent fires, in-person. Paul would be Laura’s tandem partner. Laura and I bonded over the enormity of what we were about to do; we became Sky Sisters. Right on schedule, we climbed into the tiny plane and settled in for the ride. John and I were the last ones in; do you know what that means? We’ll be the first ones out. Oh man, it’s getting real now.
Paul and John connected their harnesses to ours, securing the day’s precious cargo. While the plane climbed we took in every glorious inch of scenery, from Yosemite Valley’s granite cliffs to the multitude of scorched mountains stretching toward the horizon. We considered the rejuvenation which was soon to begin and marveled at the areas that had not burned.
Before we knew it, the plane was cruising at fourteen thousand feet. We were so high up that Half Dome looked a half-inch high. Every couple of minutes, John pulled our straps a little tighter. In time we were so snug our breathing synchronized, by then, I had to face reality . . . everything John had said to me the past hour was about to happen. Again, he started at the beginning. “The pilot is going to reach in front of you . . .” and he did, Luke reached in front of me and opened the cockpit door. Above the sudden roar and rush of air that matched my adrenaline, I heard John say, “Swing your feet out.” Like a robot, I did. My eyes were squeezed tight. My grip on the shoulder straps was more like a strangle hold. My eyes were still shut; I didn’t need to see what was about to happen. John said, “Scoot up.” I did. My eyes were shut tighter still. “Lean back—into my shoulder. Hold the straps. Relax,” he said. Despite my fear, I relaxed . . . and out we went.
The free fall was exhilarating, and scary, as I imagined it would be. I did open my eyes for a split-second, and closed them just a quickly, as we sped downward. With a tug of the ripcord, our descent jolted to a stop as the chute opened. The sudden change from a dead-weight free fall to feeling like a bird with wings of an angel was unforgettable. I immediately opened my eyes and took it all in. The gentle wind over the valley gave John time to stretch our descent into a luxurious memory I’ll never forget. We might have been the first ones out, but we were the last ones down! Thanks, John.
It really was as simple as that . . . The professionals at Skydive Yosemite, Paul, Julia, John, and, Luke helped me check off a terrifying, bucket-list bullet-point. When I watch the video John made throughout my visit––I looked pretty calm––and I was, on the outside. On the inside, I was shaking like a leaf. But, there was nothing to be nervous about and I will never wonder if I have courage again.
If you ever wanted to skydive, whether you thought you would, or thought you could not, it was much easier, and much more exciting, than I ever imagined.
Be Brave . . . Skydive Yosemite.
Linda Bausch is a published author and journalist from Napa Valley. She is a regular contributor to Napa Valley MarketPlace Magazine. She is currently working on her first novel, Amethyst for Pearls, with her co-author, Derek Everhart, while conducting research for the second, titled, The Trailhead. See samples of their work at napavalleyauthors.com
On the far left are owners Paul and Julia with their son, Waylon, and pup, Bandido.
A good reason to jump out of a plane…
Skydive Yosemite is a unique business that offers quality skydives with some of the best views of Yosemite National Park and Yosemite Valley. The family-owned business was established in the fall of 2017 by Paul and Julia Wignall. Paul and Julia met while working in Yosemite Valley in the mid 90’s. Both Paul and Julia had a passion for rock climbing and adventure. Years later they began skydiving and were married near the Yosemite area. Working in the skydive industry at several of the top skydive centers in the USA, Julia and Paul had a plan. “We had our eye on the Mariposa-Yosemite Airport for 8 years to open a skydive center with some of the best views on earth” said Paul. It made sense, the airport is the closest airport to Yosemite Valley and is a perfect fit for a skydiving operation. Learn more about Paul and Julia in our video below.
With jumps starting at $175 you’ll get an introduction to human flight along with some of the most spectacular views on earth. If you’re up for a truly unique way to experience Yosemite’s incredible beauty, Skydive Yosemite is open year round for reservations 7 days a week. Same day jumps without reservations are possible, but availability cannot be guaranteed. Experience freefall with a USPA Certified Tandem Skydive Instructor at Yosemite Skydive.
More information about Skydive Yosemite.
Whether it’s rafting big water on the Merced River or climbing big walls like El Capitan, mountain biking down a gonzo fire road in the Sierra National Forest or skydiving from 14,000 feet as Half Dome stands guard in the distance, Yosemite Mariposa is a prime destination for all thrill levels and budgets.
One of California’s secret fishing destinations, sun-soaked Lake McClure and its little brother Lake McSwain are nestled in the oak-studded Sierra foothills on the western edge of Mariposa County.