WHISKEY PEAK, Wyo. - Two hang-glider pilots ran into the air off the top of Whiskey Peak one day last summer and began circling over treetops. Just 20 minutes later they were soaring at 16,000 feet.
"You just catch a thermal and blow
downwind," said Kevin Christopherson, who set two world distance
records from the peak: a 245-mile flight and then a 287-mile
flight. Both times he landed in South Dakota. Other fliers have
landed in places as far-flung as Kemmerer on Wyoming's western
border; Manila, Utah; Walden, Colo.; and Busby, Mont.,
Wind and topography make
Whiskey Peak one of the best hang-gliding spots on the planet
because gliders can launch into the wind from three directions. But
gliders aren't alone on this 9,200-foot peak. The mountain also
provides a home for elk, wild horses and cows; water for the little
oil-producing town of Bairoil; and a spot for a booster tower for
cellular phones. And some Native Americans say the place is
Unfortunately, the area is particularly
vulnerable to erosion, which sends choking silt into streams.
Erosion worsens considerably when humans in four-wheelers leave
many of the roads and two-tracks created during the uranium mining
boom in the 1970s and drive across open country.
To shield the elk during spring calving, and
also to keep vehicles off roads when conditions are muddiest, the
Bureau of Land Management in recent years restricted access to the
peak between June and December. That left the hang-glider pilots
unhappy. "We lost half our season," complained the pilots.
Previously, they'd made flights from the peak from April through
The BLM has the job of protecting the area
and at the same time ensuring that no legitimate uses get excluded.
This winter, the Lander, Wyo., office of the BLM will write an
environmental assessment sorting out the various uses of the
The main question is which of three bad
roads should be improved to allow better access to the top. Agency
officials hope that fixing one road and closing off the other two
will protect the elk and reduce erosion while still allowing the
hang-glider pilots their full season.
end at an open, three-sided, concave bowl at the top of the peak.
Depending on the wind, hang gliders launch from points at the
north, southeast, and southwest corners of the bowl. Faint
two-tracks now lead to the north and southeast corners, while a
better road leads to the more frequently used southwest launch
Christopherson said the hang-glider pilots
will be satisfied if they can drive to the two southern corners of
the bowl. The walk from the southeastern corner to the northern
corner is fairly flat and short. "We just don't want to lose
anything," he said.
BLM officials say spring
flying should again be possible. It will mean substantial
improvement of one of the three routes, and at the same time using
buck-and-pole fences and strategically placed boulders to curb
"The main thing is to
keep people from bailing off and trying to pioneer new roads down
through the timber" on the north slope of Whiskey Ridge, said Sue
Oberlie, a wildlife biologist with the
Confining vehicles to the top of the ridge,
stopping new roads and reclaiming old ones should protect both the
elk and the fish in creeks on the north slope, Oberlie said. With
roads pioneered all over the place, she said, new gullies send dirt
into creeks, which ruins the spawning habitat for
For more information, contact Ray Hanson,
Bureau of Land Management, 1300 N. Third St., Rawlins, WY 82301
Tom Rea writes from