Posted: Nov 1, 2012 10:28 AM by Dennis Bragg - MTN News
Updated: Nov 1, 2012 10:33 AM
MISSOULA - Just driving through the winding "S curves" on U.S. Highway 93 south of Missoula can be an adventure for some folks, with the narrow, winding lanes and heavy traffic.
But for a Stevensville balloonist, navigating the "narrows" over the Bitterroot River was all part of the fun.
Michael Rees has been flying in the Northern Rockies for 30 years, so he's used to "close quarters" while aloft.
But for people driving Highway 93, or watching from the hills above the Bitterroot on Wednesday morning, Rees' flight had all the appearance of something going wrong.
He lifted off from Lolo School and planned to fly north into the Missoula Valley. But as he rounded the corner above the Miller Creek hills, he was greeted with the valley floor socked in with fog.
That meant he had to slow his progress, letting him take advantage of various temperature layers close to the ground, dropping right down to the surface of the river. And with the deer scattering, Rees expertly dropped the balloon right between the trees.
"The closest I could get was about six inches at one point, just floating along like I was in a raft. Another top of fly fishing you might say," Rees said.
"Actually every chance I can get and I'm over a body of water, I will come down and sometimes actually skim, with the skids on the bottom of the basket, just touch it with the skids. And that's part of the flight experience we give for passengers. And yeah, we've done this a lot," he added.
When asked if the trip might have looked unusual to bystanders, but was just part of the experience for him, Rees said that, "it was a hoot."
But the adventure was still a case of watching the progress carefully.
"It was going, going and then, no your going to snag the tree if you don't get off the water," Rees explained.
He gained elevation and touched down as the fog cleared above Fort Missoula. He hadn't flown in the Missoula Valley since the mid 1980s because the airspace is complicated, and there are fewer landing spots.
But today's Halloween flight turned out to be more "treat" than "tricky".