Flying Off Mexico’s Highest Peak With (Almost) Zero Experience

Cedar Wright and Matt Segal are not new names in the adventure world. Both are professional climbers who have been sending it on the most difficult cliffs and crags, with more than 43 years of experience between them. But last year, they decided to become beginners again and start at square one, learning how to paraglide. The result? Wright’s new film, Fledglings, and a lot of lessons about what it means to be humble, aim high, and take a few falls.

“I wanted my experience of learning to paraglide to be a testament that every expert was a bumbling beginner at one point,” Wright says. “I’ve been climbing for 25 years — at that point your relationship changes with a sport. I’m passionate about it, but learning to paraglide brought back that insatiable obsession that you get when you find something fresh. It captured my imagination and I couldn’t help myself — it is a beautiful discovery to be able to learn to improve every day.”

Only nine months after Wright and Segal started paragliding training with professional pilot and coach Matt Henzi, they set their sights on their first air expedition: being the first people to paraglide off the summit of Mexico’s tallest mountain — the 18,491-foot Pico De Orizaba. “Like all great modern adventures, it started with a Google search. I searched ‘really big volcanoes’ and thought Orizaba looked perfect.”

But it wasn’t going to be easy to the summit from square one. “I think that when you’re new to something it’s easy to put constraints on yourself and not dream big enough, but I wanted to prove that even as an amateur you can pull off something that’s amazing,” Wright says. “But learning to paraglide was such a humbling thing. When we started I couldn’t even get the parachute over my head.”

After crashes into trees, out-of-control spiraling in the air, countless hard landings, and failed takeoffs in their short time as paragliders, Wright and Segal certainly seemed to be aiming high and risky when they chose Orizaba. Launching off the summit of a mountain into a Jetstream of air was not going to be easy to pull off. “I was super nervous,” says Wright. “All I could think was, ‘Holy crap, we’re at 18,000 feet and we need to keep our shit together.’ ”

And they did. The team launched and descended over 9,000 feet over the course of about 25 minutes, landing about 10 miles away from the summit. “It was a cathartic, rapturous flight,” says Wright. “The odds were stacked against us, and we pulled it off.”

That kind of reclamation to the joy of sports and adventure is what Segal and Wright hope to inspire with the Fledglings project. “It’s good for all of us to try something new. What’s a better feeling than to be excited to learn?”

An extended version of Fledglings is set to premiere at the Telluride Film Festival, which will be held September 2–5. In the meantime, Wright says he plans to continue flying down mountains and cliffs, instead of hiking and rappelling. “I never have to dread going back down a mountain again — I just get to fly away.”