The Legacy Fly Girls of Dog Mountain, Washington: Fly Like a Girl!

Meet the community of female pilots at Dog Mountain in Washington--some of whom have been hang gliding at the site for over 30 years!

By C.J. Sturtevant, with Tina Jorgensen, Jasmine Jorgensen and Kerie Swepston
Originally published in USHPA Pilot, November/December 2019

Dog Mt., over its 40-something years as a hang gliding site, has launched the flying careers of dozens of women pilots, easing them from their training hill hops into the beautiful western Washington skies. But of those dozens, only four of us have continued to log flights at Dog for more than three decades. Meet the four Legacy Fly Girls of Dog Mountain!

Back in the Day

Pilots at Dog Mountain
Tina, Jazzy, Kerie and C.J. on the west launch ramp, with Riffe Lake in the background and Dogpatch hidden by the trees below Kerie. Photo by Jagur Swepston

On March 27, 1983, C.J. was a newly fledged hang glider pilot, with 53 flights, mostly short hops on the training hill and sledders from Barr Mt., her closest-to-home H-2 practice site. She’d accumulated 95 minutes of airtime, and met only one other woman pilot, who’d promptly advised her that she was “too old” (36) and “too short” (5’ nothing) to be a hang glider pilot. But her instructor Chuck assured her that she, with a brand-new 134 Gemini, and her husband George, with the ElectraFlyer Dove they’d been sharing for the past year, were ready to soar; Chuck organized a "road trip" to Dog Mt., a two-hour drive south and the NW’s friendliest, most reliable soaring site for new pilots. “The site seemed crowded to me,” C.J. recalls, “and when a young lady, 15 years my junior and at least 5” taller than I, walked toward me, I mentally raised my shields and prepared for another put-down.

“How wrong I was! Tina Jorgensen, flying a Wills Wing Harrier and exuding a confidence that I could only hope to emulate someday, was then and remains now one of the most welcoming and inclusive pilots I’ve encountered in my decades of flying!”

Tina was, in fact, the first one of us to become a Dog Mt. Fly Girl--she learned to hang glide in 1980, along with her husband Larry but, she says, “It took me about a whole year to learn, and I didn’t fly off Dog till 1981.” Her training glider was a Raven, way too big and tail heavy for her to handle comfortably, so she switched instructors and gliders, and found “a 194 Firefly, and a different teaching style, worked so much better!”

Tina in the Dogpatch LZ
Tina in the Dogpatch LZ on a busy day at Dog. Photo courtesy of Tina Jorgensen

Larry was (“typically!” grins Tina) a much faster learner, and was soon flying a Comet and acting as Tina’s mentor. “I was only allowed to do sledders for months,” she recalls--"five sledders a day, from Dog Mt.’s north launch to the North Field LZ, flying on the uprights all the way." She never went to the basetube on any of those flights, and, she admits, when Larry finally suggested she make the transfer, she found it frighteningly disorienting.

Tina and Larry have been a regular presence at Dog ever since those early days—it’s their home site, and they’ve enjoyed thousands of flights there over the ensuing almost-four decades. They recently bought a home on an airstrip just 10 minutes from the Dogpatch LZ, from which Larry flies his Dragonfly, often towing Tina up for an early morning flight, or cruising over to Dog in his Cessna to check out conditions before making plans for the day’s flying.

What kept them coming back to Dog in those early years, Tina points out, was being able to camp at Dogpatch, on the bank of Riffe Lake, spending the weekend at the flying site. “We were really poor,” Tina explains, adding that they’d had to take out a bank loan to buy their first gliders. “We loved that we could stay all weekend, loved the hang gliding community, made lots of close friends. Even if we ended up sitting around the campfire under a blue tarp in the rain, we loved it!” They loved the Dog Mt. flying scene so much that they rarely traveled to other sites.

But, Tina admits, she didn’t actually love hang gliding for the first three years or so; she stuck with it, though, even though she described it as “almost torturously scary.” It was the support and friendship of the Dog Mt. community that gradually brought out the fun factor and suppressed her trepidation. “My Dog Mt. friends were so patient,” she says, “and everyone was really helpful with critiques and suggestions.” It was the friendship factor that lured this young lady into the hang gliding community, and, she admits, that’s still one of the main attractions to a sport that she now finds almost addicting.

Kerie’s introduction to Dog Mountain had nothing to do with hang gliding: As a teenager in 1987, just after her high school graduation, she’d gone camping with her family at Riffe Lake, waterskiing and just enjoying being at the beach. Her sister’s in-laws were intrigued by the hang gliders coming down to land, and after chatting with the pilots, they both eventually took lessons at the Oregon-coast training site at Cape Kiwanda. The next time Kerie went to Dog, it was to watch her extended family take their first altitude flights, and to drive their car down after they’d launched. As it turned out, that day was an unexpected game changer.

Her now-husband Aaron was on launch, preparing to demo a new Magic Kiss. Tandem pilot Kamron was also there, waiting for his tandem passenger who never showed. Kerie was SO not looking forward to driving down that narrow, rocky, blind-cornered road from launch, that when Kamron offered to fly her down for half price, “that seemed less scary than driving,” she laughs, and thus it began.

Her immediate reaction on that first flight was, “Wow!! You just can’t get a view like this from the ground!” Kerie’s sister, who was waiting in the LZ, was immediately infected with the family’s new-found enthusiasm for hang gliding, and both girls decided to learn to fly.

Tina recalls meeting Kerie on one of Kerie's first days at Dog; Kerie clearly remembers meeting Tina and her two-year-old daughter, Jazzy, the Dog Mt. Princess in pink high-top sneakers. But it was Aaron who really captured Kerie’s attention, when he offered to take her for a flight on his new tandem glider next time she was at Dog.

The next weekend found Kerie and her family back at Dog, once again focused on airtime rather than beach time. Kerie’s sister’s tandem flight was a disappointment--she got airsick and decided hang gliding wasn’t for her. Kerie, however, kept going to Dog, flying tandem and hanging out with Aaron; a few weeks later, when Aaron headed to Telluride to compete, Kerie went with him. That was in 1988; they’ve been together ever since.

Aaron was offered a job at PacAir in northern California, but wasn’t willing to take it unless Kerie went with him. So Kerie quit school and they moved to California in December; both were working at PacAir, where she was able to take hang gliding lessons at the beach. They were married in 1989, with Jazzy as their flower girl.

Although Aaron had been flying the Pacific Airwaves Magic Kiss for a while, he had yet to fall in love with that glider. When he demoed a Wills Wing AT during Demo Days at Fort Funston, however, it was love at first flight. He and Kerie quit their jobs at PacAir and came home to the NW.

Kerie had learned to fly on the dunes in California, earning her H-1 rating, but had not advanced to flying from altitude. As soon as she and Aaron returned to the Pacific Northwest, they were back flying tandem at Dog while Kerie worked on her foot-launch skills on the training hill. In 1990, Kerie did her first solo altitude flight at Dog, on a Lazor. Like Tina, she was launching from the north side and flying to the North Field LZ, because Riffe Lake was dammed in summer, putting the Dogpatch LZ under water until the dam was opened each fall. The Swepstons became Dog Mt. regulars that summer, camping near the lake, flying almost every weekend. Once the water went down in the fall, the west launch and the Dogpatch LZ defined the beginning and end of most flights.

Thirty-three-year-old Jasmine Jorgensen has been flying at Dog, off and on, for, well, 33 years--she’s Tina and Larry’s oldest daughter, and since Tina didn’t set aside hang gliding until well into her pregnancy, (only because, Tina says, lying on the baby bump in a harness made airtime more unpleasant than fun), we all consider Jazzy qualified as a Legacy Dog Mt. Fly Girl!

Launching Dog Mountain
Jazzy launches her Falcon from the west ramp, with Kerie and Tina looking on. Photo by Aaron Swepston

When she was four, Jazzy flew tandem with her dad; later, when she was big enough to handle a glider on her own, Larry taught her to fly. “We smoked the course!” laughs Jazzy, but Larry deemed his young daughter still too immature to handle the responsibilities of solo flying. So Jazzy immersed herself in high school activities: varsity cheerleading, Miss Washington Teen USA, some college courses, a busy social calendar. “Flying took a back seat while I lived the teenage life,” Jazzy summarizes.

But after high school, “I got the flying bug again,” she recalls, and she went back to the training hill with her dad. Very soon she was ready for her first altitude flight--“at Dog, of course!,” she says, but while waiting for conditions suitable for a brand-new pilot, she crashed a dirt bike on the back side of Dog, fracturing her knee and tearing her ACL, resulting in more than a year of casts and braces and orthopedic surgeries. Once again, her flying was on hold.

So, she says, “I went back to college, got married and had my first baby, Hazel Skye, born May 5, 2012.” Hazel was introduced to the Dog community when she was eight days old; she and Jazzy spent most weekends at Dog, where Jazzy enjoyed being (and was much appreciated as) the driver.

“It was very nostalgic,” Jazzy muses, finding parallels between her young adulthood and Tina’s. “Motherhood brought my life full circle,” she states, “and I knew it was MY time to fly. I finally had my first altitude flight off Dog Mountain in March of 2013. I celebrated in the LZ by nursing my very hungry baby.”

Since then she and her young family have moved numerous times, but she’s managed to accumulate about 150 flights. Like her mom, Jazzy was able to fly until she was six months pregnant, and then her family moved to Alaska. “Palmer was born in March 2016, and I got back in the air when I moved back to Washington when he was one month old,” Jazzy recalls. Soon after, she went through divorce, but “I’ve managed to get airborne frequently since then, thanks to my parents Tina and Larry and my amazing Dog family village,” she states.

These days Jazzy is an uber-busy mom to four young children, but she still shows up, her blended-family kids in tow, to fly Dog as often as she can.

Major Challenges in the Early Days

“Truth be told,” C.J. reminisces, “when I took my first hang gliding lessons, I never imagined that I’d still be flying 36 years later! But the more I flew--the more new sites I visited, new friends I met, new challenges that opened as my skills advanced--the more I realized that hang gliding is an activity that I, a basically low-key-competitive outdoor enthusiast, could really get into. On the ground, I have trouble keeping the pace of most other hikers or rock climbers or backpackers. But in the air, as my skills developed, I discovered that I could keep up; in my tiny glider, I could often outclimb the guys in the light thermals. One of my most grin-inducing radio transmissions from my early thermaling days: ‘C.J., come down and fly with the big boys!’” Even during her years traveling and competing, Dog Mt. was the home site for C.J.’s launch and landing tune-ups, and for dialing into a new glider.

Kerie had learned at the beach in California; transitioning to flying inland, on a not-steep slope with light wind, was challenging, but she credits those training-hill conditions for her developing textbook-perfect launch skills. As for landing. “The North Field LZ was typically punchy,” she recalls, but early on Aaron had advised her, “If it hits you, hit it back!” Kerie remembers coming in on a particularly rough day, getting rocked around but repeating to herself, “Hit it back! I’m going to go where I want to go, not where it turns me!”

And, she adds, Tina’s presence through all of those early-years challenges was a huge confidence inspirer. “Land like a girl!” became a thing--both Tina and Kerie are renowned for consistently sticking their landings, even in tough conditions, and many guys have been heard to grumble after a not-so-graceful touchdown, “Wish I could land like a girl!”

Jazzy, tongue in cheek, declares, “My biggest challenge will forever be tearing down my glider correctly in a timely fashion!” On a more serious note, she adds, “A unique challenge was, and still is, having my parents as my instructors. They are my biggest fans and my strongest critics to keep me safe.” She also spells out the motherhood challenges that she shares with Tina and Kerie: “Being pregnant, breastfeeding, and having small children definitely present some unique challenges for hang gliding moms. Your body changes but your harness does not. And does anyone else fly with a breast pump?”

She’s also uber-particular about the conditions she’ll fly in--“Not only the wind and weather but also how I’m feeling physically and emotionally. I do my best to come to launch with a clear mind, in good health and ready to focus on flying. I’m definitely very cautious and want to be a really good pilot for my own safety because those little people rely on me. I can’t afford a broken downtube or broken arm!” Jazzy, like Tina and Kerie, consistently lands “like a girl!”

A Decades-long Love Affair

On launch
Kerie, C.J., Tina and Jazzy on Dog launch, with Tina’s glider as background, Sept. 1, 2019. Photo by Jagur Swepston

C.J. admits that, “In truth, that down-putting pilot was, back in 1982, not totally spouting groundsuck. The ‘too old’ part was clearly a crock of BS for my first three decades of flying, but being ‘too short’ has always been one of my greatest challenges. Downtubes are typically longer than I am tall, and having short arms leads to less flare authority. Landing a hang glider has never been one of my strengths as a pilot, and now that I’m 36 years older than that original ‘too old’ label, I find the H-2 friendliness of Dog Mt. to fit my current hang gliding style just fine.”

Tina rolls her eyes when she looks back on those early days at Dog. “When I was finally allowed to go to the basetube en route to the North Field LZ, I freaked out!” she says. “I couldn’t do it! The perspective was so different, so weird, that I had a hard time making the change.” She eventually managed it, obviously, and went on to become an accomplished thermal pilot, and an XC enthusiast at Chelan.

These days, though, she no longer enjoys XC’s challenges, or “the increased risks,” she points out. “I fly for my own enjoyment—I can’t believe we can fly around for hours without power, with such amazing views of the beautiful areas where we soar.” Dog Mt. provides stunning vistas of two of the NW’s iconic volcanoes, Mt. Rainier and Mt. Adams, from just a few hundred feet over takeoff.

Kerie cites the Dog community as a huge reason that she and Aaron first started going there on a regular basis: “In the beginning, it was all about the community at Dog, always about the friends. And the flying is so consistent, you can almost always count on getting a flight.” Kerie states, and we all agree, that Dog Mt. is where women pilots “are acknowledged and encouraged, no patronizing or put downs. Fly like a girl! We never feel that we have to prove ourselves as pilots--this is our place!”

Like Tina, Kerie didn’t give up flying until near the end of both her pregnancies; after their kids were born, they’d take turns flying and watching the youngsters. Kerie stepped aside from hang gliding very briefly during her breast cancer treatment: She was back in the air just six weeks after her double mastectomy, and continued to fly through chemotherapy, as long as she felt physically able. Dog Mt. has a special place in her heart--not only for the aforementioned friends and the community and the consistent flying, but also, she says, it’s “such a beautiful setting, and the birds!” that draw her and Aaron to Dog Mt. again and again.

Jazzy recalls her childhood days as the Princess of Dog Mt.: “My Dog Mountain family has existed since before I was born! I have shared more holidays, birthdays, and major milestones with my DOG PEOPLE than with my actual relatives, or my friends outside of flying. I had the best childhood you could ask for, playing like a feral orphan in the LZ at Dog. I’ve built incredible forts among the biggest stumps in the world. Dug to China. Had many mud baths. Experienced some truly epic bonfires. I’ve met people from all around the world, from all walks of life, and those experiences have truly shaped me in a positive way. Watching my own children have those same experiences in the same location is surreal.

“Hang gliding is part of my self-care now as a mother,” she continues, pointing out that her own mother, Tina, is her hero, her role model. “I think it makes me a better person to have such a healthy hobby. I’m not just a mom, I’m a woman, I am a pilot. It wasn’t till I was about six that I realized hang gliding is not a typical sport in general,” she muses, “and even less so for women and mothers. Flying brings me where my people are, brings me so much peace. I’m so thankful for the Fly Girls of Dog Mt. and that standard they’ve set: FLY LIKE A GIRL!”

Brief Separations

There was a period in the ‘90s when Dog Mt. was not such a friendly place to fly: There were drugs, and guns, and frequent loud altercations that overpowered the formerly family-friendly atmosphere at Dogpatch, and hanging out there with their young families didn’t seem like a wise parenting choice for the Swepstons and the Jorgensens. We all flew other NW sites--Chelan, Tiger, Mt. Si, Rampart--sometimes camping together, strengthening our friendships along with our XC and thermal flying skills. C.J. and Kerie had begun competing and often traveled to sites that allowed them to hone their XC skills. Aaron and Kerie became hang gliding instructors in a NW co-op, for several years spending one weekend a month with students rather than on their own flying. They also started breeding and showing whippets, traveling to dog shows with their two youngsters, which also cut into their time to spend with the other Dog. Still, they’d fit in weekend daytrips to Dog often enough to still be considered “Dog regulars.”

Eventually the Dogpatch rowdies moved elsewhere and our Dog Mt. was once again a reasonable weekend destination. A while back Tina and Larry purchased property just a short drive from Dog and parked their trailer there, no longer camping at Dogpatch on most weekends. Both their daughters had learned to hang glide, so clan Jorgensen was still a regular presence at Dog. Jazzy’s early flying was mainly at Dog; she moved to Alaska with her family for a few years, but now that she’s returned to the NW, she’s once again a Dog Mt. regular.

And as the decades passed, Tina and C.J. gradually lost their enthusiasm for wrestling with rambunctious thermals and getting back late after a long flight. Aaron and Kerie still enjoy their summer “big air” XC-focused vacations in Chelan, but for Tina and C.J. the “mac- and-cheese” air at Dog, the less demanding launch and landing conditions, and of course their Dog Mt. friends, keep drawing them back to where they’d begun their flying careers, almost 40 years ago.

Looking Ahead

CJ Launching
C.J. gets airborne on her Falcon at the 2016 Frostbite fly-in. Photo by Jonathan Severdia

A few years back, the dam responsible for Riffe Lake’s annual flooding of Dogpatch developed some worrisome signs of weakness, and budget constraints have precluded its repair, at least for the time being. At first we rejoiced in having the Dogpatch LZ available all year long, but it’s turned out to be a mixed blessing. The annual flood had drowned the alders that sprout in the lakebed every summer, thus preventing the trees from getting established and creating a windshadow for Dogpatch. The high water level had also limited the beach camping options, and had carried away the debris left by careless campers. Now those alders are tall enough to disrupt the airflow in the LZ, and the site stewards Larry and Tina are in continuous discussion with the landowners, hoping to gain permission to remove the trees upwind of Dogpatch. And non-flyer campers have discovered the free lakeside camping, often arriving in large groups for weekend parties; fortunately, for the most part the campers are responsible, reasonable and respectful of our need to have our landing area remain unobstructed.

After all these years, the Dog Mt. flying community remains tight-knit and strong. Although you’ll rarely find the once-common groups of dozens of hang glider pilots on launch on a west-wind day, it’d be rare indeed to show up at Dog and find you’re the only hang pilot around. Weekday fliers post their plans via email and Facebook, so H-2s can connect with a (required) mentor, and arrange ride sharing up to launch through the locked gate. The annual Frostbite fly-in, held each spring to kick off the flying season and raise funds for site-use fees, draws pilots from around the Northwest, rain or shine, to Dogpatch for a weekend of feasting and flying and sharing tales around the campfire.

And there’s a new generation of Fly Girls who are becoming Dog regulars--on some days, there are as many women pilots in the air as there are men! And that’s the way it should be, at this beautiful western Washington site, where most of the guys are not embarrassed to admit that they aspire to “Fly like a girl! Land like a girl!”