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To fly like a bird... an old dream as humanity, since the invention
of delta-plane then paraglider, it became reality. If you still have
doubts, then read the following text rather...
The free flight was invented thirty years ago. The first wings then
made it possible just to go down from the mountains. But their performances
never ceased progressing, and it is today possible to flying up with
ascents (related to the wind and the heating of the sun), and to fly
hours and hours or to traverse a few hundred kilometers in only one
flight (it is what is called the cross or distance flight).
Then travelling while flying, mountains range to mountains range, by
landing in the evening where we begin to fly the next morning, is the
ultimate search of the free flight. It is what is called the bivouac
flight which is finally a very long air excursion and in total autonomy
with for single engine, the wind and the sun... and legs when precisely
the wind is too strong to fly.
The flight bivouac knew its cantor and prophet : Didier Favre. With
its delta wings, it had thus slowly been metamorphosed in a true vagrant
of the airs, and each year, (in years 80-90), he flight the through
the integral alpine range (read its book " le vagabond des airs
", Actes Sud). With paragliders, the practice of the bivouac flight
was simplified considerably, and is not reserved field to except specimens;
a parapente is indeed much lighter to carry, folded, it take place in
a simple bagback. Add necessaryies for bivouac, clothes and food for
a few days... and the live the adventure, therefore far where the wind
carries you ! But as marvellous as this way of travelling, few finally
practise it. Because this kind of flight remains very demanding as well
as physically and mentally.
From feft to right : John Silverster,
pakistani friend, Julien Wirtz, Gildas Moussali & Philippe
And if there is somewhere where the the bivouac flight adventure is
led to its paroxysm, it would be without any doubt the fabulous Himalayas
and Karakoram ranges. Gigantic mountains, incredible aerology, maximum
liability, but with the privilege to fly in some places without maps.
The bivouac flight in these high mountains is connected with exploratory
The Englishman John Silverster, great climber reconverted in paragliding
was first dared to defy Karakoram, revealing at the same time the incredible
potential of exploratory flight in this area. In France, Philippe Nodet,
Julien Wirtz and Gildas Moussali made since their favorite play-ground
in Karakoram area.
The bivouac flight in Karakoram, it's extreme paragliding practice at
sometimes more than 7000 meters hight by -15°C in mountainous areas
with an incredible meteorology. We are lucky today to live these adventures
through the stories of John and Philippe, their stories are incredible
and full of passion. Your attention please, the reading of these web
pages can take along you towards skies certainly sumptuous but in an
empty oxygen and icy. On the other hand, environment is full of contagious
John Silverster, the precursor :
: John at the
"3 lady's fingers" !
(1,47 mns / 8 Mo)
In the 1980's, I wasn't a flyer. but a climber, and 1988 saw me in
the Karakorum Himalayas, attempting the big wall of Bublimotin, a 6000m
rock tower in the Hunza valley, Pakistan. I had seen it for the first
time the year earlier, and tried to climb it alpine style, just 2 of
us moving fast with a single rope and the minimum of gear. But the effects
of altitude defeated us, so we made plans to come back the following
year as a big team, with lots of gear, portaledges
with which we planned to fly from the ridiculously small summit.
None of us had used a paraglider before, so we spent the 2 months prior
to the expedition teaching ourselves to fly. It was such good fun that
we seemed to do nothing else, and certainly didn't go climbing, what
with an expedition to organise and a mountain of gear to sort out. And
then, naturally, the obvious thing happened. We failed to climb our
mountain. Again! But I did manage to remember something about the unique
weather patterns that existed in that valley, conditions that would
allow me 13 years later to look down on the summit of Bublimotin, from
Crossing the Chatri La :
I leave the climb at 7200m, heading towards the white glider miles out
in front of me thats coming up fast from the depths of the valley, and
for once I wish I wasn't so high. I envy Eddie, in his bubble of warm
air, because up here at 7000m, the air is cold, numbingly cold, so cold
that I lean back as far as possible in my supine harness, hoping to
prevent the frozen air from reaching my face. I work my fingers mechanically
inside layered gloves, and when some feeling returns, I pull off the
clumsy outer ones, and pull open the back of the camera, stuffing the
used film inside my fleece. Then, pulling out a tail from the new film,
I am just about to slot it into my new camera when I hit violent air,
and grab for the brake handles. The camera thrashes wildely about my
harness, its open back flailing like a broken limb, whilst my fingers
relentlessly begin to freeze, hindering the major operation I am now
and the new film I have placed in my mouth begins to
freeze to my lips.
mns / 6,6 Mo)
We had niavely thought hypoxia was going to be the problem, but its
it's the COLD. As I join Eddies thermal, I feel sickened by
the strong lift I immediately encounter because I'm still too high and
I want down, to warmer air and sanity. So I leapfrop his climb and keep
going, almost chanting the magical number of 5500m, where the air is
warmer and recovery can happen. I reach the big ice face of Rakaposhi
with plenty of height, but get weak climbs coming up the ice, so that
Eddies glide comes in above me, and he has to wait whilst I climb up
past the huge seracs gaurding the upper snowfields. Then my vario goes
ballistic and we are together, one white and one yellow paraglider,
in the sky of the gods. They are all around us, 7788m Rakaposhi, 7200m
Diran, 7400mBojohagur and 7400mUltar, and some of them with only a single
ascent. Yet we, with our flimsy flying machines can visit them on a
whim. Totally unreal
Then the peace is broken by the radio
eddie's PTT is malfunctioning
again, probably due to the intense cold. For a few minutes I endure
the noise, futilely hoping it will go away, but eventually giving in
to the inevitable, I laboriously reach down into the back of my harness
to turn the thing off. Silence
but another day without radios.
I stare at the chain of mountains out in front, a line-up of the biggest
mothers in the world. It starts with Rakaposhi, with a connecting headwall
to Diran, followed 20 km further by Spantic, with its golden pillar
glowing in the intense sunlight
and then after 150km and countless
more summits, there is K2 and and Broad peak visible in the distance.
Looking at them through a flyers eyes is just amazing, a 150km 'ridge'
of snow covered mountains, with only one sign of weakness, the 100km
long river of ice flowing out of snow lake, which at 5000m is the lowest
point on the ridge. Some weakness!!
Back home in Britain, looking at maps around bar room tables, a Snow
lake crossing had seemed feasible. But not here, at 7500m, hanging under
a paraglider, and looking at the real thing! Now, it just seemed crazy.
Once again, the Himalayas had proved themselves to be bigger than man's
imagination, and as usual, I had totally under-estimated things. I had
no climbing equipment with me, not even an ice axe... and the stupidly
high cloudbase of 7600m meant that we were bound to be hypoxic, and
cold. But this high cloud base also opened up undreamed of new possibilities
crossing the headwall between Rakaposhi and Diran. !
Looking at the map which was conscientiously strapped to my leg, this
low point, this col, was 'only' 5500m
but it was also a 15km glide
away, over snow and ice!!! With todays tail wind, and gliding from 7500,
surely this was possible?My hypoxic brain was inclined to think so.
Rakaposhi to Chatri La pass
mns / 13,3 Mo)
Eddie and I joined up in a climb, wing tip to wing tip, and he shouted
across to me that he was heading back to the 'home' valley, frustrated
by his radio and the strong upper wind. As he headed back towards the
comfort of our brown desicated valley, I continued to climb in the thin
cold air, drifting out over the ice of the Minapin glacier, and trying
to calculate if the glide over the high col would work. Today did seem
like the perfect day, but I couldn't make a decision. Reaching the developing
cloud, flying out into the wispies, things suddenly became easy as intuition
or hypoxic summit fever took over. I turned my wing to face the snowy
summits, and started a long long glide.
Tucked into my harness, getting as low as possible, I watched the amazing
mountain wall get imperceptibly bigger until finally it filled the whole
horizon. Now there was nothing but white, both below and beyond me,
a monochrome broken only at the col by a bright cobalt sky. And that
is where I looked, fanatically, where white met blue, trying to judge
the angle of the glide. My whole being was focused on the col, which
remained static on the horizon as I glided on in the good (2m/sec down.
) air. I was thankful for such good air, but the glide was so marginal
that I worried about the sink getting worse, in which case I had no
chance of crossing the col, and would be forced to make a glacier landing.
And if I did make it, what would be on the otherside?Undoubtedly a glacier
how long? As I glided closer, the air got better, with only 1m/sec down,
and eventually a long straight glacier came into sight on the other
side of the range. It was still looking uncertain, but I started to
sit up in my harness to take photo's. And then a bend in the far glacier
came into view, and I knew that I would make it, relaxing into this
amazing situation, marveling at the unique snow fluting and bergshrunds
on the face below. I eventually crossing the Chatri La with maybe 200m
clearance, and glided off down the next glacier for a further 15 km,
crossing its snout with 1000m to spare.
And then I was shocked to see trees, huge pines lining the sides of
the valley, and I flew the lift for a further 30km to get back to civilisation,
and even a tarmaced road. . We hadn't seen such trees for the month
we had been flying on the north side of the range, and now, here on
the south side, the air coming up from the Indian plain was just moist
enough to give a little occasional rain. I had crossed the Karakorum!
The Chatri La isn't marked as such on any map, just
a spot height of 5315 between the Minapin and Hinarche glaciers, the
low point of the headwall. It isn't the sort of col anyone but the
most accomplished himalayan mountaineer would consider... so has probably
never been crossed... we couldn't find a name for it, so it became
the Chatri La... the local Hunza people's name for us, ' the umbrella
This is really only a beginning
a flight over the narrowest
part of the range that was almost only an extended glide. With the
knowledge that such glides over ice may be so good, the karakorum
looks like the ultimate aerial playground, challenging pilots with
it's plethora of routes waiting to be opened.
A trip in Hindou Kuch :
Philippe Nodet have been in North Pakistan in 2004 and 2005 with his
paraglider. He's one of the great specialist and share here his experience
of parapgider in high mountains of Karakoram :
I have practiced the paraglider for 16 years, intensely, passionately.
An obsession : the bivouac flight; It is art way to travelling with
paraglider, from climbs to climbs. In the evening, we are arriving where
we begin to fly the next morning, and if the aerological conditions
are not favorable for the flight, one has the choice between walk (flight
equipment, for bivouac, clothes and food do not exceed 25 kg) or meditation.
I traced my way through the Pyrenees, Alps, Moroccan Atlas, Tians shans
range (Kirghisie) in the two-seater with my wife in the Himalayas (From
Dharamsala to the Nepal border, that is to say 500kms in ten days).
The magic of the flight bivouac is to fly in space, of course, but perhaps
more still in the meetings people; From the sky, we are meetin pepope
with open arms, sometimes with people who had never seen tourists! Then
it is not rare that they claps their hands, by thanking us passionately.
I have two famous adventures companions, Gildas Moussali (who's yet
a sailor) and Julien Wirtz (also paraglider monitor in Prévol).
When we fly together, we are not joind by a rope but we are connected
only by radio. We discovered mountains of Karakoram together, the most
beautiful mountains of the earth, capped with a an incredible aerology.
In the karakoram, it is not rare to climb almost 4000 meters in less
than half hour, with the only power of thermics! We can fly at nearly
7000 meters, travelling 100 km in a day, on routes opened by famous
Shipton, Tilman and Thesiger... in some longs days walk !
Then we lived beautiful adventures, even more beautiful are waiting
us next months. The air exploration of North Pakistan is not finished
as Shipton wrote in " beyond this mountain ": " There
is so much to discover for explorers, in these mountains ranges, as
once in the game, it seems that it should never finish". We are
May 2004, Babaghundi in the Chapursan Valley :
No chances to fly over the Chilingi pass this time. Day after day,
the down wind has been blowing hard. We don't even know where it is
coming from as the sky is clear and there is no cloud drifting with
the wind. Could we try on foot? That would be madness. The pass is above
5000m on a glacier with plenty of crevasses and with our bags weighing
25 kilos each, it would take us a week to reach the first trail!
After 10 days of bivvy flying, we are stuck in this high valley at 3000m.,
between Afghanistan and China. In this remote part of the world, Alam
Jam Dario, a large blond guy who looks like a soldier of Alexander the
Great, has welcomed us home and has proved to be a poet, musician and
mountain guide. He would not have dared dreaming about such a trip,
a cross-country flying adventure that led us to him.
It is true that we are coming from far. At the beginning, we were thinking
of going all the way round the Batura range, setting off from Gilgit.
We flew from Gilgit to Karimabad and leaving the large Hunza valley,
we went deep in the heart of the Karakorum thanks to cloudbases at 6500
meters. We reached in two hops the village of Shimshal then the Chinese
border of the Khunjerab pass. We had packed in our harness 10 days of
food, a rope, an axe and some crampons. In case of
During our flight between Shimshal and the Khunjerab pass, my two companions
had to land at a height of 4500 m on a glacial moraine while I was continuing
alone in the direction of the Chinese border. For them, it turned out
to be an exhausting three days trek, without any track, down the Gugerhat
valley before being able to return to civilization. They even had to
use their glider but only to cross a river in flood.
View far to chapursan valley
Thankfully, we all met in Sost for a last flight which brought us to
this village, below the Chilingi pass defending access to the Karambar
valley which leads to Gilgit. We have been waiting for 5 days but the
pass remains unreachable due to an annoying rear wind defeating us.Therefore
we leave by where we came but by foot, on horse and in jeep until the
first road. Inch' Allah, we'll be back
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