Traveling in Northern Kashmir page
PARAGLIDING IN KARAKORAM
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John Silverster, the precursor
Crossing the Chatri La
Postscript
A trip in Hindu Kuch
May 2004, Babaghundi in the Chapursan Valley
September 4th 2005, Gilgit-Baghulti, 120 kms
September 5th, Baghulti
September 6th, Baghulti-Minagan, 80 kms
September 7th to 13th, Mastuj
September 14th, Mastuj-Theru, 60 kms
September 15th, Theru-Ishkommen, 120 kms
September 16, Ishkommen-Zutron (Chapursan), 70 kms

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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 Nodet


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 flight.
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 passion !


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John Silverster, the precursor :

Bubulimating : 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… and paragliders, 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 a paraglider.

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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 involved in…and the new film I have placed in my mouth begins to freeze to my lips.

Up the Hunza Peak
(6200m)
(1,28 mns / 6,6 Mo)

We had niavely thought hypoxia was going to be the problem, but its not …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…madness.
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…like 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.

Near Rakaposhi to Chatri La pass
(2,57 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…but 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!

 

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Postscript :

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 men'!
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.

 

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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 damned !

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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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To the same topics :
Biafo Hispar
Page histoire du ski pulka  travers le Karakoram page abouth the high passes through the Karakoram range The Gilgit Post Trip informations Gallery Travel budget

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