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HANG-GLIDING IN KARAKORAM
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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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September 4th 2005, Gilgit-Baghulti, 120 kms :

Flying over an unkhnown summit

Deep blue sky and haze down in the valley. Is it the best conditions to start a cross-country flight? Julien and I are asking ourselves before taking off for another month of adventure. We are planning this time a bivouac circuit from Gilgit to Chitral, through the Karakorum and Indu Kuch. A trip of just above 500 kms involving the crossing of several passes at more than 5000.
That is why we have deliberately chosen September, between monsoon and autumn, when there should be less snow at high altitude. Remember that if the weather conditions are not suitable, we will have to cross on foot. Bad news. It is too stable and we are struggling to get any height. We took off at 2500 meters and we have to fight for an hour to reach 4000 meters, the minimum altitude needed to leave Gilgit. Once pressing hold on the first edges, the thermals are getting stronger and stronger and here we are after a few turns at 6000m. Time to start our trip!
Not so easy to fly at 6000 meters, just three days after suffocating in the moist air of Rawalpindi. I am trying not to go too high, to fly fast and to stay close to the ridges on this highway to cloudbase. When we studied the maps, it seemed obvious to follow the valley of the Gilgit river up to the Indu Raj range. And it works. We fly above amazing diverse landscapes: glaciers, rocky deserts, lava flow and suddenly, hiding behind a ridge, a huge sand dune at 5000m of altitude! We land in the shadow of the massive Dhulis Shish mountain (6500m), in the Darkot valley, just at the foot of the Indu Raj range. Here start the real troubles…
Upon our arrival, we are greeted by a lively crowd and are taken to the best house in the village. The locals treat us like kings and offer us food and shelter, just what we need to forget our weariness after breathing rarefied air for hours. But, as it is time to sleep, we are requested to answer urgently the only phone working in the village. On the other end of the phone, an overexcited policeman who saw us 20 kms ago firing questions at us :

 

Far west landscape on the same route

- "Where do you come from?
- Gilgit, in 5 hours of flying!
- What? But it is unbelievable!
- Why didn't you land at the last checkpoint?
- But we are not talibans, just flying frenchies!
- (Laughing) And tomorrow, where are you going?
- Mastuj.
- !!! You must be joking! (Now roaring with laughter) You want to cross the Indu Raj!? It is too high! You're mad!


And that is how you get nightmares. It is completely crazy to fly over Indu Raj. Everyone says so…

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September 5th, Baghulti :

Duli chhish form sky at 6500m high

Difficult to wake up. First comes the headache then the pains and finally the stomach loosens. Today, I will not fly. Unluckily or luckily, Julien is in the same state. We will therefore spend the day between our sleeping bag and the toilets. Hopefully, our hosts are looking after us. Unlike years ago, during the Great War, when around this place they used to kill British spies for attempting to draw maps of this terra incognita.

ow reading our Soviet maps, we can measure the challenge of our project. To cross on foot the Indu Raj range, there is a single pass at 5100m., fully North facing and mostly icy. It should take one week walking and it is not really good to fly. If we want to cross the range by paraglider, we will have to aim straight into the wall at more than 6000m and try to find one weak point in it to topple over the other side. If we fail, we will need to walk for days and days to return to our starting point… And that is how you prepare yourself for a second night of nightmares!


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September 6th, Baghulti-Minagan, 80 kms :

Hindou Rag traverse, Chikari North face

Blue sky and some traces of mist which indicates stability in the depths of the valley. We're back in shape though shaky now that it is time for us to fulfil our dreams. We leave our friends with regret, walk painfully 1000m uphill on steep slopes and take off once the breeze settles. No hint of instability in this too blue sky. We're becoming doubtful.Then suddenly our vario starts screaming: +3, +5 then more than 10 m/s. Twenty minutes later, we are hardly breathing 3500 meters higher, above Duli Shish. Just before taking off, we had quickly swallowed plenty of medicines to avoid the negative effects of altitude so here we are burping their unpleasant smell as we are gliding frozen at 6000 m towards the incredible wall of Chikari. Our two Vallunas are thrown into extraordinary turbulence: they twist and rear like hell but don't collapse and take us willy-nilly to the door of our dreams. Last cloudbase and while holding my breath, I cross first the Chikari range with an eagle by my side, somewhere up at 6000m.


- "Wow! Top class!"


We are going wild and shouting our happiness at the radio. We've done it! We've crossed the Indu Raj range! We now just have to glide along the glacial north faces, still unclimbed territories. Two hours later, we land a few kilometres away from Mastuj. Then come the usual greetings: a restless crowd, the best house in the village, loads of questions (but this time in another language), the fine dishes… and the suspicious looks of the policemen in charge of the border surveillance.

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September 7th to 13th, Mastuj :

Le parapente over shoolboys

Don't even dare to think that the weather is always that good in the kingdom of Karakorum. It is normally the opposite. So, after reaching Mastuj on foot, we are grounded in this dreary small town for a whole weak. The west wind has brought with it his usual succession of violent storms and just would not stop.
The village is quite depressing. People are barely smiling though they are lucky enough to be connected by a track to the world and benefit from a few of the modern conveniences. But according to the local schoolteacher, this is exactly the reason why they now want to have more than the little they have. As we arrived less visible on foot and we have to wait, we manage to build some more modest and true relations with the inhabitants. We get to discover each other, humbly and step by step. We become friends with the teacher, Abou Beker, and do a few demo flights at his school. Thanks to him, the waiting is less dull and hard to bear even if we are getting more and more worried as the snow is falling lower and lower on the mountains. It certainly looks like autumn is catching up with us and we fear to lose the race.

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September 14th, Mastuj-Theru, 60 kms :

After Shandur pass traverse, Ghizer valley, right bank at 6500m high

The wind is still blowing from the west but has weakened. We have to fly today. Instead of setting off towards Chitral, we decide to head tailwind to Gilgit through the Shangur Pass. But first we need to find where to launch. All around us, there are only extremely steep scree-covered slopes. The only possible side is not well orientated, just under the wind of the Buni Zom range facing it. This is going to be a particularly rough flight and we hang on tight as we progress in the strong thermals cut by the wind. At last, we manage to get to Shangur Pass, a vast grassy plateau but which crossing makes us lose all our height reserve. Fortunately, we are able to catch some thermals very low and in a few minutes. We are back at cloudbase but this time with the wind behind us… when a raging eagle starts attacking Julien's wing! Only after a long session of engaged wingovers and 360°, will the predator abandon. Really no fun and a tiring exercise when you fly above 6000m ! By the way, cloudbase continues to rise and we are at 6500m when we fly over a mountain range which is tersely mentioned on our maps as "information glacial limited".
Our adventure is well under way and we have recovered the advantage over the autumn. All is fine.

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September 15th, Theru-Ishkommen, 120 kms :

Karambar valley at 7000m high

Cumuli are pushed by again a strong west wind. The autumn is on our heels but our goal is within range. One long straight line still before Gilgit. The good thing about flying above 6000 meters is that the performance of our small wings is largely increased. At trim speed, our Vallunas fly at 50 km/h! That day, with a tailwind of 30 km/h, we are taken in a kind of gasping sprint, pushed by a cloud front and a snow screen!
Once we reach the confluence between the valleys of the Gilgit river and Karambar, we meet the route we took on our way to here but instead of taking it and finishing wisely at Gilgit by a flying trail known to us, we decide to go further within the Karambar, next to the Batura range. A suicidal choice while considering the evolution of the weather conditions over the last days… but we are less than 50 kms away from the Chilingi pass and we start dreaming of the impossible. We land in the Ishkommen village, after 120 kms of wild ridges covered in just above three hours!
Again one nice evening with our hosts of the day. We answer all their questions and eat all the dishes specially made for us but our thoughts are focused on only one thing. Where will we be tomorrow evening? Will we be in the arms of Alam Jam? If so, that means flying at 7000m. ! Or will we be somewhere in the heights of Karambar, before a long painful journey? What did we let ourselves into? Why did we go for such a stupid idea? Another night of doubts in perspective…

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September 16, Ishkommen-Zutron (Chapursan), 70 kms :

Julien portrait , up of Koz Sar summit, at 7000m, during Batura range traverse

A perfect take-off, in a coomb facing the breeze. A perfect sky with small cumuli above 7000m. And great surroundings of impressive slopes and glaciers, like the famous Batura wall with it 30 km of ridges over 7000m. This is ideal scenery for our rendez-vous with the dream we had more than a year ago… and we did it!
First, the conditions are huge and we find ourselves at cloudbase in only a few minutes. Our brains full of blood don't bother us too much this time but our altimeters show an unbelievable 6900 meters on their screen! Moreover, today's friendly wind pushes us exactly in the direction we want to go and we are speeding at 80 km/h on our GPS towards the Khoz Sahr ridge and the Chilingi we need to cross.
The view is really stunning. We are exactly vertical to the confluence of three of the most awesome mountain ranges in the World: Karakorum, Indu Kuch and Pamir. While I am thermalling close to Julien, it suddenly dawns on me that I am at the zenith of my passion for adventure. It is the most beautiful flight of our life.
After a last altitude gain above Khoz Sahr (6800m), we move to a Tolkienesque landscape, a huge palace of ice with spectacular entrenched dizzy walls. Nice transition without encountering a problem and we are now sliding endlessly along the Yacund glacier, already seeing in the distance the red mountains of the Chapursan valley. We succeeded in crossing the Batura range! Emotions are at their peak level, like the scenery but also like our tiredness. I don't register that my ground speed is increasing, as I get closer to the bottom of the valley.

A strong katabatic flow rushes down this huge glacial mass. Oh that was it! We had to give up last year just underneath the pass because of it. But I only realise it once I recover consciousness after crashing hardly on a pebble bed at full speed with rear wind. I've seen million of stars but all full of joy!
It has only taken us two hours flying to reach Chapursan. The only other possible route takes ten days on foot with a guide and it is compulsory to obtain a special authorisation. Fallen from the sky, the first human we are meeting is unfortunately a policeman. But luckily he stops bothering us after a while. Our happiness seems to be contagious. He watches us leave stunned, exhausted by all the efforts and tension gathered but with a huge grin on our faces.
Then we are going to knock on the door of our friend, Alam Jam.


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Alam Jan, our friend

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

Révision A-18/03/06 (http://blankonthemap.free.fr)


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