Hang glider and Paraglider expeditions to Everest
Steve McKinney, USA. From the north side, in the autumn, “became the first person to ever fly a hang glider off Everest”. Larry Tudor, possibly the greatest hang glider pilot in the World of the era recalls:
We had problems with jet stream winds that arrive with winter. As the intertropical convergence zone migrates south, so follows the jet stream.
The winds forced us off the mountain. I waited for three days and four nights in a tent on the west ridge at 22,000 ft waiting for the winds to back off. Bob Carter spent the next night before retreating. You haven't lived till you have been in a nylon tent in hundred mile per hour winds.
The failure of our expedition came from logistics, not weather or the team. We travelled from the US to China on Korean Airlines to Hong Kong, and then the plan was to switch to CCNA the Chinese airline, and travel the remainder to Chengdu and then Lhasa.
After spending the night in Hong Kong we tried to check in with CCNA but they wouldn't take the gliders. We almost got arrested because we tried everything, even threats when bribery wouldn't work.
The problem was the expedition organizers with the funds were already in Chengdu waiting for us and we didn't have a way to contact them. Craig Colonika, Bob Carter and I traded in our Korean Air return tickets for one-way flights to Beijing (on Korean Air since we knew they would accept the gliders). What followed was an adventure in itself. The plan was to find the Chinese Mountaineering Associations (CMA or Commission for Monetary Acquisition) and connect with the expedition members in Chengdu to sort out a method to get the gliders to Lhasa. After sorting out a place to stay and transportation in Beijing we found the CMA. If you have ever negotiated with the Chinese it always begins with 'It's impossible'. You find out after agreeing on how dear it costs that it is in fact possible. Basically our expedition paid for a new cargo truck.
The second part of the adventure was getting the gliders out of Chinese customs. First they said they didn't have them. Then after we shot past them into the cargo area and identified the very obvious 13ft long tubes they told us that they had never seen these before and they would not be allowed into the country. What followed was a week of running around trying every way to get the gliders out of customs.
Craig Colonica is a 6' 3" 240 pound rock and ice climber from Tahoe California. On the last possible day we went to the airport on a last ditch effort to get the gliders out. They were not going to let the gliders out and that was final. Craig went ballistic. His eyes turned blood red like a deer in your headlights. He grabbed the customs guy, yanked him over the counter and with his face inches away told the interpreter “You tell this guy these are our gliders, we paid for them, we are here with permission from his government and if he doesn't give us them to us right now I'm going to twist his head from his skinny little neck.” I thought for sure we would be doing time in some Chinese jail, but instead we had the gliders loaded on the truck in record time and caught the next flight to Chengdu. Never push a Sicilian over the edge, it's horrifying.
We got to base camp about a week later and got to work establishing the base camp, advanced base camp, camp one and two on the mountain. The whole time the weather was ideal. Warm sunny days with one or two cumulus clouds over each of the big peaks, light winds. The gliders didn't arrive for another month. We missed our window.
We got one of the gliders to the top of the west ridge. But it was too late. The jet stream winds had descended on the mountains and the expedition was out of money and wondering how we were going to get out of the country.
Steve McKinny had made a flight from about 600 ft up the west ridge so the film crew could have something to appease the sponsors. He also made a very spectacular out of control fight to a wicked crash on the glacial moraine at base camp.
I flew a couple of times in Tibet on the way out. It was a great adventure, but we didn't succeed in our goals.
After an hour and a half preparation, Frenchman Jean-Marc Boivin launched a paraglider on 26 September from near the summit in a gusty 40 km/h wind to make the “First paraglider flight from the top of the Everest”. His flight down to camp II at 19,400 ft took just 11 minutes. A fellow resident of Everest Base camp that year noted “He was your basic French cool personified. Everything he had had the logo "Jean-Marc Boivin Extreme Dream Team.”
Frenchmen Jean Noel Roche and his son Roche Bertrand aka Zebulon flew a tandem paraglider from the south Col and landed at base camp on the 7th of October. They were also the first father and son to summit together and Zebulon, at 17, was the youngest person to have climbed Everest at that time.
The veteran Russian climber Elvira Nasonova attempted a tandem paraglider launch from somewhere above the Khumbu ice fall, “with the very experienced instructor from Moscow” but “The start was unsuccessful. In the moment they took off from the rock the gust got up. The sportsmen were knocked against the rock, the glider soared upward and Elvira and her instructor fell down on the glacier from the height of about fifty meters. God was merciful to the instructor, but Elvira had sustained a lot of injuries, she was lying on the glacier for the three days.” Eventually it would seem she was rescued by helicopter and survived.
Roche Bertrand and his wife Claire Bernier Roche launched a specially designed Ozone tandem paraglider weighing only 5.3 kg from the Summit of Everest on 21 May. They were extraordinarily lucky with the weather, when they arrived at the summit: “It was 8am. The view was breathtaking. Not a cloud, the wind was between 30 to 40 km/h.”
Having taken some summit photos “We found a take-of spot 10 meters below the summit. We took off our oxygen masks and prepared the sail. These tasks which were so easy below were very trying up there. It took an hour to get ready. Then, sat one on top of the other, on the edge of the mountain, Zeb put the sail up and very quickly the wind took us to that mythical place. For a few minutes, we were birds. We got a brief glimpse of the West Face and then we headed off north, in the direction of the Chinese Base Camp. We saw the whole route up, paragliding is magical and effortless! The countryside flashed by. The conditions weren't as calm as they seemed, the west wind changed our flight path. Above the North Col, the sail started to flap violently, reminding Zeb of competition flights. We were distancing ourselves from anything which could cause turbulence. At 10:22 AM we set down gently on the Rongbuk glacier, just above 6400 meters.”
Dutchman Wilco van Rooijen and his teammate Hans took a paraglider up the mountain but they were blasted by severe gales as they were preparing for the final push for the summit and their camp III was torn apart by these winds. Fortunately no one was hurt, but the glider flew off the mountain on its own, still in its bag. A press release stated: “We like to think this just goes to show you cannot keep a good glider down and that Ozone gliders can fly even in the bag [though] we're not sure about the glider's performance”.
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