Sunday, 7 August 2016

"Flight of the Century": Chat with Broad Peak Birdman Antoine Girard

Free wherever the wind blows.
Friday, August 05 2016 at 12:12AM, by tina
"Passing over the top was like a dream with all my brain fogged up by the lack of oxygen." (Scroll top bar for bigger image)

"There are so many challenges! Landing on a summit of 8000m, fly over K2 for example... I promise I'll be back."
Courtesy: Antoine Girard

(Karrar Haidri/Tina Sjogren) Amid summit attempts in Karakoram this July; a strange bird drifted in the sky. Gliding between the mighty slopes and frozen glaciers, he suddenly rose to the top of Broad Peak and then he was gone.
“The flight of the century!” US adventure pilot and Pakistan paragliding trailblazer Brad Sander called his feat in Cross Country Magazine

"The impossible only exists until we find a way to make it possible," is Antoine Girard's motto and we caught up with the wild-spirited pioneer back home in France. 
Pythom/Explorersweb: You broke the 8,000m mark in high-altitude cross-country paragliding, soaring Broad Peak in a seven hour flight on 23 July. We’ve covered paragliders before, on Everest no least, but they usually climbed up and flew down, or got a lift by motorized gliders. 
Brad Sander told XC mag you climbed through cloudbase at 6,500m and then soared and thermalled up the western slopes of Broad Peak to the summit. How does a ground start compare to an air start? 
Antoine Girard: I didn’t go to the top soaring but with thermal. The thermal starters on ground stopped at 6800m, then I had to find other thermal with convectors in the mountains (rocky area). The wind came from North and Broad Peak face is West, which prevents soaring. 
The difference between ground start and air start is mostly related to the great difficulties to fly up at this altitude. 
Climbing to the top requires thermal and/or strong wind in the axis of the slope to climb soaring. I have never observed a cumulus over a summit of 8000m, which proves that thermal are rare. I thought it was impossible to ride with thermals. 
Soaring requires a very strong wind because the air is light at this altitude, the wind is exponential with the rise in altitude. The concern is that the wind we want to carry us to 7000m will be much too strong at 8000m! (In my case it was 10km/h at 7200m and 40 to 50km/h at 8000m).
If we take off directly from the top we can fly in the right value of wind. 
The two ways to climb to 8000m in paraglide are difficult.
Pythom/Explorersweb: What weather forecasts did you use and how did you calculate for the thin air and fickle winds of mountain altitude?
Antoine Girard: I had no weather forecast. I was already 16 days into my trip and had done 900km bivouac flight before reaching Baltoro. I had no way of communication except during my 2 stops in Karimabad. 
To assess the day’s weather I usually get up and look at the sky. The rest comes down to personal experience and I know Broad Peak topography by heart. I spent a lot of time on this mountain in 2008 and 2009. This knowledge helped me find the thermal via rocky areas.
Pythom/Explorersweb: You spent a month in the area, flying around Nanga Parbat and crossing the Deosai Plateau “full self-supported vol-biv style” according to Brad Sander. What does that mean?
Antoine Girard: I travelled a total of 1260km solo flight bivouac. 
That is to say that I entirely support myself (tent, food, etc.) for a long time usually. I'm independent, I sleep where I stop and move walking or paragliding. I am free everywhere I go: I have no team, assistance or other. 
I was alone on my trip. A perfect day was to take off in the morning and fly all day, landing in the evening in the mountains and sleep in my tent. Then take off again the next morning from the same place. 
We can easily do 200km per day but it's a bit more complicated in reality because the weather is rarely conciliatory! There is a lot of waiting, walking etc. This is a very strategic sport. I went down in the valleys to buy some food only 2 times during the 19 days. This kind of travel is an adventure.
Pythom/Explorersweb: We covered John Silvester’s attempt on K2 before, you flew his “magic line” from Hunza to the base of the Baltoro Glacier, top-landed at 4,700m and camped there for two nights, then flew up over Trango Tower to Concordia and crossed from there over to Broad Peak, becoming the first person to fly to the summit of an 8,000m mountain. That’s some trip - how long did it take in total? 
Antoine Girard: I started my trip on July 7, after that time stopped for me. 
I moved day to day according to the weather. I spent 60 hours storm-bound in my tent at the foot of Nangat Parbat waiting for a bit of sun! There was so much to discover every day, landscapes so unimaginable and wild that I lost notion of time and space. 
I had to stop on July 24 because of frostbite to 10 fingers by my ascent to 8000m. I couldn't close the zipper of the tent, sleeping bag, clothes (I hope there is no consequence for the future). I returned prematurely to France for care even though I still had another good ten days of adventure.
Pythom/Explorersweb: How much gear did you have to carry? Food and water? Did you have to use supplementary oxygen at any point?
Antoine Girard: My bag was too heavy, 32kg. I carried 4 liters of water because I never knew if I would find water in the next bivouac. I had 10 days worth of food, 3-4 kg, and a 2 kg oxygen cylinder. I wore my oxygen from beginning to end but never used it. I connected the pipe wrong in the morning of the Broad Peak ascent and the pressure ejected the pipe. 
It doesn't matter either way, and has no value as in climbing. There is no physical effort, we use oxygen to make more clear-headed decisions and become more responsive to the pilotage. If I get to repeat I will use oxygen. If I had done it this time maybe I wouldn't have frozen my fingers!

Pythom/Explorersweb: How cold was it? How did you work lines and gear in bulky clothes and gloves on?
Antoine Girard: It wasn't too cold, my GPS Syride read -9°C, but it was difficult added to the constant wind of the flight. I often had to take the gloves off to take pictures and videos and that’s what caused my frostbite. The wing I chose is easy to fly, so no worries about filming and piloting at the same time. 
Pythom/Explorersweb: What was the biggest highlight of the flight?
Antoine Girard: Definitely passing over the top, it was like a dream with all my brain fogged up by the lack of oxygen.
Pythom/Explorersweb: The riskiest moment?
Antoine Girard: All of the mountain landings! With 30kg of gear and the low airlift I flew at 50km/h instead of 38km/h which made landings on rough areas really extreme. I had a few scares.
Pythom/Explorersweb: Did you play music up there - what band/song? :)
Antoine Girard: Very little, I was electrical autonomy.
Pythom/Explorersweb: Why is getting above the cloudbase around high mountains considered so important? 
Antoine Girard: The clouds are often the summit of thermal, it's a good indication of the theoretical maximum height of the day. They also help to quickly assess the wind depending on the altitude.
Pythom/Explorersweb: Brad is so stoked about you setting set the bar much higher; your preparation, focus, having the discipline to fly day after day, be self supporting, making the right decisions and pushing through bad weather. What would you say is the most important skill for this sport?
Antoine Girard: The most important is to analyze and understand what is happening to the weather during the flight, it’s key to making the right decisions.
Pythom/Explorersweb: What flights have inspired you personally?
Antoine Girard: All adventure flights! Look for what was rarely or never before realized. John Silvester has done a lot for instance.
Pythom/Explorersweb: How did you get into this sport?
Antoine Girard: I learned paragliding only as a way to descend peaks in mountaineering. Then I started to love the flying! Fate had it that the first summit I was trying to get off was actually Broad Peak (in 2008) which failed but for a flight from camp 3. 
Pythom/Explorersweb: What is your next “dream flight”?
Antoine Girard: There are so many challenges! Landing on a summit of 8000m, fly over K2 for example. For now I’m more attracted to crossing other mountain ranges, but I promise I'll go back as soon as I have time and budget!
Pythom/Explorersweb: Any other adventure sports you are into?
Antoine Girard: The majority of outdoor sports, I remain an efficient climber and will hand myself gently to the mountains in the next projects.
Pythom/Explorersweb: Cross country paragliding is gaining speed among ordinary folks, last year we covered the Icarus trophy race in US. How hard is the entry to the sport? What would be you best advice to newbies inspired by you?
Antoine Girard: Paragliding is an easy sport to begin with, but becoming a good pilot takes a lot of work and accumulation of experience. To progress have fun with no stress, and the rest will happen by itself.
Antoine's climbing background:
Himalayan expeditions and attempts without oxygen since 2004: K2, Broad Peak, G1, G2, and Cho Oyu. Alpine peaks to the ABO difficulty.
Rock climbing :
2004: World cup Erlangen: 36, 2003: International open Grenoble: 21.
World cup Fiera di Primero: 28, World cup Lecco: 32, International open Argentière: 21, 1999 The world championship: 21, World cup Beauregard: 16, World cup Besancon: 14, 1998: World cup Beauregard: 15.
2015: X-Alps 4th
2013 : X-Alps 3rd
7th CFD
2012 : 1st round of the Vercors mountain
4000km reported to the CFD
2011: 1st at Airtour (Competition hike and fly 300 km)
Classic Explorersweb Paraglide stories:
Everest Exweb 2011 Award (Stealth Paraglide)
Everest Exweb 2004 Award (Over Everest)

Sunday, 31 July 2016

Climbers banned? Sherpa outlawed? Nanga safe? Pythom Q&A with Alpine Club of Pakistan

Pythom/Explorersweb checked in with Col Manzoor about Pakistan climbing bans, rules and safety.
Friday, July 29 2016 at 03:39AM, by tina
Rumors had it at the start of the Karakoram season that some teams had been turned back a the border and banned from climbing in Pakistan. We checked in with the Alpine Club for answers. Here goes:
Pythom: Is it correct that some expeditions were banned from climbing in Pakistan this season, and which teams are they?
Manzoor Hussain: First of all Alpine Club of Pakistan (ACP) wishes to state that it is a mountaineering and sports climbing federation and is neither a Government department nor its representative/spokesperson. 
Mountaineering and climbing, which is now a provincial matter is being handled by Gilgit-Baltistan Council Secretariat, a federal government department located in Islamabad. 
The process of issuing climbing permits involves clearance of the intended climbers by various concerned federal Government ministries. However, it may please be noted that as per international norm each country reserves the right of allowing entry to foreign citizens into their territory notwithstanding the fact that the visitor have been issued either visitor visa or climbing permit.
As per our knowledge/record no expedition was banned by Government of Pakistan. 
The Australian-New Zealand climber Ms. Christine Patricia Burke, along with her Nepali Sherpa partner were part of 7 member Nanga Parbat Expedition led by Italian mountaineer Mr Carlo Orlando beginning 5th June 2016. At the same time she had also applied for climbing permit for Broad Peak. 
On arrival at Islamabad Airport Ms Burke was refused entry into Pakistan. As she had visited Pakistan earlier for climbing, ACP, therefore assume that the refusal may be related with violation of any terms/conditions of her past climbing permits which also include provision of correct background information. 
The accompanying Nepali Sherpas who, after Ms Burke’s entry refusal, chose to return back to Nepal. At the same time her application for climbing Broad Peak was withdrawn by the concerned tour operator on client’s advice.
Pythom: The information we got states that the reason for the ban was the teams brought too many Sherpa with them to help with the climbing logistics. Is this correct?
Manzoor Hussain: This information is incorrect. No expedition was refused climbing permission for the reason that they brought many Sherpas with them. 
Out of the total 24 expeditions which have been issued climbing permit till date during summer 2016, eleven expeditions have brought Nepali Sherpas as their climbing members. This includes a ten member strong Nepali Sherpa expedition on K-2. 
In total 35 Nepali Sherpas are presently attempting Pakistan’s mountains. Considering these facts one can conclude the correct picture about climbing activities of Nepali Sherpas in Pakistan.
Pythom: Does the Alpine Club of Pakistan plan to limit/prohibit foreign guides/outfitters in the future?
Manzoor Hussain: Mountaineering communities of Nepal and Pakistan enjoy close, friendly and historical relationship. Many Nepali Sherpas have climbed/perished on K-2 and other high peaks of Karakoram, and on Nanga Parbat, before and after Pakistan’s independence, and therefore enjoy close relationship with Pakistan’s mountains. 
In view of these historical and friendly ties ACP has never recommended prohibiting Nepali Sherpas from climbing in Pakistan. 
However, to protect own mountain tourism industry ACP is definitely against any foreign outfitters/logistic support providers operating in Pakistan. In order to protect and promote own high altitude porters and safeguard their job opportunities ACP has pursued all stake holders to fix a suitable ratio of Nepal Sherpas vis a vis local High Altitude Porters (HAPs) on the expeditions so as not to effect jobs of the local HAPs while facilitating the foreign mountaineers who wish to bring their Nepali Sherpas on their climb. 
The suggested ratio is one Nepali Sherpas against 2.25 local HAPs on the concerned expedition. However it is not yet being implemented by the tour operators and the mountaineer clients.
Pythom: What rules should mountaineers expect?
Manzoor Hussain: The foreign mountaineers should be allowed to bring the Nepali Sherpas with them in accordance with the earlier mentioned ratio. 
No foreign tour operator/facilitator/logistic support provider/trekking guide/kitchen staff should be allowed to operate in Pakistan to ensure job opportunities for the local HAPs and other mountain tourism related staff/personnel. However, as per present practice they can collaborate with the local tour operators.
Pythom: A few years ago terrorists executed mountaineers on Nanga Parbat. What measures, if any, have been taken to increase safety of visiting mountaineers?
Manzoor Hussain: Since the terrorists attack on Diamer Base Camp of Nanga Parbat on 22 June 2013 very strict security measures have been put in place on Karakoram Highway leading to mountain areas of Gilgit-Baltistan both by the federal and provincial governments. 
On Nanga Parbat local Police check posts have been established on all routes leading to the Diamer, Rakhikot and Rupal base camps and unauthorized person are stopped from travelling further, especially during the climbing season. 
As far as Karakoram is concerned, Army camps exist on Baltoro and other climbing areas since early 80’s and no untoward incident has ever been reported. It is pleasure for the ACP to state that mountain areas of Gilgit-Baltistan and Chitral (Hindukush) are very safe destinations for the international mountaineers, trekkers and other visitors.
Manzoor Hussain is President of the Alpine Club of Pakistan.
Ed note: Chris Jensen Burke declined an offer to comment.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016


Antoine Girard has broken the 8,000m mark in high-altitude cross-country paragliding, soaring Broad Peak, the world’s 12th highest mountain, in a seven hour flight on Saturday 23 July 2016.
According to US adventure pilot Brad Sander, who lives in Pakistan and supplied Antoine with oxygen, Antoine climbed through cloudbase at 6,500m and then soared and thermalled up the western slopes of Broad Peak to the summit.
“This is the flight of the century,” Brad said, talking from Pakistan, “it’s beyond anything anyone has done so far.”
Antoine is currently travelling home to France and out of touch, but we spoke to Brad about what Antoine has been up to on his month-long vol-biv trip to the Karakoram mountains in Pakistan.
“This has been super-fun for me to watch,” he explained. “Antoine approached me about renting oxygen. He rented two kits. His friend Nelson De Freyman was going to come, but he was in the French military so his visa got denied. That meant Antoine was alone.”
According to Brad, Antoine hooked up with Tom de Dorlodot, Horacio Llorens and Hernan Pitocco who were also flying in the area this season.
He started with Tom de Dorlodot and the guys. He got in one flight. Those guys got a short flight because it was over-developing, but Antoine took the tiger-line from Hushe to Skardu. On his first flight in Pakistan he showed he was going to go for it in the conditions.”
Antoine then spent three weeks flying vol-biv through the Karakoram, including flying around Nanga Parbat, the ninth highest mountain in the world, and crossing the Deosai Plateau, a 3,000km2, 4,000m high plateau.
“Basically he was flying full self-supported vol-biv style. Even in Hunza he didn’t stay in a hotel. He was just in a tent. He resupplied in Hunza twice during his trip.”
On 21 July Antoine flew from Hunza to the base of the Baltoro Glacier. “This is the magic line that John Silvester took in 2008. It’s a deep line from Hunza, really committing. He top-landed there at 4,700m and camped there for two nights.”
That put him in a perfect position for flying into the biggest mountain range on Earth.
“On 23 July, with a handful of people watching his Spot page, he flew up the Baltoro Glacier, over the top of Trango Tower, to Concordia.”
Concordia is the name given to the confluence of the Baltoro Glacier and the Godwin-Austen Glacier, in the heart of the Karakoram range of Pakistan. It is surrounded by 8,000m mountains, including K2, the world’s second highest peak. Only a handful of people have ever flown in this region before.

“Now from Concordia he did something really special that nobody has done, and he crossed over to Broad Peak.
“I watched his Spot for the hour-and-a-half, two hours, he was on Broad Peak. Basically here’s the deal. Cloudbase was 6,500m, so he wasn’t above that.

But on Broad Peak he was able to climb above cloudbase at 6,500m and go up to the top of Broad Peak. He’s got GoPro video of himself in super smooth lift above Broad Peak.”
Antoine Girard had successfully flown to the summit of an 8,000m mountain – the first person ever to do so.
Antoine sent me the tracklog last night just before he left for France. I’ve seen the tracklog. It shows 8,127m and a seven hour flight.”
Brad added: “So of course all the climbers on Broad Peak saw him, a TV producer called and said, ‘Hey, here’s your guy, he’s flying!’”
After soaring Broad Peak at 8,100m Antoine flew across the 5,000m Gondogoro Pass and top landed at 4,400m.
“I think that’s a flight of 65km to Broad Peak then 50km to where he landed, something like that”
The next day he took off again and flew to Skardu, before catching a flight to Islamabad and then home to France.
Brad, who was a paragliding pioneer in the high mountains of Pakistan a few years ago and now advises pilots who come to fly in Pakistan, said: “It’s mind-boggling what he just did. This is an idea John Silvester had, ‘Hey, can we get above cloudbase by soaring these big mountains?’ And he’s proven that we can.”
He added: “For me, 2009 was the year I flew the most here. I repeated the big [200km] line I did in 2008.
“There were a handful of pilots here. But I was watching the X-Alps thinking, why aren’t those guys here?
“What’s happened now with vol-biv and the X-Alps means these guys are strong. I was never this strong.
“This guy is mentally strong, having the discipline to fly day after day, make good decisions, be self supporting.
“This is the next level. This is not how paragliding was a few years ago. It is very, very inspiring.”
According to Brad the flight was done without oxygen, although we will wait to confirm this with Antoine himself when he returns to France.
Tom de Dorlodot, who flew with Antoine at the start of his trip, said: “We have all been dreaming about that flight since we started flying in Pakistan! After five summers in those mountains I was starting to doubt it was even possible.
“Antoine has just set the bar much higher. He has really put his mark on the history of paragliding. The Baltoro Glacier is one of the most incredible places to fly on Earth. But flying above Broad Peak, what an achievement.
“Antoine had the right mindset when I met him in Hushe before he started his trip. He did it with style, alone, he was well prepared, very focused. He pushed through bad weather for two weeks, drawing superb lines with his tracker.
“I’m very happy for him and for all the flying community. It’s very inspiring – congratulations Antoine!”
We echo those congratulations to Antoine on this truly historic flight.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

The avalanche swept a third camp on K2!

Massive avalanche on K2 this morning, Camps 3 and 4 totally gone without a trace: All members currently safe in Camp 2. Expedition now finished as all equipment for summit attempt (tents, oxygen, ropes, food, etc) has been lost. -Garrett Madison

Friday, 22 July 2016

Nicholas Rice K2 Expedition 2016

These past five days have been spent waiting out bad weather that has brought heavy snowfall and high winds to K2. The commercial expeditions (Seven Summits, Kobler and Partners, and Madison Mountaineering) ended up pushing off their departure dates so that they could allow their members the opportunity for a summit push. Yesterday, I had an incredibly unpleasant interaction with the owner of one of the commercial expeditions, Kari Kobler. He arrived to my mess tent after breakfast and called for me to come out. He apparently hadn’t paid his Sherpas enough money for the work they were brought from Nepal to do on the mountain (fixing the route for the clients who paid $35,000 dollars a piece to be here). Therefore, he was asking climbers throughout base camp to subsidize this service for him. The problem with his request is that the Sherpas are here on tourist visas, meaning that what he was asking for me to do is to participate in an illegal business transaction whereby I would be soliciting services from someone in Pakistan who was not permitted to supply these services for profit. Were they to have acquired work visas for their Sherpas, or used Pakistani high altitude porters, this would not have been the case. Regardless of this fact, I told him that due to the similarity of his request to that of Wilco before the 2008 disaster, I would prefer that he make this request after the summit push. He immediately blew up at me and said that he was “ashamed of his fellow western climbers” and that “this was pennies to us”. He claimed that he had “kicked the ass of another American climber in Everest base camp who had refused to pay” and then stormed off. As a student who is applying to medical schools and who has spent upwards of $5000.00 so far this summer on medical school application fees alone, I can say that the amount that he was asking from me was far from inconsequential. These are the words of someone who has been making enormous profits off of rich clients for decades. He has clearly lost touch with the average climber. I also plan on returning to Pakistan and would prefer not to break the law here and end up banned from climbing in Pakistan like other western climbers have been this year. Therefore, I have decided not to pay (he stormed off yelling how ashamed he was and not listening to a word I had to say about it, so he clearly didn’t care anyway). After this unpleasant interaction, I was told that he treats his base camp staff the same way and that this behavior was very typical of him. Most climbers have left for Camp I today and will be climbing to Camp II tomorrow. I plan on climbing from Base Camp to Camp II tomorrow if the weather remains stable. We received word this evening that our Camp I tent has been damaged and that the contents inside are wet. I am very grateful that the deposit I left inside the Camp I tent is still there, as this contains my down pants, stove, and other vital equipment. Were it to have blown away, my expedition would have been over. We also received word that some of the Camp II tents have blown away or been destroyed. I hope to learn before leaving tomorrow if my Camp II tent is still there. Currently, my goal is to attempt the summit of K2 on the 26th of July. But of course, this plan is dependent on the weather remaining somewhat stable and on my own physical condition. I have not yet slept in Camp III, so attempting to summit during this window is a stretch. I intend to listen to my body and turn around if I feel unwell at any point along the way.

Friday, 26 February 2016

Nanga Parbat 8125-M Winter Summit 2016

3:37pm.SUMMIT! Alex Txikon, Ali Sadpara and Simone Moro have reached the top of NANGA PARBAT (8.126m) FOR THE FIRST TIME IN WINTER. Tamara Lunger stopped some meters below. Will spend night in C4 (7.200m) and tomorrow will be back in BC. Then they’ll have completed THE FIRST WINTER ASCENT OF NANGA PARBAT. Congratulations for such an excellent job!

Thursday, 25 December 2014

May this Year be more promising than the year before! Spread the happiness all around you! It’s Christmas! Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you and your family!

Team Saltoro Summits