After traveling from Seattle to Kathmandu via Seoul and Bangkok I finally arrived after 20+ hours of air time. Kathmandu is a fascinating city despite the pollution and crazy traffic.
Power outages are frequent and unpredictable. When the power goes out the local merchants rely upon generators or candle light to keep their businesses open after dark.
After a couple of days in Kathmandu it was time to fly to Pokhara.
I shared a cab with tour guide Matty and his girlfriend Heather. It got a little crowded with four wings plus luggage:
Pokhara is located next to Phewa Lake and is the main hub for trekkers, climbers, white water enthusiasts, and paragliders from around the world.
After a day of rain the skies were scoured free of the usual hazy conditions giving us magnificent views of Dhalaguiri, Machapuchare, and Annapurna. Dhalaguiri and Annapurna are both in the top ten of the highest mountains in the world. Annapurna is generally considered the most difficult of the 8000 meter peaks to climb. With a fatality to successful summit ratio of roughly 38% it is more dangerous to climb than K2. The south face of Annapurna is just to the right of the middle in the this photo:
We spent one day working on our recovery skills during an SIV clinic over the lake before starting to make some longer cross country flights. This is a shot of the landing zone at Maya Devi that we used (yellow wing on the ground marks the center of the strip). Those are submerged fish traps off to the right. A member of our group experienced a collapsed wing due to very turbulent conditions while setting up to land. Fortunately he was over water at the time but became entangled in one of the fish traps. A kayaker was able to help extricate him from the mess so that he could safely swim ashore.
This is also where rescued Egyptian Vultures are kept and trained for tandem parahawking flights. In this video clip I am feeding "Kevin" raw pieces of Water Buffalo meat.
Scott Mason is the owner of the parahawking company and has devoted a lot of time trying to save the local vulture population from being wiped out by the widespread use of Diclofenac in cows by local farmers. Diclofenac is an anti-inflammatory drug that causes renal failure in the vultures who eat the cow carcasses. If interested you can read more about this problem and his conservation efforts at: www.parahawking.com
After flying around Pokhara for a couple of days we began to explore more remote launches in the Himalayan foothills. The locals were always very friendly and curious about our paragliding. There is a great deal of poverty in the mountain villages.
We eventually took off for a three day paratrekking trip into the mountains near a place known as Sirkot which also happens to be home to a Nepalese pilot by the name of Babu who is the only one to ever launch a paraglider off the summit of Everest. Babu and his sherpa friend were recently honored by National Geographic as the Adventurers of the Year for 2012:
It took us three hours by jeep to reach our campsite.
[Photo by Chris Amonson]
After leaving Sirkot, we spent a couple of days flying close to a nearly vertical tree covered feature known locally as the Green Wall. We could ridge soar along the wall until finally climbing up on top of the ridge and then hooking into even stronger thermals. After climbing to about 9,000 feet we then went on a long glide over the valley until we could repeat the process at the next ridge to the south before finally landing at one of the three landing zones adjacent to Phewa Lake. The flight shown below took about 1.5 hours but some of my flights lasted for nearly 3 hours.
Towards the end of the trip we chartered a helicopter with the hope of launching from an altitude of 10,500 feet. Three of us wedged all of our gear into the four seater to make the first attempt. Despite carrying only 60 liters of fuel the helicopter lost lift about 500 vertical feet short of our intended site. We later learned this particular helicopter has a ceiling rating of about 9000 feet fully loaded. Having heard of 12 "hard landings" by helicopters in 2011 with scattered wreckage still visible at the local airport I was totally OK with the Russian pilot's decision to turn around. Since large cumulus clouds were already forming below 10,000 feet we probably would have been forced to launch into clouds anyway. One member of our group is a commercial pilot for Cathay Pacific Airline. I know he was not feeling very comfortable as the helicopter started to shudder when we were no longer able to climb above 10,000 feet.
Our intended destination was right behind this cloud:
The views were still spectacular.
This is Machapuchare (which means Fish Tail in Nepalese) and commonly referred to as the "Matterhorn of Nepal". It reaches an elevation of 22,943 feet. There has only been one unsuccessful attempt to climb it by a British team back in 1957. They came within 50 meters of the summit before being forced to turn around. It has since been declared a holy site and is therefore off limits to climbers.
I had many landings out in the valleys which were quite beautiful. I was always greeted by curious children and interesting adults.
One of our access roads was blocked by a recent rock slide. These two guys were assigned the job of clearing it by hand. They were using a sledge hammer to break the largest piece into smaller chunks that could be hauled away in baskets.
There were lots of swinging bridges to help the local farmers cross the Kali Gandaki river which drains the Annapurna basin and is a major tributary to the Ganges River.
Wild Egyptian Vultures would help us find thermals:
After spending 15 days there it was finally time to return home.