FOR paragliders Tom de Dorlodot and Hoaracio Llorens, it was a case of so near, yet so far. The first people ever to fly to K2 — rather than from its slopes — their aim was to soar over Pakistan’s highest peak.
They did reach 7,500 metres, but flying over the 8,611m peak — the world’s second-highest mountain after Everest — and breaking the altitude record of just over 8,400m proved insurmountable. Nevertheless, just flying across the ‘Savage Mountain’ was a feat in itself.
“As you fly closer and closer, it gets bigger and bigger … it’s an amazing experience,” Spaniard Llorens told Dawn in an interview on Monday, just hours before the 39-year-old flew back home from Islamabad. “It’s just a pity we couldn’t go over it.”
His partner De Dorlodot said: “We got really close.
Paragliders from Spain, Belgium hope their adventure will ‘open door’ for more expeditions
“We got the best conditions to fly towards K2,” the 37-year-old Belgian told Dawn. “But unfortunately there wasn’t enough wind to carry us over it.”
There have been several attempts in the past to climb K2 and then paraglide from its summit. In 2019, Austrian high-altitude mountaineer Max Berger paraglided from a shoulder of the mountain at 8,000m and flew down to the base camp at near 5,000m in about 17 minutes.
Llorens and De Dorlodot, however, are cross-country paragliders, who take off from the ground and use ascending thermal currents to gain altitude.
De Dorlodot believes the duo — who were accompanied by Spaniard Ramon Morillas, a paramotor pilot filming their expedition for the first few weeks — has broken new ground. “I think we’ve opened the door for more expeditions like this in the future and for more paraglider pilots to come to Pakistan and attempt this,” he said.
“We’d certainly be coming back and do what we couldn’t.”
Llorens struck the same chord. “For sure, we’re going to attempt it again,” he said. “It’s a challenge for us now and probably we’ll be back as early as next year.”
This was the seventh time De Dorlodot was flying in Pakistan while Llorens came for his third expedition in the country. This season, their expedition was arranged by Red Bull. In 2011, the duo broke the Asian distance record when they flew 226km from the remote Hushe valley to Gilgit.
De Dorlodot and Llorens were attempting to break the record of 8,407m set by Antoine Girard of France last year when he flew over the 8,051m Broad Peak, eight kilometres from K2.
Like Girard, they soared over the Baltoro Valley and flew past the Karakoram’s majestic peaks including Broad Peak, Muztagh Tower, Gasherbrum IV and, of course, K2.
“When we gained 7,500m on K2, we could see Nanga Parbat [the 8,126m peak which is the western anchor of the Himalayas],” recalled De Dorlodot. “It was special.”
During Pakistan’s busiest climbing season in over two decades, with a record number of expeditions attempting to scale Karakoram’s majestic peaks, they often flew over the mountaineers. “We saw many expeditions and flew over some climbers attempting Broad Peak. However, we couldn’t see climbers on K2 as we were on the other side of the climbing route. We did see the base camp though, and it presented a beautiful view with all the tents around and a flurry of activity going down there,” De Dordolot said.
At the end of their month-long stay, which saw them undertake over a dozen flights, the duo reflected on how tough it had been.
Setting their base camp at the Baltoro Glacier, some 50km from the peaks, they even had to ration their supplies after roads were cut off due to landslides in the region. “At times, we were getting tired while trekking to the point from where we would take off,” De Dorlodot reminisced. “But then you see the local high-altitude porters who climb with all the equipment without complaining. It kind of keeps you going.”
Published in Dawn, July 26th, 2022