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Belgian paraglider flies, treks across Karakoram Range

August 18, 2012

— File Photo.

ISLAMABAD: Belgian paraglider and adventurer Thomas De Dorlodot has become the first ever lone pilot to bivouac – fly and trek across the great Karakorum Range.

The 27-year-old paraglider walked more than 300 kilometres and flew over three of the biggest glaciers in the world – Hispar, Biafo and Baltoro, bounced off the top of the Trango Towers and exchanged greetings with climbers strung on its walls, and became the first pilot to paraglide within 2-km of the K-2 flying at 7, 000 meters.

“The goal of bivouac is to fly and trek in one of the most hostile terrains in nature in the fastest possible time,” said the athlete who completed his trip in 20 days.

He carried his 27 kilograms gear himself, slept under his glider, drank water from the rivers and ate chocolates. It was his second record-breaking flight over the region, after his solitary altitude chase in the summer of 2011 in the Karakorums.

Thomas De Dorlodot took off from the Eagles Nest in Karimabad, Hunza more than 3,000 meters high and headed farther up north in the second week of July. Paragliders could pick up altitude in ten minutes and reach more than 6,000 meters high.

“I lost crucial one week for preparation because the Islamabad airport lost my parachute,” said Dorlodot who had returned to Pakistan for the fourth year for unique paragliding experiences.

Flying conditions were far from perfect in the run this year with strong winds, rains and snowing. He flew at the incredible height of 7,250 meters, in 30 below temperatures at 60 to 65km.

“I landed on glaciers, climbed a virgin peak at 5,364m, crossed a few passes at more than 5, 000 meters and was the first to reach the second-highest mountain on earth, K-2, all this in this most inhospitable but magical landscape and without many landing options,” explained Thomas De Dorlodot who could see all the eight thousanders that high.

Flying over the 60 kilometres long Baltoro glaciers gave the veteran pilot shivers. “There’s no landing but only crashing on Baltoro.

Landing in the middle means five to six days walk up or down back to Askole.

And then there were times when Thomas De Dorlodot was forced to sleep in a cave for four days in Askole because of bad weather. He had to eat often to lesson the weight of his 27 kilograms back pack. But the cameras, oxygen tank, helmet, parachute and the clothing besides other gear were still a burden on his shoulders. Thomas De Dorlodot lost eight kilograms in the 20 days of adventure.

“We need oxygen because there is no time to acclimatise like mountaineers do. In minutes paragliders can reach above 6, 000 meters and there is always fear of blackouts and losing conscious,” said Thomas De Dorlodot who recalled how a blackout last summers almost proved fatal. And since he was flying solo this year, the pilot did not risk high altitude flying.

This years bivouacking was also a preparation for a less tough but the biggest paragliding adventure called the Red Bull X-Alps in which 30 best paragliders complete a journey from Salzburg to Monaco flying 80 hours in a stretch. The goal again was to complete the bivouac in the shortest possible time.

Last year in May, Thomas De Dorlodot came with four other paragliders and set the world record of flying more than eight hours and covering the farthest distance of 225 kilometres. He was attempting to break the world record of flying at the highest altitude of 7,750 meters but went as high as 7,300 meters.

Thomas De Dorlodot intends to return to Pakistan next year to set a new world record of flying over 8,000 meters.