launch is perfect, straight into a good climb. We see small cumulus for
the first time, but although the big snowy mountains are only 30km away,
we still can't see them because of the visibility. For 20km we fly jungly
ridges, then cross onto a big rocky 4000m mountain, with a ridge running
to the north-east, straight into the big mountains. We follow this, staying
above a huge fin of rock. Then as the ridge gets higher we drop down it's
side, hugging a massive rock sheet with the winter's snow ice still stuck
in its gullies. Down below there's nothing, no sign of habitation, just
wall to wall trees, with a snaking bare line down the middle that draws
your eye when you start thinking about bottom landings, but you know will
be a raging torrent, with huge boulders where you imagined sand.
We're committed to following the rocky ridge, and get in a little closer,
even though the air feels nasty as we ride the rough stuff over the snow
gullies. Alun's busy with his camera, and sometimes he's asking me questions.
But I don't seem to hear, my whole being is focused on the job in hand.
I'm so fixated that I could easily be flying my solo glider, alone. We
run to the end of the ridge, where, instead of finishing, it turns into
a 7000m mountain. But luck is still with us because there is a weak col
we could sneak though... if we can get enough height. Ridge soaring at
4500m, waiting to catch a climb that will get us out of this prison, I
notice how developed the sky has become. Not only do we need a good climb,
but now we need it fast. Five minutes goes by, and if anything we are
loosing height. Alun starts twitching, and we both know that we'll have
to land up here if it starts to storm. And then it happens, above a big
rocky spur that could have come from the Chamonix valley, a climb that
finally gets us up above the col. As if in anticipation of us making a
low dash through the col, Al has started to relax, and asks me if "we're
out of it yet, John", pointing the camera to capture our moment of escape
on film. But I'm starring 'over the back' in disbelief, all I can see
is a huge rocky basin, barren, and massively deep, with a hanging glacier
coming into it, and a gorge coming out.
I find it hard to believe my naivety...
Why should we be able to go over the back of a 5000m mountain without
expecting there to be something bigger over the back?... this is the Himalayas...
what had you been expecting, a nice green valley, and a glide into the
no way that I'm going to scratch around on the other side of the basin,
especially with a storm coming in fast, so I just hold onto the thermal
as if it was my life, climbing and climbing and climbing. We've been caught
between a storm and a very high place. At 5600m , the huge sky, probably
only 1000m above us, becomes a lot more worrying than the rocky basin,
so we go on a glide, which soon feels easy in good lifting air. Half-way
across, in the middle of the basin, we start marvelling in our position,
shouting inane single words like "amazing", "outrageous", both at each
other, and to the wind. The glide goes on and on, almost for ever, as
the ground drops away beneath us. And then we're over another wooded valley,
running on down it totally blind, but when you are so high, it's easy
to trust luck, knowing that you'll eventually see the terraced fields
stacked up the hillside, replacing the trees. And as luck would have it,
just as the good air was getting a little worrying, we saw the first fields,
and the smoke from a big fire drifting down valley on the wind. So we
pull on our ears, and thermal the first sink we find.
to be on the ground, inhaling cigarette smoke like a rare perfume, we
are laughing maniacally, when the first person arrives. She's not really
interested in us, but just comes up with one hand outstretched, the other
indicating her hip, saying "medicine". It's the only word she has, and
she leaves when we have nothing to give her. The hot aches have gone,
and we are on our second ciggy by the time the crowds arrive. Our tandem
is soon packed and on someone else's back, as we are taken away for a
cultural experience to rival our flight.
We'd flown 60km and made it to Dhuli, just half an hour before the storm.
I wake up in
a room next to a character called Baggy, and the Lama's son he's sleeping
with. The drunk guy, who kept us awake half the night, is now asleep over
by the door, next to hundreds of sheep skins filled with rice. At this time
of year, such a quantity signifies wealth. We are sleeping around a fire
pit, which is littered with the remains of last nights' hospitality. The
rice wine is thankfully finished, but some half-full cups of salt tea have
somehow survived being knocked over, so I take a sip of one, hoping to take
away the bad taste in my mouth. I'm soon searching for my puritabed, foul
tasting ballast bag. Tibetan tea doesn't taste so good cold.
The breakfast ritual in the Lama's house is beautiful, with amazing morning
light filtering through the wood smoke. But it extends too long, and it's
11.30 before we walk up the hill to find a take-off. We fear that today's
storm might come in earlier, and we're both a bit blown away by yesterday's
flight. We've looked at the map and realise that we've got to cross another
col today, and one that is probably higher than yesterday's.
The take-off we find is perfect, but we blow our first attempt badly, and
as we lie tied together in a tangle of paraglider lines, with 20 kg harnesses
on our backs, we decide we don't feel committed. We take a holiday.