Wednesday, 4 December 2013

500 Miles To Nowhere

The serious American skies, 'a place where no one see's, and no one cares', are being flown by some full on out there bivvy pilots... Gavin McClurg, Nate Scales, Nick Greece, Matt Beechinor.

Once I had heard the words... 'finding the perfect line, that is aethetically inspiring...'
they had me hooked.
I was thinking Chogolungma, my magic line, and here were some pilots who were thinking the same, flying routes laid down on earth by planetary forces... that we could fly along, if we dared.
Because commitment, and that old fashioned word danger, always seem to be intertwined with the perfect line.
It is just as Gavin and his mates say so poetically in the film, they are places where...' no one see's... no one cares'.
Unless that is... you have a film camera and call it ... the middle of nowhere.

Watch it!

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Mountains are cruel as well as beautiful

The 2012 Bir season has finished...

and I did  fly to Manali !
It took 2 attempts due to the testing conditions, but determination and commitment were rewarded, and Richard could finally relax and watch me struggling 30m below him, to gain that vital few meters and cross the last col just before Manali, to land in the new 'field' at Vashisht, right next to town.

This was the highlight of my trip, but earlier on there were plenty of lows in a season that was initially stronger and more unstable than any I had experienced before. Two friends, and one of them a long-time client, died. Sadness seems an inadequate word to describe how I felt, but I have talked about it a bit on my OzoneBlog .
So I was very thankful to Richard to have the skill and certainty and ***** that got us to Manali, and made me realise why I love paragliding in the Himalayas so much.

Such flying can be very challenging, and is sometimes exactly what we are looking for.
But then, sometimes, nature turns up the volume and throws us a wild card, as this 2011 u-tube clip from the Russian  Alexey Druzhinin shows. He was attempting a new challenging bivvy circuit through the Spiti valley, a route that has been talked about for years, but never flown.
look at this video of the valley wind in the Rampur valley.
 I landed there in spring 1997 with Bob Drury, right in the center of town  on the cricket pitch, and it was sweet.
Paragliding conditions are not always predictable!

And then in 2012, he flew it ! 
info at... and if like me you don't understand Russsian, google translation helps make a little more sense.


So to Spring 2013...hunting the out/returns!

I fancy going back to Bir, which will be my first spring visit for 15 years!
I know the place a lot better now after many autumn seasons, and would like to go and try some serious out/returns...  or as section 7D of the FAI sporting code defines them, 'Free distance using up to 3 turn points'.
And that's because Billing take-off is in the center of a 120km long, 5000m high himalayan ridge, the first one straight off the flat-lands, and therefore doesn't seem to qualify as a true out and return. 
But to me, a 'flat triangle' has always sounded silly and complicated . An out and return is honest, it tells you immediately what it is.
So I shall be doing O/R's.
 Spring is soon,only a couple of months away, so if any one is interested please get in touch ASAP.
Very seasoned pilots who would be up for trying to break Debu's current 211km record might be more interested  in an 'xc style camp', with less emphasis on guiding, and more on knowledge sharing...
whilst for experienced 'club pilots' , for whom a 150km out/return should be very feasible, the normal Himalayanskysafari guiding service/pricing can be available. In fact I am sure 200k would be very possible on a good spring day with a high cloudbase. Especially since we have the offer of extra guiding assistance from the very man himself, Mr Choudhury.

Here is hoping!!!

john silv

would you trust this man even if he is a record holder?

Wednesday, 25 July 2012


Approaching Manali valley over the boonies from Bir.

I am off to India in early October, guiding with Himalayanskysafaris .
The first tour is now fully booked, but from the 26th October I will be available for guided day trips from Bir to Manali.

It is an amazing flight of approx 50km, with 30 of them being over a remote high landscape devoid of roads or amenities,and often even some snow, so 'going down' means a long long walk, and maybe even a difficult one! On the rare classic days with absolutely ideal flying conditions  it can feel technically straightforward...but on a normal Bir flying day it is far more challenging, and the view north east over the boonies towards Manali is enough to keep most pilots stapled to the home ridge.
And with good reason...every year there are tales of long walk outs, sometimes lasting days.
So the first time you go through it, taking a guide is probably pretty sensible...
but please don't forget that you still have to fly it!

I have now flown it 5 times, in very varied conditions... and the crucial wild section up to the final crossing many many times, so I feel I know it quiet well. Last year I guided it twice with pilots on HSS tours, and on the 2nd trip  bivvied high above Manali at 3300m, and flew back the next morning. It felt very very special to me, with a night out up in the mountains next to a campfire, knowing we had the flight in the bag, & wondering if we could catch the 9am thermals and be back in Bir for lunch. Definitely one of the best Himalayan bivvy flights of all time. And not too hardcore  :-)  .

You can do it as part of a HSS TOUR  for a supplement of £275 if you are a 1:1 client, or as a day pilot for £550.
However, for day pilots who I have never flown with before, we will need to fly together beforehand on the Bir/Dharamshala ridge for reasons of safety, and the daily guiding rate of £275 will be applicable.

Pakistan Update.
A very successful trip that did get to fly Rakaposhi's north wall, and then do a multi day vol biv all the way to Boonie, thanks to the expert guidance of Brad Sander who has made this route a classic. Lots of Karakorum photos and words from 2012 on . Although Grey wasnt actually a client, he mixed in, enjoyed Manzoors many charms, and sums up a trip to Pakistan's Northern areas perfectly.
Hopefully much more info to follow...and roll-on 2013 .

Friday, 9 March 2012

Sorting Kit for Altitude

Writing this post feels different from last time, nicer, since I am actually writing to pilots who have signed up and that I now know...
as well as to the unknown others who may be contemplating the ultimate adventure.

So, what do you need to take on a paragliding trip to Pakistan?
Well really, not anything that different from anywhere else.

Colin Hawke proves me wrong! (the upper Hunza launch)

But they ARE the biggest mountains on the planet, and as such do present unique situations, which I see as being...

The first one is the most important, since it is probably the reason you want to go and fly them in the first place, so make it your friend, and let it generate energy.
But awe usually has another smaller component of fear, and it should also be listened to. The trick is to balance the two, not letting 'irrational fear' win the day too early. Hopefully Brad and I can help a lot here, with our previous experience of these mountains. But never forget that it is you pulling the strings of your glider, and it should always be your own decisions.
Awe doesn't act alone, but is constantly coloured by the Cold and Altitude, so managing these two has an effect on it.

If you prepare for this well, it helps lots.
However, up to 6000m, I really don't think it needs much extra preparation, normal alpine clothing for a good  day in Chamonix will be fine. It is also often ok to blip up to 7000m briefly, then come back down to 5500m and warm up again.
But, if you have any hankerings after the high altitudes, then wrap up warm.

For us guides, this is the biggest challenge.
It may be easy for me to recommend for instance ''keep below 5000m'' for the first few days, hoping that will keep your head clear and save you crashing into the snowfields at 5400m. But in practice it does appear that hypoxia makes one to some extent more confident, intoxicated, so that maybe you are there trying to lay down tracks in the very snowfields I am worried about you crashing into.
Well maybe not that extreme...but it might make it more difficult to actually notice you have climbed to 5700m.
In practise, I believe that the cold, hyperventilation, and fear will probably alert the most hypoxic brain to the environment it is working in...and it will make radio communication more difficult (and sometimes amusing!).

So how to deal with these 3 things?

Firstly, a 'safe' easy handling wing, which preferably you are already comfortable with.
I have flown almost exclusively DHV 1/2's and 2's (EN B and C's) in the big mountains during the last 14 years, and am certain that they are the best category wings to fly. When the conditions and route dictate flying close to terrain, if you trust the wing you are flying then you are more likely to continue and maximize the day, rather than fear suggesting that the sensible course is to give up and land (and fear is a friend that should nearly always be listened to).
So an easy glider should help with the Awe, and also help with the Altitude (less work/stress needs less o2)  and Cold (I take wraps less on easy wings).

If you want to go high (much above say 6000m for long) you need...

good top layers (duvet jackets and trousers), big gloves and handwarmers (mitts and inner gloves, with maybe also handwarmers, either chemical/electrical ), face protection (visored helmet/ facemask/scarfe/ski goggles), and warm boots (double mountain boots/insulated full gaiters over trekking/flying boots) really help with the enjoyment levels.
Basically, I have come to believe that going above 7000m lots is really not that much fun. But's brilliant!

Eddie Colfox suitable attired on lower Hunza Launch,
with lightweight reversible harness, and  full face visored helmet.

The question is whether to use supplementary oxygen, or not.
If you use it, and it always works, then it must provide increased brain function and warmth, and should therefore be safer.
If you never use it then you should acclimatise to altitude more quickly/better (if you are going to acclimatise well).
I think that over the last 14 years in Hunza, the majority of pilots have flown without o2, and most of the major flights have been made without it. However, there is a strong opinion that it is fool hardy. I come from a climbing and mountaineering background, and feel that if climbers can reach 8800m in a highly physical way without o2, then we should be able to easily fly up to 7500m when acclimatised.
So maybe the real question is, are you going to acclimatise well to altitude, or not?

 I am sure that the more relaxed you are,and the more you are enjoying where you are, the less oxygen you need to function well. Whenever I do stressful things like changing gloves or batteries, by the end of it I am almost panting, and it is not as if it is a huge exertion. I think it is the stress, the worry of dropping something, as the glider collapses in rough air without hands on the brakes.

Probably the best compromise is to start off without it, staying to sensible altitudes for a week or two at least and allow acclimatisation to begin. Then, later, start to use o2 if you feel the need, or wish to go very very high. This way you can get benefits from both strategies, especially should the o2 malfunction in the air.

Phew, that feels enough for now, but it will be on-going, and feel free to ask questions.
Where is that o2 cylinder!

There is more info that might be of use in the comments of my ozone blog

and in the 'pilot requirements' of Himalayanskysafaris that will mostly apply too...

Brad Sander after a big flight... at the landing in the middle of town .
We still have one  o2 system for hire (Summit o2 pulse demand, nasule cannula),
and there is a pretty good selection of used mountain clothing available in the two village trekking stores, especially down and fleece jackets/trousers, and often climbing boots, all at good prices, and some of it excellent condition. So it isn't totally necessary to come prepared for the summit of Everest if what you really want is to just come out for a taster, because you will probably be able to source most equipment if you find you need it. But everyone should try to get a good glove system sorted at home. I use light summer windstopper low down, then change into fleece gloves with a large synthetic/down mitt overglove...and chemical handwarmers in an outer pocket in-case I need them (the sell buy often expires before I use them).
There is also various kit left at Mansoors, including size 9 and 10 double boots (which may be available for a lend if the owners are not using them!), and even Uncle Bob's hang glider!

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

In a sky close to take-off

Well...there we go then, I have chosen a name which has risen like a phoenix out of the smoky Indian sky. It's time for some clear air!
I hope it is descriptive enough, because what I would really like to call it is SKYGUIDESTOTHEMOSTAMAZINGPARAGLIDINGDESTINATIONSONEARTH.COM .
But that's probably a bit long. 
SKYGUIDES.CO.UK it will have to be.
I have been guiding for a few years in the Indian himalaya, and whilst I plan to continue the brilliant post monsoonal Bir trips with , it is now time to go off exploring again.
I dont know how soon the new website will take to come to life, but for now I hope this will do the job,and that maybe you too will come along for the ride, either here in cyberspace, or for full-on reality, in that place that is called THE SKY.
cheers...john silvester

So, where to first?


My favorite destination of course, Pakistan!

The driveable lower launch at the Eagles Nest ( Rakaposhi  in distance with CLOUD!)

Rakaposhi. 7788m
25km from launch.
But still crystal, right there in your face, clear.
Which shows how good the air still is, up here in this far corner of the Karakorum.
And how big!
In fact the highest mountain face in the world.
The face you can see is 6000m high, and you can glide all the way along it and back to base in one.
Rakaposhi is a one and a half hours flight from launch, at the aptly named 3 star Eagles Nest hotel, which has a tarmac road to the door. Not a bad place to make base camp.

Itinerary. I shall be arriving approx 20 June and staying through July, and the plan is to meet up in the capital Islamabad, & then travel up to Hunza and the mountains, where we will join our guest guide Brad Sander, the most experienced Karakorum pilot of us all.

Hunza. It is very relaxed and tranquil, a laid back beautiful place, with nice hotels, and that is how we plan to start our flying...relaxed!
Get used to the valley, the massive scale, the huge potential height gains, and the breath-taking scenery.
And then, weather permitting, our main mission of Rakaposhi can begin.

 On Rakaposhi circa 5600m
To fly on this massive mountain (the world's 32nd highest) is for me absolutely special, but really it's no more difficult than the tour du lac in Annecy, although I guess it's alot more intimidating...and impressive! There are good bomb-outs along the way, near a tarmac road with easy retrieves, but you really won't need them once you have climbed high from launch, the flying is totally textbook.

My ultimate flight would be to soar to the very summit,
although we are not offering to guide this, because no one has ever flown a paraglider to such heights before, and I am sure that we as guides would find it difficult to guide to the high standard we are used to.  All our energy/oxygen will probably be focused on keeping ourselves alert and alive.
What we can do is pass on all the information we have accumulated over a decade of himalayan exploration, and by going slowly and gradually building things up, 6000m should be very feasible and enjoyable!
Altitude and oxygen deficit are the main new parameters, so it is important that altitude is built up slowly.
But in reality, 5000m is enough to fly along Rakaposhi and soak up the views, and at this altitude the temperature in summer is fine.
Over 6000m for much over 20 minutes and it's a bit colder,and the big gloves will be coming out as you're gliding past the massive overhanging cornices on one of the big mountains of the Greater Ranges.
It wont be a memory that will fade fast.

We will stay flying in Hunza as long as we like, but should we want a change of scenery, then it's pack up the jeep and off to the wilds beyond the famous Shandur pass.
Or, even closer, off to 8000m Nanga Parbat.

Shandur, Booni and beyond.
From Hunza, one drives west through Gilgit, (or fly, with the polo match being goal... thankfully we follow the road!) and over the Shandur pass, when the polo festival is taking place in July. From here it is not so far to Booni.

Booni has a road to a high take-off at 3800m, perfect if the weather is stable, with possibly higher cloudbases than Hunza, and without quite such high mountains. It is from here that the current Asian distance record has been made, twice in succession by Brad Sander and Thomas de Dorlodot, 225km all the way back to Hunza. Brad also made the highest flight so far from here...a massive 7750m.

Join us.There will be a limited number of places for experienced or 'mature' pilots to join the expedition with SKYGUIDES. The flying will definitely not be constantly 'full on', and there will be ample opportunity to gradually acclimatise to the conditions. Valley winds are consistently light, and it is one of the best places for long gentle mid morning glides with perfect sandy beaches for landing. In fact the weather will often dictate this, being clear until mid day, when it builds a storm.
For up to one months guiding with the expedition as a group client the cost will be £1100, and for personal 1:1 guiding it will be £4000. You can easily come along for shorter periods, since we will be staying in accessible locations, and there is an airport with usually 2 flights a day just a 3 hours drive from Hunza. A small number of supplementary oxygen systems will be available for hire at £200/trip, should you wish to use one. Historically Brad has used O2 when expecting to go above 6000m for any length of time, whilst I have not, so our philosophies/physiologies seem to complement each other nicely.

contact john for more information or bookings at

Hope to see you in those high clear skies, it's totally amazing.
                                                                                           ...john silvester

the first big crossing in 2001, the 5400m  'chatri la'