The highest takeoff for a paragliding flight ever has been, well, from the top of the world’s highest mountain: Mount Everest. In May earlier this year, Pierre Carter, a South African paraglider, made the first-ever legal flight off Everest.
Only three other (non-legal) paragliding flights off the peak have been made in history, AFP quoted mountaineer-entrepreneur Dawa Steven Sherpa as saying. But now, the rarity of this extreme and exclusive adventure experience might be coming to a gradual end, with Nepal planning to legalise paragliding from its 8000ers soon. Mountaineer Nirmal Purja has been allowed to conduct the first paragliding feasibility study from Manaslu, which, at 8,163 metres, is the world’s eighth-highest mountain. The record-breaking Nepal-born climber posted the news on his social media handles a few days ago. The nod has been granted by the Nepalese Government and the country’s tourism department, Purja shared.
Super excited to say we have been given permission by the Nepal Government and the Ministry of Tourism to conduct the first paragliding feasibility study from an 8000er in Nepal.
I am funding this project myself to see what can be achieved. pic.twitter.com/LLpRMbwAxu
— Nirmal Purja MBE (@nimsdai) September 12, 2022
In a bit of a concern, the mountaineer and former British Army personnel was reported to have had a minor injury at the site, but fresh reports suggest that the 39-year-old is doing fine. A national icon in Nepal, Purja scaled all 14 eight-thousanders in a record span of six months and six days—including climbing Mount Everest, Makalu and Lhotse inside 48 hours. In 2021, the climber became the first ever to summit the K2 in the winter.
Outside of the Himalayan region, paragliding is allowed on most of the world’s highest summits, including Mount Elbrus, Mount Kilimanjaro. It is also permitted on five of the 14 eight-thousanders that lie in Pakistan. Purja has teamed up with renowned pilots and adventure sport entrepreneurs for this study, which he has sponsored too. If successful, the study is expected to pave the way for the setting up of amenities and infrastructure for more climb-and-fly adventure tourism from the eight 8000ers of Nepal. The activity has been gaining momentum in the Western Himalayas, with German alpinist David Göttler and Italian climber Hervé Barmasse flying off Nanga Parbat (8,126 metres) a little while ago, and jumps also made from K2 (8,611 metres) by professional paragliders.
However, it is yet to be seen how these flights that have so far only been accomplished by experienced pilots anywhere in the world, could translate into a noticeable increase in adventure tourism in the country, especially after the decline in numbers ever since the pandemic. Purja seems to have suggested that lighter and leaner paragliding equipment would contribute to making these expeditions easier to conduct and undertake.
Interestingly, Everest stands just 150 metres shy of 10,000, but that’s still not the highest altitude a paraglider has touched during a flight. In 2007, German adventurer Ewa Wisnierska got sucked into a storm that tossed her to 9,947 metres while preparing for the Paragliding World Championships. She lost consciousness and despite getting a severe frostbite, survived the ordeal.
Prannay Pathak dreams about living out of a suitcase and retiring to the island of Hamneskär to watch films in solitary confinement. He is Assistant Editor (Digital) at National Geographic Traveller India.