(Correne Coetzer) Sofie Lenaerts is part of the Belgian team, who is planning to climb Gasherbrum I & II in Pakistan this summer. To add to the challenge, Sofie plans to fly off GII with a paraglide, solo. If she succeeds, this will be the first woman solo flight off an 8000 meter peak, Sofie said to ExplorersWeb.
The take-off is the most important part of the flight, she stated, "this is the biggest danger, it must go well or it can be fatal." Sofie told ExplorersWeb more about paragliding at high altitudes, her biggest challenge as a solo flyer, how long she expects to be in the air and where to land and not to land.
ExplorersWeb: Tell us a bit about your paragliding and mountaineering background please. Where did it start, what was your greatest challenge yet...?
Sofie: I started to paraglide 4 years ago in Annecy, France, well known for the schools, and after that I flew in Turkey, Spain, the Alps in France and Chile. My most beautiful flight was from the summit of Mont Blanc this year, June 13th, from an altitude of 4810 m.
ExplorersWeb: How difficult is it to paraglide and how do you practice? I recon you don't have a fear of heights?
Sofie: It’s not difficult to learn to fly but to understand the invisible forces in the air, takes time and practice. I do have a little bit fear of heights but the reward of the flight takes you over the edge.
ExplorersWeb: What is the highest altitude someone has launched from? Was it Babu Sunuwar and Lakpa Tshering Sherpa who summited Everest on May 21st, 2011 and then paraglided?
Sofie: Yes, but it was done by a biplace not a solo wing, that is a big difference. On September 26, 1988 Jean-Marc Boivin flew solo from the Everest summit and before that in 1985, July 11th, Pierre Gevaux flew off the summit of Gasherbrum II; but a woman never flew solo from a high summit yet ;-) There where attempts but not with success.
ExplorersWeb: What is the highest a woman had launched from?
Sofie: Solo, I don’t know. Maybe it’s me with the summit of Mont Blanc but it is possible that this was done already by French woman pilots….
Squash Falconer flew off the Gran Paradiso, 4061 m, try to do Kilimanjaro and Everest, but failed to fly due to bad weather.
ExplorersWeb: Not many women are doing what you are attempting, what are the challenges for a woman out there?
Sofie: Carrying the wing myself as extra luggage; is not easy.
ExplorersWeb: From what you know about GII, will it be possible to launch right from the summit? What space do you need to launch from?
Sofie: It should not be a problem to fly in the direction of Pakistan if the wind comes from the right direction, but I don’t want to launch in the direction of China. If there is no wind at all, that is a problem, but that is very rare. Too much wind or out the bad direction, will be the problem I think.
ExplorersWeb: Where and at what altitude do you plan to land? How long do you expect the flight will take?
Sofie: I don’t aspect that the flight will be long, maybe 10 minutes due to the high altitude. And I plan to land in Advance Base Camp, approx. 6000 m.
ExplorersWeb: What are the challenges/ dangers that you have to be aware of when you fly off GII? And for that matter, from above 8000 meters? What wind speed will be the safest?
Sofie: 10-15km/h would be perfect. More than 25 km/h is the danger that I can get blown off the summit.
ExplorersWeb: What are the challenges of a solo flight?
Sofie: The take-off is the most important, this is the biggest danger, it must go well or it can be fatal. After that, the flight will give no problems if I fly in good conditions, and the landing, well I don’t know. I fear that I will descend rapidly so I hope I don’t break something by landing :-)
ExplorersWeb: Complete paragliding equipment can fit in a backpack, will that be the case with yours as well? How much will it weigh? How much of it will you have to assemble, sorting out the lines, on top in the thin air, in cold temperature, with big gloves on?
Sofie: The glider is a YETI from GIN and weight 2.8 and the harness, The String from NEO, weight 290gr. If the weather is good with not much wind, it’s possible to put out the wing with small gloves and that does not take much time. The harness is build for easy and quick transitions.
ExplorersWeb: What will you be wearing? Will you use oxygen? A parachute? Variometer, GPS, ...? What else will you carry with you while you fly?
Sofie: I don’t take a parachute with me, no oxygen, no variometer, just a GoPro :-) It is all or nothing.
ExplorersWeb: What are you favorite clothes and gear?
Sofie: I prefer Marmot but we are sponsored by a store: “De Berghut", who provided us with TNF.
ExplorersWeb: Will you also climb G1? If yes, which one first?
Sofie: We will try to do the GI as well but not with the paraglider. It depends on the weather conditions but normally the GII comes first.
Place of residence: Ninove, Belgium
Hobbies: motorbike, diving, rockclimbing, kitesurf
Latest book read: Stephen King
Favorite movie: Constantin, The Matrix
3 top accomplishments in your life: Climb the Denali in Alaska, 7-month road trip through all of South-America with my motorbike and 3 months with my bike in Asia, flew off Mont Blanc.
Word of wisdom for women who want to fly? Make your dreams come true: if you don’t go for it, you will never succeed.
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#mountaineering #sofielenaerts #paragliding #gasherbrum