(Tina Sjogren) Joby Ogwyn's attempt to wing glide from the top has been aborted along with most other expeditions on Everest south side. Till next time, here goes a recap on previous climbs to the top of the world followed by incredible jumps into thin air.
The early years
Spectacular mishaps, wicked crashes and nail-biting logistics characterized early flights down Everest. World knew little of it: the pilots seldom made much fuss about their attempts.
"Everything he had was the logo 'Jean-Marc Boivin Extreme Dream Team',” a fellow climber recalled the Frenchman who launched a paraglider from near Everest summit in 1988 and landed in camp two 11 minutes later.
Folding their wing without much ado on a grassy patch after their tandem paraglide from Everest top in 2001, "for a few minutes, we were birds," recalled French couple Zeb and Claire in a simple debrief to EverestNews (translated by ExplorersWeb).
And so it went on.
The Microlight and the hang-glider
In 2004 British Richard Meredith-Hardy and Italian Angelo d'Arrigo used a Microlight plane to tow a hang glider over Everest where they separated. We knew because they used Exweb's AdventureWeather to plan the flight.
Taking off from Syangboche airport in the chilly predawn of high altitude at first the engine wouldn't kick in, and then the battery drained. Airborne at last the two experienced their first tense moments: "It was only a minute or two before we were high enough to be able to land back again," they recalled, "that first bit is really scary - there's simply nowhere to go in the event of an engine failure or propeller damage on takeoff..."
Circling up the slopes and valley, Richard described an amazing flight towards the highest top.
"Visibility was perhaps 150 miles," debriefed the pilot, "Makalu (27,765 ft) the fifth highest mountain in the World clearly visible off to the East and the vastness of the Tibetan plateau to the North speckled with low puffy clouds far below."
Soaring among the summits the towline snapped and Angelo, in a white glider against the vast white background of the upper Khumbu Glacier, vanished into the void. With nothing in tow Richard climbed right by Everest summit at rush hour 8.18 am: "I waved at the climbers and they waved back," he reported.
It ended well: Angelo made a hard landing near the Italian Pyramid in Lobuche while Richard made it back to the airport at Syangboche.
The paraglide ABOVE Everest
"There was no warning, no build up. All of a sudden, the guys just took off." That's how ExplorersWeb wrote about it afterwards.
We called them dark horses because we hardly heard from them until a cryptic email arrived our newsdesk. "You should check out those paragliders' tracker," the message said, "not sure but it seems they are moving away from Everest..."
In 2011 river guide Babu Sunuwar and high altitude mountain guide Lakpa Tshering Sherpa actually flew 100 feet over Everest: they took off as the crow flies from the north-west side, coming down to the other side to the western ridge and into the Everest basin, past Nupste of 25,790 feet and Ama Dablam all the way to Syangboche.
The project had been put together in less than 2 months, finalized in Ryan Water's Base Camp tent, and ended at the edge of the sea in Bangladesh. Ryan helped do the math and brought the story to ExWeb.
2013 Valery's Jump
Late May last year ExWeb Awards staple Valery Rozov BASE jumped from 7,220m on Everest north side. Check out the video, illustrating what might have been with Joby.
The Russian BASE and skydiving legend jumps wearing a wing suit and nothing more. A small chute was deployed only just before landing.
The jump was another of Rozov's milestones after base jumping Mount Ulvetanna (2931 meter) at Antarctica (virgin ascent), the Big Sail peak in Baffin Island, Mt. Nalumasortoq in Greenland, Karakorums Amin Brakk, the Alps' Grandes Jorasses - after experts said the huge wall lacked a single spot safe enough to launch a free-fall jump - the 1400-m face of Torres del Paine in Patagonia and more.
"I think as far as wing-suiting is concerned we are only at the beginning of what is possible," Joby Ogwyn told us when we caught up with him in relation to Felix Baumgartner's space jump in 2012.
"My best friend Jeb Corliss and I have plans to do some things in the Himalayas that will blow people away," he said.
Far less stealth than the pioneers and in tune with the times (Valery Rozov is sponsored by Red Bull), Joby's glide was supposed to air live at the Discovery Channel, hosted by NBC News' Willie Geist and a Weather Channel meteorologist tracking the weather from a studio in New York.
Compared to skydiving which typically goes from 13,000ft (4000 meters) and gives the jumper about 60 seconds of free fall: at 29,000ft altitude in rarified air Everest presents a completely new game in terms of chutes, materials and math. Joby's rig had to be tailored to a situation where the sport has not been yet.
Joby first learned first to skydive, then BASE jump, the to skydive with the wing-suit and finally years later to jump from cliffs with the suit. A seasoned mountaineer and Everest summiteer (Simone Moro's early climbing mate) Joby said the climb itself should not be underestimated, he reckoned that climbing exposure can be more dangerous than BASE and wings: "In BASE you only jump in perfect conditions and once you land you are out of harms way," he said.
Sure enough the hazards of the climb, not the jump, decided the fate. The silver lining is that now the team will get another year to prepare.
Birdflights from the top of the world ready us for travels in Space where much has to cooperate: the technology, the body, and the mind in an environment not meant for man.
Leonardo da Vinci imagined it 500 years ago and now we're there.
Antarctica record skier American climber Ryan Waters, had met Lakpa on K2 in 2006. In a shared BC for his climb on Lhotse, Ryan lived with the two paragliders while the plan was finalized. Ryan is currently on of the few men still standing on the Arctic ocean, trying to reach the North Pole from land. Birdman Angelo D’Arrigo sadly lost his life in a plane crash (not piloted by himself). Richard was later forced to debunk Bear Grylls.
Stories in depth with pictures:
More about the early pioneers at Flymicro
Best of ExplorersWeb 2011 Awards: Everest paraglide
Best of ExplorersWeb 2004 Awards: Over Everest
ExWeb's interview with Joby
Best of ExplorersWeb 2010 Awards: Himalaya helicopter rescues
Best of ExplorersWeb 2005 Awards: Everest Mystery Chopper