Olivier and Oriol Reach 7425m / 24,354 feet, in India.
In Olivier’s words:
“Our goal was to fly in the Zanskar valley, south of Laddak. A beautiful place, but known for its windy and terrifying valley, which is as beautiful as it is inhospitable. It is a high desert, at more than 3,500 meters above sea level with the surrounding summits above 6000 meters. Our plan was to join Bob Drury, who is one of the only pilots in the world with experience in this valley, but he was detained in Chamonix for family reasons.
At Bir, in the Himachal Pradesh, we plan to go for a common vol-biv flight to warm up, but the weather changes our plans by not allowing cloudbase to exceed 2000m. Instead, we leave for Manali by taxi, betting that on the other side of Rochtang pass, a drier climate in Laddak will offer better flight conditions.
In Keylong, about forty kilometers from Manali, the sky is beautiful. It’s 12:30 when we take off next to a monastery. Oriol is flying his Delta 2 and I am on my LM5. It’s a bit difficult to get up from the takeoff at 3600 meters, but soon everything speeds up, and we reach our first ceiling at over 6500 meters.
We head for Shingola pass (5000 meters) forty kilometers away, bouncing along peaks. At the pass, my gps vario shows 7,425 meters (24,354 feet). We are flying without oxygen and not yet acclimated. From this altitude, we can see the sea of clouds above Manali – the difference in climate is amazing. Here, everything is dry, there is no vegetation. We’re a little concerned about the breeze that awaits us on the other side of the pass. Oriol heads for the valley floor, fatigued by the altitude exposure. I agree, and am happy to discover that the valley breeze is not too strong. From here, our choice is to fly 50 km, or walk for 100km at an average of 4000m. Tired and satisfied by our orbital flight, we collapse and sleep for 12hrs straight.
The next day we walk up to the first village, where we will spend two days living with the rhythm of its inhabitants. Cumulus clouds are gone and the air mass seems very stable, with no valley breeze. We walk to Char, 50 km away. Beautiful Buddhists temples hang from the mountainside in this lunar landscape. We decide to go back up to 5000 meters to take off and fly to Padum, the entrance to the Zanskar valley. We pull off a nice triangle of 60 km, and everything is wonderful, until we realize that the wind has increased to more than 60 kmh! Shortly after we land and get our gliders into their bags, the wind tops 80 kmh and a small sandstorm obscures the valley floor.
The aerology seems unpredictable here. That evening, the weather deteriorates. Snow falls in the mountains, and in India a tropical storm rages. It is time to return to civilization if we do not want to be stuck here all winter, because once the roads are blocked by snow, nothing moves until spring. Our week deep in the mountains will be unforgettable, for the beauty of its landscapes, the welcoming Zanskaris and the insanely high cloudbases (as far as we know, we reached the highest altitude ever flown in India). Thank you to the Ozone team, for the wings!