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Aoraki/Mt Cook Para-alpinism

Updated: Dec 30, 2023

Can we actually foot launch our paragliders off Aoraki from the High peak?

It’s been on my mind for 10 years after seeing a photo of my uncle Athol Whimp coming in to land on the Tasman Glacier. He had the idea of climbing the Sheila Face and flying off. He packed his paraglider with hopes to fly off, but the right conditions never eventuated. Jim Legrice, Gavin Tweedie and Athol had to sleep in the canopy on the summit! After carrying his glider over Aoraki/Mt Cook, he was determined to fly so he eventually flew off Haast ridge.

Three years ago, the dream started making traction. I obtained my PG2 license and started flying off smaller peaks for practice.

There was an epic looking high pressure system heading straight for the Mackenzie country early in the week.

David Chen rang me,”The Mountain is calling, we have to go! Johnny Willis is keen and so better be you.”

Stuff it! Thursday came around, I made the call to work and said I have to go.

Friday morning the chopper fired up and dropped five of us into Plateau Hut. We had some time to waste, finding a small hill to fly off and landing back at the hut, and practicing some crevasse rescue techniques with friends Hanna Rice and Rory Kirkwood.

I don’t know how people do it, but having to sleep at 6pm or so before climbing at 12am is a mission, people are walking around in crampons and general chit chat held my eyes open. I was trying to play the next day over and over again in my head. I was keen, but nervous, so was Johnny.

Midnight came around and we tied in and plodded up the Linda Glacier, perfect crampon conditions. We were just cruising, having a few miso soup stops trying to waste time before daylight. Dawn fired up after the third pitch area of the summit rocks. It must have been about 8am when we arrived just under the high peak of Aoraki/Mt Cook.

Taking time to eat and assess flying conditions, even talking with the airband radio, getting a scope on local pilots current conditions. This was Johnny’s first real mountain ascent! We were so stoked for him.

Bummer, cross easterly wind to the ridge.

Ideally you want the breeze to be perpendicular to the take off so the canopy can come up nice and straight. Looking out and over the east face we decided this is the best conditions we will get for the day.

Johnny prepared first and had a small amount of trouble trying to kite his wing on the ridge, not too many attempts and he was lined up and off. "Woohoo!” he yelled. Well it was something different but we don’t need to repeat it.

My turn was next but with a bit more trouble, such a light single surface wing flaps about and gets caught on all the rime ice. I was so nervous but still with it.

I decided for a reverse launch with some snow holding the wing down as I knew it best for me. Bang, my wing snapped up and I was away. Having a good chance to breathe and take in the views, man this is epic!

Dave went last, he's on his own now!

He launched with the speed-wing kite style launch having a lot more control over the wing.

I radioed Johnny asking how he's doing, straight back with a reply, I’ve landed by the one-way bridge near the Tasman car park!

After 15 minutes of flying I soon looked down and saw his wing laid out.

Easy turns and I was safely back on two feet on the ground.

That was an epic 23 minute flight!

Wouldn’t it be rad to fly from the high peak, land at the base of White Dreams on the South Face of Aoraki then climb that with a last flight back to the village or Hooker valley? Oh the possibilities!

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