The Men Who Jumped Off Mount Everest With A Paraglider

By Mike Devlin on Saturday, September 14, 2013
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“So, do you want to take a leap of faith? Or become an old man, filled with regret, waiting to die alone?” —Saito, Inception

In A Nutshell

Some people aren’t merely content to climb Mount Everest; thousands have done that already. There have to be grander adventures. In April 2011, Babu Sunuwar, a kayaker, and Lakpa Tsheri Sherpa, a mountaineer, not only conquered Everest but paraglided from its peak, then hiked and kayaked through some of the world’s most unforgiving territory to reach India’s Bay of Bengal in a trial that has been dubbed “The Ultimate Descent.”

The Whole Bushel

In 2010, after his third ascent of Mount Everest, sherpa Lakpa Tsheri was looking for a challenge. He’d seen paragliders and dreamed of floating from the top of Everest, the “roof of the world.” He borrowed one and tried his hand that October, leaping from a hilltop and then crashing into a tree. While seeking someone to fix his glider, destiny would intervene when he ran into an old acquaintance named Babu Sunuwar, a kayaker. Babu fixed the paraglider and soon the two plotted out a fantastic adventure that would call on every bit of their respective skills.

Six months later, the pair climbed the mountain on a scant budget, without millionaire backers or corporate sponsors. Lakpa drove the charge, motivating his friend, who had no experience. Then they paraglided from the peak, setting the new world record for free flight as they descended 5,000 meters (16,400 ft) in 45 minutes to land in Namche Bazar, a Sherpa village, where they were given a victorious welcome.

After their landing, the pair kayaked down the raging rapids of the Sun Kosi River. Lakpa had triflingly little experience in a kayak and didn’t know how to swim, but they persevered. When they occasionally capsized, he learned not to panic and wait for Babu to retrieve him. Slowly, they made their way through Nepal down the Ganges into India. Here they would experience quite the culture shock as the corpses of Hindu dead bobbed in the river alongside them.

It was a journey fraught with risks: At one point, the pair was robbed at knifepoint. They surrendered their money, but were allowed to keep their camera. Afterward, they could hear a motorboat behind them. The thieves were apparently unsatisfied with their haul, and they were forced to hide out for a night. Babu and Lakpa were attacked by swarms of insects and had to survive on what they could forage from fruit trees. They had difficulty breathing at low elevations after living in the Himalayas their entire lives. And yet three months after they began, they paddled into the Bay of Bengal, where they would encounter their last brush with terror: “giant red scorpions” that swarmed the beaches. Only later would the men learn that these deadly beasts were merely crabs.

Show Me The Proof

From Everest to the Sea: The Ultimate Descent
NatGeo: People’s Choice Adventurers of the Year
Summit To The Sea