Menthosa Peak – Expedition Blog 3
(Through the eyes of Nico Manthos)
After spending a lot of time with planning and preparing this trip, I’m finally on a plane to Delhi. Markus already awaits me in India and is hoping I’ll bring some good weather with me, as the monsoon is still going on… On the other hand I’m quite happy not to have missed a good day of flying yet.
On arrival in Delhi I continue with rickshaws and a night bus towards Bir, the starting point of our expedition. The first little adventure awaits me directly at the bus station, the starting point of my bus has changed at short notice. I quickly jump into the next rickshaw, which takes me across Delhi in 45 minutes and I just reach my bus in time… Unfortunately, the night in the bus, with many stops and the never-ending sounds of horns on the Indian streets, is not very relaxing. However, the morning view outisde the bus window is rewarding for the long journey.
Markus picks me up at the bus parking lot in Bir. He quickly shows me the way to our accommodation and starts his hike to the takeoff. I’m taking it easy on the first day and catch a taxi up to the launch site. At the top you see many familiar faces. It feels like half of the European-Cross-Country-Scene is here.
We don’t wait long and get ready to take off.
Bir is a small town at about 1400m with some Buddhist monasteries and in the flying season, which is mainly in October-November and March-April, a meeting point for many pilots from all over the world.
It feels a bit like Bassano, the first ridge of a mountain chain. Only that our mountains here are not the Alps, but the Himalayas. So these first hills are not 2000m high but up to 4000m.
The flying here at the front ridge is very comfortable, the thermals are mostly not too strong and not very rough. The main landing place is huge, even if sometimes 5 or more native tandem pilots come in for landing at the same time. Only a bomb out can be difficult as all landing options, that are not covered with forest, are usually insidiously equipped with powerlines!
But we are not here to stay in Bir, what attracts us is the so-called “backside”. All that is behind the first chain of hills are endless mountains, glaciers and partly unlandable valleys. The flight conditions here at the back are mostly very different from the gentle ones in the front and a bomb out often involves a hike of several days. Here you must fly concentrated and, if necessary, top land.
The first flight is quite perfect for me. We can make altitude in a small group immediately and fly into the backside. The first thermals there shoot us up with 10m/s over 4500m, it’s that easy to fly a new personal altitude record in India. In the next hours we fly further in the direction of the high mountains and glaciers and are happy to experience the perfect flying conditions for which Bir is known. Quite exhausted I go to land after approx. 3 hours of flying up to 5300m. This is exactly how it can go on the next weeks.
After 3 days in Bir we have settled in quite well. For breakfast we eat two Pranthas and drink a Chai tea, afterwards we hike the approx. 1000hm to the takeoff and go flying the whole day.
We also get used to the high cloudbase slowly. Now it’s time to also hike to higher altitudes and start acclimatizing.
The plan is to land in the backside at about 3500m, climb a smaller peak from there and fly back to Bir the next day. We pack a tent, sleeping bag, sleeping mat and food for 2-3 days and make our way to the takeoff. The flight is going very well but the clouds start to shoot up quickly. It doesn’t take long until we find ourselves in the first small hailstorm and try much too late to find a last thermal that takes us back over the tree line to a possible landing. 5 minutes later we are standing in the rain on a meadow between some sheep and goats and try to put up our tent as fast as possible. Our new friend “Shaun” seems very happy as we all sit in the dry.
Our camp is at approx. 3600m on a flank of the 4700m high Barot Peak in the middle of a flock of sheep. We wait for the rain to stop before making our way up. It is already 4pm and we have only 2 hours left before sunset, nevertheless we should make it to the planned 4200m.
At the top we enjoy the view of the glacier landscape. As it gets cold quickly we start our descent not much later. On the way to the camp we meet the shepherd, who is just about to round up his herd.
Our sign language conversation was like this:
Shepherd: “Hello friends”
Us: “Hey Shepherd”
Shepherd: “Your camp down there? Nice tent!”
Us: “Yes exactly, our camp. But yours is also quite nice! And so many sheep… not bad!”
Shepherd: ….. End of sign language
We’re like, “Jummy Jummy, we are going for dinner. Have a good night!”
The first night at 3600m is less relaxing. The height makes it difficult for us and the gun the shepherd had with him, which is meant for bears, does not calm us either… When it begins to dawn at 6am we are awakened by our shepherd friend. He looks very interested at our tent and our warm sleeping bags and we give him our remaining energy bars. We hope that his stomach will be OK with them.. Our takeoff is just 200m above the camp, where there is a perfect edge and we can start at 9:30am.
We enjoy the flight day and land in Bir in the late afternoon. Markus flies almost 180km, I am less motivated and fly back to Bir earlier. The conclusion after the first small excursion is perfect. If it goes on like this we can start to our main goal for this trip quite soon! Super motivated we start planning the next steps for our acclimatization plan.