Take a high-flying ride on the Karakoram Highway

Looking for big adventure in big mountains? Let Tom de Dorlodot and team take you to Pakistan.
© Krystle Wright/Red Bull Content Pool
By Evan David

Tom de Dorlodot may currently be out of commission, but worry not – he's on the road to recovery. In the meantime, check out another road he's travelled, or rather, flown – The Karakoram Highway – a full-length documentary about paragliding in Pakistan.

The film won an award at the Coup Icare freeflight festival and has appeared in major outdoor film festivals like the Kendal Film Fest.

It's a heck of a view © Krystle Wright/Red Bull Content Pool

'The Road to Karakoram' takes us on an aerial adventure through 8,000m mountains in Pakistan – Tom's favourite place to fly in the whole world. “It's simply the best place to fly. Pakistan is amazing. The biggest mountains, the biggest playgrounds, the biggest conditions you can get. It's so remote!”

The pilots are so far up – often around 7,000m – that they require oxygen to stay fully conscious and in control of their gliders. Not only are they high up – they are far out, flying over places like the Baltoro Glacier with nowhere to land for 60km in any direction.

Oxygen required © Tom de Dorlodot

The full-length film is 40+ minutes long, but de Dorlodot says if you watch any part, watch the end for some of the most beautiful footage in the piece – but really, you should set down and enjoy the entire experience. (Bonus: Vimeo offers subtitles in French and Spanish!) Only then can you really appreciate and study the terrain – much like fellow Red Bull athlete David Lama did while planning his climb on Masherbrum.

“David called me before his trip,” says Tom, “and asked for some of the footage that we took from the gliders. You can see many things on Google Earth, but it's not the same as a real-world shot of a serac or glacier. I can't believe he's climbing on that mountain – avalanches crashing down everywhere, all the time. That mountain is alive!”

Tom de Dorlodot high above Pakistan © Krystle Wright/Red Bull Content Pool

Once you're above 6,000m, you're alone

Of course, the air that de Dorlodot, Horacio Llorens and Hernan Pitocco were flying in was no less dangerous. 10m/s thermals, low oxygen and low temps made it quite the challenge – Llorens once passed out above 7,000m. “If the oxygen goes, you could die!” says de Dorlodot. “Once you're above 6,000m, you're alone. There's no one coming to rescue you.” It was also a big challenge for the film crew of Olivier Vanashen and Thibault Darscotte. “Olivier's first paragliding flight in tandem took him to over 7,000m,” says Tom. “When he took his hands out to operate the camera, his fingers literally froze!”

Originally, de Dorlodot and team went with two goals in mind: to break the records for highest altitude (in control), and longest distance. They didn't manage to break the highest altitude or do a worldwide distance record, but Tom did get the record for the longest distance in the Himalaya. Still, the goal is to go to 8,000m.

At some stage your brain says, 'Hey, you should go back down!'

“You need the perfect day to get there – and it only happens a few days per year!” What does Tom imagine it's like up there? “Well, to start, the glider behaves differently in such thin air – you fly faster! But overall it doesn't feel natural to fly as high as possible. I compare it to the guys who do deep diving. At some stage your brain says, 'Hey, you should go back down!”

But in the end, it's worth it – if only for the view. “The sky is so clear, you can see so far away,” says Tom. “We could see all the way from Chitral, on the border of Afghanistan, all the way to K2 – over 350km away!”

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