When it comes to epic mountain terrain, nothing comes close to the huge 8,000m mountains of Pakistan’s Karakoram range – and no where is more dramatic and wild than the giants of Broad Peak, Gasherbrum and K2 that bestride the mighty Baltoro glacier.
Three of the world’s top adventure paraglider pilots, Tom de Dorlodot, Horacio Llorens and Ramón Morillas, are to return to the region they love to explore the mountains from the air.
The goal is to reach K2 and soar its mountain faces – and if the weather gods are on their side, maybe even fly above the famous peak.
Pakistan is for paragliding what Hawaii is for surfing
“We want to be the first to reach K2,” explains Tom. “K2 is the big beast of the Himalayas and the idea is to explore that area. The first time I was there I got to within 6km. I was very impressed but turned around. This time we want to be the first to reach K2 and fly its slopes.”
At 8,611m, K2 is the world’s second highest mountain. The highest anyone has flown in a paraglider is 8,407m, a record-breaking flight made by Frenchman Antoine Girard over Pakistan’s Broad Peak in 2021. No one has flown above K2.
Tom says to achieve that would be the stuff of dreams.
“It seems impossible,” he says. “But we are always trying to dream big and in our wildest dreams it might be possible. If conditions are perfect, maybe we will try, but it is not the main goal.”
A new world will open if we can reach those faces. It’s like going for the first time to the bottom of the ocean.
Just reaching the mountain by air and returning will be an epic 100km adventure.
“It’s a race against time,” explains Tom. “If you want to be safe, you don't take off before 11am and you have to start going back before 4pm. It’s a short window.”
The plan is to leave their tents at 3,300m at the entrance of the Baltoro glacier, hike to a launch at 4,000m, then fly 40km towards Broad Peak. There they need to gain as much height as possible before making it across to K2.
Paragliders are foot-launched collapsible aircraft, which behave like other non-motorised gliders. Without an engine, pilots have to seek out invisible columns of rising warm air known as thermals to gain height. Once inside, pilots circle like a bird of prey, climbing thousands of meters.
Most of the time there are no landing options. If you land on the Baltoro glacier the trek out can take seven days.
If they make it to K2, the team will then attempt to soar its faces, using the wind to stay aloft. When the wind hits the side of a mountain it funnels the air upwards, allowing gliders to gain height by soaring back and forth close to the face.
“We will have that feeling all the time of flying above fire – you cannot land,” Tom adds. “Most of the time there are no landing options. If you land on the Baltoro glacier the trek out can take seven days – it’s just ice, moraine and rocks.”
This will be Tom’s seventh time to Pakistan. Between 2009 and 2013 he went almost every year and in 2011 he broke the Asian distance record, flying 226km. Also in the team is Tom’s veteran wingman Horacio Llorens, a record-breaking acro pilot, who was with him on that distance flight.
This will be his third time to the area. He says: “Pakistan is the country with more 7,000 and 8,000m mountains than anywhere else in the world. We are in love with this place, with the people, the landscape and with the opportunities. This time we are more prepared than ever before.”
“I always say Pakistan is for paragliding what Hawaii is for surfing or what Alaska is for skiing,” adds Tom. “It’s just somehow extreme and it’s really good flying.”
We are in love with this place, with the people, the landscape and with the opportunities.
The third team member is Ramón Morillas, a paramotor pilot who broke the altitude record in 2009, flying to 7,821m over Masherbrum. He will be filming and photographing the adventure.
K2 has long been the focus of adventurers with bold visions. In 2021 Nepalese climber Nims Purja stunned the world making the first winter ascent of K2, without supplementary oxygen.
In 2018 Polish skier Andrzej Bargiel made the first ski descent of K2, also without supplemental oxygen.
Going from 5,000 to 8,000 meters in an hour is extreme. Your body is not made for that but we have meticulously planned for everything.
Because their rate of ascent will be so much faster, the three pilots will all wear oxygen masks. This is to protect them against high altitude illnesses caused by the thin air, which can result in sudden loss of consciousness. On the summit of K2 there is approximately a third of the available oxygen at sea level.
Adds Tom: “Going from 5,000 to 8,000 meters in an hour is extreme. Your body is not made for that. It’s also extremely cold up there and we have to protect our hands and face from freezing, but we have meticulously planned for everything.”
The team will wear full down feather suits similar to those worn by high altitude climbers. They will also wear devices to monitor their oxygen saturation levels so they can abort if it falls too low.
“A new world will open if we can reach those faces,” says Tom. “It’s like going for the first time to the bottom of the ocean. It’s about the whole spirit of adventure and trying to push the boundaries of the sport.”
There is also one more reason he wants to return to Pakistan. It’s where he fell in love and proposed to his wife Sofia. “Pakistan has a very special place in my heart,” he says. “It’s a very special place for us all.”