Seven summits, seven flights for charity

16 July 2010

The paraglider slowly drifted down from the blue sky, moving in broad circles as he lined up to land alongside a banner reading “Seven summits, 7 flights”.

Pierre Carter’s aim was perfect – he landed softy and gently ran up to the crowd gathered in Delta Park in northern Joburg, his rectangular orange and white parachute billowing behind him.

Carter is one of three athletes to tackle this “journey of a life time”, in which they will be the first team in the world to summit the highest mountain on each of the seven continents, and once on the summits, paraglide down to their starting points. The other members of the team are 33-year-old Marianne Schwankhart and Peter Friedman. Carter and Friedman are both 43.

They set off on Sunday, 11 July and will begin by tackling Mount Elbrus in Russia, at 5 642 metres. The other summits on which they will be leaving their footprints are: Carstensz Pyramid in West Papua, Indonesia (4 884m), Mount Vinson in Antarctica (4 897m), Kilimanjaro in Tanzania (5 895m), Denali in Alaska (6 194m), Aconcagua in Argentina (6 959m), and the tallest of them all, Everest in Nepal (8 850m).

They admit that Carstensz Pyramid is the one that makes them the most nervous; despite the fact that it is the lowest, it is the most dangerous, and no one has ever tried to paraglide off it before.

“Walking back down a mountain is the most dangerous part of climbing, so paragliding down will reduce the risks,” says Carter. All three members of the expedition recognise that there are great risks involved.

Problems for paragliders at these heights include strong winds and temperatures dropping to -30°C, or -50°C with the wind chill element. If the winds are too strong they will have to wait until they drop, for up to eight hours, if necessary.

The three have had special lightweight gliders made, weighing 10 kilograms. A standard glider weighs 40 kilomgrams.

Carter and Schwankhart will do a tandem paraglide off the summits, so that Schwankhart can photograph the summits on the way down, while Friedman will attempt the flights as a single glider. They will be taking along two cameramen, Guy Hubbard and Kyle O’Donoghue, to capture the three of them climbing and flying. Both are climbers as well.

Carter’s idea

The idea originates with Carter, who has had this dream since 1991. The team expects to finish the challenge in around two years, largely driven by financial constraints and weather and seasons. For instance, Mount Everest can only be climbed between March and May.

The idea of climbing the seven summits originated with Dick Bass in 1985. Since then more than 200 people have climbed all seven. Climbing and paragliding off them has been attempted before, by a French couple, but they never completed the task.

Carter has been paragliding since 1988, and represented South Africa in the world paragliding championships for five consecutive years between 1991 and 1995. He has been climbing for almost 30 years and has summited and paraglided off two of the seven mountains – Elbrus and Aconcagua. He is considered to be one of the 15 greatest paragliders in the world, and will be the team leader of the expedition.

First woman

Schwankhart, an award-winning photo journalist with The Times newspaper, has been a climber since 1995. She was the first woman to climb the sheer east face of the central tower of the Torres del Paine in Chile in 2003, and returned in 2008 and climbed all three of the peaks, again setting the record for a woman.

In 2005, she climbed the Trango Tower in Pakistan – 900m of vertical rock face – to a height of 6 500m. The same year she climbed Cerro Torre in Patagonia, Argentina. Climbing a sheer cliff face requires the climber to sleep for several nights on the mountain, sleeping in a suspended hammock-like contraption, hanging from the mountainside.

In 2006, she filmed No Need for Parking – an Africa Rock Adventure, a record of her climbs in southern Africa. Remarkably, Schwankhart doesn’t see the climbing or the sub-zero temperatures as her greatest challenge in the venture; she wants to be able to take good photographs.

“The purpose of my trip is to take amazing photographs, so I hope I can do this. My main worry is whether my camera batteries are charged,” she explains. The climbing is of secondary concern. “Mount Elbrus is an easy mountain, I am not too worried. I can rely on muscle memory for the climb.”

She is not a paraglider though, and is a little concerned about being air sick.

Friedman has been paragliding for eight years and has fixed-wing and helicopter licences. He has a black belt in karate and has represented South Africa in Japan at the world karate championships. He has also represented South Africa in the world surf skiing championships in the United States.

He has been the driving force behind putting the expedition together, raising the all-important funding and sponsors.

Funds

The expedition will be raising funds for The Trust, an organisation that raises funds for 100 charities, with causes ranging from crime survivors, abused animals, HIV and Aids sufferers, to protecting the environment. This year’s particular cause is fighting human trafficking, in partnership with Cintron Africa, says Tracey-Lee Cohen, the managing trustee.

The Trust will run a series of TV and radio adverts by R&B singer Akon to assist in raising awareness of human trafficking. “The anti-human trafficking case is just one example of a social cause that will benefit from the bravery and initiative shown by the 7 Summits 7 Flights team,” says Cohen.

The expedition will also be raising funds for The Smile Foundation, a charity involved in assisting children with facial anomalies get surgery.

“We admire the dedicated work of charitable organisations such as The Smile Foundation and hope to help provide them with the resources and funds they need to do their work and overcome their own challenges,” says Carter.

The three estimate they will need about R7-million to complete the whole venture. All the gear has been sponsored, but funding is still needed. Donations can be made through their website.

The team can be followed on a range of social media: they will be updating their website, Twitter and Facebook pages every few days, and articles will appear in The Times newspaper. DSTV will provide R2-million in airtime to the expedition.

Source: City of Johannesburg