Ultimate Descent: Paragliding From Everest's Peak, Then Kayaking to Indian Ocean
Two Nepali men took on the ultimate descent, spanning hundreds of miles.
Dec. 5, 2013— -- For most people, climbing Mount Everest is the ultimate life adventure and reaching the summit would be the journey's goal, but for two unexpected friends, Sanobabu Sunuwar and Lakpa Tshiri Sherpa, it was only the beginning of their epic voyage together.
In a never before attempted feat, the two Nepali men set their sights on paragliding from Everest's summit and then taking a near 500-mile kayaking trip on the Ganges River to the Indian Ocean in 2011. It was an excursion that would take months.
Only four people have ever glided off the top of Everest, and the story of Sunuwar and Sherpa is just as remarkable as their journey.
The two men tackled some of the most dangerous terrain and powerful rivers in the world without sponsors and without permits. Their story won the 2012 National Geographic Adventurers of the Year award.
On average, an Everest climb could cost a traveler usually tens of thousands of dollars to cover mountain permits and the brigade of sherpas -- porters, cooks and guides -- needed to get to the top.
Despite not having any high-altitude climbing experience nor deep pockets, Sunuwar was committed to climbing and then paragliding off Everest, without any permits if he had to.
Kimberly Phinney, an experienced climber and paragliding pilot in California, was one of the mission's few early believers and remembered Sunuwar's enthusiasm for the voyage. She said he told her, "We're going to Everest, we have no sponsors, we have no equipment, but we're going."
With luck, Sunuwar met the perfect accomplice for this plan, Lakpa Tshiri Sherpa. Sherpa, a veteran mountaineer, decided to join his epic journey. While Sherpa was well trained for climbing Everest, he had never kayaked before and did not know how to swim.
Phinney recalled that, "the agreement was Lakpa would take Babu up Everest, and Babu would take Lakpa to the ocean. Lakpa knew everybody on Everest, all of the sherpas. They were able to kind of go in and utilize the cook's camps."
The duo slapped a basic plan together, and began their ascent of Everest, while borrowing food, supplies and cramped shelter from other expeditions.
Five days into their ascent, with dwindling supplies, Sunuwar and Sherpa began the climb into Everest's death zone -- above 26,000 feet. As they approached the summit, the men were in short supply of oxygen. At that point, turning back was not an option. The only way home was the paraglider.
The turmoil of climbing Everest dissipated once the men launched their paraglider. In just 42 minutes, the two pilots glided 15 miles to an airstrip in Namche, Nepal, which would have been an almost a two-week hike away by foot. However, their celebrations were brief.
Once they touched down, Phinney said the men heard that the army was after them for their renegade adventure and they were only half-way through their expedition.
Their soaring flight was not exactly legal, but easy compared to what lay ahead. Sunuwar and Sherpa had to cross Sun Kosi River's grade five rapids, which Sunuwar called "dead man area." When their boat capsized, a life jacket let Sherpa float down the river to safety.