(CNN) — Many climbers will tell you that descending Everest is harder than climbing.
But South African Pierre Carter has found a breathtaking and death-defying workaround: hang gliding to get back to the bottom.
In May 2022, Carter made history by becoming the first person to be granted a permit from the Nepalese government to fly over Everest. While a few daring souls have already made the effort, their runs were technically against the law. (None have ever been fined or prosecuted.)
Carter’s journey to Everest was a long one. An avid climber, he became interested in paragliding but waited for equipment to become cheaper and lighter before he could take it with him up a mountain.
The 55-year-old Johannesburg native has no sponsor or backer. He earns money to support his habit of rock climbing and gliding through his work as a subcontractor.
Its CEO, Dawa Steven Sherpa, is Nepali and a paraglider enthusiast, but he told Carter that getting a permit to descend from the world’s highest peak would never happen. Still, as Carter prepared for his trip to Nepal in the spring of 2022, he figured it couldn’t hurt to be persistent.
“Something happened in politics. I don’t know exactly what. But a minister changed somewhere along the line, which was obviously blocking him. He left and another minister came in. And Dawa told me suddenly sent a message saying, ‘I think we’re going to get a permit. There is a new minister,” Carter recalled.
The permit arrived just in time. Carter was already in Nepal getting acclimated when this was confirmed.
Permit conditions prevented him from taking off from the summit of Everest. Instead, the document specified that Carter could not depart higher than 8,000 meters (26,000 ft), so he elected to take off from the South Col.
Carter’s paragliding gear, which he had to carry with him, weighs 2.2 kilograms (about 5 pounds).
Courtesy of Pierre Carter
Originally, Carter had planned to climb Everest, then return to the South Col and take off from there. But he caught altitude sickness at Camp 2 and was held there for several days. With time running out, he had to make a decision: get to the top of the world or paraglide it down.
As Carter says, there really was no choice. And finally, the weather conditions were perfect.
“When you’re flying at this altitude, it’s not the weather where you are. It’s the weather where you are, the weather halfway up the mountain, and the weather you’re going to land,” Carter explains. He departed from the South Col at noon local time on May 15, 360-degree camera in tow.
In total, it took him seven and a half weeks to travel to Nepal and climb the highest peak in the world. It took him 20 minutes to get down.
Due to the high speeds achieved while paragliding, Carter and Sherpa worked ahead to find the best possible route. Although he briefly considered landing at Everest Base Camp, Carter quickly abandoned the idea when he realized he could easily break a leg or ankle if the winds were high. too strong.
In the end, they chose a route that landed Carter in the village of Gorak Shep, about 7 km (4.3 miles) from base camp.
A Sherpa guide met him there with a change of shoes so he could return to base camp in regular hiking shoes, not the snow boots he had slipped in. There was no celebratory party or welcoming committee—just the way Carter, who considers himself a normal guy with expensive hobbies, wanted.
Carter’s goal is to paraglide up and down the seven highest mountains in the world.
However, he is aware that his paragliding off the highest mountain in the world is more than just a highlight of his life. Everest tourism is a huge source of income for Nepal, and previous governments have struggled to find other sources of income that don’t exploit the mountain.
Carter and Sherpa believe that “climb and fly” experiences like Carter’s could become the next big trend in Everest travel.
As a result, the South African felt compelled to glide as safely and responsibly as possible.
“The precedent has been set,” he says. “I think we’re going to see a lot of people flying next year.”
What if the Nepalese government changes its guidelines to allow people to paraglide from the top of the mountain?
“I would be tempted to go back there,” he admits.