Dream Trip: Make the Ultimate Descent
Sano Babu Sunuwar and Lakpa Tsheri Sherpa
The peak of Mount Everest, the highest point on Earth, sits at more than 29,000 feet above sea level. At that height, the temperature is always colder than zero degrees Fahrenheit, and wind gusts at the level of about one Category 1 hurricane (around 74 miles an hour) every four days. It was from these conditions that Sano Babu Sunuwar and Lakpa Tsheri Sherpa launched a tandem paraglider from the summit on May 21, 2011, only the third party ever to do so. They soared over the Khumbu Glacier for a 16,400-foot descent that lasted 45 minutes and landed at the Syangboche Airstrip near the Sherpa village of Namche Bazar.
But the duo’s record-breaking flight was only the beginning. They were on a three-month quest, dubbed the Ultimate Descent, to fly from the summit of Everest and kayak to the Indian Ocean. En route, they would negotiate some of the gnarliest Class V white water in Nepal, get robbed at knifepoint, and paddle India’s holy Ganges River.
The part of the trip that meant the most to Babu, a kayaker, was summiting Everest. “It was my first time going above 6,000 meters,” he says. “It was very hard, and many times I thought I would not make it.”
Lakpa, who works as a mountaineering guide, had already stood atop Everest three times before the Ultimate Descent. He says the mountain was the easy part and proved it by summiting and riding passenger in the tandem paraglider without the use of supplemental oxygen. He cites the challenge of learning to kayak and swim, as well as adapting to the heat of India, as his most memorable experiences from the trip. “I’m from the mountains,” Lakpa says. “It’s hard to breathe in low elevation and heat.”