K2: Are Purja’s Plans to Paraglide from the Summit Too Risky?

K2 Winter 8000ers
Purja started paragliding in Chamonix last summer. Photo: Nirmal Purja for Red Bull

In July 2019, Nirmal Purja led the only successful summit push on K2 that summer. He was at the peak of his glorious chain-ascent of all 14 8,000’ers in under seven months. Some days earlier, on Broad Peak, Purja witnessed an extraordinary feat that may have given him ideas for the future.

Austrian climber and paraglider Max Berger, guiding on K2 for Furtenbach Expeditions, paraglided from the Shoulder at nearly 8,000m. He landed in Base Camp 17 minutes later. Previously, Berger had also flown from Camp 3 on Broad Peak.

Max Berger flies down from the Shoulder of K2 in summer 2019. Photo: Max Berger

Fast forward 18 months and Nirmal Purja is back on K2, in winter this time. On Sunday, he described the “wreckage site” at Camp 2. For some reason, their two tents and their contents had not been folded and secured to the ground to protect them from the foreseeable gale-force winds and had blown away. “We have lost everything, including all our kit: sleeping bags, mattresses, heated shoe insoles, summit gloves/mittens, summit base layers, paragliding equipment, cooking equipment, etc.” Purja wrote.

The report surprised experienced climbers, both for the seeming lack of precaution with the gear (either by Purja’s team or someone later using their tent), and for the reference to “paragliding equipment”.

Purja declared himself devastated at his lost gear, although “some damage and disruption was expected,” he said before leaving Base Camp. Luckily, he quickly recovered from the setback and he and his team have continued up with gear and ropes toward Camp 4. He has not made further mention of a paraglider since.

Yet this was not the first time that Purja has shown an interest in flying from a high summit. Purja took a speed-flying course in Chamonix last summer. (Paragliders try to prolong their flight as long as possible, while speed-fliers focus on quick descents from mountains.) It is unknown whether he had any previous paragliding experience, as part of his military training. Publicly, he has never jumped from a Himalayan peak.

It is true that he has not specifically revealed that he wants to paraglide from K2 on this current expedition, but he has never been very transparent about his plans. Probably he wanted it as a surprise exclamation mark to a historic triumph. But his intentions are clearly revealed on the Seven Summit Treks’ climbing permit below:

Whether Purja goes ahead with it depends on a lot of things, not least of which is whether he summits in the first place. But a question remains: Is flying from the top of K2 even possible in winter?

If someone can answer these questions, it’s Max Berger. So we asked, and here is what he had to say:

“Basically, all is possible if the conditions are okay. There is an appropriate chance to fly [K2] in summer if there is very little or zero wind and if temperatures fit. Personally, I can not imagine flying in winter with such low temperatures (even in Base Camp) and such strong winds. Even to prepare to fly, you need time to organize, put the glider in place…and/or have a team to help you. Flying in such low temperatures will definitely hurt you (especially the fingers), as you need to pilot the glider. You need to have good feeling in the fingers for this…Personally, I would not take the risk.”

Berger paraglided from K2 on a windless summer day. Photo: Max Berger/BOA system

Berger went on: “As for Nims, all is possible, depending on the risks he’s willing to take. The more experienced you are (and we can not talk about being experienced after one season of flying), the better you know [your risk tolerance] and what hazards you are going to face. As I understand Nims, he takes a lot of risks on his projects. I guess he is one of few people with a chance to summit K2 in winter, but I doubt that flying from the summit is possible.” At least, Berger concludes, not without maximum risk and minimum wind.

Read more on Berger’s flight from K2 in this interview in CrossCountry magazine. Below, the video about his flight.

About the Author

Angela Benavides

Angela Benavides

Senior journalist, published author and communication consultant. Specialized on high-altitude mountaineering, with an interest for everything around the mountains: from economics to geopolitics. After five years exploring distant professional ranges, I returned to ExWeb BC in 2018. Feeling right at home since then!

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9 Comments on "K2: Are Purja’s Plans to Paraglide from the Summit Too Risky?"

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Paul
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with his zero experience it sounds insane to try paragliding from K2 in winter :/

Damien François
Guest

Exactly my thoughts when I read “Purja started paragliding in Chamonix last summer”. Be careful, Nims, Vayu, Thor and the local deity of winds are not to be messed with. Be safe!

Damien François
Guest

Great, another disliker wishing Nims to be not safe.
What world are we living in?

Anand
Guest

Well said Damien.
Plenty of nay sayers who are going to be surprised when he actually pulls it off. Who Dares Wins.

Scott
Guest

“too risky’?? What exactly does that mean in the context of climbing K2 in the winter?

And of course it is certainly very risky to descend by foot from the summit back to base camp. If he happens to summit in calm winds flying down would be far safer. Yes he might risk frostbite, but he certainly risks that while downclimbing. It seems to me the biggest risk (besides climbing K2 in winter) would be carrying the extra weight. But then again modern wings can be made pretty light and Nims seems pretty strong.

Don Paul
Guest

Well, this is all beyond my abilities but paragliding down sounds a lot safer. Wind is the key weather parameter and I think it’s under 20 km/hr now.

Toby Cronshaw
Guest

At that height he’d need a little wind to be able to launch. Running through deep snow could also be a problem. By a little wind I mean 10 to 15kph. If he’s got a speedwing then they pack down super small and weigh very little so he might as well carry it but chances of having the right conditions is tiny. With a speedwing he could launch in stronger winds but still nothing like what they’ve been getting.

Don Paul
Guest

Carlos G told me they don’t do rope fixing in winds over 30 km/hr. When they talk about weather windows, it’s mostly wind. I bet 10-15 mph is the minimum wind speed up there.

Peter Arbic
Guest

One year of paragliding is pretty much the perfect time in a pilots life to do something like this …statistics don’t lie . Good luck brother …if you win the lottery and get to the summit , why not double down .