Scott Becker

IT TOOK me just five and half minutes to descend 3000 metres off mount Khan Tengri in Kyrgyzstan to base. The experience was truly exhilarating and I believe it was the highest altitude flight ever made on a speedwing.

Being a keen mountaineer and backcountry skier, I have always been interested in climbing, even in my childhood when I lived in Chicago, US. It was only four years ago that I took up speedflying which is a hybrid sport combining elements of paragliding, parachuting and occasionally skiing.

I use a small fabric that’s inflated overhead by the wind to then launch off a steep slope and glide through the air. If you touch it, it would feel similar to a tent so you’re basically hanging 10,000 feet of the ground by a very small harness, a few strings and a bit of nylon.

My colleague Euan and I, who both work at Blues The Ski Shop in Edinburgh which is part of the Tiso Group, climbed many mountains in Kyrgyzstan but Khan Tengri was simply unforgettable. Euan had to turn back with about 600 metres to go because his toes were getting really cold and were at a risk of frost bite. At that point, I had mixed emotions so he looked at me and said, “look, the conditions are perfect, you should go on and climb to the top because it’s probably possible to fly”.

I continued to the summit, continuously second-guessing myself. With 200 metres left, I realised everything was perfect. The wind was coming from the right direction, the cold weather was exactly the way I needed it to be. At the top of the mountain I was completely alone which is such an exposed feeling. At 22,000 feet above sea-level, being alone is scary especially when I had to take my crampon off. They’re the mental spikes that attach to the bottom of my footwear to help mobility on snow and ice – saying that, I’m probably the only person who has ever taken their crampons off at the summit.

As I’m about to fly off any summit, nerves are a natural part of the process. You’re constantly thinking, analysing and assessing the conditions. I am often nervous or sceptical which is a good thing. If the conditions are not good enough you need to be able to make the right decision not to fly – failure to do this would almost certainly result in serious injury or death.

Once you decide to fly, all you have to do is execute a routine that you’ve practised a hundred times. This is where I stop thinking, stop analysing and simply focus and enjoy the experience. I feel calm and for me it is quite peaceful. When you fly you’re completely in the moment – nothing else matters. It’s an amazing sensation of being able to move freely in all dimensions, effortlessly cruising down a mountain that would take the average climber two days to descend.

The views are one of a kind, everything is absolutely massive. As you’re heading up you see everything from a birds-eye view and the descent down as I’m flying is simply breath-taking. I’ve spent a lot of time in Asia and the European Alps – you really cannot emphasise how huge these mountains are by comparison to the French or Swiss Alps.

Having completed this flight, I am now convinced it’s possible to fly off much higher mountains so that’s something I’m hoping to pursue. I’m in the early stages of planning and hope to be back out soon.

Sophie Buchan