Colder but wiser af­ter the ice box

Bear Grylls un­der­goes freez­ing wind tri­als in prepa­ra­tion to fly higher than Ever­est

The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - - Wellbeing -

Th­ese past few weeks have been a blur of frost­bite, sore backs and oxy­gen de­pri­va­tion... and we still haven’t left Bri­tain. We are pretty bushed but, let’s hope, fi­nally ready. We set off next week and, if I am hon­est, I am a lit­tle scared.

This month we have taken our first flights on the new ma­chine. Bear in mind that tak­ing off with our nor­mal 20hp ma­chines on our backs can be quite an un­der­tak­ing, then imag­ine what it is like with a 100hp en­gine. I needed two other peo­ple just to help me to my feet and sup­port me.

The tan­dem-style wing, when laid out care­fully on the ground be­hind, is vast and re­quires twice the ef­fort and run­ning speed to get it in­flated. Af­ter three aborted at­tempts in a field in Wilt­shire, I was pour­ing with sweat and com­pletely ex­hausted.

On my fourth at­tempt, the para­jet wing came up solidly above my head, I opened the throt­tle, a noise sim­i­lar to a rac­ing car leapt from my back and the para­jet lit­er­ally blew me off the ground. I was air­borne. I had to hold the en­gine back to about a quar­ter throt­tle, but still I was climb­ing at more than dou­ble the rate that I had ever climbed be­fore — more than 800ft a minute. Un­der para­chute, go­ing up, that is fast. Gilo, my fel­low para­jet pilot, then took off and al­most broke the world al­ti­tude record with it. (The cur­rent pow­ered paraglider world al­ti­tude record of 6,102m (20,019ft) was set by Ra­mon Mo­ril­las Salmeron over Spain last year.)

Since that flight our con­fi­dence has grown. We have taken off many, many times with ever-in­creas­ing amounts of fuel, kit and weight. Now all that re­mains is to be able to do it at 15,000ft, five miles south of Ever­est, and prob­a­bly at night, when the winds are low­est. Time will tell.

Last week we also went to MIRA, a car-test­ing fa­cil­ity in the Mid­lands, where we strung our­selves, and our paramo­tors, up in a wind cham­ber. It is ef­fec­tively a gi­ant deep freeze with enor­mous fans. For two hours we were blasted by winds up to 80mph with tem­per­a­tures reach­ing -75C. I have never ex­pe­ri­enced such pen­e­trat­ing, heart-stop­ping cold. Even with two bal­a­clavas, hel­mets, three sets of gloves and four sets of ther­mals, the wind and cold sneaked in ev­ery­where. Dis­com­fort was the or­der of the day, even to the ex­tent of hav­ing anal probes in­serted to make sure our core tem­per­a­ture didn’t be­come life threat­en­ingly low. At the end, we had to be helped out of our har­nesses, blue and numb. Colder but wiser. We have since up­graded boots, gloves and ev­ery­thing.

We have also now packed up all the kit and shipped it off to Nepal. Gilo’s Para­jet fac­tory in Wilt­shire be­came a heav­ing mass of boxes, oxy­gen cylin­ders, para­chutes, ra­dios, hel­mets, down suits, flares, light­weight ice axes, cram­pons, tents, sleep­ing bags, food, oxy­genated fuel bar­rels, you name it... oh, and two re­mote-con­trol aero­planes, just for fun.

The only items held back by us were the Ever­est para­jet ma­chines them­selves, which will fol­low this week. We needed them here un­til the fi­nal mo­ments, to give us as much time as pos­si­ble to con­tinue test­ing them in the hy­po­baric cham­bers, to tweak the fuel-man­age­ment sys­tems and on-board com­put­ers and make sure all the wiring is in­su­lated to sur­vive the sub-zero tem­per­a­tures. (In the wind tun­nel the en­gine ac­tu­ally cracked with the cold... it has since been mod­i­fied.)

This is the most am­bi­tious and dan­ger­ous project I have un­der­taken. But, de­spite the nerves, I have con­fi­dence in our prepa­ra­tions, so if we keep our cool, make good judg­ments with the weather, cover all our emer­gency plans, then give it our ev­ery­thing, I be­lieve we can meet the chal­lenge. But whether we do or don’t, at least no one can say we haven’t pulled out all the stops.

What I know al­ready is that I am so proud of my team. To have reached this stage is a huge ini­tial achieve­ment. My next re­port will be from base camp, in the shadow of Ever­est. Pray for us, if you have time: for good luck, good weather and a safe home­com­ing. © Bear Grylls/Tele­graph Me­dia Group Ltd 2007.

GKN Mis­sion Ever­est aims to raise $1 mil­lion for char­ity, half for lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties in the Amer­i­cas, Europe and Asia, and half to chil­dren’s char­i­ties in Africa. (www.gkn­mis­sion­ever­est.com).

Para­jet lessons: 08700 116618; www.para­jet.com. A taster day costs £120, all equip­ment in­cluded.

Cham­ber of hor­ror: Bear Grylls and Gilo Car­dozo en­dure a tem­per­a­ture of -75C to test their kit

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