High-flying adventurers battling the elements

Thomas de Dorlodot flies above Concordia, in Pakistan. Photo supplied.
Thomas de Dorlodot flies above Concordia, in Pakistan. Photo supplied.
Two European paragliding pilots flying and walking the Southern Alps from Queenstown to Nelson are battling the elements south of Mt Cook on their epic 800km journey.

Using only their thin nylon wings and their feet, the men - Thomas de Dorlodot (27), of Belgium, and Ferdinand Van Schelven (28), of the Netherlands, - are in training for a race in Europe later this year.

Via the tracking device he is carrying, the Otago Daily Times found Mr de Dorlodot's position yesterday afternoon.

It appeared he was on foot in the Dobson Valley midway between Lakes Ohau and Pukaki, heading northeast, about 40km from Mt Cook.

The pair left the Routeburn Track area near Queenstown about 10 days ago and arrived at Makarora, near Wanaka, last Thursday.

Paragliding pilot Jeff Ripley, of Auckland, met the pair and helped them stock up on food for the next leg to Mt Cook.

Mr Ripley said if flying conditions were good, it would take two days to fly to Mt Cook. Now, six days after leaving Makarora, they would be running low on food.

He expected them to stock up again at Mt Cook.

''Their aim is to fly along the Southern Alps as close as they can to the high ground, bearing in mind they don't have gear for walking on glaciers - ropes, that sort of thing.''

Their sleeping bags and other gear was ''lightweight'', but they were aware they were likely to spend more time walking than flying, because of the weather.

''They knew they were in for a fairly hard leg, with the weather deteriorating on them.

''Their spirits were up. They knew what was ahead. They were just settling in for a long walk.''

Department of Conservation area manager at Mt Cook Ronan Grew said snow had fallen to ''fairly low levels'' on Monday night and it was breezy yesterday, but the weather was improving.

Paragliders were not a common sight around Mt Cook, although in the past some pilots had launched from mountains in the region, including Mt Cook.

Mr Ripley said the two men were ''basically professional adventurers''.

Mr de Dorlodot spent half of each year taking paragliding/trekking tours through Pakistan.

Both men are in a list of 32 competitors in the 900km Red Bull X-Alps race due to begin in Salzberg, Austria, in July and finish 12 to 16 days later in Monaco.

It is billed as one of the world's toughest adventure races, in which athletes can only fly, walk or run.

One observer spoken to by the ODT yesterday remarked the weather made the Southern Alps a far more difficult prospect for paragliding than the Alps in Europe.

- mark.price@odt.co.nz