Hours going up, minutes coming down

Zac Morris ski-tours in the Aoraki Mt Cook National Park. Photo supplied.
Zac Morris ski-tours in the Aoraki Mt Cook National Park. Photo supplied.
A Wanaka duo want to take the fast way down after climbing a towering peak in the Himalayas next year. Marjorie Cook meets the men who want to soar like eagles.

Wanaka adventurers Mal Haskins and Zac Morris plan to climb an 8000m peak in the Himalayas next year but really hope they don't have to climb back down.

They want to fly, as fast as possible.

Planning for the world-first speed-flying-with-skis descent from 8000m is already under way and the men were "super-stoked" to learn this week they had received a $10,000 Hillary Expedition grant towards their costs.

Sport and Recreation New Zealand announced 10 of the grants last Monday for a range of kayaking, caving, climbing and other adventures.

Mr Haskins (38) said he felt humbled and motivated to be selected.

The funding would be used to support and equip the expedition.

"Doing it on the cheap just cuts your chances of getting things done. A properly supported and equipped expedition will mean good decision-making on the peak."

Mr Haskins' original expedition companion, Dugald Peters, of Queenstown, is now unavailable so Mr Morris (31), a close friend, climbing companion and former flatmate, signed on.

"I decided this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. At first I thought, 'Oh no. It's not me. You must be crazy.' I asked for a couple of weeks to think about it and decided it was a good chance to do something challenging," Mr Morris said.

Mr Morris said the grant would remove some of the weight of expedition planning from his friend's shoulders.

"If we have more people supporting us, we can focus on climbing and getting that done," Mr Morris said.

The men will film and document their flight, using cameras mounted on their helmets and feet.

They have researched climbing and flying from Shishapangma in Tibet, but in case the Chinese authorities do not grant permission, they are also researching other 8000m climbing and flying options in Tibet and Nepal.

The trip is planned for the pre-monsoon season of April-May or the post-monsoon season from September to November.

"In pre-monsoon, you get a lot of valley breeze. In post-monsoon, it is calmer, clearer conditions. And it's getting colder and there is less light. So we have to balance all that out," Mr Haskins said.

The descent will be quick and they must be prepared to land sooner than expected.

On a training flight with skis last month, Mr Haskins launched about 30m below the summit of Mt Aspiring (3033m) and took just 2min 31sec to land below the Ramp on the Bonar Glacier, after reaching speeds of 144kmh.

"That was an interesting flight. The wind was coming from the southwest, which was wrong for the direction I was flying ... I like to fly very fast and close to the ground and did that for the first 300m, but the wind meant I had to then go higher to provide more of a margin [for troubleshooting]."

Because Mr Haskins landed, to avoid getting into serious problems, he had an unplanned trek from French Ridge to Mt Aspiring Hut in his ski boots (he had crampons).

"That is the flipside with this sport. If you are flying in the mountains, you have to be prepared for a landing and a walk out."

The adventurers also have to be prepared for the possibility they may not get to fly.

"To climb an 8000m peak, the summit window is never sure. To fly, you have to have a flight window coincide with a summit window. We could get there but it is too windy to fly," Mr Haskins said.

He has been thwarted before. The most memorable time was during a commercial expedition on Lhotse (8516m), in Nepal, in 2008. He had the chance, after bringing his client down, to return to the summit for the flight, but he had to turn it down. 

"The next day was ideal for flying but I was too shattered to stay there," he recalled.

"It is super obvious when it is not on. ... You don't want to be in the sky going, 'Oh, I might make it.' That is stupid."

Mr Haskins credits Queenstown adventurer Chuck Berry for helping him learn to fly and make the tough calls.

"He said, `You gotta be real smart when you are going to do dumb things'."

Mr Haskins has known Mr Morris for about eight years and trusts him implicitly.

"The good thing is, we can be in the hills and look at stuff and pretty much think the same things without having to discuss it too much," he said. 

Speed Fly 8000
Mal Haskins
• Age: 38.
• Lives: Wanaka.
• Works: Professional alpine guide, former electrical engineer, former Australian Army infantry officer, outdoor education tutor. Guides internationally. Has helped pioneer speedflying in New Zealand. Flown from 5000m peaks in Nepal, Mt Aspiring (3033m) and other peaks in Aoraki-Mt Cook National Park.

Zac Morris
• Age: 31.
• Lives: Hawea Flat.
• Works: Professional commercial tandem paragliding pilot and instructor.
• Background: Experienced climber, with experience in the United States, South America and New Zealand. Former member of US junior alpine ski team. Has flown from 3000m peaks in Aoraki-Mt Cook National Park.

What is the project?
World-first attempt to launch speed wings from an 8000m peak in the Himalayas.
• Skills required: off piste ski touring, climbing, paragliding, skydiving.

What is a speed wing?
The specialised wing has the control characteristics of a paraglider and the descent rate and responses of a high-performance skydive wing. It allows fast descents down the sides of mountains, with the pilot wearing skis to interact with the terrain and reach areas not normally accessible to skiers. Can be done without skis, but the pilot would not want feet to touch the ground.
• Speeds: Up to 100kmh.

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