16 Sep 2019

Group of Kiwis set to paraglide off Africa's tallest peak

1:54 pm on 16 September 2019

After a chance meeting in a Department of Conservation hut, four young Cantabrians are flying to Tanzania to climb Mt Kilimanjaro and paraglide off the peak.

Guido Loeffler, Ryan Wilkes, Chris Cain and Harry Seagar will be attempting one of the world's most difficult paragliding courses, starting on Wednesday with an eight-day hike to the top.

It has only been completed by a handful of people before - and their team of "relatively inexperienced paragliders" are among the first New Zealanders to attempt it, along with Tauranga paraglider Hugh Robb.

Inspiration struck when Mr Seagar noticed a tattoo on Mr Loeffler's calf, which depicts three mountains he hopes to climb in his lifetime.

"I was like, 'That's awesome, I'd love to join you on a mission at some point.' He was like, 'Well, we could do Kilimanjaro. I'm actually keen to do this event and paraglide off it,'" Mr Seagar said.

That event is run by the charity Wings of Kilimanjaro and the team of Cantabrians, Fly the Roof, are hoping to fundraise $40,000 for a primary school at the foot of the mountain.

Joining them on the hike-and-fly are 16 other solo pilots and 4 pairs of tandem pilots from around the world, including one other New Zealander, Mr Robb.

Mr Loeffler said there would be a high risk of altitude sickness on the gruelling trip to the top, so the team had taken a "unique" approach to training, becoming frequent visitors to Vertex Altitude Training gym in Christchurch.

In a chamber there, they had been walking and cycling at reduced oxygen levels designed to simulate heights of up to 5500 metres, just 385 metres short of Mt Kilamanjaro's summit.

"Everything becomes a lot harder," Mr Loeffler said.

"You'll notice that even just walking on a treadmill, your body has to work several times as hard.

"If you push yourself too hard, your blood oxygen level drops, you start feeling dizzy and almost a little drunk. It's kind of a strange feeling but it's really good to get familiar with."

The team had also been practising as many no-wind flight starts as they could, from the Port Hills near Taylor's Mistake, among other local summits.

Mr Cain said the biggest challenge will be getting lift-off from Mt Kilamanjaro's peak, where the air is thin and there may be little or no wind.

"There's a big difference between getting to the top and just making it - and running a paraglider off the roof of Africa.

"The paraglider needs a lot more speed to get off the hill so you really have to run it, which is really crazy to think considering you're just plodding along with not much energy, kind of stuffed from eight days climbing the mountain.

"It's going to be a huge physical feat."

What follows is a 35-kilometre flight down, taking more than an hour.

Mr Wilkes said declaring mission complete would mean "everything."

"We've all sacrificed so much. Time, money, energy, relationships, spending time with other people.

"Even if we don't make it up the mountain, knowing the money we've raised is going to people who really need it, is also going to make it worth it."

The Fly the Roof team hopes to start climbing on Wednesday and be back on the ground next weekend.