Sunday, October 24, 2010

Conquering K2 - Part One

The jerk in my crotch by the harness of my deploying chute also jerks me back to consciousness, just as I planned. For a moment I have that disoriented feeling one gets when awakening for the first time in a far-flung hotel room, where one mutters, “Where am I? What time is it?” In this case, the location was hanging beneath a parachute high over the Himalayas, and the time…was my time to make history.

No matter what this day’s efforts will yield, I will have made history. I will be the first man to ever attempt to skydive onto the peak of K2, and then hang glide down.

I had anticipated blacking out during the skydive, since I had bailed out of the Tupolev Tu-96 at 40,000 feet. Why so high? The elevation of K2 is 28,000 feet and I needed an additional 12,000 to maneuver myself to my target, so that called for an extremely high altitude jump to start my day.

Even though the Tupo had seen better days, it did the trick for getting me to 40,000 feet — after paying a hefty fee to the Ruskie pilot, a one-armed unlicensed renegade named Sergei whom I met in a Bombay emergency room. (That’s another story.) At the last minute, Sergei tried to give me my money back as he begged, with tears welling in his eyes, for me to abandon this suicidal mission. I laughed him off.

Why K2 and not Everest? Those who know mountains know that even though its elevation is second highest, K2 is the real deal. The people who have summit-ed K2 are still an elite club, while just about anyone can picnic on top of Everest. Blind guys, crippled guys, and even women are all bumping into each other on that tourist trap. For the real adventurer, K2 is the shit.

My chute deployed as I literally fell asleep thanks to the AAD (Automatic Activation Device) I had attached to my main pack. An AAD is usually used on the reserve chute, but I don’t use a reserve. Reserve chutes are for people who lack confidence in their main chute. Since I always pack my own, I have no use for that extra baggage.

As I blink my eyes into focus, I begin using the toggles on my steering lines to guide me to my target. There it is, just ahead, the majestic pinnacle — Qogir Feng. I prefer the Chinese term, because I’m sure its meaning is much more evocatively poetic than the banal English “K2”.

Landing on the peak will be much trickier than a typical precision landing on flat earth. First there are the 30 m.p.h. crosswinds to consider. But even more challenging is the strong ridge lift updraft off the face of the mountain that can send me right over my target. I couldn’t possibly land directly on the peak without being swept over the side before getting my chute under control.

The only way to do this is to swoop in at about 60 m.p.h. to a spot about 30 feet below the summit. Just as I execute my landing flare, the updraft should send me up about 20 feet up for an impact at about ten feet below the peak. From there, my momentum and the wind should drag me up to the top while allowing me just enough time to gather in my chute before plunging over the other side.

In theory, that’s how it should work. I have to do this perfectly, because even the slightest error will result in a CDE (Certain Death Event). The risk of CDE’s is ever-present in the exciting lifestyle of the ultra-extreme-sport enthusiast. No big deal. It is, however, why I wear a Taint-Tat ID™.

Many CDE’s can render a body so unrecognizable it can only be identified by a DNA match, which is an expensive, time-consuming hassle for your survivors. In this adventure, for example, tumbling down the side of K2 would rip the clothing and skin off me with the efficiency of a Vanmark 2920 industrial potato peeler. But even in the most devastating CDE’s, the taint — that small area protected by your thighs between your anus and genitalia — usually remains intact, so it is the perfect place to tattoo your emergency contact information. I highly recommend it.

By the way, do not be alarmed if you become sexually aroused while obtaining your Taint-Tat ID™. It’s just a normal physiological response that has nothing to do with the particular tattoo artist you’re using, and it’s certainly not worth wasting thousands of dollars on some pussy psychotherapist who’s never felt the life-affirming rush of dodging a CDE.

Continued next week: the landing.

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