So here I am, about ready to land, gliding in toward a spot about 30 feet below the peak. I’ve calculated the crosswinds just right, and just as I expected, at the last second, the updraft kicks me up about 20 feet where I slam hard into the face of K2.
Actually, relatively speaking, K2 slams hard into my face. A piece of icy rock or rocky ice or whatever kicks me in the mouth like a Ninja wearing stripper shoes, causing me to gag on my two top-front incisors. It smarts, but it’s no great loss, since I’m already on my third set of implants for most of my front teeth. Thank god for my sponsorships.
My dentist is Dr. Michael Unti, DDS, of Palatine Complete Dentistry. He uses all the latest pain-free techniques and his office is centrally located along Northwest Highway, with plenty of parking in the rear. Ask about his convenient payment plans.
I just gulp down the teeth because more pressing matters are at hand. The updraft is still pulling my open chute up and I’m about to be dragged up and over the summit. As I reach the peak, I spin myself around quickly and I wrestle with the lines, frantically twisting them to collapse the canopy. Normally a skydiver in this situation would just pull his cut-line to release the canopy, but I’m going to need this silk later for my hang glider.
Teetering on the opposite edge of the summit, I finally get the chute under control and bundle it up tightly with the lines so it can’t blow away. Then I take a deep breath and assess my situation. Mostly I just relish the feeling of accomplishment — knowing that I’ve just done something no other man, living or dead, have ever even dared to attempt. I have to tell you, it feels fucking great. And I have to tell you because you’ll certainly never have an experience like this.
The view is fantastic, but I’m disappointed to find that I won’t be capturing it on film. The hard impact on landing shattered my helmet-cam. Actually, it’s kind of a relief. It was a custom-fabricated 42-pound IMAX 70mm film camera I was using to create a big-screen documentary of this adventure, and wearing it felt like walking around balancing two cases of Lienenkugel on my head. Good riddance. I decide to keep the additional twenty rolls of film in my fanny-pack and try to return them when I get back to the States — if I can find the receipt. (I did, but the supplier refused to give me a refund on unused film. Jerks.)
The loss of the film camera was only financial, and I shrugged it off. I won’t miss the money. And what do I care if some balding suburban loser can’t bring his pudgy spawn to some damned amusement park theater to vicariously experience my life so they can be momentarily distracted from their own pathetic existence? Fuck ‘em.
I’m standing on the peak of K2, a wind-swept chunk of packed snow about the size of a queen duvet laid out flat. This is all the space I’ll have to assemble my hang-glider, and thankfully it’s just enough.
First I loosen the Velcro straps holding the framework sections to my legs. Assembling the frame of the glider is very much like assembling a LAXVIK shelving unit from IKEA. There are about eighteen metal rods that fit into each other and then are secured with hex screws that you tighten with the supplied Allen wrench. I unfold the instruction sheet, but the wind catches it almost immediately and I watch it sail away. No sweat — it doesn’t look too tough to figure out.
As I set to work, I felt the day’s first twinge of fear. Sure, the high-altitude skydive and the brutal landing were both a little harrowing, but nothing compared to the fear of fumbling my grip on one of these tiny screws. My fingers are shaking in the freezing cold, and dropping just one could mean hours of digging through the snow to find it, and I don’t have hours. Without the proper gear, I couldn’t survive a night on this peak. So to live, I must sail off this rock by sunset. Why don’t they give you a few extra screws in these kits so that dropping one isn’t a CDE? Cheap bastards. I guess they assume most people will be assembling their glider in a parking lot or in a garage — not on top of a 28,000 ft. summit.
The work is slow going, because after each screw is secured I have to take a break to warm my hands in my pockets. Frostbite is a very real possibility up here. I’m not as worried about my hands as I am my nose, which could turn black and fall off if I spend too much time up here. I’d like to avoid that.
Finally I’ve assembled the glider frame and step back to check it out. Then I notice something that nearly stops my heart. One side is noticeably longer than the other. I have apparently connected two long poles on the left side and two short poles on the right, when I should have put one each on each side. At this point I immediately regret impulsively throwing the Allen wrench off to the side after tightening the last screw.
With the Allen wrench probably buried in a snowdrift a thousand feet down, I’ll have to come up with some other way of unscrewing and re-screwing those hex screws. I stay calm and search my pockets. Coincidently, the ignition key to my Saturn Ion works perfectly. Dodging yet another CDE, I chuckle as I quickly reconfigure the wing frame to the proper symmetry.
Now it’s time to sew the parachute cloth onto the frame. You might think that threading a needle in shivering cold, 30 mile-per-hour winds would be hard, but in fact it’s surprisingly easy. When you wet the thread with your spit, it freezes instantly and that makes it like threading a needle with a needle, which isn’t hard at all.
In other circumstances, I would recommend using a double stitch when sewing fabric to the wing of any sort of aeronautic craft — but I opt for just a single stitch. I’m not planning on using this glider more than once, and having to reconfigure the frame has cost me valuable time. I’m sure a good single stitch ought to hold for the ten minute flight down.
Continued next week: taking flight.