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Seven summits to fly from. Project of South African climbers

Elbrus.      A team of three intrepid athletes is preparing to climb the seven highest mountains on all seven continents, and then paraglide down, to raise funds for charity.  THE paraglider slowly drifted down from the ... read more


  A team of three intrepid athletes is preparing to climb the seven highest mountains on all seven continents, and then paraglide down, to raise funds for charity.

 THE paraglider slowly drifted down from the blue sky, moving in broad circles as he lined up to land alongside a banner reading "Seven summits, 7 flights". 

 Pierre Carter paraglides in to the press briefing at Delta Park Pierre Carter's aim was perfect - he landed softy and gently ran up to the crowd gathered in Delta Park in northern Joburg, his rectangular orange and white parachute billowing behind him.


 Carter is one of three athletes to tackle this "journey of a life time", in which they will be the first team in the world to summit the highest mountain on each of the seven continents, and once on the summits, paraglide down to their starting points. The other members of the team are 33-year-old Marianne Schwankhart and Peter Friedman. Carter and Friedman are both 43.

 They will set off on Sunday, 11 July and begin by tackling Mount Elbrus in Russia, at 5 642 metres. The other summits on which they will be leaving their footprints are: Carstensz Pyramid in West Papua, Indonesia (4 884m), Mount Vinson in Antarctica (4 897m), Kilimanjaro in Tanzania (5 895m), Denali in Alaska (6 194m), Aconcagua in Argentina (6 959m), and the tallest of them all, Everest in Nepal (8 850m).

 They admit that Carstensz Pyramid is the one that makes them the most nervous; despite the fact that it is the lowest, it is the most dangerous, and no one has ever tried to paraglide off it before.

 "Walking back down a mountain is the most dangerous part of climbing, so paragliding down will reduce the risks," says Carter. All three members of the expedition recognise that there are great risks involved.

 Problems for paragliders at these heights include strong winds and temperatures dropping to -30°C, or -50°C with the wind chill element. If the winds are too strong they will have to wait until they drop, for up to eight hours, if necessary.

 The three have had special lightweight gliders made, weighing 10 kilograms. A standard glider weighs 40kgs.

 Carter and Schwankhart will do a tandem paraglide off the summits, so that Schwankhart can photograph the summits on the way down, while Friedman will attempt the flights as a single glider. They will be taking along two cameramen, Guy Habbard and Kyle O'Donaghue, to capture the three of them climbing and flying. Both are climbers as well.


The idea originates with Carter, who has had this dream since 1991. The team expects to finish the challenge in around two years, largely driven by financial constraints and weather and seasons. For instance, Mount Everest can only be climbed between March and May.

 The idea of climbing the seven summits originated with Dick Bass in 1985. Since then more than 200 people have climbed all seven. Climbing and paragliding off them has been attempted before, by a French couple, but they never completed the task.

 Carter has been paragliding since 1988, and represented South Africa in the world paragliding championships for five consecutive years between 1991 and 1995. He has been climbing for almost 30 years and has summited and paraglided off two of the seven mountains - Elbrus and Aconcagua. He is considered to be one of the 15 greatest paragliders in the world, and will be the team leader of the expedition.


Schwankhart, an award-winning photo journalist with The Times newspaper, has been a climber since 1995. She was the first woman to climb the sheer east face of the central tower of the Torres del Paine in Chile in 2003, and returned in 2008 and climbed all three of the peaks, again setting the record for a woman.

 Paragliding off Mt Elbrus in Russia In 2005, she climbed the Trango Tower in Pakistan - 900m of vertical rock face - to a height of 6 500m. The same year she climbed Cerro Torre in Patagonia, Argentina. Climbing a sheer cliff face requires the climber to sleep for several nights on the mountain, sleeping in a suspended hammock-like contraption, hanging from the mountainside.

 In 2006, she filmed No Need for Parking - an Africa Rock Adventure, a record of her climbs in southern Africa. Remarkably, Schwankhart doesn't see the climbing or the sub-zero temperatures as her greatest challenge in the venture; she wants to be able to take good photographs.

 "The purpose of my trip is to take amazing photographs, so I hope I can do this. My main worry is whether my camera batteries are charged," she explains. The climbing is of secondary concern. "Mount Elbrus is an easy mountain, I am not too worried. I can rely on muscle memory for the climb."

 She is not a paraglider though, and is a little concerned about being air sick.

 Friedman has been paragliding for eight years and has fixed-wing and helicopter licences. He has a black belt in karate and has represented South Africa in Japan at the world karate championships. He has also represented South Africa in the world surf skiing championships in the United States.

 He has been the driving force behind putting the expedition together, raising the all-important funding and sponsors.


Flight from Elbrus by Carter


The expedition will be raising funds for The Trust, an organisation that raises funds for 100 charities, with causes ranging from crime survivors, abused animals, HIV and Aids sufferers, to protecting the environment. This year's particular cause is fighting human trafficking, in partnership with Cintron Africa, says Tracey-Lee Cohen, the managing trustee.

 The Trust will run a series of TV and radio adverts by R&B singer Akon to assist in raising awareness of human trafficking. "The anti-human trafficking case is just one example of a social cause that will benefit from the bravery and initiative shown by the 7 Summits 7 Flights team," says Cohen.

 The expedition will also be raising funds for The Smile Foundation, a charity involved in assisting children with facial anomalies get surgery.

 "We admire the dedicated work of charitable organisations such as The Smile Foundation and hope to help provide them with the resources and funds they need to do their work and overcome their own challenges," says Carter.

 The three estimate they will need about R7-million to complete the whole venture. All the gear has been sponsored, but funding is still needed. Donations can be made through their website.

 The team can be followed on a range of social media: they will be updating their website, Twitter and Facebook pages every few days, and articles will appear in The Times newspaper. DSTV will provide R2-million in airtime to the expedition.

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 7 Summits 7 Flights is an initiative pioneered by Pierre Carter, Marianne Schwankhart and Peter Friedmann with the aim of raising funds for Smile Foundation and The Trust, an umbrella charity providing a safe and transparent conduit to various charities, by climbing to the summits of the highest mountains of each of the seven continents and paraglide from their summits. All contributions will benefit both charities as well as the Seven Summit Seven Flights project.

 The notion of climbing the seven summits was first conceptualized by Dick Bass, an American businessman and amateur climber, who completed all seven summits in 1985. Since then, more than 200 climbers have completed the challenge, with the youngest being eighteen year-old Samantha Larson and the oldest seventy three year-old Ram—n Blanco. What makes this initiative remarkable, apart from the sheer challenge that the seven summits pose, is that the three climbers will paraglide their descent, a feat that has never been achieved, although attempted. To share the experience as closely as possible, award-winning photographer Marianne will fly in tandem with acclaimed paragliding adventurer, Pierre, to photograph and document the journey and the mountains, thus providing a unique view of the adventure from a new perspective where no one else has gone before. Two experienced film crew will compile the video footage into a documentary that will be screened worldwide.

 Apart from the thrill of paragliding off all seven summits, the hope of the South African team, is that the time and effort invested in this endeavor will help South Africans in need; that the obstacles they overcome in their struggles against nature will eliminate the obstacles that many face back at home. For the team, the risk that this challenge poses is a chance of a lifetime to realize the limits of the human body in dire situations “it’s not the mountain we conquer but ourselves”. Sir Edmund Hillary. In addition to enriching their own lives, their motivation for this endeavor is to translate their life changing experience into changing the lives of thousands of less fortunate South Africans and at the same time bringing climate awareness, something highly necessary in light of our current climate change crisis.

 The project launches in June, with our first trip to Denali Ð we hope to complete all seven summits within fourteen months. By teaming up with The Trust as the beneficiary of this project, 7Summits7Flights is truly an example of climbing for humanity.

 It’s the ultimate adventure!

 Three explorers will climb to the summits of the 7 highest mountains on the 7 continents and paraglide off them.  No-one as yet has flown from the top of all seven summits and this will raise the bar in extreme adventure and exploration in 2010.  They will share their experience via photographs, video and blogs from the most remote and fragile corners of the earth.  This will allow others to realise their potential for our planet and will raise money for “The Trust”, a charity aimed at assisting the underprivileged in reaching for their own dreams.