Kilimanjaro in Tanzania is the world’s biggest top-to-bottom – a 90-minute glide with 5,000m (17,000ft) descent. And although 35,000 trekkers a year make the summit, only a handful ever fly off it. Peter Fay did it last year.
When Covid hit, my flight school in Hawaii, Paraglide Maui, was forced to stop running the school van. So a friend and I started to hike the 300m to launch instead. At the same time I saw a film online about flying from Kili and that triggered the idea. I went with my brother and his wife, who hiked up and down, and my wife, Emma, who flew down tandem with our guide, Pierre Carter.
What’s the hike up like?
We took the Rongai route. It’s a five-day hike and that is the main challenge. You go from rainforest to sub-freezing conditions on the last day, ‘crater night’. It’s at altitude, and the hike up was the most physically demanding thing I’ve ever done.
Our guides, Dawson, Steven and Robinson, had a saying in Swahili: “Nobody remembers how long you took, just if you made it or not.”
Imagine your normal leisurely walking pace, then half it, and half it again. It’s that, for six or seven hours.
Where do you launch from?
Once you make it to the crater rim the hard part is over. After taking photos at Gilman’s Point Pierre started pushing us to walk the next kilometre to the launch site at Stella Point. When we got there the wind was gusting way more than I’m used to. But there was no way I was hiking back down. It took Pierre and Emma two attempts and me three. There was a big cloud layer below us but reports from the LZ were all good. I was flying my normal wing, an Ozone Alpina 4 (EN C).
How was the flight down?
On Maui we fly with clouds all the time, so I had no concerns about going through the top layer of clouds, from about 18,000ft to 16,000ft. I had a fat three-inch analogue compass, most important for clouds. Then I glided over the top of the next cloud layer, which was 12,000ft to 10,000ft. And after that it was nice, scattered cumulus clouds at 5,000ft. The flight took 90 minutes, a straight 40km glide from 5,750m to landing at Moshi at 700m. Pierre has done it several times with Paraglide Kilimanjaro and says he’s flown two times out of three.
Any advice for pilots who want to do it?
It’s an extreme bucket list thing because it’s the longest free-flight descent in the world and it’s so difficult to get to launch. It was amazing to be 17,000ft AGL but the flight itself is not so challenging. It’s the whole adventure, of which the flight is the culmination of months of planning, a trip to Tanzania, and a brutal hike to launch.
March and September are the seasons for the Kilimanjaro flight.
This article was first published in the Cross Country Adventure Guide 2022