It’s Saturday 17th February and the Rip Curl Team are stuck in Jonsom. The guides have never seen such bad weather for the season. The heavy snowfall means that the boys are running out of time on their acclimatisation schedule… far too much time! The timing is already running three days late. However, our 4 riders refuse to be beaten. Chris and Per are helping out the army shift the snow off the runway of the small airport. They end up messing around together. As the sun falls, there is still a huge layer of ice on the runway and the doubt sets in – ‘will we be able to take off tomorrow morning?’ Maybe… whatever happens, happens.
Next morning, Per and Chris head back to base with the army guys, but this time with a lot more army guys than the day before - the level of provisions becomes worryingly low. The work progresses quicker than the day before, and finally it gets a little warmer, and the ice slowly starts to melt. Monday, they can finally get to Pokhara, and as soon as they step foot off the plane, they’re on the bus which takes them to the chopper.
A winding road takes them high up the mountain where the riders come across a group of soldiers huddled around the MI 17 helicopter. After the intimidating experience of being surrounded by so many weapons and a few stormy words with the pilot, the team take off for Hunde. The needles on the altimeter go through the roof. After 30 minutes flight time, they land in Hunde, a small gathering of several houses at 3 400m altitude lost in a valley surrounded by Annapurna’s giant summits, where they will stay for the next few days.
It’s been a few days now that our boys haven’t been out riding and Baptiste, Per, Chris and Darius are rearing to go. After a quick breakfast, the first group goes on the lookout for the best spot to build the highest kicker in the world. Once again, the altimeter goes nuts. In a few minutes they reach the height of 5500 metres. The pilot and the co-pilot are wearing masks, making the situation even more extreme! Baptiste quickly notices a few areas that could be potentially suitable for building the jump, just under the 5400m mark. A couple of powder snow avalanches drift down the glaciers, as if the mountain knew they were coming. Yes sir, there’s no doubt that the Himalayas are a far cry from the Alps or Alaska. They land and set up camp at an altitude of 4000m from where the chopper will go back and forth up the valley to get the other members of the team. As soon as everyone has arrived, time for freeride! After the first few turns, they realise that the snow has been heavily affected by the wind – it’s not sticky enough. So, accompanied by two guides, Jerome Ruby and Stephane Dan, they won’t take any risks. Beginning of the afternoon, the wind picks up a fair bit. Baptiste causes quite a big avalanche that misses the camera crew by a whisker! Scary stuff “OK, we came close to having a real problem, but we got great footage!" explains Christophe the cameraman.
After all this excitement, the time comes to head back to camp before the wind gets too strong for the helicopter to take off. The first team takes off with the pilot doubting whether he’ll be able to come back and get the others if the wind doesn’t die down. At 4000m up, the weather can change quickly and violently. The people left at base camp know that there is a chance that they won’t see the chopper for a while. When the first team arrive back at the valley, the pilot and co-pilot turn the motor off. Bad sign. For the pilots, there is no way that they are gonna take off unless the wind calms down a bit. The team pause for a bite to eat, keeping their eyes fixed on the mountain and staying in contact with Stephane and Jerome at the base camp by satellite telephone. One hour later, the wind suddenly dies down, and the helicopter finally takes off. Very soon, the team is reunited, and are very happy that half of them didn’t have to spend the night at 3800m in a tent, in wet clothes and freezing wind. During the briefing, the atmosphere is tense. There are only two days left. One to build the kicker 5300m high up and another one to jump off it. Of these two days, it’s the construction day which is the most worrying. The acclimatisation period was cut short during the trekking and building a jump several metres high at this altitude is one hell of a challenge!
Follow the adventure on www.ripcurl.com/himalaya