Paragliders Utilized GPS Tracking For Adventure
Few of us have the time, the stamina or the courage to traverse the world’s highest mountain range on a glider, but the world followed with interest as a group of men attempted the feat nearly a decade ago.
Himalayan Odyssey 2010 took flight March 9 with seven men, each piloting a thermal-powered paraglider northeast over the ragged border between India and Nepal. Their 800-mile zig-zag journey over the snow-capped mountains took 48 days. They were the first team to complete such an adventure, but the final number of people who completed the journey dropped from 7 to 5.
The trip was recorded in detail by GPS trackers and streamed lived to a fan website. The live satellite mapping feature was supplemented by a blog from team members and their organizers. Video and photography was shared online, to project a feeling of “being there.”
The Himalayan Mountains span six countries, mostly in India. The Odyssey group itinerary had them flying from Dharamsala to Sikkim, India. Besides the pursuit of pleasure and the desire to complete a record-setting trip, the group had motivation in conservation. They were able to bring attention to the plight of Himalayan Vultures, which are dwindling in number due to intestinal disease.
Paragliding is slow and gentle travel, perfect for sightseeing and challenges where pace is not a priority. The gear as a whole looks like little more than a fancy bedsheet with some strings attached. It weighs about 30 pounds and can fit into a backpack.
The pilot does not free-fall or jump off cliffs; he runs down a mountainside and glides away. Pilots are poised in a seated position. Riding on pockets of warm air, the hobbyists are known to stay aloft for three or more hours at a time and can glide to altitudes of 20,000 feet. The landings are usually slow and gentle.
The gliders were equipped with data loggers (GPS trackers with no monthly fees), but there was no self-propulsion, so the pilots were subject to the whims of the wind and weather. One of the toughest challenges they faced was to land near predetermined targets and near each other, so that the pilots remained in the safety of a group. When they were separated by a distance, the pilots would find their bearings with two-way radios, iPhone smart phones, and their GPS tracking and navigation systems. The gadgetry was all recharged by solar panels.
The participants in Odyssey 2010 had collectively about 24 years experience in flying in the Himalayas. The group leader was Brad Sander, 34, from the USA. His travel companions hailed from foreign countries including France, Spain, Austria and India.
Each pilot’s GPS tracking position could be tracked online, with a new position update provided about every 10 minutes. Positions were posted on the Web on a Google Map in what was essentially real-time GPS tracking. Each evening, the final destination of the paragliders was posted on a common map, with a virtual, digital diary summarizing the experience. This information is still online today!
When one of the key members from the group was asked what is favorite moment from the adventure was he simply stated, “That every two to three days we were all together again: either meeting in the sky, by bus or jeep or simply walking. We really tried to promote the teamwork, instead of performance and maximum kilometres covered.”
A decade or two ago, this marathon mountain experience probably would not have been undertaken, even by the most experienced of sportsmen and scientists. Armed only with ice cleats, axes, ropes and pure skill, the mountaineers’ chances of surviving as a group over 800 miles would have been slim. GPS tracking technology has revolutionized the sport of mountain climbing because hobbyists have almost constant exposure to open sky. GPS tracking receivers capture signals from the Department of Defense Satellites and give precise latitude, longitude and altitude readings. Real-time GPS tracking systems allow anyone, just about anywhere in the world, to monitor the paragliders’ progress on remote computer. While injury, death and weather disasters are still great dangers, unless there is major mechanical failure in the tracking system, separation from the group and loss in the wilderness of the mountains, is nearly impossible.
Sage is a freelance writer with a background in information technology.