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Georges Millet climbing Mt. Tasman in New Zealand
Photo by Benjamin Letham
Benjamin Letham at dawn on Mt. Tasman in New Zealand
Photo by Benjamin Letham
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Benjamin Letham speed flying off Mt. Tasman in New Zealand

18.11.2013 by Planetmountain

Video of Benjamin Letham speed flying off the summit of Mt. Tasman, New Zealand.

On 13 November Benjamin Letham and Georges Millet climbed to the top of Mt. Tasman, at 3497m the second highest peak in New Zealand, and then flew down with a paraglider. Or rather, instead of spending 6 hours on the descent, they jolted down with their speed wings, a special type of paraglider that allowed them to glide to the base in a mere 3 minutes!

Benjamin, first of all tell us more about speed flying
Speed flying is faster than paragliding, the main difference being that you can fly in close proximity to steep terrain at higher speeds, launch quickly from steep areas and fly in stronger wind conditions - ideal for mountain flying!

What route did you climb?
Georges Millet and I climbed Mt. Tasman via the North Shoulder and Syme ridge, 1297m from the Grand Plateau above the Tasman Glacier. We chose a near perfect weather window with very little wind forecasted up to 6000m - pretty rare for New Zealand! The route was in near perfect condition last week and one of the better routes I've climbed with stunning views in all directions. I highly recommend it for any alpinists visiting New Zealand!

In the video one can make out that you take off with all your gear
Yes, we fly down with all of our equipment, which means that we climb as light as possible. The lighter the better... I do see an opportunity for someone to develop a lightweight climbing harness that can also be used for flying... My speedwing and lightweight flying harness combined weigh less than 2kg - not too much extra weight for something that saves us hours of descent!

This seems to be your preferred way to descend off a summit
Yes, for sure. For me it's a perfect balance of fast alpine ascent and playing with gravity to get you back to your apres-climb beer faster! It's risky to a degree, but I feel it's calculated risk based on conditions, terrain and past experience. The speed and proximity sure is fun :)

So how would you sum up this latest climb and descent?
A great nine-hour alpine climb followed by one of the best speed descents I've done. It was a pleasure to be in the mountains combining alpine climbing and speed flying during such perfect weather!

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