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Exclusive: Inside an epic parachute jumping expedition in the Himalayas

Jump training for Himalayas expedition (Photo by Jake Blick, Magpul Industries).

Jump training for Himalayas expedition (Photo by Jake Blick, Magpul Industries).

An elite team has traveled deep into the Everest region of the Himalayas to smash skydiving world records by jumping out of a helicopter. Will they succeed?

Led by former U.S. Navy SEAL Fred Williams, the team is made up of highly accomplished U.S. Marine Corps and Army veterans, together with a handful of experienced civilian parachute jumpers. 

To smash skydiving world records, the team headed to Nepal, the landlocked country sandwiched between India and China. While it covers only about 50,000 square miles – close to the size of Iowa - Nepal eclipses most countries in height.

Nepal is home to the Himalayas, the legendary mountain system that stretches for about 1,550 miles and includes some of the highest peaks in the world. More than 100 peaks reach more than 24,000 feet – the most notorious of these is Mount Everest, the world’s highest peak at 29,035 feet.

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This is where the team is conducting an expedition fraught with danger.

Making the Impossible Possible

The team will attempt a series of parachute jumps, endeavoring, at each stage, to push the limits of the possible. They will then move higher and do the same again – smashing world records along the way. The team is equipped with gear from Complete Parachute Solutions (CPS) and breathing systems specialist TopOut Aero to support their attempts to break solo and tandem jump records.

If successful, the team will push the envelope of what is possible with military high-altitude parachuting. Why take on such an extreme series of challenges? “Men that have the courage to push their personal limits through calculated feats truly experience the meaning of life,” explained CPS President Fred Williams.

Preparation and Jump Training

So how did this elite team prepare for such an epic expedition?

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Undertaking anything in the Himalayas is not a walk in the park - team members undertook intense physical training in the months leading up to departure.

For the jumping component, there was intensive preparation. The pre-deployment training zeroed in on helicopter exits at low speeds – a key factor in the expedition. In the Himalayas, the team is using an AS 350 B3 Eurocopter Helicopter in a fierce red emblazoned with a dragon.

Training also worked on aspects like sub-terminal parachute openings (when the parachute opens before terminal velocity is reached) and how canopy speed and performance would be increased at high elevations.

For these sorts of extreme jumps, there is a tendency for the canopy to “over-steer,” which needs to be countered. The team also worked on the pendulum effect of lowered combat equipment.

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Team members also worked to refine a lower, shorter landing pattern to ensure sticking a landing in very tight landing zones. This is a very different scenario to military jump training that is often conducted in desert conditions where the target is typically surrounded by sand and more sand. In the Himalayas, a miss could mean certain death.

Ultimately, the team worked towards landing a parachute at high elevations with increased airspeed and other tough factors such as the extreme, unpredictable winds of the Himalayan terrain. In attempt to replicate the mountain conditions, part of the training took place at the highest airport in the United States at Leadville, Colorado.

Zero to 51

Most of the team are extremely experienced parachute jumpers. Team leader Williams for example, has conducted more than 15,000 jumps in his career.

One team member with military experience, however, took on the challenge of starting the CPS expedition training as a beginner. Former U.S. Marine Corps sniper and sniper instructor, Caylen Wojcik now works as the director of operations for firearms training specialist Magpul CORE.

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CPS is a leader in MFF (Military Free Fall) training and tailors high-level training for military clients to match operational requirements in any environment. But could CPS take a beginner skydiver and train him up to successfully jump in extreme elevations in extreme conditions?

Wojcik trained with CPS in advance, and did some preparation on his own. He arrived at some of the toughest landing zones in the world with a mere 50 jumps under his belt. At 50 jumps, most novices have not even tried other drop zones let alone at one of the toughest locations on the planet.

The Most Dangerous Airport in the World

The Team arrived in Kathmandu and traveled to Lukla – dubbed, with good reason, the most dangerous airport in the world. Lukla is perched precariously at 9,200 feet with a tiny, steep runway in the Himalayas. From this point forward, there would be no wheeled vehicles on the expedition and travel in the mountains is limited to helicopter, animal and foot.

Travelling by foot, the team followed a river and mastered a 1,700 foot steep ascent to reach Namche, at 11,286 feet. After further acclimatization, the team climbed a further 1,100-foot ascent to Syangboche, which is at an elevation of 12,400 feet.

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Parachute operations then began at Syangboche airport - airport being a loose term, given it is a strip of about 100 feet of dirt, grass and rock - a sort of slanted runway on the side of a mountain.  At one end, the drop zone ground rises steeply for about 750 feet and drops off at the other end. 

And this small runway is the only area to land. Stakes are extremely high.

The expedition was off to a very strong start with this remarkable achievement. Wojcik jumped alongside highly experienced jumpers on the team with thousands of jumps under their belt – and nailed his 51st jump in such a difficult location and under very tough conditions.

“To come to the Himalayas as a new skydiver is an incredible opportunity,” he explained. “With the immensity of the location, any jump there is an overwhelming experience.  I wouldn't have been able to make such an accomplishment without the purpose-built training I received from some of the best in the military skydiving community at CPS."

“Caylen's success speaks to the quality of the expedition team members and validates our training programs,” Williams added.

You can learn more about Wojcik’s journey and his skydiving training in Magpul’s very cool video here.

You can meet the team and immerse yourself in the adventure at Tactical Talk available on iTunes. Join the expedition from kick off in Kathmandu through to the Himalayan mountains, flying around in the helo, hanging out at the base camps and breaking world records with the extreme jumps.

 

 

 

Allison Barrie is a defense specialist with experience in more than 70 countries who consults at the highest levels of defense and national security, a lawyer with four postgraduate degrees, and author of the definitive guide, Future Weapons: Access Granted, on sale in 30 countries.  Barrie hosts the new hit podcast “Tactical Talk”  where she gives listeners direct access to the most fascinating Special Operations warriors each week and to find out more about the FOX Firepower host and columnist you can click here or follow her on Twitter @allison_barrie and Instagram @allisonbarriehq.