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Highs and lows

French entrepreneur flirts with danger in harrowing Himalayan ordeal

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In January 2011 Parisian JeanDavid Blanc joined an expedition of powered-paragliding enthusiasts soaring over the Himalayas. On his last day of flying, he flew into the side of a mountain.

This is a brief, but compelling, memoir of an unlikely rescue in the face of likely death.

Blanc is an Internet entrepreneur and the founder of AlloCiné, France's leading movie portal. This is his first book.

Powered paragliding (PPG to its devotees) involves strapping a motor and propeller on your back so that, aided by giant glider wings, the human body turns into a small plane.

Luckily, Blanc's glider took the brunt of the crash and he was merely bruised. However, he ended up lodged on a narrow precipice halfway up a mountain, without food or water or clothing fit for frigid Himalayan nights.

His two-way radio died after the first day, but he still had his cellphone.

Unfortunately its battery was low, and whenever he turned it on it lost precious juice when incongruous overnight texts from oblivious friends flooded in. There were messages inviting him to dinner in Paris as well as sexual liaisons in a hotel, when what he desperately needed was a helicopter to get off a mountain before freezing to death.

By his second day on the mountain, his phone, too, was toast.

Nepal and the Himalayas have been a metaphor for Western romantic danger since before Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay conquered Mount Everest in 1953.

Jon Krakauer's mega bestselling non-fiction account of the 1996 Everest disaster in which eight climbers died cemented that tragic aura. And Blanc's account taps into that legacy of man challenging, and nearly succumbing to, implacable nature.

Blanc's account showcases his best and worst qualities.

His worst: A crowning impulsiveness that caused him to abandon his fixed, visible, GPS-transmitted-to-rescuers position in favour of a dangerous climb down the mountain, only to promptly get lost in the Himalayan landscape.

His best: His plucky courage and fortitude to keep going, regardless of a late-dawning realization of his own stupidity at abandoning his aerie.

After his rescue, he learns what seemed like half of Nepal was searching for him -- private pilots, villagers and the Nepali army. Even the Dalai Lama had offered up prayers for his safe return.

There's nothing bravura about Blanc's writing, but he deftly conveys the tension, physical stresses and suspense of his efforts to survive the crash.

And, despite his close call, he remains enamoured of, and an advocate for, PPG flight.

It's like "a costume that turns you into a flying animal," he writes.

"You can fly low like a dragonfly or as high as an eagle, as slowly as a butterfly or as swiftly as a falcon. The very best pilots can touch down on a moving bus or land on an egg in the middle of a field."

Blanc would have you believe that floating high above some of the most remote and breathtaking scenery in the world is worth risking your life for.

Though persuasive, his own ordeal leaves you not quite convinced.

 

Douglas J. Johnston is a Winnipeg lawyer and writer.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 1, 2014 G7

History

Updated on Saturday, February 1, 2014 at 8:27 AM CST: Tweaks formatting.

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