Red Bull X-Alps

Wind, wilderness and vodka: Krischa Berlinger’s hike and fly “suffer-fest”

Krischa Berlinger – a supporter in Red Bull X-Alps 2015 – and Slovakian pilot Jakub Beno (called Kubo by his friends) encountered their limits on 43-day hike and fly adventure across Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.

© Krischa Berlinger
 at around 5500 in the pamir
 kubo making friends
 the first of many long walks. getting hassled for snicker by a local bandit
 in the flats of chatyr-kul next to the chinese border
 final glide towards chatyrkul2
 pamir plateau with lake karakol in the back. flying at around 6200 meters
 map with flags plus straight line

The straight-line distance was 1400km. But this fails to fully capture the intensity of their adventure. They flew 1170km and walked 740km. 

Berlinger and Beno's adventure began at the start of July in Tajikistan’s Zeravashan Valley. They hiked and flew eastward to Rasht Valley and on to one of the world’s highest plateaus – the Pamir, or “the roof of the world”.

They then crossed into Kyrgyzstan where they traversed the Tian Shan mountain range, where the ancient Silk Road once passed. From there, they made their way to Lake Issyk Kul before arriving at the country’s capitol city, Bishkek, the end point of the adventure.

We caught up with Berlinger to hear about an adventure that brought him to his limit.

Recovered yet? 

The last four days were really tough because we had to walk along a four-lane highway with heavy pack backs. We had bleeding feet and inflamed tendons so it was a proper ending to what was already a big suffer-fest. It’s taken me three weeks to fully recover. 

Why was it a suffer-fest?

It began in Tajikistan when we contracted a parasite on our second day. We lost our bowels every half an hour. We also struggled getting enough water and got dehydrated. The moment we reached Kyrgyzstan we had to walk a lot because of strong winds. The jet stream came down and installed itself over Kyrgyzstan. Our weatherman Louis Tapper told us, “Get used to hiking and treat flying as a bonus.”

Did it push your comfort zone?

So much it’s difficult to put into words! I only started flying in 2012. Nearly every flight we had was out of my comfort zone. It pushed my limits more than anything I’ve ever done. 

How was the food?

Nomads often fed us. But they only have white bread, fermented horse milk, and sheep heads and sheep intestines. In the shops the only thing they sell is vodka, cigarettes and Coca Cola. We got invited to vodka parties all the time. It was impossible to refuse. 

What was the most fun part?

The flying and the camaraderie with Kubo. He’s an incredible person to hang out with. We never got sick of each other.

Learn anything important?

That if you set yourself a goal, to get from A to B, so much more is possible than you actually think. Even if the conditions are poor or the weather forecast is bad, so much more is possible than the books suggest. It also taught me when I need to be more cautious. It gave me a big lesson in humility. 

Hardest part?

The hardest moments were the three times we landed backwards because of strong wind. Landing backwards happens when the wind is stronger than your wing can fly in. You can’t control your glider and get dragged by it along the ground when you land. It’s something all pilots dread. 

What was the highest altitude you flew to?

Kubo, 7250m, myself to 6884m. It was awesome. We were flying through the Pamir, the roof of the world, and we were screaming, “hell yeah!”