Three Challenges of Paragliding Over the Tian Shan

My name is Rhys Fisher and I’m a cross-country-paraglider who has recently embarked on a mission to answer the question, “how do we become better pilots without killing ourselves?”. I’ll do this by putting my own pilot progression under the microscope, becoming a guinea pig of sorts.

Throughout this journey, I will document how the human body changes as I train alongside some of the world's most knowledgeable athletes, to prepare for the 1500 mile long, and 300 mile wide Tian-shan mountain range. Supporters will be given VIP access to the “behind-the-scenes”, and I'll be sharing all the secrets and inner workings that are required to pull off such an expedition.

Along with my team of advisors, we're doing this completely independently, funding the journey through crowdfunding and sponsorship. For the first time in history, this allows me to share the complete journey which includes 2 years of intensive training with some of the world's most respected pilots, athletes, and coaches. Here's a sample of the exclusive updates backers can expect. My aim is to show you that If I can do this, so can you!

In this short post, I’ll highlight the three biggest challenges that I currently need to tackle If I am to make this project a reality.

Like anything in life, if it's worth pursuing it ain't going to be easy...

Getting to take off in the first place

Let me start by admitting that I’m not a natural hiker. My 1.78m height, and 73kg body simply wasn't built for lifting +20kg bags up steep slopes–at least it doesn't feel like it was. That said, I have hiked up 1,000m with 29kg while on a vol-biv from Tolmin to Marmolada, but valley floor was only 200m asl, and my pace was slooooow...

The Tian-shan is a whole different beast. Valley floors can be several thousand metres above sea level, and take offs won’t always be so “perfect” as they are in the Alps. As Jim Orava would put it, “it gets bear-country pretty quickly in those parts of the world”, in other words, it’s extremely remote terrain–the true definition of the wild. Which means I’ll need to bring more gear. Even with ultralight equipment we are still talking about a bag that weighs 20-25kg. That’s about ⅓ my body weight! Being able to hike up several thousand metres before the sky “starts working”, and still in good enough condition to think clearly is critical if I am to make this expedition as safe as possible.

This type of performance won’t come without training, though. And to counter some of the shortcomings of my body, like asthma, and bad knees etc, I’m looking for a professional who has a knack for fielding the best athlete possible. Together we will work on finding the right nutritional balance to fuel a very specific training, which will be written about in detail for those who support the Indiegogo campaign at exclusive access levels. Do you fit the bill? If you'de like to step up to the challenge of helping me become an athlete, please apply here

Keeping it together over “bear-country”

There’s no denying how unforgiving the terrain is in such remote areas. That’s the adventure of it all. Things need to be done professionally right. Otherwise the consequences... Strong thermals, big mountains, valley wings, dodgy take offs, turbulence, lack of oxygen, and low temperatures are just a few of the things that make “keeping it together” anything but child's play. People’s opinions on the level of risks involved with this expedition go both ways (no surprises there), but one friend did make an interesting reflection:

“...because flying through such remote territory is pretty much insane. No medical care, little weather info, few inhabitants, high mountains. That makes it some of the most dangerous territory in the world to fly!”

But here’s the thing. There's no way I would try this without a team behind me–that would be suicide! That’s why I’ve carefully selected some of the world’s most respected pilots, athletes, coaches, and professionals, and brought them on board to help guide me through a tough 17-month training that will prepare me for this type of expedition. Without these crazy monkey’s all this would not be possible. All I need is the budget to make this a reality…

I'm also not planning on going alone, however, when you are in the sky, you are on your own if that makes any sense. Your life literally hangs in your own ability to keep the glider flying. It’s for this reason that I knew it would be essential to have strong paragliding core at the heart of my board of advisors. And I’m super stoked to have Stan, Krischa, Nick, and Adel on the team–all accomplished pilots! Together my team has supported and competed in the most brutal adventure race on Earth, the RedBull X-alps, earned podiums positions in XC competitions internationally, set records, and flown across some extremely remote terrains. And I'm lucky enough to receive coaching from them throughout the next 2 years, sharing all the learnings along the way.

Funding the appropriate level of training

Safety is a priority. Like I said earlier, I want to answer once and for all, how do we get better without killing ourselves–hopefully providing the paragliding community with the most comprehensive data set on pilot progression ever created. To do that requires treating training like a job. And like any job it takes up a considerable amount of time every single day. My life depends on me being professionally prepared–so I'm about to get #$%&ing serious with the training.

I think I know how to live humbly, and have written about traveling on the cheap in the past, but even so, SIV training, flight tickets, food, gym membership, equipment, and rent has a cost. I’ve budgeted around £27,000 as the minimum required to complete the expedition. That’s assuming that I get most of the gear for free from sponsors, and negotiate at every step of the journey.

To fund this project 100%, though, I think I'll need to find a corporate sponsor. And so I’ve put together what I believe to be a very powerful proposal, one I’m confident a big brand would want in on, but before pushing for investment, just as I would if starting a company, I wanted to show traction. This is why it's important that people show support and that together we're able to raise £3,600 before the 10th of January. It shows that everyone involved is committed to making this a success.


As you now probably know by now, Thermal Crossings is a vol-biv paragliding expedition kickstarted with your contributions.

I’m not just asking for donations. In fact, I've worked hard for several months to make sure you get more than what you pay for by partnering with brands like SkyBean and Aloft Clothing.

If you do decide to support, and depending on your contribution, you'll be paying for the exclusive on this journey, limited edition T-shirts, SkyBean Varios, Tandem flights, XC training, and much much more. To check out the full range of perks available, visit the Thermal Crossings IndieGoGo page.

If you want to know the standard of my work, here’s a post I wrote on the 9 tactics to becoming a sponsored paragliding pilot.

And if you're excited about this project and want to go VIP, you can do that from as little as £20. To reserve your exclusive access today, pledge here

Special thanks to: Niviuk & Sup’Air