Flying Over Everest
Together with his pilot Chris Dewhirst, Leo was on board the first successful balloon flight over Mt Everest (8848 m), in October of 1991. It had taken ten years of preparation for the team, and was quite an undertaking to get all the equipment up the trail. They were keen to avoid the fate of the Japanese balloon pilots who attempted it the year before. That attempt had ended with a crash and a fire, and one of the pilots was forced to descend to Everest Base Camp looking for help while the other two sheltered under their parachutes.
But with the help of Meteorologists, Leo Dickinson’s balloon was successful. They took off from Gokyo, (4750m) which is a village in Nepal at a height just 610 meters lower than climbers begin their expeditions from Everest Base Camp.The route of the balloons utilized the power of the jet stream to move them over the peak, a tactic which earned them a feature of the recent BBC documentary “The Jet Stream and Us”.
As they approached Everest, Leo was worried that the burners might not be powerful enough to clear the mountain, and when the jet stream took hold of his balloon he said it was “almost like a hand pushing the basket and shaking it.” He described what he saw as he passed over the peak – and what he filmed – as “quite humbling.”
But Leo’s association with the mountain goes back even further. In 1976, he made a film called “Dudh Kosi – Canoeing Down Everest”, chronicling the pioneering journey of some British canoeists who took their kayaks down the Dudh Kosi river. The Dudh Kosi draws its freezing waters from the Tsholo Lake at 4555 meters altitude, which is just 800 meters shy of the Everest Base Campon the Nepali side. The film captures the dangers involved in paddling down unusually steep rapids; it’s such an exciting white water challenge that adventurers have since duplicated the journey Leo filmed.
Filming the Impossible
Two years later Leo brought his camera back to the Himalaya to capture the events of a record breaking climb. European mountaineers Reinhold Messner and Peter Habeler became the first humans to climb Mount Everest without carrying supplementary oxygen. Leo’s film called “Unmasked” follows their trek up Everest to heights where usually climbers would take tanks and masks because of the thin air. From Everest Base Camp the trek took a route past the Khumbu icefall up to the South Col and then successfully to the summit at 8,840 meters above sea level. And like many of the amazing things that happen on Mt Everest, Leo had his camera there to film it.