Pair bonded on epic flight across the Alps

OLD PALS: Rolf Dennler, left, and Roly Parsons reconnect for the first time since they ballooned across Mt Cook together 37 years ago.
Mark Taylor/Fairax NZ
OLD PALS: Rolf Dennler, left, and Roly Parsons reconnect for the first time since they ballooned across Mt Cook together 37 years ago.

Meet Rolf Dennler and Roly Parsons.

The old chums who love ballooning and successfully crossed over the Mt Cook summit together, way back in 1976.

Mr Parsons had one of only four balloons in New Zealand at the time and after conquering both the Southern Alps in 1974 and Cook Strait in 1975, he had his sights firmly set on Mt Cook.

He had been planning the flight with another co-pilot, but the man had to return to work, and his place went to Mr Dennler.

The latter was on Mt Cook skiing and staying in the same mountain hut as Mr Parsons, so after a quick conversation about ballooning, Mr Dennler was in. He would co-pilot the balloon across Mt Cook with absolutely no experience.

"I was the maniac that dragged him into it and he was balmy enough to agree to fly over Mt Cook with me," Mr Parsons said. "He'd never been in a balloon before in his life."

After a couple of unsuccessful attempts due to bad weather and a lack of technology, the pair finally made the successful flight on January 3, 1976.

When asked if they had any fear they may not make it, the pair laughed it off. They both had strong mountaineering backgrounds and knew that area like the back of their hand.

"We're completely at home in the mountains. So when we were ballooning we didn't need maps, we just knew where the dickens we were," Mr Parsons said.

"We took off from Horace Walker Plateau and we picked up a southwesterly wind stream and flew right across the ridges of the great southern divide," Mr Parsons recalled. "We landed in the snow and were recovered by helicopter, because by that stage the heavy cloud had moved in."

And that is the last time anyone has flown any of Mr Parsons' impressive journeys.

"No-one's done a transit of the Alps, no-one's attempted Mt Cook and certainly no-one's had the level of stupidity to attempt Cook Strait," he said.

"It's about time somebody else had a crack at going across Cook Strait, because I want to watch it on the telly," he said.

The pair had not seen each other since their flight, but this year managed to both make their way to Hamilton for Balloons over Waikato.

Mr Dennler's wife Glenda is a pilot at this year's event, so Mr Parsons made the trip from Wellington to visit his old flying pal.

"It's about rekindling a friendship from way back," Mr Parsons said.

And they both absolutely love Balloons over Waikato.

"This event is the best organised event, we get very well looked after," Mr Dennler said. "It's a privilege to come here."

Waikato Times