Thursday, October 22, 2009

To base jump or not to base jump? Halvor Angvik's response

The blogosphere is a weird and wonderful place: in the evening you can write a post about a video you have seen of some crazy guy hurtling down the rocky face of the Eiger in a wingsuit and in the morning you can get a reply from him.
That’s right shipmates, here is Halvor Angvik’s response to my previous post To base jump or not to base jump? As you will see, Halvor comes across as a very intelligent, thinking, reasonable kind of guy. Here is his description of the science, the art and ultimately, the philosophy of base jumping.

Hi Alex. I stumbled over this blog while searching for copies of my Youtube video, which has been posted on quite a few sites after someone copied it to Liveleak recently. Internet is quite small sometimes...

First of all I want to thank you for the general review of the composition and the music, and for crediting Ugress which I think make some really unique music. The original video is found on my channel: but it seems this copied version is of a pretty good quality.

As it seems you have put some thought into this, I thought you might want a response from the jumper.

I would like to start of with some technical stuff, to put us on common ground when evaluating risks. As much as I have to agree that what we do in a wingsuit is falling, under the right conditions it is a very controlled way of falling. The ratio between forward and downward movement is up to 3:1, which means you can cover great distances. The thrust generated by air resistance fighting gravity is so powerful that the smallest changes of angle on your body or wings will make radical changes on your glide path for all three axes.
As a pilot, it feels more like flying than falling, and with reference to objects in close proximity you can actually pick a line in the terrain and fly it. Nothing need be left to chance if the jump is planned right and executed in the right conditions.

To refer to this particular video, I mainly fly in close proximity parallel to the wall, with high vertical clearance to the terrain. At any given moment I can disconnect from the wall, with enough speed in the suit that it can be done in the blink of an eye. It’s also worth mentioning that I never start out that close on the first jump on a new object. I jumped one of the walls in the video 10 times on that trip and the difference between the first and the tenth jump is huge when it comes to proximity and time spent parallel to the wall.

The most dangerous thing you can do with a wingsuit is to fly close proximity OVER the terrain. That requires a lot more planning and skills. You need to know that the angle of the terrain is well within your glide ratio limits and you need to know which parts of the flight you are in the clear to break off or pull, and where you have dedicated yourself to a line you will have to finish.

When flying over terrain you never maximize your glide ratio. By using a GPS logging device, I have calculated that I use approximately 70% of my lift capabilities when I fly steep over terrain. When I have picked a line, I know that I always have reserves to pull out if for some reason I end up lower than I thought I would. This goes for the two last jumps of the video.

In the first flight, over Eiger, you can notice the camera is shaking a lot. That is because I am going so steep I’m penetrating the relative wind on an angle where I start to lose all actual lift on the wings. I’m flying almost 1:1 in ratio at some points, which means I have around 60% more lift I can use. That flight was planned using 3D maps from Google Earth and pilots, as well as the one (pilot) who showed me the line and had done it several times before in a gradual approach.
The last jump actually only has an 8-10 second section where I have dedicated myself (to a line I must finish), the rest of the flight I can always break off to the left. At the point where I’m flying through the V-crack, I am actually trying to fly even lower into the crack, but I’m going as steep as I can while still having a stable flight. That means that I have loads of reserves to "pop" up and clear it with good margins.

These facts probably won’t change your mind about base jumping being a very high-risk activity, and it shouldn’t. It is a high-risk activity because any single mistake - whether it’s misjudgement of wind and weather, your skills for a specific object, or simply a mistake during flight or deployment, or equipment maintenance and packing - will most likely kill you. It might however help you to understand that I don’t do this for the risk itself, and the kick I get from handing my life over to faith and see how I manage. Every jump is planned to every last detail, and with good margins. I never doubt that my packing or rigging is good, because I will check it again until I am 110% sure it’s good, and I never fly off a mountain unless I am sure I can make the flight. It still doesn’t make it safe, but maybe it makes you see that it’s not that irresponsible either.

This brings me over to the philosophical part of this reply. Why do I jump? It is not because I’m fearless or braver than anyone else. I think I am as scared as any person and I certainly think a lot about the consequences of my actions. Neither is it for the adrenaline rush exclusively, though it is a good side effect. : )
Fear is one of the most powerful feelings I experience. It’s hard to control once it hits you and it’s hard to rationalize once it’s there. Ever since I was a small kid I have always liked to challenge that feeling, and the huge reward of satisfaction, and in some cases euphoria, I get from defying it and going through with something I am afraid of. When I first started jumping, that was probably one of the only motivations I had. As this is something I have been doing so long, and it is definitely not something I have from my family, I am quite sure part of this need is something I’m just born with.

After some jumps however, getting over the first jumps where I didn’t really have the personal experience to know how well the equipment worked and that I could do controlled jumps relatively safely, I found that base jumping gives me more than just chasing and conquering my fear.

When it comes to jumping mountains, you get to travel and experience untouched nature and places you would never go to if it had not been for the jumping, and you meet a lot of people with the same interests on the way. The feeling of freedom I get from hiking and climbing around in the mountain, out of reach of cell coverage and civilization, knowing that I am going to fly off a mountain when I get to the top, gives me an inner peace unmatched by anything else. Everyday problems are simply left at home in the city and I feel absolutely free. Mixing that up with the excitement and the overwhelming sensation I get from the feeling of flying through the terrain, it’s hard to imagine that I will ever find anything else that will give me as much as base jumping.

"To risk your life for the sake of pleasure is something I cannot understand".
I would rather say "I won’t risk going through my life without living". Every person has to take calculated risks at some points in life to get or do something they really want, something that makes life worth living. It does not have to be physical consequences; it might be an economical compromise, related to someone you love or other things you really value in life. Some risks might be bigger than others, but once you've found out what you really want to do in life I bet you would think its worth taking some risks for.

What’s left of life if you won’t risk doing what you really want to do? Are you truly living then? I would not be.

Thank you Halvor for taking the time to clarify what we see in the video and for sharing with us your passion and motivation for base jumping. I feel so much better about it now. I have moved it down the risk scale from 99.5 to something around 93, perhaps on a level with Formula 1 racecar driving, in the rain.
And I honour you for taking the calculated risks you do to go after what you want out of life… and scaring the wits out of the rest of us with your videos. God bless you, brother.

See my other posts about courage

1 comment:

Raistlin47 said...

Wow! Nice Blog, nice post and a really inspiring letter by the jumper! Thanks a lot!

Discover The Tale of Genji, the 11th Century classic of Japan (click image)

Discover The Tale of Genji, the 11th Century classic of Japan (click image)
Kiyomizudera Temple has a large veranda looking out over Kyoto and beyond