Thursday, October 15, 2009

To base jump or not to base jump? That is the question.

The subject of this post is a little off topic. I came across the following video recently and it blew me away. It also got me thinking. And since thinking is what this blog is about, I wanted to share the video and my thoughts with you.

The video is a spectacular composition of base jump footage shot in the Alps. In base jumping, grown men of sane mind throw themselves off a mountain and open a parachute at the last minute… for fun. The jumpers are wearing a wingsuit, which gives them some forward motion while falling and allows them some degree of control over the direction of their fall. They reach speeds of about 140mph. As one of them says in another video, ‘At first when we base jumped our goal was to get as far from the rock face as possible. But after a while that became boring, so now we play around with it a little.’ Playing around with it means they guide themselves using the wingsuit to ‘buzz’ the rock face to as close as an arm’s length away and thread themselves through little irregularities in the rock wall. The scary thing about it is you must remember they are not flying, they are falling. They cannot ‘pull up’ if they have misjudged the height of the next rock wall.

From a philosophical point of view, I think they are crazy. My opinion is the same as the one I give to people who ask me if I have ever been parachute jumping. To risk your life for the sake of pleasure is something I cannot understand. If you are talking about practicing parachute jumping as a military skill, a necessary ability in a noble cause, then I can see the point and find it worthy, and laudable.
The same goes for base jumping. The jumpers may be worthy and laudable people, but it does not come particularly from this activity. You can bombard me with the arguments ‘oh, they are pushing beyond their limits, oh they are conquering their fear’ and all that, the bottom line is they are doing it for a kick. Whereas if you were to ask a group of soldiers to learn to base jump in order to carry out a mission to save lives, it would be noble, brave and admirable. That is my view. I am open to your arguments.

Having said that, all tastes can be found in nature. That these guys and gals get a kick from doing this is a part of the human kaleidoscope. There will always be people willing to risk their lives for the thrill of it. You certainly cannot deny that what they do calls for huge dollops of courage. And it must give them a huge kick.

The music by Ugress that accompanies the video is very well chosen and the video is beautifully edited to match it. If it were not for the music, this would be just another base jump video. But the music takes the images to another level, beyond the edge of the real to a nightmare world where reason has no say. Here you have the dreadful dark awesome power and beauty of the human spirit, taunting death with a smile and a laugh, as it hurtles through space. Only to land and climb back up the mountain to do it again.

Note: See the jumper Halvor Angvik’s response to this post here.

Thanks to Halvor Angvik for the video and editing, to Ugress for the music, and to Pakiavelli for publishing to Youtube


Halvor said...

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 resitance fighting gravity is so powerfull that the smallest changes of angles on your body or wings will make radical changes on your glidepath for all three axes.
As a pilot it feels more like flying than falling, and with the reference to objects in close proximity you can actually pick a line in the terrain and fly it. Nothing need to 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 can be done in the blink of an eye. Its 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 10th jump is huge when it comes to proximity and time spent parallel to the wall.


Halvor said...

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 flights you are in the clear to break of or pull, and where you have dedicated yourself to a line you will have to finish.
When flying over terrain you never maximise your glideratio. By using a GPS logging device i have calculated that i use aproxemently 70% of my lift capabilities when i fly steep over terrain. When i have picked a line, i know that i allways have reserves to pull out if i for some reason end up lower than i thought i would. This goes for the two last jumps of the video.
The first flight, over eiger, you can notice the camera is shaking a lot. That is because I am going so steep im penetrating the relative wind on an angle where i start to loose all actually lift on the wings. Im flying allmost 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 who showed me the line had done it several times before in a gradual approach.
The last jump actually only have a 8-10 second section where you have dedicated yourselv, the rest of the flight i can allways break off to the left. At the point where im flying through the V-crack i am actually trying to fly even lower into the crack, but i am going as steep as i can while still have a stable flight. That means that i have loads of reserves to "pop" up and clear it with good margins.

Thiese facts probably wont change your mind about base jumping beeing a very high risk activity, and it should'nt. It is a high risk activity because any single mistakes, if its missjudgement of winds and weather, your skills for a spesific object or simply a mistake during flight or deployment, or equipment maintanance and packing - will most likely kill you. It might however help you to understand that I dont 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 dubt that my pakcing or rigging is good, because i will check it again untill im 110% sure its good, and i never fly off a mountain unless i am sure i can make the flight. It still does'nt make it safe, but mabye it makes you see that its not that irresponsible either.

This brings me over to the philosophical part of this reply. Why do I jump? It is not because im 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 adrenalinerush exclusivly, though it is a good sideeffect :)
Fear is one of the most powerfull feelings I experience. Its hard to controll once it hits you and it is hard to rationalize once its there. Ever since I was a small kid I have allways liked to challange that feeling, and the huge reward of satisfaction, and in some cases euphoria, i get from defying it and go 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 defently not something i have from my family, I am quite sure parts of this need is something im just borned with.


Halvor said...

After some jumps however, getting over the first jumps where i didnt really have the personal experience to know how well the equipment worked and that i could do controlled jumps relatively safe, i found that basejumping 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 i would never go to if it had not been for the jumping, and 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 cellcoverage and civilization, knowing that i am going to fly off a mountain when i get to the top, gives me an inner peace unmatched to anything else. Everyday problems are simply left home in the city and i feel absolutly free. Mixing that up with the exitement and the overwheling sensation i get from the feeling of flying through the terrain, its 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 wont risk going through my life without living".
Every person have to make calculated risks at some points in life to get or do something you really want, something that makes your life worth living. It does not have to be physical consequences, it might be an economical compromize, related to someone you love or other tings you really value in life. Some risks might be bigger than other, 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.

Whats left of life if you want risk doing what you really want to do? Are you truly living then? I would not.


Alex said...

Halvor, thanks so much for your reply, which I hope you don't mind if I post for the benefit of my readers. Do you have a photo I mat use so they can see who you are? I have to run for now but thanks again, this is a fascinating subject.

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