BASE jumping has been popularised in a number of films, including second Laura Croft Tomb Raider, several James Bonds and xXx. It is also a growing favourite among extreme sportsmen and women who tire of the thrill of skydiving. The BASE in BASE jumping stands for Buildings, Antennae, Spans and Earth, which are the four categories of fixed objects from which participants can jump.
People have been BASE jumping for decades (recorded jumps go back to the 1960s) but it was film-maker Carl Boenish who first coined the term. In 1978, Boenish filmed the first BASE jumps made with ram-air parachutes using the freefall tracking technique. The jumps were made from El Capitan, in Yosemite National Park.
BASE jumping is more dangerous than skydiving: firstly, BASE jumpers have less distance to play with; they fall at lower speeds and have less aerodynamic control. They have to time the moment to open their parachutes perfectly and to do that they need to ensure that they are stable. A good launch is essential as a poor one can put the jumper into a tumble and tumbling compounds the difficulties of opening the chute. To minimise the danger (relatively speaking) BASE jumpers use specialised equipment, including harnesses, parachute containers and extra large pilot chutes.
A second danger, not associated with the physical jump, is arrest. Not all locations used sanction jumping, in fact, many jumps from buildings are not sanctioned and jumpers risk arrest for trespassing, breaking and entering, reckless endangerment and vandalism. Conscientious jumpers ask permission before leaping from buildings. Some destinations are more BASE jumper-friendly than others, for instance Perrine Bridge in Twin Falls, Idaho, allows BASE jumping all year-round, as do Norway’s Lysefjord and a number of sites in the European Alps.
Some of the most thrilling and most popular BASE jumping destinations around the world include:
• Perrine Bridge, Twin Falls, Idaho, (mentioned above), is the only US structure that allows BASE Jumping all year-round. At 486 feet above the Snake River, the bridge is one of the lowest jumping locations in the world, as a result jumpers hold onto small pilot chutes that deploy the main chute rather than rely on ripcords.
• Norway is very BASE jumper-friendly, it has two popular destinations: Troll Wall and Kjerag,. At 3600 feet, Troll Wall is the longest vertical drop in Europe, while Kjerag is close behind with a drop of 3200 feet.
• Angel Falls,, Venezuela is the highest waterfall in the world and offers a BASE jump of 2648 feet. It’s only for the most dedicated jumpers as they first have to brave the Venezuelan jungle before they reach it. All who have completed, however, believe the trip to be well worth it.
• Trango Towers,, Northern Pakistan is also a challenging destination as jumpers have to climb an almost sheer sheet of granite 4400 feet high before catching their breath and heading down in a fraction of the time it took it get up.
• Burj Khalifa,, Dubai, United Arab Emirates is the tallest building in the world, so it was inevitable that it would attract the attention of BASE jumpers. Nasr Al Niyadi and Omar Al Hegelan took the plunge in 2010, breaking the record for the highest BASE jump off a building (2200 feet).
• Meru Peak, Himalayas, is the location of the highest BASE jump in the world. An Australian jumped 6604m (21 666 feet) over the east face of Meru Peak in the Garhwal region of the Himalayas, in India.
• The cliff faces in Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland are notoriously challenging and, of course, exceedingly attractive for BASE jumpers. According to the website, jumps in the Lauterbrunnen valley are unsuitable for beginners, as the height of the sites make jumping technically difficult. It also cautions that the Lauterbrunnen valley has already claimed the lives of 10 BASE jumpers.
Of all extreme sports, BASE jumping has one of the worst fatality rates. It is this that makes so many jump spots illegal, as authorities don’t want any blood on their hands. It is also this that makes it so attractive to daredevils and thrill-seekers. So, if you’re going to jump, be responsible about it.