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“Big Wall B.A.S.E. Jumping Comes of Age in the U.S.” ::: APEX BASE

Here is the article written by Tom Dancs for Skydiving Magazine

“Big Wall B.A.S.E. Jumping Comes of Age in the U.S.”

Apex Base, together with the support of Go Fast Sports and Beverage Company, organized and hosted the first ever legal big wall BASE jumping event in the US from May 9th to the 11th. The helicopter assisted boogie took place on the Navajo Indian Nation, where the Little Colorado River Canyon is 1850ft deep. Thanks to the tremendous efforts of Jimmy Pouchert and Marta Empinotti, of Apex BASE, and to Eddie Barton’s tireless efforts, the Navajo Indian Nation granted permission for this event to occur in truly awe inspiring location.

Eddie Barton has spent the last 8 years scoping and taking GPS waypoints in the canyon to find the best exit points. He finally settled on the part of the canyon where the event took place, realizing that this where the canyon is the widest, and the walls are the biggest and cleanest for BASE jumping. Eddie quickly realized that if the dream of legal big wall jumping in the US was to become a reality, some serious logistics were going to be needed to make this a “safe as can be” event. Apex BASE has many years of experience across several continents with the planning and execution of BASE jumping events. In addition to designing and manufacturing state of the art BASE jumping equipment, Apex specializes in the management of logistics and safety coordination for such events.

Dave Gibbs, the helicopter pilot, arranged for the appropriate FAA permission to fly and land in the canyon for the duration of the event. This provided the team with a quick and very scenic ride out of the canyon with the Bell 206-L2 chopper. His brother Tim coordinated the loading of jumpers in the landing area. Together Dave and Tim provided the professional and confidence inspiring service that made multiple jumps into this canyon not just a possibility but a reality.

Hank Caylor, Lee Hardesty, Dean Potter, and Steph Davis were stationed near exit point, to affect high angle rescue if it were to be needed. Much to everyone’s pleasure, and due to the skill and professionalism of all the jumpers involved in this event, the rescue crew did a whole lot of sitting around. They were however able to make some jumps themselves, which helped to spice up their many hours of standing vigil.

Casey Shifflet and Eric Miller took up positions in the bottom of the canyon to provide paramedic support. They spent the majority of their time drinking Go Fast, and heckling the landed jumpers as appropriate throughout the event. Chris Hunter and Chris Bazil joined the team, to photograph the event and the amazing desert scenery.

The team made a total of 226 jumps over a three day period. On day one, most everyone made one jump. With the exception of one close call, all jumps went off uneventfully. After the first load, the winds picked up significantly all jumping were halted for the day, and the helicopter was sent home.
After the first load, the excitement in the air was apparent, and the anticipation for more jumps was high. Fingers were crossed that the next day would be calm as per the forecast.

Fortunately, and as predicted, the morning dawned with clear skies, and calm conditions the team was eager to get going. The first jumpers started lining up early in the morning to make the first jumps of the day. By the end of the second day most jumpers had made all of their budgeted 6 jumps. There were numerous wing suit and tracking suit jumps made, in addition to a hand full of aerials and two and three way jumps.

With the exception of a few unstable exits and a few low pulls, all jumps on the second day were executed well and without incident. Rumor has it that one of the paramedics provided one of the low pullers with nice strong kick in the bum, after he provided the folks on the ground with a bit of a scare. The majority of the non wing suit jumpers were taking conservative 8-12 second delays, depending on the distance achieved by tracking. As the event progressed, it became clear that most jumpers were getting better and better distance on their track. Certainly an asset when it comes to big wall jumps. On the last day of the event, and after a fuel supply assessment was made by the helicopter crew, and an additional jump was granted to those who chose to accept it.

Every conversation that was to be heard revolved around how spectacular this jump site is and for good reason. The visuals of jumping into this canyon were breathtaking to say the least. The initial few seconds had one falling past a narrow arête of sandstone. As the track began to kick-in the visual of the huge rock bowl which forms the base of the cliff, provided a sensation that engulfed every inch of ones peripheral vision as the walls appeared to close in around the jumper. Very cool!

In addition to the BASE jumps, there were a few skydives made from the helicopter into the canyon. Jerry Swovelin, one of the skydivers, and incidentally one of earliest American BASE jumpers says that “…this Apex BASE expedition was truly a dream come true.” That dream, according to Jerry, was thirty years in the making.

Marta Empinotti comments that “…in order to do a legal 10 second delay, I’ve always had to go abroad. Not anymore! This is surreal I’m still awed by it. We are hoping this is the beginning of a new era in the US.” Jimmy Pouchert adds “…Having an injury free event for our first time down in the Navajo Nation is so crucial to being able to return, and return we will…“.

The question of how this history-making event will impact the efforts to legalize many of the other big wall sites in the US still remains. One thing is for sure however, that thanks to the efforts of people like Eddie Barton, everyone at Apex BASE and Go Fast, the professionalism of the jumpers involved, and thanx to countless others who are working to make BASE Jumping a legitimate and legal recreational activity, the 2008 Little Colorado BASE Boogie was certainly a step in the right direction.

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