For climbers, descending climbs have always posed grave problems: getting down is often dangerous, can be complicated, and is, above all, excruciatingly slow. Why not then take a page from the book of BASE jumping, whose athletes have found out that the easiest way off a mountaintop is as simple as jumping? Some Adrenalists have taken up this very method of descent, seeking out jumps accessed by climbs…or would that be climbs descended by way of a jump? These are the five best climbing BASE jumps—hybrid adventures that make so much sense it’s a wonder why it took so long for this new sport to come about.
Eiger, North Face
Climbing legend Dean Potter is a fearless free-solo climber that prefers using a parachute rather than any mere rope harness, when he uses any failsafe at all. That’s why it’s no surprise that Potter naturally took his ropeless climbing style to the next level. Appropriately, he called his creation Free-BASE. In 2008, Potter deployed his new tactic on the fearsome north face of the Eiger, a pyramid-shaped peak in the Swiss Alps. Potter unsuccessfully free-soloed the 5.12 route – something that normally would be a life-ending prospect. But when he knew he was going to fall, Potter let go, kicked out from the wall, pulled his rip cord and sailed safely to the ground. The next year, Potter claimed a world record for BASE jumping from high on the Eiger’s shoulder, near where he made his Free-BASE. This historic jump was a three-and-a-half mile, 6,500-foot plummet that lasted three minutes.
Veteran climber Steph Davis calls extreme sports paradise, Moab, Utah, her home, where she makes it her business to climb up and jump off everything she can. As a seasoned desert climber, she has ascended just about everything in and around the iconic region of Canyonlands and Arches national parks. That’s why she was psyched to find a clean crack climb in Wingate sandstone that seems to have gone untouched since the earliest days of its existence—a rarity in an area so heavily trafficked by climbers. Better still, Davis knew the summit of the buttress that the 5.13 climb ascends would make a great launch pad for a speedy approach. Yes, she found that the easiest method of reaching the climb, in Mineral Canyon, was to jump down and hike to the foot of the route—the reverse of most BASE jump-climbs where the jump is the reward for a long ascent.
Castleton Tower, North Face
In 2011, Steph Davis took on an ambitious string of four BASE. jump-climbs, each one on a desert tower in the sandstone playground near Moab. One of her objectives was Castleton Tower, a 420-foot obelisk recognizable to climbers all over the world. Ascending the tower’s north face is a classic 420-foot-long route at the relatively stiff grade of 5.11. Ever searching for a supreme challenge, Davis took the bold step of deciding to free-solo the route—another Free-BASE of epic proportions.
Jumpers are finding that the longest cliff jumps (as with Potter’s plummet down the Eiger) are on the world’s sheerest mountains and other natural landmarks, such as the Cave of Swallows, in Mexico. This happens to be a nice benefit for climbers, who can use their skills to climb peaks others cannot, and to avoid bad weather, harm and hassle by descending as rapidly as a falling rock. Because BASE jumping is so attractive and practical for climbers, and the cliffs that are seductive to climbers are also so seductive to BASE jumpers, climbers and jumpers often share territory these days. Already BASE jumping has pushed the limits of climbing, and vice versa. Climbing photographer Jimmy Chin has documented the progress of both sports in Yosemite. Half Dome, one of the ultimate big walls, is also a popular jumping spot. “BASE jumping is becoming part of the evolution of climbing,” Chin says in the video produced in collaboration with National Geographic and InfinityList.
Like many fine cliff BASE jumps, the Tombstone formation is near Moab, Utah, where it forms part of the horseshoe-shaped Kane Springs Canyon. It possesses many of the attributes of classic climbs and BASE jumps: hundreds of feet of sheer rock, a beautiful natural setting and a clear, open landing zone. Before BASE jumpers began traveling to Moab, climbers had been scratching their way up the formation for decades. But as BASE jumping proliferates, an average day on the cliff sees jumpers rocketing down from its summit as climbers inch their way up.