June 12, 2012

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Just read about the tragic death of another base jumper, the death made all the sadder as he was on holiday with his seven months pregnant girlfriend at the time in Greece.  For some reason the news often picks up on base deaths - of which there are many, but don’t seem to give motorbike, car or cyclist deaths in the same attention.  Base jumping is probably the sport for the new century, media-friendly, high excitement and easy to fit within the confines of a cinema advert or news clip.  It’s so ‘Dude!!!’ who could resist it - even if it is as safe as excepting a lift from Johnny Dawes.

I was sat in Cafe #9 in Netheredge yesterday (great place to write as there’s no internet) and the conversation (conversation is not good when you’re trying to write) got onto caving, one of the owners being a keen caver.  We got talking about the death of Neil Moss in Peak Cavern, who became trapped in a tight spot and couldn’t be extricated.  Eventually, he died due to a lack of oxygen and his body - being unreachable - was sealed up in the passage.  I can remember my dad telling me this story as a kid, which being told as I was stuck in a tight passage in a cave wasn’t very nice.  But even so, the idea of a man being unreachable, and worst, still there, was both horrific and thrilling to my young mind (I was a morbid child though).  The conversation drifted into just how extreme caving was, and that when you were fucked - you really were fucked!  At least when Joe Simpson broke his leg he had gravity on his side when crawling back to base camp.  In the end, we decided that caving - perhaps also fell running - where one of the last bastions of true hardcore sport because they are so unsexy, and could never be made so.  Both are also as hardcore as it gets - far more than climbing Everest or running an Iron Man, but due to their lack of ‘Dudeness no one cares.

Last year in Norway I stayed with the famous Norwegian climber Odd Roar (now that’s a real hardcore name!), who told me that base jumping had become as normal as playing golf over there (there seems to be a rash of sports that are the ‘new golf’), but that it’s popularity scared him, with about three deaths a year in his area alone.  I guess technology - better chutes and wingsuits - had made it safer, with wingsuits allowing the jumper to track away from the cliff (cliff impacts seem to be the greatest danger).  It seems like a fine insight into human nature that instead of using this new technology to its full advantage, zooming away from the most dangerous aspect of a jump, people use it instead to fly even closer to the hard stuff that can kill you.  What I love about climbing is you can be a complete fucking idiot and still not kill yourself (just walk along the bottom of Stanage for proof), whereas in Base jumping one mistake is all it takes - and most often not even one!

A lot of people I know base jump (when Tim Emmett took up jumping I suggested he do a memorial lecture for himself) and so I often get asked if I base jump, as these days you’re nobody unless you dress us up in a suit that’s a cross between Elvis al a Las Vagas 1976 and an Australian’s nightmare and jump of stuff while drinking a can of Red Bull.  Well as you can guess the answer is no (I also don’t slackline, do yoga, drugs or chill unless it’s below minus forty).

Last year up on the Troll a guy emailed me, a guy who was big in base and tough many to jump (he’s probably dead now, as the base seems to be full of dead guys who were ‘the most experienced and safest’ proponents of their sport).  Anyway, he offered to teach me how to do it.  This was my response:

Thanks for the offer.  A long time ago I lived in London and worked with a girl who told me that one time she took heroin and that it was the greatest feeling she’d ever had - or would ever have; better than any orgasm.  She told me this as we sat on the top floor of a double-decker bus, and I looked out the window and thought about this for a while, how lucky she’d been to experience something - which although dangerous - was so profound.  After heroin, I guessed life’s ordinary pleasures must lose some of their lustrs.  Just like climbing, you’d be forever trapped in a search for that thing that touched you like nothing else ever had.  At that moment, looking at the world go by through a dirty window, I made a mental note never to take heroin. So thanks for the offer - but no thanks.

I don’t remember getting a reply, but generally, when people ask if I’m a dude and base jump, I don’t have time for such a convoluted answer, and just say “I’m just going to kill myself by jumping off a cliff, and avoid all the training and expense”.


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