Back when tequila flowed like the Red River in April and my hair sprouted like weeds, I was a bit of a daredevil. Sometimes by choice, other times by accident. Once upon a motorcycle, I passed fast and furious the car in front of me, only to be confronted by an oncoming tractor trailer. I slid in between with the dexterity of a heart surgeon.
One day I bungee jumped from a crane some 200 feet (61 meters) in the air. I was supposed to make like a swan and dive. Instead, I jumped, bungee cord fastened to my ankles, as though I was trying to escape a burning building. Feet first. Sneakers first. Toes first.
Physics being what it is, the cord reached its limit, as it is wont to do. When it snapped, the huge elastic bands turned me heals over head. My flowing tresses ended up where my laced Nikes were. "Dude," the instructor said shaking my paw when I stopped bouncing. "I do that when I really want to get a rush."
That's when tequila flowed and my hair grew like weeds.
These days I'm a bit more (OK, a lot more) sedentary. When I see videos of people BASE jumping, I have to close my eyes. I know a little bit about gravity. I know it's strong enough to keep Earth from spinning off into space. I also know it pulls objects toward the ground. So, when a BASE (BASE stands for bridge, antenna, span, Earth) jumper throws himself, or herself, off a building, a cliff or a tower, there's nothing standing between them and certain death except a flimsy parachute. I won't even tell you how whacked those guys with wing suits are.
Most people consider BASE jumping the most dangerous sport in the world. I can see why. At least skydivers hurl themselves out of planes from thousands of feet in the air. BASE jumpers rather free fall from less than 1,000 feet (304.8 meters). Why do they do it? I suppose, they are in search of an adrenaline smackdown. They'll fall from the Eiffel Tower in Paris, or the Golden Gate Bridge, or the CN Tower in Toronto. The views are awesome, or so I've been told.
I don't care how much of a daredevil I was back in the day. I couldn't BASE jump. I wouldn't BASE jump. OK, I wish I could BASE jump. And if ... if I were to, I'd BASE jump at these five places.
Adored by hikers, rock climbers and campers, Yosemite National Park in California is a BASE jumper's dream. In fact, that's where the sport got its start. In 1966, Michael Pelkey and Brian Schubert made the first free fall from El Capitan's 3,000-foot (914.40-meter) vertical face [source: Iqbal]. In the beginning, park rangers didn't mind the BASE jumpers. Now the sport is expressly verboten from Yosemite's cliffs. In the summer of 2010, Ammon McNeely, the so-called "El Cap Pirate," was Tased by a park ranger. That December, he pleaded guilty in federal court to "air delivery of a person by parachute" [source: Smiley].
While some countries welcome BASE jumpers, in the United States these free-falling devil-may-care athletes guard their favorite haunts. Officials in New York City banned BASE jumping in 2006 after Jeb Corliss attempted to jump off the Empire State Building. However, there are some places, such as the Perrine Bridge in Idaho, where jumpers can legally take the plunge. Nevertheless, El Capitan is still a favorite location, even with the rangers on the prowl. Its smooth granite face is perfect -- no outcroppings on which to hit. Those that do make it to Yosemite do so stealthily. To avoid being seen, BASE jumpers say they have to fall farther than they should before pulling their chutes [source: Smiley].
Norway is the land of testosterone. Leif Ericsson, the famous Norse sailor, discovered North America long before Christopher Columbus. The feats of polar explorer Roald Amundsen are legendary. He was the first to travel the Northwest Passage, and after learning that someone else had become the first to make it to the North Pole, he turned south for Antarctica [source: PBS]. So it's no wonder that Norway embraces BASE jumping. One of the top places to jump is the Troll Wall, which is part of the Troll Peaks. It supposedly has the greatest vertical drop in Europe, at 3,600 feet (1,097.28 meters) [source: Iqbal].
Although BASE jumping is legal in Norway, it is illegal from the Troll Wall because rescuers have a hard and dangerous time getting to jumpers if something goes wrong. That's why experts say only experienced BASE jumpers should attempt a jump from The Troll. The rock face is loose and craggy, but the views are spectacular [source: BASE Romsdalen].
Built for the World's Fair in 1889, the Eiffel Tower is one of this planet's most iconic landmarks. BASE jumpers have launched themselves from the spiky edifice for years. Built by Gustave Eiffel, the tower rises 1,063 feet (324 meters) above Paris. It's almost twice as high as the Washington Monument. Supposedly, in 1912, a French inventor named Franz Reichelt made the first jump from the tower to test his new parachute invention. It didn't work [source: Wilson]. Since then, many people have jumped from the observation deck and landed safely -- or not. In 2005, a Norwegian man died while BASE jumping off the tower [source: Park].
Jeb Corliss is nuts, crazy, a couple burgers short of a Happy Meal. There's no other way to describe it. Corliss, the BASE jumping guru, has plied his extreme sport on nearly every continent. He's jumped from the Eiffel Tower, tried his best to soar from the Empire State Building and even flown through a Swiss waterfall [source: Finighan].
Yet, I think, one of his craziest stunts was flying through a tiny crack in Tianmen Mountain in Hunan, China. Jumping from a helicopter swirling 6,000 feet [1,828.80 meters] overhead, the winged Corliss bailed out and flew like a Marvel Comic hero roughly 75 miles (120.7 kilometers) an hour through the mountain's 4,265-foot (1,299.9 meter) hole. No biggie, right? Um, the hole was just 100 feet [30.48 meters] wide. One wrong shrug of the shoulder, one errant breeze, would have pushed Corliss into the mountain's side. You have to see this to believe it.
If you can't BASE jump off the tallest structure in the world, what's the point? In 2010, Nasr Al Nivadi and Omar Al Hegelan, asked for, and were given permission to jump off the Burj Khalifa Tower, in Dubai. Standing at 2,716 feet (828 meters), the tower is the tallest structure in the world. Al Nivadi and Al Hegelan jumped from the Burj Khalifa Tower a day after it officially opened, and set a new world record for the highest base jump. It was over pretty fast, though. Falling at 136 miles (218.87 kilometers) per hour, it took the two men just one minute and 30 seconds to reach the ground. [source: BBC].
Mountains are definitely not the only thing worth climbing. Learn more about the urban climbers scrambling up cranes, skyscrapers and even Corcovado.
Author's Note: The 5 Most Popular Spots for BASE Jumping
OK, I talk a good game, but I would never BASE jump. It looks awesome, it looks fun, but not for me. These days, I lose my lunch on a roller coaster. I suppose I've just gotten old. Bungee jumping was probably the most extreme thing I've ever done by choice. I was a young reporter, and even back then, I had to be talked into it by a photographer who came up with the idea.
More Great Links
- BASE Romsdalen. (May 11, 2012). http://baseromsdalen.com/
- BBC. "Record breaking Burj base jump." Jan. 8, 2010. (May 14, 2012). http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/8448411.stm
- Finighan, Gareth. "Mind the Gap! Wingsuit stuntman shoots through narrow slit in mountainside at 75 mph." Daily Mail. Sept. 24, 2011. (May 14, 2012). http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2041434/Wingsuit-stuntman-Jeb-Corliss-shoots-narrow-slit-Tianmen-mountain-75mph.html
- Iqbal, Zain. "Leaps of Faith: 8 Famous BASE Jumping Sports." Nile Guide. Aug. 24, 2010. (May 10, 2012). http://www.nileguide.com/blog/2010/08/24/leaps-of-faith-8-famous-base-jumping-spots/
- Park, Michael Y. "BASE Jumping: Not Suicide, But Sure Looks Like It." Fox News. May 22, 2006. (May 14, 2012). http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,196383,00.html
- PBS.com. "Secrets of the Dead: Tragedy at the Pole." (May 11, 2012). http://www.pbs.org/wnet/secrets/previous_seasons/case_southpole/index.html
- Smiley, Lauren. "BASE Jumper Won't Stop Illegal Leaps Despite Yosemite Tasing." San Francisco Weekly. Feb. 9, 2011. (May 10, 2012). http://www.sfweekly.com/2011-02-09/news/base-jumping-illegal-ammon-mcneely-taser/
- Wilson, David. "Basic Instinct: 10 Stunning Facts about BASE Jumping." Nov. 28, 2011. (May 11, 2012). http://www.theadrenalist.com/sports/basejumping/basic-instinct-10-stunning-facts-about-base-jumping/