When most visitors go to the top of places like the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the CN Tower in Toronto, the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, or Half Dome in Yosemite National Park, they’re in search of awesome, sweeping views and gorgeous photography opportunities. However, there are a select group of people who visit these same spots and are intrigued by only one thing–how difficult would it be to strap on a parachute and jump off of them?
One such person is Felix Baumgartner, one of the world’s most renowned aeronautical heroes. He cut his teeth in the Austrian military learning how to jump from planes and land on small targets, but quickly adapted his skills to become a premier BASE jumper (BASE stands for “bridge, antenna, span, earth”). While skydivers look to jump out of an airplane with 14,000 feet of clearance between them and the ground, BASE jumpers leap from fixed structures, such as the Eiffel Tower or Half Dome, many of which are often less than 1,000 feet in height. Pulling off an epic stunt like that takes sheer courage; BASE jumping allows thrill seekers to straddle the line between life and death with mere seconds to decide on when to let that chute fly.
Participants of this sport often walk on the wrong side of the law when taking their leaps, as BASE jumping is banned in many places because of the inherent risks involved (i.e., the not-so-uncertain death they stare in the face). Still, there are several famous and infamous spots that let BASE jumpers take the ultimate leap of faith.
El Capitan – Yosemite National Park, California
One of Yosemite National Park’s most well known granite formations is both playground for hikers and climbers, and well-known spot for BASE jumpers, albeit with a considerable amount of controversy. El Cap, as it is affectionately called by rock climbers, attracted a considerable amount of attention in the BASE jumping community around the 1960s and ’70s–including that of two jumpers who are considered to be the founders of the sport.
Image: Dawn Endico/Flickr
In 1966, Michael Pelkey and Brian Schubert, both from Barstow, California made the first jump off El Capitan, soaring down its nearly vertical 3,000 foot face. Although both men suffered broken bones from the jump, skydiving enthusiasts marveled over this new way to dive. The late 1970s saw an increase in BASE jumping at El Capitan because of improvements in equipment, and for a short while the National Park Service even sanctioned jumping (check out the old school film below for a look at BASE jumping off El Cap in the 1980s).
Although the park service effectively ceased handing out permits because a few jumpers ruined it for the rest by disregarding park rules (it seems that BASE jumpers don’t necessarily care for rules, in general), there are still a few that take off from El Capitan to this day, and many are still fighting for their right to fly in Yosemite.
New River Gorge Bridge – Fayetteville, West Virginia
Spanning the New River Gorge in West Virginia is one of the largest steel-arch bridges in the world. The New River Gorge Bridge was constructed as part of the Appalachian Development Highway System from 1974 to 1977 and, according to locals in nearby Fayetteville, was instrumental in cutting travel time from one side of the gorge to the other from 45 minutes to about 45 seconds.
The structure has since taken on its own identity among the residents of Fayetteville. Every year on the third Saturday in October the bridge is closed to vehicular traffic for Bridge Day, a festival that celebrates the construction of the bridge and opens the span to pedestrian traffic. Among the people who take advantage of Bridge Day are those few who rappel off the side and those who BASE jump, which number around 400 each year.
Fayette County officials estimate over 80,000 people attend the one-day event to watch the jumpers and take part in the festivities, which include rock climbing and river-rafting on the New River. Since the New River Gorge Bridge is within the National Park System, it’s one of the only days of the year when BASE jumpers are provided an exception to the general ban on jumping in national parks.
Perrine Bridge – Twin Falls, Idaho
Looking to do a truly legal BASE jump? Look no further than this bridge in Idaho, the only structure in the United States where jumping without a permit is legal year-round. The Perrine Bridge near Twin Falls, Idaho spans the Snake River Canyon and sits a mere 486 feet above the Snake River. That said, BASE jumpers don’t use ripcords–they instead typically hold on to a smaller pilot chute that assists in deploying the main chute. Still, 486 feet does not provide a lot of time to think about how nice free falling feels.
The height of Perrine bridge notwithstanding, it attracts hundreds of jumpers each year who take advantage of the complete legality of jumping. There’s even a parking lot and a visitor’s center on the southern end which allows for easy access to the center of the span.
The bridge also happens to be an informal shrine to Evel Knievel, who in 1974 tried to jump the Snake River Canyon near the Perrine Bridge on a rocket-powered motorcycle… unsuccessfully. In an ironic twist, he survived only because his motorcycle’s parachute opened prematurely, allowing him to casually float to the bottom of the canyon, effectively making him the first person to BASE jump the Snake River Canyon, even though he didn’t mean to.
Troll Wall and Kjerag – Norway
Norwegians are a tough and hardy bunch. They explore poles both south and north, they cross oceans on rafts made of nothing but balsa wood and papyrus reeds, and they make other Winter Olympic athletes look like the asthmatic kid from 4th grade gym class. Perhaps it’s because their country has one of the most rugged landscapes in the world, filled with craggy mountains and winding fjords. What better place to produce young adventurers?
It’s no surprise, then, that Norway has two famous spots where BASE jumpers push the limits of their skills: the Troll Wall (or Trollveggen) and Kjerag. The former is part of a series of peaks called the Troll Peaks and has the greatest single vertical drop in Europe (around 3,600 feet). Kjerag has a drop of close to 3,200 feet and is famous for its large stone (pictured above) that sits precariously between two cliff faces.
If you checked out the video above, you’ll see that BASE jumpers in Norway are ridiculously fearless, and both the Troll Wall and Kjerag are where the elite test their skill.
Angel Falls (Kerepakupai merú) – Venezuela
If only Jimmy Angel and his party had some parachutes with them during their 1937 exploration of Angel Falls in remote eastern Venezuela. If they had packed smart, they would have been able to BASE jump off the mountain after their plane sank into the mud, instead of having to hike down the massive cliff for 11 days. Not only would they have gotten home a lot sooner, but the title of World’s First BASE Jumpers could have been theirs as well.
Image: Ollie the Bastard/Flickr
Angel Falls (also known by it’s Native American name Kerepakupai merú, meaning “waterfall of the deepest place”) is an impressive sight to behold. It’s the highest waterfall in the world at over 3,200 feet, with a vertical drop of 2,600 feet, making it an attractive destination for adventure travelers and BASE jumpers.
However, the falls aren’t exactly an easy destination to reach. Those who make the attempt must travel by river to an isolated part of the Venezuelan jungle. Aerial trips are possible, but the falls themselves are often shrouded in clouds.
Trango Towers – Northern Pakistan
Like Angel Falls in Venezuela, one of the challenges of BASE jumping from top of Trango Towers is just getting to the top. These remote granite spires in northern Pakistan rise up almost 4,400 feet from their base, creating the highest nearly-vertical drop in the world. The absolute height of the towers from sea level is 20,623 feet, creating a challenge for climbers not only because of height, but altitude.
So, to recap: not only do you have to have unbelievably good mountaineering skills, you also have to be an expert skydiver/BASE jumper. Yep, these granite spires are reserved for the elite of the elite athletes. Example? Nic Feteris and Glenn Singleman, two Australian climbers whose jump off Great Trango in 1992 looked a bit like that of two Olympic platform divers. Lucky for us, they filmed their beautiful-yet-vertigo-inducing descent.
With that jump they set a record for the highest leap in BASE jumping history.
Burj Khalifa – United Arab Emirates
It’s not really a surprise that upon completion of the world’s tallest building, some daredevil(s) had to try and jump off of it with a parachute. Enter Nasr Al Niyadi and Omar Al Hegelan, who broke the record for the highest BASE jump off a building in 2010 when they both leapt from the 160th floor, about 2,200 feet. Of course, this particular jump was sanctioned by the Dubai authorities.
One of the first jumps off the Burj Khalifa (known back then as the Burj Dubai) was when it was still under construction in May of 2008. Two men, one French and one British, secreted their way to the top of the tower and jumped off, capturing the entire thing on film. The video was soon after featured as a segment on Current TV. Check it out below:
Are you an avid BASE jumper? Do you know of a spot that BASE jumpers regularly use for their stunts? If so, please let us know!