ROCK CLIMBING and BASE jumping go together like peanut butter and chocolate, and the proof is in the growing legions of climbers who are choosing to BASE jump back to the parking lot rather than rappel and/or walk.
Bombs away! Wayne Crill makes a rapid descent of a tower.
BASE jumping is legal in areas overseen by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Most cliffs in Europe, Mexico, South America and areas like Baffin Island have little or no penalties for “backcountry parachuting.” The U.S. National Park Service, on the other hand, has outlawed BASE jumping for years. That ban could soon be lifted, however, thanks to the lobbying efforts of The Alliance of Backcountry Parachutists (ABP) who worked with the Park Service to rewrite key management policies regarding BASE jumping. The NPS’s newly revised 2006 Management Policies manual includes parachuting guidelines stripped of language that had formerly prohibited the sport outright, declaring it inappropriate in national parks.
BASE jumping was legal in Yosemite for a brief three months in 1980 before it was banned from there and other national parks. Still, many climbers bivying on El Cap have awoken to the sounds of jumpers whizzing past. These accounts would suggest that a high-stakes cat-and-mouse game has been going on between NPS rangers and BASE jumpers for 27 years.
Gardner Sapp, ABP executive director, called the revised management policy, “a big win for backcountry jumpers.”
“The NPS went from being adversarial to working with us in good faith and the result is we now have fair access to the planning process without the preconceived declaration that jumping is an inappropriate use.”
Sapp said NPS opposition to parachuting started to soften in 2002 after Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo agreed to champion the cause of the ABP.
“[The NPS] wasn’t too happy about the Congressional scrutiny,” Sapp said, “but they were happy there was finally an organization that understood NPS management responsibilities and how to work the process.”
The ABP worked with key NPS policymakers to hammer out a compromise that became the final version.
“The document is called 220.127.116.11 Parachuting,” Sapp said. “And while it accurately calls parachuting ‘generally prohibited,’ it makes clear that jumping can be allowed if a park planning process determines it to be an appropriate activity.”
Sapp said the next step was for the ABP to work directly with planning officials in target parks, expanding the efforts of the last two years.
This is music to the ears of today’s current crop of BASE-jumping climbers such as Dean Potter, Chris McNamara, Leo Houlding, Thomas Huber, Wayne Crill and many others. Even Randy Leavitt, one of the earliest BASE jumpers in America, has said that he would start jumping again if it became legal in Yosemite or the Black Canyon of the Gunnison in Colorado.
“Nothing in the world is cooler than seeing a rock you just spent days climbing whiz by in less than a minute,” says Leavitt.
“BASE jumping is creating a new breed of big-wall climber,” said Dean Potter. “If Tommy Caldwell, or anyone else for that matter, wants to break the record for two free El Cap routes in 24 hours, they’re gonna have to skip that damn hike down and take to the air!”