To most, the desert is the last place you’d ever want to be. It symbolizes death and struggle with its unsustainable conditions for most forms of life. During the day, it’s brutally hot. At night, it becomes a frigid wasteland. Despite these hindrances, there’s an adventure-based community thriving in Southern Utah.
BASE jumping has shown me places of Moab and the surrounding region that I would have never discovered had I not been involved in this beautiful sport. Red rock paths, secret slot canyons, ancient cryptobiotic fields, and beautiful rock structures are just some of the amazing things I’ve stumbled upon while looking for something to jump off. In the region of Moab there are several hundred cliffs ranging from 300 to 600 feet. It’s often referred to as the mecca for the lower end of BASE jumping.
I remember waking up to a slight tint of orange and purple far across the valley. The sun was rising over the crest of the hill, and it would soon grow very hot. It was difficult to get out of my comfortable sleeping bag and even more difficult to convince my muscles to start the hike to the edge of the cliff. With some motivation from my good friends and the anticipation of the adventure ahead of us, I started to stretch. I grabbed my BASE rig out of the truck and chuckled, “Whose idea was it to drink all that IPA?” It’s very rare that before an overnight BASE jumping trip we don’t share a special bonding moment around a campfire. One of my favorite things about BASE jumping is the community. Within the fraternity are some of the most educated and interesting people I’ve ever met.
A relatively flat walk makes this one of the easier hikes in for a jump. The rolling desert hills would never give any indication that we are about to reach the edge of a 600-foot cliff. We crack some jokes along the way about our equipment.
“Hey, Heath, with 300 jumps on that thing, is it still going to work?”
“It’s worked so far, why wouldn’t it work now?”
The lightheartedness is a façade that most people don’t get to see. We’re very serious about our equipment, and most jumpers are extremely meticulous with how they prepare for a jump. If you’re worried about your equipment as you’re about to jump, you’ve already missed an integral part of preparation and shouldn’t be jumping.
As soon as we reach the edge, I can sense nerves and excitement. It had been a while since I was last here, but the good thing about the desert is that it rarely changes. The red-tinted walls and perfectly smooth glassy sandstone ran down to the murky brown river like it was created especially for BASE jumping. It’s rare to see people here, and this can be considered a true backcountry area.
I looked over at Pat and said “Well, what are you going to do?” He responded with a sly, “We’ll have to see.” Then he returned the question. “What about you?” I hadn’t really thought about it, and I said the first thing that came to mind. “A front flip, I think.” I opted to go first and made my way to the edge. I reached down and grabbed the roundest rock I could find and tossed it. As it disappeared out of my sight I counted in my head…3…4…5…6…BOOM. I heard the echo of the impact on the bottom of the canyon and shouted “It’s still 600 feet, hasn’t gotten any bigger.” We all laughed and I said, “Well, I’ll see you guys down there.” I took a step back and ran towards the edge. I dove out, the cliff rushed past, and I quickly tucked to change my vision to the sky. I pitched and felt the amazing feeling of my container emptying. My brain made it seem like minutes when, in reality, it had only been two or three seconds. After you have done this enough, moments like these often happen in slow motion. The feeling of wind in your face and the canopy extracting off your back becomes familiar. This feeling is extremely foreign to most people, but can be traced to a simple mechanism that fails extremely rarely unless due to pilot error.
As soon as it had begun, it was over. We had all landed safely in the sand and high-fived. Now, it was time for my favorite part of the whole adventure: the hike out. We had to hike up a slot canyon that became as little as two feet wide in some places. The flowing walls were mesmerizing. It was easy to see where water had carved distinct features into the fragile rock. Challenging moves and tight squeezes accompany a spectacular sense of natural immersion. At the end of the day, those few seconds of freefall and excitement are only a small portion of why we drive for hours to get away from people and participate in this sport. It’s the conjunction of good friends, seeing new places, conquering irrational fear, and adventure that keeps us answering the call of pure, unadulterated freedom.