Wingsuit BASE Jumping in the Dolomites and Switzerland
My friend Mavs’ camper van, and old Fiat version of a Winnebago, sputtered up the pass toward the Dolomites. We had gotten up early in the lake-view town of Arco, Italy, and started our drive. The views made it easy to stay awake. We swayed our way through the serpentine mountain roads, which describes almost every road in Northern Italy. Before I knew it, I could see the outline of some heavily featured mountaintops in the distance. “That’s our spot,” Mavs said. We continued on another fifteen minutes or so until we were out of the dense trees and into the valley bottom. I couldn’t help but notice the two monoliths on each side of the valley. Even if I had wanted to look away, I couldn’t. They dominated the skyline like watchful limestone guardians. They looked peaceful with the golden sunlight on them, but I knew they would command respect from any mortal being.
We got there just in time to start an afternoon hike. The hike to the peak alone would have been worth the drive, never mind the minute-long wingsuit flight we were about to do. Looking at the walls from the valley, everything was sheer and precipitous. There seemed to be no visible way to get on top. However, the road wrapped around and brought us to the backside which, when compared to the front, was extremely docile. Rolling green meadows and stone remnants from the World War II era lined most of our hike up. Getting to the top required some heavy scrambling and consisted of some do-not-fall situations. Once we were on top, there was an unrestricted view of similar peaks and valleys as far as the eye could see. This was pure mountain environment. Every step showed evidence of little human travel; the rocks crumbled and the ground was easily misshapen.
It became time to jump, and the culmination of it all really set in. I’d wanted to go to the Dolomites ever since I had seen them in early 2000 ski movies made famous by people like the late Shane McConkey. I took a deep breath and looked around. I could see where I was going to fly and, once I had that picture in my mind, I jumped. The cliff was close for the first few seconds, but I was going to outfly it, easily. The rest of the flight was fairly tame as far as wingsuiting goes. Having little experience, I wanted to stay away from any terrain entrapments, so I opted to pull high above the valley. When I decided nearly a minute of flying was good enough, I pulled for my parachute. It was a nice soft opening and I coasted down to our campsite with ease. I turned around and watched Cam, Holly, Mavs, and Tom leap from the same point and gracefully land as I had. We hugged and smiled at each other, knowing that all of us had done a pretty special flight.
There were some curious tourists from the UK who had seen us from the valley floor. Bewildered and excited, they expressed the usual concerns.
“What happens if your parachute doesn’t work?”
I paused, then responded, “Well, what happens if the brakes don’t work in your car when you have to suddenly stop?”
“As Americans, why do you come all the way to Italy to do this?”
To this question, I described, with a bit of despair, that the majority of our highest cliffs are located in National Parks that currently don’t permit BASE jumping. Satisfied with the answers, they shook our hands and walked away, a bit awe-struck. We packed up and went to the little campground bar to have a beer and discuss our future adventures in Europe.
Above Photos: Mitch Potter
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