SUMMIT#72 | WINTER 2013 | 3534 | SUMMIT#72 | WINTER 2013
For the new wave, it’s all about getting down. By Ashly Fusiarski.
didn't feel that
History just seemed
to be repeating
- Espen Fadnes
R You’re at 4,000m above
Chamonix. You’ve just jumped
out of a helicopter with two
friends. You’re all attempting
to ﬂy underneath the Midi
bridge (yes, that tiny bridge in
top-left centre). It’s never been
done before. Will you make it?
72 SUMMIT_AUTUMN_V1.indd 34-35 18/11/2013 12:37
1976After three weeks
accomplished climber and
stuntman Rick Sylvesters skies
off Bafﬁn Island's Mount Asgard
with a Union Jack ﬂag parachute
(before the term BASE jumping
is even coined) in the famous
opening sequence of James
Bond: The spy who loved me.
Singleman Base jumped
from the Trango Towers
in Pakistan. At the time
the highest recorded
36 | SUMMIT#72 | WINTER 2013 SUMMIT#72 | WINTER 2013 | 37
he ﬁrst time I saw Espen Fadnes I
knew I was seeing something new.
He was ﬂying straight towards me
at 250 kilometers per hour dressed
only in a wingsuit – a synthetic ﬂying
squirrel with arms and legs spread
out, connected by taut fabric. Orange
smoke streamed behind him. He’d
just leapt out of helicopter at 4,000m
and I couldn’t see how he wasn’t
about to meet disaster.
This spring I was on the viewing platform of the Aiguille
du Midi admiring the breathtaking scene of sunny glaciers
and endless mountains. The platform is essentially an
eight-metre-wide bridge between two spires of golden
Chamonix granite and I shared it with a dozen other people.
The jagged mountain drops off all around and the sense
of exposure adds grandeur to the scene. A helicopter ﬂew
overhead. I assumed it was on a rescue and I scanned the
glacier to see if I could see the victims. No one. I carried
on marvelling the mountains when a shout from the lift
operator startled me.
He pointed to the helicopter still circling above and I look
just in time to three people falling from the open cockpit.
The three humans ﬂew straight towards me at an incredible
speed, orange smoke streaming from their heels adding to
the drama. They were ﬂying. From their trajectory I realised
they were aiming for the gap in the rocks beneath the
platform, a seemingly impossible target at the speed they
were travelling. The sight, as the rocketed under my feet,
was incredible. The crowd collectively gasped in disbelief
and my heart pounded from vicarious adrenalin. I turned
round to see them disappear off over Les Boissons glacier.
In that moment, I wondered if the remaining ground-
breaking achievements were to be found not in the ascent
of a mountain but in the descent.
In the 18th and 19th centuries the high mountains
were mysterious and misunderstood; to climb them was
considered impossible and even suicidal. Yet there were
some who dared to venture into the unknown, to defy
social convention and believe the impossible to be possible.
They also accepted the consequences of their actions and
were prepared to be proven wrong – which would often
result in the ultimate sacriﬁce.
At the time it was groundbreaking and death defying, but
these pioneers opened up the possibilities and returned
with their stories. Audiences back home couldn't believe
what they were being told and, if they could afford to, would
go and visit the mountains for themselves. A new wave of
pioneers were born climbing the mountains, but this time
by impossible routes or at impossible altitudes until they too
were proved possible. Eventually they would become much
frequented routes until the next generation arrived to climb
them in “impossible” times.
Mountaineering is now mainstream – a sport comprised
of personal challenges and goals. In the new world order
of social media, it's easy for people to believe that what
is new to them is new to the world, but the fact remains
that mountaineering is no longer cutting-edge or esoteric.
It’s no longer a demonstration of groundbreaking human
endeavour that challenges the social consciousness of
the possible, as it once did. The future of climbing lies in
faster ascents, which in many ways diminishes the spirit of
adventure, or hard, sustained ascents at the very peak of
human performance. Neither captures the air of romantic
adventure that mountaineering once did.
R Andreas Fransson
making turns down the
Whillan's Ramp on Aguja
"The steepest and most
exposed line I had the
chance to ski, and I’m
happy leaving it at that."
DREAMSPlanning to free ride your speed
suit? Sound cool with our guide:
originally a breakaway from the
highly-regulated competitive skiing
community, freeriding is a matter
of getting down a mountain by an
imaginative line and using natural
features to perform tricks normally
reserved for the jumps park. Always
off-piste and up to 45-degree slope
angles, it’s arguably the most natural
and expressive forms of skiing.
reserve of the bold elite. Steep ski lines
often descend climbing routes graded
D+. They often involve a series of
abseils over rock sections. Any mistake
is likely to be fatal. Steep ski lines are
over 45 degrees and can be up to 60
degrees in sections.
using a kite to utilise the wind to tow
a skier, usually across plateaus such as
Greenland or Antarctic.
a combination between skiing and
paragliding but not really either. A lot of
fun but extremely dangerous: if it goes
wrong, it goes seriously wrong.
originally a term for people jumping
from Buildings, Antenna, Span (bridges)
or Earth (cliffs) with a parachute.
Considered to be a lot more dangerous
than skydiving as BASE jumpers are
generally too close to the ground to
allow any time to rectify any problems.
It’s also more dangerous due to the
solid features BASE jumpers are close
to during the descent.
skiing lines that end with a cliff. Ski off
the cliff, kick off your skis and deploy
A specially designed suit reminiscent
of a ﬂying squirrel. Wingsuits blur the
boundaries between ﬂying and falling by
allowing BASE jumpers to track forwards
instead of falling vertically. In the right
hands, a wingsuit allows humans to ﬂy
with extreme precision and ‘proximity
ﬂy’ within meters of terrain, at Formula
1 speeds. No margin for error.
have been throwing themselves
off cliffs for over 30 years.
Ashly Fusiarski picks his
“PEOPLE USED TO BE HAPPY IF THEY
MANAGED TO GET WITHIN 20M OF A CLIFF
FOR TWO SECONDS BUT NOW PEOPLE ARE
FLYING TWO METERS ABOVE THE DECK
FOR TWENTY SECONDS”
R Espen Fadnes
(R) hanging out
above Brazil -
where they ﬂew
under the arm of
the Christ statue.
72 SUMMIT_AUTUMN_V1.indd 36-37 18/11/2013 12:37
Blue Sea (7b +) on the
Eiger North Face with
only a BASE rig to protect
a fall. After completing
the route, he jumps as a
method of descent.
Red Bull professional
athlete, is killed on a
ski-BASE attempt in Italy.
He isn't able to release
a ski and consequently
isn't able to deploy his
Gegenschatz make the ﬁrst
BASE jump from the North
Face of the Eiger.
38 | SUMMIT#72 | WINTER 2013
For that, we must turn to the most dangerous part of a
climbing excursion: the descent.
Since the 1970s, pioneers have being skiing the very
lines that mountaineers dream of climbing. Names such as
Vallençant, Baud, Boivin, Benedetti and Lécluse pushed the
envelope in a time when today's modern skis were a far-off
concept. Even now, despite modern ski technology, the risks
will always be the same: you fall, you die. Some of the lines
are so steep that they rarely come into condition – perhaps
only three or four times in a skier’s career – but the fact
remains that they have already been done.
I asked Jim Lee, a resident of Chamonix for twenty years
and established freerider, if he thought there are many
notable ﬁrst ski descents to be had left in the area. The
answer? A cautious “no”. Most of the steep lines being done
are repeats: on the limit of what’s possible on skis but not
breaking new ground.
To pioneer today, you need to combine skill sets to
produce a really interesting adventure. The combination
of skydiving and alpine skills (dubbed para-alpinism in the
past) is becoming more and more relevant. People are
climbing up routes and then BASE jumping off of them.
The boundaries are blurred: some people are climbing with
a BASE jump as a method of descent; others are climbing
with the jump as the objective. Climbers who jump, rather
than jumpers that climb, have a window of opportunity to
open up some very interesting routes. To climb without
reservation and 100% commitment to the ascent while still
having a method of escape could provide some interesting
results for a bold enough team.
The latest development in this process is wingsuit ﬂying,
using special webbed jumpsuits that essentially turn the
jumper into a glider.
“At the start of 2000, everything was new in wingsuit
ﬂying,” said Espen. “In the beginning, people were trying
to get as far away from the cliff face as possible to minimise
the risks. But as time went on there was a second revolution
within the sport and in 2004 people started to get close to
the cliffs and begin to ﬂy over the terrain. The advancement
was incredible. People used to be happy if they managed to
get within 20m of a cliff for two seconds but now people are
ﬂying two meters above the deck for twenty seconds.”
Espen agrees that the professional wingsuit ﬂyers are
operating at the very limit of what is possible, in what has
become known as proximity ﬂying. The sport seems to have
temporarily stabilised at an unsustainable level of risk:
“Too many people are dying” he said.
At the time of writing ﬁve people had been killed. Three
in one week, including Mark Sutton, who played James
Bond in the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympics.
“Everyone wants to be cool. It sounds ugly and it's not
nice, but once enough people have died, proximity ﬂying
won't be cool anymore and the sport will see another
change.” he observed.
It's a change already under way. I draw parallels to the
early climbers, when dying in the mountains almost had
an element of glory attached to it amongst peers, yet now
it’s seen as unnecessary and, a large proportion of the
But with a sport that’s currently on the limit of what is
possible, where can it go next? Espen suggests the way
forward is in how the sport is presented. Through modern
technology there is a lot of opportunity to be creative and
imaginative in the way a jump is ﬁlmed, edited and shown.
As well as acrobatics and a display of complete control in
the air, people can show the possibilities of human ﬂying
but in a more artistic way and as a form of expression,
rather than promoting the extreme nature of the sport.
Imagination and skill have always being prerequisites for
“MOUNTAINS ARE NOT JUST THE DOMAIN OF
THE MOUNTAINEER OR SKIER ANY MORE.”
R Wingsuit ﬂying:
no margin for
72 SUMMIT_AUTUMN_V1.indd 38-39 18/11/2013 12:37
exits a helicopter
in a double layered
a parachute into a
landing zone made of
40 | SUMMIT#72 | WINTER 2013
BMC member Ashly
Fusiarski spent this
summer in Chamonix
before heading back
to Antarctica. He
currently has no plans
to start BASE jumping.
mountaineers and it appears the same is true for BASE
jumpers and wingsuit ﬂyers.
I asked if wingsuit ﬂying would ever become mainstream?
“No” he said after a pause.
“It will grow of course but there are no green slopes.” He
adds, referring to his freeride skiing background.
He is right. There is a level of climbing that suits
everybody willing to take part in it. But with BASE jumping,
on the very ﬁrst jump you are 'all in'. With skiing and
climbing there is feedback from the environment, pain
teaches you what not to do. With a BASE jump, “the day you
crash is the day your life is over”. From the very start you
have to be at the right level, totally alert and responsive
to your surroundings and to never get complacent. It’s
not for everyone in the same way climbing can be.
Mountaineering will always have its place and will
always be adventurous to those taking part. There are
often surprising achievements in the mountains even
now. But one thing is for sure; mountains are not just the
domain of the mountaineer or skier any more. Will BASE
jumping become the next evolution for climbers or will
the two sports always maintain a degree of separation?
They have more in common that you think – for Espen it
is simply about “taking risks for fun, in nature”.
“MOUNTAINEERING IS NO LONGER CUTTING-EDGE OR ESOTERIC”
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Glenmore Lodge.indd 1 12/09/2013 09:14:57
completes the highest
ever BASE jump from
an altitude of 7,220m
2009Sam Beaugey and
team complete the ﬁrst
BASE jump in Antarctica in one of
the most interesting and adventurous
expeditions in recent history. Expert
planning and execution combined a
series of skills to climb, BASE jump
and ski in the Queen Maud Land
range which was then followed by
a self-sufﬁcient pulking/kite skiing
extraction to Novo airbase.
72 SUMMIT_AUTUMN_V1.indd 40-41 18/11/2013 12:37