Populous Magazine 09: Base Jumping

From the archive: Issue 09, 2013

Sixty years ago Hillary and Norgay first conquered mount Everest. So how did one extreme Sportsman celebrate the Anniversary? By throwing Himself off the very same Mountain in a wingsuit. He tells Dominic Bliss his story.

It took four days to climb up… and just 52 seconds to fall back down to earth.

On May 5th 2013, Russian BASE jumper Valery Rozov leapt off the side of Mount Everest and, using a wingsuit (and eventually a parachute), dropped at speeds of up to 125mph onto the Rongbuk Glacier below. His start point was at 7,220 metres above sea level, on the north side of Everest, while his landing site was at 5,900 metres. It set a new world record for the highest BASE jump ever undertaken.

BASE stands for Buildings, Antennas, Spans (ie. bridges), Earth (ie. mountains) – all the possible platforms you can, if so inclined, throw yourself off. In Valery’s case, he opted for the highest mountain in the world. And he timed his jump to coincide with the 60th anniversary of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay’s historic first climb.

A professional sky-diver and part-time stunt man (he has appeared in several Russian action movies), Valery spent two years preparing for his Everest feat, most of that time designing a new wingsuit. The risks involved in his jump were considerable.

Jumpers have only a few seconds to deploy their parachutes – any problems and it’s game over.

Since no one had ever leapt from this altitude in a wingsuit, Valery had no idea what aerodynamics to expect. The air this high above sea level is exceedingly thin and fewer air molecules mean less resistance for the wingsuit. He was worried he might drop like a stone, straight down the initial vertical section of his jump, dashing himself to death when the mountain quickly levelled out.

“I just didn’t know how well it would work,” he explains nonchalantly. “What if the air was so thin that it didn’t allow my wingsuit to fly? I couldn’t calculate this. That was the scariest part for me.”

In the end it all worked perfectly.

Valery launched himself off his mountain ledge, caught the air in his wingsuit and glided safely away from the rock face. Less than a minute later, after opening his parachute, he was standing in snow on the Rongbuk Glacier.

The risks involved in BASE jumping are obviously often lethal. Jumpers have only a few seconds to deploy their parachutes – any problems and it’s game over. The wind can wreak havoc, too, with some jumpers dashed against buildings or rock faces on the way down.

Then there are the legal issues. While certain parts of the world permit BASE jumping, few building owners or public authorities are happy to let jumpers risk death on their patch.

Statistically, the sport is the most dangerous ever invented. A study by a Swedish university discovered that one in 60 jumpers ends up dead.

Valery has been lucky so far. 48 years old, with an understanding wife and three kids, he has made over 1,400 BASE jumps in his time, as well as close to 10,000 sky dives. (In skydiving he was twice world champion.) His scariest jump ever was in the French Alps four years ago.

  • Rozov has made over 1,400 BASE jumps.

“It was just a regular training jump,” he explains, “but my line twisted many, many times and I couldn’t control it. In the end I had to land in the mountain river, with extremely cold water and a strong current. I was in that river for 15 minutes. My wingsuit and my parachute took on a lot of water and were dragging me under. I almost drowned. In this sport, sometimes dangerous s**t happens.”

So, now that he’s leapt from the very top of the world, what’s left? Is it possible to jump from the actual summit of Everest?

“I think not,” Valery says. “Because of the shape of the mountain, there’s not enough vertical drop. But a lot of BASE jumpers have told me they plan to beat my record. Let’s see what happens.”

Just what the late Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay would make of Valery’s achievement is anyone’s guess. “There’s a lot going on right now on Everest,” the Russian says. “All the people like me trying to do something new: base jumping, skiing down, paragliding down. Hillary and Norgay would be very excited about that.”

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