Uncharted BASE Jump Exploration with Miles Daisher, Shane McConkey & Sol Vallis
Red Bull Uncharted
Wingsuit BASE Exploration. Fiordland, New Zealand. February 2008
Chuck Berry, Miles Daisher, Shane McConkey, Sol Vallis.
Ever since beginning BASE jumping in 1989, I've searched the back country of New Zealand to find those special places where those of us with a bird like disposition can release themselves from the bond of the earth & give themselves to the wonderful effects gravity. Ahhhhh.... gravity! My search for such places has continually taken me back to the Fiordland region of the South Island, an area wild, remote & steep walled, carved by ancient glaciers. Many times have heavy breathing caused me to wipe the condensation from the aircraft window I'm peering out of, looking at the delicious options for excitement by BASE in the wonderful land of steep stuff! Now here lies the rub! This country is gnarly, so steep that soil & tree avalanches are occasionally washed down the precipitous terrain by the extreme local weather. Which means that to BASE in Fiordland is a challenge & will take effort to achieve... & I quite like that. Then I started to dream...
The dream is to explore Fiordland, pioneer new BASE jumps (the bigger ones), use wingsuits to open up more locations & give us the freedom to jump from the earth & fly along the terrain, buzzing the mountain with our gliding suits.
I believe that special things happen when special people come together in a special place to do special things! So I invited a special team to share my special dream. Best BASE buddy Miles Daisher was the first to say Yes, I'm coming. Shane McConkey also answered the call to adventure along with my long time jumping companion, Sol Vallis.
There are many sites that showed promise, my first choice was Lions Head, a classic cliff, 2000 foot high at exit, overhung at the top with a steep sloping wall at the bottom of the jump, easy enough to fly my body away from the wall & open my parachute over the sea of Milford Sound. Wahoo. Being within a Wilderness Area of a World Heritage Park no helicopter access was permitted, so the plan was to climb 4200 feet to the summit of The Lion then rappel 2000 feet to the cliff edge. Jump, land in a raft. That's how Bond would do it!
Much planning & preparation go into breathing life into such a dream, the NZ Red Bull Team were GO, the boys all fired up at the challenge & I was off to Milford on one of the many trips to scope my route to the top of The Lion. That country is STEEP, wet bush, barely clinging to the planet, but at least it gave me something to cling to! Very often the next tree, root or branch was a long way up & my ice axe was my favourite friend, just the thing for hooking the next root or sinking the shaft into the wet moss to gain purchase in any way possible. Exciting stuff, not easy... but exciting! The evening brought out the stars as I camped under a huge boulder on the bank of the Harisson River. What a great adventure I thought as I tramped out of the bush & got picked up by boat by the local sea kayak guides. Back in Queenstown, I gathered 2500 feet of rope (that's quite a lot, heavy too), climbing gear, camera gear, parachutes, GPS Tracker, maps, food, raft etc, etc. All set.
There was excitement at the airport when Miles, Shane & Sol arrived in Queenstown, how nice to be able to bring such great talented people together who all have that special sparkle in their eye & think my idea not too weird.
Then the bombshell, the local authority pulled our filming permit at Lions Head... but authorized access at other locations! This was the day we travelled by camper to Milford Sound. Plan B was put into effect. There were cliffs in Sinbad Gulley & on Terror Peak I wanted to look at & could be accessed by heli. 'Adapt or die' was the motto here, the new plan still fulfilled my goals. The jump team was joined by the camera team of Mike Single & Graham Murray, both legends in their game & great assets to the team.
There we have it, all the ingredients to make a dream happen, get the right team, at the right place, at the right time, with the right gear & a vision in their heads of the possibilities that lay ahead. The other secret ingredient was having a small, capable crew who could look after themselves & occupy one heli load. An excited crew loaded the heli with all the relevant kit for our exploration in the mountains & we flew off toward the best area to conduct an aerial search. We looked at some possible sites, some with difficult access to the edge, requiring a lot of rigging & climbing. Then I pointed the pilot toward Terror Peak, a spot I've had my eye on for years. I loved the reaction from the boys as we approached the cliff, all excited by what they see, the pilot flies side on so we can see which bit of the rock sticks out the most & more whoops sound the approval from the boys . What a place, the cliff is a like a big rock couloir, set at 3400 feet above the valley floor, 1000 feet sheer with a large flat pan of mountain sticking out & HUGE rock walls on either side. Like a vertical half pipe! Wahoo. The heli dropped us off 300' above the exit point, departed & left us in serenity, in the most beautiful place, on the most beautiful day with the funniest mates, all thrilled at the prospect of getting to the place where the dream can happen.
I set anchors in the rock & fixed line to the edge, Miles was there first, timing a rock drop at 10 seconds...& got all excited like a kid at Christmas. The first look over the edge is VERY special, a lot of work has gone into getting that view, off the edge, straight down. I imagine myself freefalling down the face & picturing where I'll open my parachute so as to be able to fly over the lump of hill that blocks my exit out to the valley. High places give me a rush & this was exactly what we were looking for. Everyone wore the pre BASE grin, made wider by the pioneering nature of the event. Sol flies to the valley floor & scopes the best Landing Zone in a stony creek bed 3400' below where we were gearing up at the top.
This is the special bit, up until now, the mission has been all talk & talk brought the group together. Now is the doing part of the dream, where talk means nothing & it's time for action.
Everything is set, all the planning, prep & team work have come together to create this moment.
I got the honour of the first jump which I chose to do without a wingsuit. The boys give me the grin you get from other BASE jumpers also about to huck themselves off something big... & new!
The edge allows for a small run in, a BASE luxury, I take another good look down into the space where I'll be going...& step back from the edge. Ready...Set... See Yaaaaaaaaaaa. Waaahhhhhoooooooo. What a sight, seeing the stone walls on either side of me slide by as if in slow motion. I stretch my legs & point my toes to attain the best tracking position to fly my body as far from the wall as possible, all the time judging my flight angle with that of the (now rapidly) approaching mountain. For nine seconds I give myself to the accelerating effects of gravity & aerodynamics, flying down a stone corridor... just like in a dream, except it's real & time to open. What a beautiful sound a parachute makes when it opens, music to a BASE jumpers ear. Wahhhhhooooooooo, I fly over the lump, swing around & look back to where I just came from. Wow what a feeling, surreal, ecstatic, I can see the boys at the edge of the huge cliff I just left from. This is one of the most spectacular places I've ever flown a parachute, the ride lasts minutes, flying past the steep terrain then shooting an accuracy landing on our awesome LZ beside Poseidon Creek. Waaahhhhoooooo. This place works.
Shane steps up next, wearing his Vampire wingsuit, his helmet video reveals some good deep breaths (really big ones), the count, the leap, the wind noise picking up & he's off, flying out of the couloir, turning left, playing with the wall. From the bottom, Sol & I can hear Shane in freefall, then see him fly out of the sun, over our heads & open. 35 seconds of wingsuit flight. What a sight. Shane lands, buzzing, bright eyed, wings now unzipped sounding like someone who'd just got a good shot of what was good for them. Yeah.
Miles sands alone at the top, poised for his taste of wingsuit flight at Terror Peak. Miles, the master, hucks a back flip off the edge, charges out of the canyon, at the wall, out over the valley & performs 3 barrel rolls. Magnificent. The crew, together again at the bottom revel in what we have achieved. We pack on the stony river bed fending off the local torment, sandflies. Back to the top for round two.
It's a bit more familiar now. Sol jumps with Shane who gets incredible video from a camera on his foot, looking up the length of his body showing his wingsuit flight along the terrain. Miles & I launch our wingsuits in unison, our trajectory much the same as without the suit for the first 3-4 seconds, then vroooom, we're off, easily out flying the lump, carving left for some wall chasing with your buddy hot on your heels, arms out stretched, flying on the wind. We land our parachutes once more & babble about how fantastic this place is & how awesome the adventure. Ever heard 4 BASE jumpers just after they've landed in a wilderness location from a pioneering jump? I got to see my friends faces lit with the light that adventure, challenge, confidence & achievement can bring. That moment is reward for why we come together.
How Splendid. That was it, that was my dream. 'That's' how Bond would do it, except 'we' did it, no stunt guy, no wires, no pretend. Real Adventure, real challenge, real excitement, real thrill, real experience with real mates. I got to wingsuit BASE jump in Fiordland at a new site & share my dream with those who were keen. Thanks to Miles, Shane & Sol for being up to the challenge & to Red Bull for their great support in bringing this dream to life. A Clasic Adventure.