…but only for a brief moment. I was walking back to camp from Trümmelbach falls in Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland, when I heard a sound above me, almost like a jet flying overhead. I looked up and saw a parachute being deployed, and a man in a black suit floating over the valley. I watched him slowly get bigger as he flew near me, landing 20m away in front of a farmhouse.
His name was Matthias, an Irish computer programmer living in Germany.
He and many others had come to Lauterbrunnen to Base Jump, the sport of parachuting or wingsuit flying from a fixed structure or cliff. The term “Base Jumping” refers to an acronym, B.A.S.E, which represents four categories of fixed objects from which one can jump: buildings, antennas, spans, and Earth (cliffs).
Lauterbrunnen is a Base Jumper’s paradise, as there are numerous exits throughout the valley that are very close to one and other, and the valley contains some of the most breathtaking views I have ever seen.
I asked if he would take me up to an exit point so that I could photograph the jump. “Definitely,” he said, and told me there would likely be other jumpers at the exits as well who love having their photos taken. “The hike can be a little sketch” he warned, “you have a pretty narrow path to walk with a 1000m drop on the other side. Watch your step.”
I did not have a harness, nor did I know how to properly use one even if I had. Sounds fun.
The day after next, Matt introduced me to his friend and fellow jumper Darren. We set out for Mürren, a small town looking over the valley, and access to a plethora of exit points.
I brought along a Snickers bar to prepare not only for the hike down, but the hike back up (I couldn’t just jump down like my friends).
About half of the trail down to the first exit was marked. Darren advised that I look back every now and again to make sure I didn’t get lost. I was too distracted by the beauty of my surroundings to really notice where I was. Focusing on not slipping was also a priority, as the ground was wet and slippery from the rain.
I can safely say (ironically so) that walking to the first exit was the closest I have ever been to death. There was a 1m margin between the footpath and a sheer 1000m drop to my left. “It would suck a lot to fall that way” I thought to myself with each step.
We arrived at the first exit“High Nose,” and the preparations began. Matt and Darren began to suit up and strap in.
Check, doublecheck, check, doublecheck.
I asked if they were afraid, or if they felt they were close to death. “You know its there. But you trust in your gear, and you don’t really feel afraid.”
I wasn’t even jumping, and I could feel the anticipation.
With Base Jumping, there are no second chances. No backup parachute. Less than a minute to react to problems.
But they were both beaming, nonetheless.
I think I was more scared then the jumpers were. But it was thrilling.