Peering over the edge, it’s difficult to make out where the stone just tossed into space hit the deck. So another one is selected and cast airborne, in sync with the stop watch button being pressed. “That was a 2.7 second one” Josh announces, and he glances over at me with an expression on his face that suggests implications are being weighed up in his mind concerning his next ‘step’. For that step is heavily laden with consequence should the calculations not quite work out. “I didn’t give that one much of a push. Will try another”. 3.6 seconds this time. “I’m going for it”. We earlier scoped another site across the way, and with much humming and hawing it was deemed a no-goer. Though I am pretty sure he said that one was a 3.7 seconder…
He looks across at me to check I am ready with my camera and my positioning, gives me the thumbs up, and with that leaps out into the abyss. By all accounts I feel I am the one with the most nerves and shout for joy when the ‘chute opens and I hear Josh whooping crazily as he wrests control over his rig and glides out of sight along the dramatic Lakeland crag. I wasn’t even the one committed to that semi-suicidal act.
Josh has just, in the parlance of his ‘tribe’, ‘opened up’ Bow Fell to BASE, and I was privileged to be along for his ride, in the sense of accompanying him on this odyssey of madness to find new sites to launch, leap, jump, however you want to label this act, from. As far as I can gather from getting to know little more about this close-knit community, there aren’t that many officially opened up sites in the UK, and significantly fewer prior Josh’s industrious efforts in recent months. His intention being to push the number beyond 100. Not long after I first made his acquaintance last summer, he sent me videos of opening an exit near the summit of Ben Nevis, highest mountain in the UK. The first of which looked utterly incredible from his GoPro perspective, sailing down above the north face for around a 4 minute canopy flight. I was relieved on seeing his landing and the fact he had accomplished this safely. A few hours later I received another video – he had climbed back up and done it again!!!
Hanging about (literally as it happens) with Josh came at an opportune time for me, as I had spent the summer doing just that on the sea cliffs of the Great Orme above the splendid Victorian resort town of Llandudno. Having done a little sea cliff climbing previously I was pleasantly surprised to find some dramatic headlands, and some fascinating sea caves that I decided were great for photo opportunities and to consolidate my rope ascension skills. It was ironically on a pleasant summer day when I was purposefully NOT climbing or hanging about, but on a family picnic, that I chanced upon Josh, his mate, Andy, and his dad scoping ‘exit points’ for a pioneering jump in these parts. I didn’t even realise it was possible to jump these cliffs, though they are dramatic in the right places. A recent jump they had done from a roadside point requiring the tide to be out and a couple of extra metres of drop by launching from the top of their van. This is pretty out there stuff!
So, fortuitously, I struck up an erstwhile partnership whereby I offered to come along on various of these excursions. This would be good to hone my adventure photography skills, make use of my rope skills in getting into exciting positions, and also if required (as on Bow Fell) to facilitate getting Josh into positions where it might be awkward to do so without the aid of a belay and some fella who just happens to have turned up with loads of climbing gear! That first jump at great Orme I witnessed was pretty mind-blowing stuff, with little more than 100ft sheer drop, and requiring something of a push out from the crag to give sufficient clearance.
Since then I have had many opportunities to go along for the ride as it were and witness firsthand what it takes in terms of nerve, skill, composure and good judgement to open up new exits in the UK mountains. In my next post I will recount a recent experience collaborating with Josh to document BASE jumping, and delve a little deeper into the psychology and brain functioning that is implicated in extreme sports / environments activities.