This is the headline I see rapidly approaching, if we don’t collectively get our act together. Here is a sanitized version of what I sent out to my friends recently. Names and dates have been changed to protect the guilty. If you know the site, you know the site. If you don’t know the site, imagine this could be your secret hidden gem of a bridge, building, antenna or cliff that you protect with a vengeance. Now imagine your friends are casually holding boogies right at the exit in broad daylight.
“Hey guys, I really hoped to catch you all before you left LC yesterday. As it turns out, I missed you by about 15 minutes. Anyway, I had some serious issues spinning in my head on my solo hike out yesterday, and I was able to share them with X, Y and Z (folks still in boogie camp). I’m happy to report that my concerns were received with a resounding success and consideration. I want to share the same concerns with you four as well, with hopes of the same reception.
Ok, a little backstory. LC has been jumped at various locations since the late ‘80s. The first fatality was in ‘93 (BFL #26). Even though it was legal, local jumpers from Phoenix would hide the exit locations by blindfolding newbies on the highway before getting on dirt roads, and blindfolded again on the way out. This was pre-smart phone, pre-GPS, using old school methods of keeping access locked down. Ask (short tattooed pierced guy), he received the same treatment in the early 2000’s. Knowledge started to dribble out eventually, though. The ‘Samurai’ from France did his own topo studies, hopped on a plane to USA, figured out a way to the exit, opened RTG solo on a P2 or V1 (I forget), returned to France, and discretely showed the video to a few friends… that’s how Americans found out about RTG! This was early to mid-2000’s.
By this time, the upstream exits in LC, with their bigger rock drops but shorter overall height, were starting to see more action. Apex Base starting doing commercial heli boogies via expensive Navajo permits. Avery would charter a helicopter for private Team Ill Vision boogies, jump heli loads all day at the canyon, then fly to Cameron for hotels at night. Luigi Cani did a motorcycle basejump MTV Stunt Junkies episode into the canyon. Troy Hartman did his own Stunt Junkies episode flying an airplane through LC Canyon, along with basejumping and wingsuiting. All of this commercial permit heli access cracked the can wide open for LC. Hiking access out of the canyon, once tightly held secret by old-school locals for decades, now started to be found by the new-school generation of jumpers who entered BASE via an FJC and a brand new commercially available base rig. And shit started going down hill.
In 2008, (a still very active friend) did a solo jump at last light, with only a lighter, a headlamp, and an “I’ll find a way out” attitude. No water, food or overnight gear. He spent all night in the canyon shivering in his canopy. The sediment in the river kept him from drinking any water. The next morning, (2 other still-very-active friends) spent hours down-climbing an unknown route to find his ass, bring him some food and water and get him to a rope section. Injuries also started happening more frequently out there. By 2009, word on the street was that helis were now completely unnecessary. The hikeouts were legitimately established and the shit-show was in full force. In mid-2009, I was part of an all-time-high 19-man boogie, with probably 10 cars, a tow-behind trailer with air conditioning, dogs, cactus fires, alcohol (the Navajo nation is dry, so illegal), and tricycles ridden off exit points. It was Twin Falls attitude in LC. I’ll admit, it was great fun. Around the same time, Travis Pastrana did multiple motorcycle basejumps for a Nitro Circus episode into LC, and left smashed bikes down in the canyon. Classy.
No fucks were given by anybody. I remorsefully include myself in this embarrassing chapter of disrespect.
We weren’t aware of Navajo ranchers pissed that helicopters spooked their free-ranging cattle. Mandatory herd checks now stretched out much farther and more intensely due to spooked cattle scattering for miles. We weren’t aware that Navajo authorities were pissed off about our large vehicle party gatherings on exit points very close to sacred ceremonial sites on and below the rim. These and other very legitimate concerns prompted the Navajo Nation to ban all basejumping and rock climbing in late 2009 on their website. This policy is still in effect today, and is front and center on the Navajo Parks & Recreation website. We did it to ourselves.
LC went underground, with groups of 2-3 quietly sneaking in and out by following the most basic rules asked by the Navajo for camping and hiking access. Some of us fell off cliffs while scrambling around on the rim. Luckily, we had gear on our backs to save ourselves. Even with injuries, unplanned overnights down in the canyon and rescues over the years, a small core of respectful, discrete and proficient jumpers have been able to consistently appreciate the privilege and beauty that LC offers. We’ve actively engaged the local ranchers, inhabitants and authorities on numerous sensitive and cultural topics ranging from user impact, river mythology, commercial development rumors, and livestock ranging. LC is one of the most stunning places on the planet, quiet and stupidly remote. Big boy rules apply here, with the most unforgiving logistics, preparation and fitness required. It keeps the lazy basejumper crowds away.
This is not my land. It’s ancient Navajo land. We still find arrowheads. I love it out here.
Three winters ago, Dr. Dave (BFL #224) went in off RTG. A beautiful and impressively massive cairn was built by Ralph G in Dave’s honor on a majestic promontory deep in canyon country. Ralph would later go missing himself in Canada, likely on a solo wingsuit basejump. Chris LaBounty (BFL #286) and I had numerous amazing adventures in LC, saying ‘Hi’ to Dr. Dave and Ralph whenever we saw their cairn. If you can’t tell, I’ve got some emotional capital invested in the area.
Authorities from the Navajo Nation and National Park Service came out for Dave’s fatality investigation. At the time, (a friend) denied jumping with the group. Video was recovered off Dave’s body proving otherwise. In a bizarre twist of circumstances, my friend was convicted of lying to a federal NPS officer, with full sentencing, fines and federal probation. So, as of very recently, all relevant authorities are fully aware that RTG is an active basejump exit!
Which brings me full circle to (recently): Two of us showed up to find three vehicles easily visible on the horizon parked almost directly at the exit. A laid out packing tarp, pull-up cords, packing clamps, helmets, goggles, and six stash bags all strewn around. Nobody to be seen. The camp looked like it just got dropped in from a Twin Falls boogie. WTF? Then seven jumpers walk up from scouting nearby exits. Seven! This is where I’m throwing shit towards you four who left before I could talk with you. Whatever happened to being subtle, discrete, small footprint, and low visibility? The Navajo and NPS know exactly where our exits are and you set up a boogie camp with no attempt to hide? Here’s what we’ve been doing for years to avoid highlighting ourselves. We camp at X… not at the exit, nor anywhere visible near it. We pack quickly with a lookout and hide our base gear immediately. If there are other non-jumper folk camping at X, we find a hollow or depression to park in and minimize our visibility to them. This approach has worked phenomenally well for over seven years now. But recently, we’re seeing more jumpers getting lax and camping essentially right at the exit in 1’s and 2’s. Your camp was by far the largest and most casual we’ve ever seen at RTG. But here’s the problem… you are all experienced enough to know better, AND you were setting a shit example for the new guys you brought out. They will emulate the same approach and bring out more newbies, setting up more of a shit-show scene at the same location. Combine this with the increased Navajo ranger presence this season and folks, we’re well on our way to getting hammered by either Navajo or NPS… again.
Zoom out for a second.
Yosemite was legal until basejumpers pissed off local authorities.
LC was legal until basejumpers pissed off local authorities.
This year, basejumping is illegal in all of Austria because basejumpers pissed off local authorities.
Only 2 months ago, Chamonix was legal until basejumpers pissed off local authorities.
Even though LC is still illegal, we have an established working protocol that works well for qualified, discrete and respectful jumpers. We’ve worked hard for this. We’re well on our way to losing this balance, if recent events are any example. This is my personal attempt at self-policing, self-regulating, community calling-out, whatever you want to call it. If I don’t do it, nobody else will. And I don’t want to lose pristine exits that I have fond memories and departed friends attached to.
Come on people, you’ve all been around a long time. You all know better.
Basejumpers are our own worst enemies. This episode underscored that statement for me, yet again. Get your shit together and set a better example.”
Editor’s correction: Basejumping in Austria has been illegal for over 10 years. 2016 has apparently seen a significant reinforcement of this law, frustrating those working diligently to maintain a meager balance. To quote a local Austrian who brought this to my attention, “I feel with you on the self policing thing. We’re running into the same problems here in Austria… Do you have any suggestions on what we actually should do?… I thought about this a lot already, and I talked a lot to other jumpers here, but we’re kind of out of ideas on how to keep a small group of stupid guys messing it up for everyone. Talking nice to them, holding speeches, praising base ethics didn’t do a thing. Ignoring them also didn’t help. So I’m very open to suggestions, but trying to educate only works on the ones that care already.” Frustrations are felt globally. This is a cultural challenge. Lead by example. Correct with initiative. Have fun. Don’t die. Remember the priorities.