I just returned from another incredible Red Bull project. This time it was in New Zealand. Miles D and I went down there and hooked up with the multitalented Chuck Berry, another Red Bull jumper from NZ, and his hilarious camera flyer buddy Sol. The mission was to climb/scramble up and jump off the 2,000 foot cliff about half way down the face of The Lion in none other than the majestic Milford Sound in Fiordland National Park. The Lion is one of the main peaks that rises out of the fiord right smack in the middle of Milford Sound. If you have seen pictures of Milford then The Lion is probably in it. The jump would require humping multiple loads of gear up over 4,000 feet to the summit where we would then have to rappel 2,000 feet down the sloping face to the jump location. Unfortunately, the day we arrived in Queenstown we were informed by the Dept. of Conservation that our permit to film the project had been pulled due to them considering what we are doing to be “commercial purposes”. This was a big disappointment especially since this jump has been a big dream for Chuck for over a decade. We later realized that there is all kinds of filming being done for “commercial purposes” in the area. These people simply just don’t bother asking the Dept. of Cun…… uhh…. Conservation for permission and it never becomes a problem. Duh! The oldest rule in base jumping is to never ask permission just forgiveness! We should have known better! 🙂 Well, actually when we are doing projects for Red Bull it kinda all has to be done legally so we had to ask.
So it was on to plan B, or at least to come up with a plan B. The DOC did give us permission to film in the next valley over, in Sinbad Gully. Chuck has done plenty of recon work in most of Fiordland over the years so he had a very good idea where we needed to look to find big cliffs for us to jump. It would all be completely exploratory base jumping. Most of the Fiordland area has never seen a base jump. The problem is access. The mountains in Fiordland are impressive. They shoot straight up and maintain a steep angle all the way to the top. Normally base jumpers can find a way to hike to a good exit point usually with minimal climbing required. Not here. Just about everything in the area is steep, rugged terrain that would require at the very least a few days of serious climbing and rope work. We had the time and the gear but didn’t have an exact jump that we knew was possible so we decided to hire a helicopter and went big wall hunting the easy way. We flew straight to to one of the gems that Chuck has had circled on his map. The mountain was called Terror Peak and the cliff just below it was perfect. A 3,400 foot jump to the valley floor with a 1,000 foot start and some fun ledges and terrain to buzz with our wingsuits. An easy jump and flight with some great visuals along the way down. Chuck had the honors and went first. Then I jumped my Vampire 2 and had a blast scraping the rust out while trying to fly along the wall. Miles and Chuck flew their S-Flys. We packed up along the riverbed and flew back up there for round 2. This time I did a 2 way with Sol. Miles and Chuck did a 2 way. At the bottom after many high fives and whoo-hooos we got to look back up at this majestic peak in the middle of one of the most beautiful places on earth that had never seen a base jump before and give the cliff a name. Miles coined the jump “Terrorflying” even though the jump was anything but that! For a base jumper, pioneering new jump sites, or what we call “Opening a new object” is perhaps the most exciting aspect of the sport. The sport is still quite young and the base world is still being discovered and mapped. To have the opportunity to open up a new site, and a big one, in a stunning place like Fiordland is an amazing experience. It was one I will not soon forget!
The next day we spent waiting out the weather. It rains a lot there! And by the afternoon of the following day the weather had cleared enough for us to rally up to the top of Sinbad Gully where we knew there was a small cliff next to a waterfall that was just begging to be jumped. By small I mean 800 ish feet which is pretty small for the terrain we were in. This cliff was really easy for us to dial in. We just flew up there, landed, and walked down hill about 500 feet to the exit point and jumped the thing without our wing suits. We didn’t even go to the bottom to inspect the landing area. It looked easy enough to land down there in the tall tussock and huge boulders! I mean, what could possibly go wrong? Nothing of course! Which is exactly what happened. Actually I think I may have missed a pinkie finger on my high five with Chuck when he landed right next to me. Will have to work on that. We named that cliff “Singood” as it was anything but bad!
My video camera shots of our jumps can be found here:
PLEASE CLICK “WATCH IN HIGH QUALITY”
Sorry for the crappy edit. I’m just learning the new iMovie. The best shots were from my VIO camera on my foot but I couldn’t use any of them. Couldn’t figure out how to get SD card footage into iMovie.
Here is a short little slide show from the Terror Peak jumps and audio description of what it is like to jump the camera position from Sol Vallis, our camera flyer.
So with 3 jumps and 2 new objects opened in Fiordland and a bad weather forecasted we got in our rented RV and headed back to Chuck’s house near Queenstown to regroup for the next plan, plan C, which turned out to be an A! I’ll get to that shortly. Annoyed with the blasting wind while hanging out at Chuck’s house we put on our wingsuits and ran around in the field chasing sheep. We eventually caught one, well Chuck did anyway, and we got some nice pictures with the sheep. Can’t show you all those though, they’re X rated. The next day the weather cleared and we headed to the drop zone for a little wingsuit skydiving. We did 4 jumps from the Porter above the little town of Glenorchy and Lake Wakatipu. I flew the camera and wore my Pro Fly and got some nice video of Miles and Chuck flying together above the lake and the mountains. As we were landing on our 4th jump we noticed a heli had arrived at the dropzone. It turns out the TV show 20/20 in New Zealand had agreed to pay for some more heli time so they could film us! We, of course, couldn’t disappoint them! Ooh! Ooh! My arm hurts! Stop twisting it! Ok Ok! We’ll go do some sweet base jumps off some more new cliffs for you on your dime! We threw all our skydiving gear in the van and piled all our base gear into the heli and rallied up to another amazing place near Mt. Earnslaw.
It turns out that this place is a beautiful valley with a huge double staging ledge system of cliffs. There was a big glacier at the back of the valley and there were waterfalls cascading off of huge cliffs in several spots. Quite spectacular. Chuck and Miles had both been here before and had jumped the top cliff for a Discovery show called The Extreme Tribes which aired about 4 years ago. We went straight up to the top cliff and stared off of it for a while. The cliff was an 8 second rock drop. I really wanted to fly my wingsuit off this cliff and try to outfly the slope below before the second cliff system but I just wasn’t feeling it. It looked to me like there was a good chance that I could be very low and skimming the ground with no outs left or right if for some reason I didn’t fly well. If the slope below the cliff was a bit steeper then I probably would have gone for it. An 8 second rock drop is plenty but the angle I had to fly was a bit low and I hadn’t been flying my wingsuit much at all lately except for the two Terror Peak jumps. It is one of those situations that you find yourself in a lot in many sports. Like when you are about to hit a jump on your bike or skis or whatever and you are thinking “Well, I think I can make it … I’m pretty sure I can make it….. Awe screw it! I’m gonna go for it and see what happens!” Then you go for it and after you do you find out just how off you were or weren’t. Well, with base jumping its not really a good idea to just go for it unless you know 100% for sure! So I, very reluctantly, took my wingsuit off and just did a normal old flippy, spinny thing jump after videoing Miles and Chuck. We all pulled dirty high and Sol made fun of us. Its a great cliff, very overhung and has a long 2,500 foot parachute ride down to the valley floor.
We then grabbed our second rigs and blasted back up to the top for round two! This time I had other plans. There was an equally as nice cliff below and over to the right of the upper one with a nice area of tussock above it. I jumped the top cliff again and then flew over to the tussock ledge and landed. As soon as I landed I immediately had this overwhelming sensation of commitment. It was pretty intense. I was going for the double stager! Its on now! No turning back now, I already landed up here! Now I have to pack my parachute in this steep, bumpy tussock crap! As I started stowing my brakes I looked up to see Chuck and Miles flying around the corner and into view toward me. To my surprise Miles comes swooping in and lands right above me as Chuck flew by nice and low giggling at us and disappears below the cliff edge. Miles yelled down “I couldn’t leave my wing man!” and comes down for the high five. We then begin packing our worst pack jobs ever by far! We bet our usual $2 on who’s parachute would open …. the best. When we finished up and walked over to the exit point on this lower cliff we looked over the edge and realized that this cliff is even bigger than the top one. We could have easily jumped our wing suits off this cliff but we had packed slider down for a quick opening. Opening high on a big cliff is called “Altitude abuse” and boy did we ever abuse that one! Whatever though, we got to step off two cliffs in one go and complete our first ever double staging base jump! It was dam cool. No one had ever jumped that lower cliff so we named it “Berry Nice” in honor of Chuck for taking such good care of us on this trip. Now I really want to come back to this place to accomplish one of my big goals of doing the nonstop double staging ski base jump run with two parachutes. This would be the perfect place to do it. We tied on that bet too because both our parachutes opened dead on heading, another testament to how bomber and consistent base jumping parachutes and gear is. What an incredible day! 4 wingsuit skydives, 3 base jumps, 2 of them as part of a double stager and 1 newly opened cliff that is wingsuitable!
The next day we spent packing our gear to go back home and doing interviews with the 20/20 guys and with TV3 and with newspapers. By the late afternoon when all the interviews were finished we get a call from some American dude named Scott Harper that Miles had Facebooked with and who works at the local drop zone for the season. He wanted to take us base jumping off a small cliff in the The Remarkables right near town. Ow! Ow! My arm! Ok Ok! Jeez! We’ll go! The next thing we know we are hiking a few thousand feet up the hills to this nice, little slider down cliff with a very long parachute ride. It was a fun little jump that you could run a few steps before jumping off. We all had on headers and flew off into the sunset to our car and our plane ride home!
Thanks to all who made this trip possible and who helped along the way and to those of you who made it reading this far!
New Zealand, Chuck Berry and Red Bull New Zealand = A+