... there's a lot of it about these days including Les Drus.
Posted: 28 August 2012
It used to be enough to just climb up mountains, mutter stuff about reaching the summit being only half the job, then laboriously threading your way back down, sometimes with broken knees and stuff to make things a little harder. Not any more, these days the cool kids climb the mountain then once they've reached the top, jump off the thing.
This has numerous advantages. You get back to base camp way faster, in time for tea and cake in fact. Even broken knees, if you have them, won't slow you down. And of course you get added blur on the way down, just in case extreme mountaineering hasn't sparked enough starry-eyed chemicals on your brain...
And just imagine if things had always been that way? Hillary and Tenzing's formation wingsuit descent from Everest in '53. Whyper's early BASE jump from the top of the Matterhorn and hey, no-one would have heard of Joe Simpson, though the smart money says he'd still have smacked his parapente into the glacier below Siula Grand. And can you imagine Whillans in a wingsuit?
Anyway, enough digression. The video up there shows Columbia-sponsored athlete Géraldine Fasnacht taking part in the first wingsuit descent of Les Drus above Chamonix - more images below. The team of four including Géraldine's husband and fellow wingsuit flyer Sam Beaugey climbed the mountain by the normal route before using lazers and throwing stones - nice mix of technologies - to estimate the amount of vertical wall below them, around 140m if you were wondering.
They chose to take off a few metres from the summit flying from 3730 metres high on the north face of the mountain, flying along the western face and over the ridge of 'Flammes de Pierres' (the burning stones).
Apparently it was all possible because of recent improvements in wingsuit design which makes it possible to fly in more confined spaces than was feasible with earlier versions. Or so the press release says.
Apparently the activity even has a name, 'Para-Alpinism' and has spread as far as the Himalaya where British climber Tim Emmett recently attempted the granite big wall of Great Trango with the aim of making a wingsuit descent from the top along with three French climbers including Liv Sansoz.
The team succeeded in climbing the route, but weather conditions made the wingsuit descent unfeasibly dangerous with Emmett commenting:
"Combining Alpinism with wingsuit flying at over 6000m is a challenging task and getting the right conditions is critical. The landscape was often changeable because of the weather, which meant we had to make our ascent at night to avoid avalanches often caused by the sun.”
Tim notes; “Climbing a mountain is one thing but carrying your extra flying gear to the summit and getting the conditions to jump adds a whole new dimension to the project. We knew there would be so many potential issues for us to deal with - the weather being a major unknown, along with how much ice there could be up there. However, that was all part of the adventure and a great opportunity to know what to expect as we plan a rematch next year.”
More about that at trangoairwall.wordpress.com.
Meanwhile, back in the real world, we look foward to the first wingsuit descent from Striding Edge direct to the caff in Glenridding. No more trudging slowly downhill for us...