They say practise makes perfect but until you do lots of it, you don’t really grasp that statement. Like Gary Player once said, “The more I practice the luckier I get”. Well, we certainly are feeling the effects of that. At one point I thought both Lynda and I had driven our wingsuits to the max and we couldn’t possibly get any more performance out of them. I was wrong! Every jump we seem to figure out one more thing and one more little tweak that can be done to edge that little bit more performance out of the suit. Our flights have been taking us further and further out into the valley. The biggest and most surprising results have been Lynda’s as she has managed to push her flights way beyond what I thought was remotely possible on that little wingsuit of hers. Every time someone new sees her fly they oooh and aaah and immediately comment that they have never seen that type of wingsuit she is flying, fly that fast and that far. She has now managed to fly just as far as or further sometimes than guys flying bigger wingsuits than her. I always get a giggle out of that and I’m so proud of her. Granted, these guys she is beating are not flying too well but some of them have countless more BASE wingsuit jumps than she has. One thing I know is that when we finally both get our brand new supa dupa Vampire 3 wingsuits later this year, I’m probably going to fall into that category of guys whose ass Lynda is going to be kicking.
As you can gather, there is not a whole bunch to talk about except more jumping and more jumping. Imagine taking months off and just concentrating on that one hobby or sport you absolutely, passionately love to do even if that is couch potato’ing. Well, that’s us right now and every minute consumes us thinking about the next jump, the next flight and how can we push it further, fly harder, longer. Humankind has been obsessed with flight since he first laid eyes on a bird in flight. Since then, there have been fables of humankind’s attempts to fly and many have died trying desperately to fore fill that pressing dream. It’s those early pioneers that got out there and risked life and limb to make the dream very possible and safe for us to do today. BASE jumping as a sport is fairly new and can be said to have more or less started in its format today in the late 1970’s. Although the first recorded activity of it was as far back as 1783 when Louis-Sébastien Lenormand made the first parachute jump from the tower of the Montpellier observatory. In the beginning the sport was practiced using standard Skydiving parachutes and many injuries and fatalities occurred because of this. People began to modify the parachuting equipment in order to make it more conducive to BASE and soon afterwards manufactures of specialised BASE equipment surfaced and the sport took on a whole new dynamic. I’ve always maintained that the “old boys and girls” were the true dare devils; nowadays we just have fun and try to keep out of trouble.
Today we did the big one. It’s a feature on the Nordwand, German for “north face”, of the Eiger. The spectacular north (or, more precisely, north-west) face of the Eiger (also known as the Eigerwand, “Eiger wall”). It is one of the six great north faces of the Alps, towering over 1,800 m (5,900 ft) above the valley in the Bernese Oberland below. Since 1935, sixty climbers have died attempting the north face, earning it the German nickname, Mordwand, or “murder wall”, a play on the face’s real German name Nordwand. This is one impressive face that stands out on the Swiss Alps and when looking at it all I can imagine is the hero’s, the legends and the sheer courage and tenacity of the women and men that have challenged themselves on that wall. I’m very privileged to know one man that has soloed that north wall and I truly respect his courage and inner drive and most of all his humbleness in the face of such an achievement. A great South African whom I’ve had the privilege to have spent some time with and BASE jumped with. If you ever get a chance, pick up a book written by him on his life adventures. The best piece of writing I’ve read in a long time. It’s called – Sharper Edges, by Andy De Klerk.
We first laid eyes on the Eiger while taking the cable car out of the Lauterbrunnen valley up to Winteregg which is where we walk to one of the most popular BASE exit points in the valley called the High Nose. As you look at it you can clearly see the West flank which is how the Eiger was first climbed in 1858 and today is the same way you get up to the exit point called the Mushroom. It’s called that because it looks just like a mushroom. It is a piece of rock that is separated from the main North wall by a few meters. It’s not all the way on top of the Eiger although it feels like it when you trying to get there but it’s at least more than two thirds of the way up but I stand to be corrected. Today the Eiger is regarded as a formidable challenge more because of the increased rock fall and diminishing ice-fields than because of its technical difficulties, which are not at the highest level of difficulty in modern alpinism. So when you look at the mushroom you find yourself wondering if it’s such a good idea to be jumping around on this very fragile looking rock protrusion and to top it all off I’ve recently learnt that the Swiss government wants to reinforce the mushroom to the main wall because they have found a crack in it. If the mushroom were to dislodge it would most certainly wipe out a train station and restaurant located far in the valley below. In July 2006, a piece of the Eiger, amounting to approximately 700,000 cubic metres of rock, fell from the east face. As it had been noticeably cleaving for several weeks and it fell into an uninhabited area, there were no injuries and no buildings were hit. As you look at the west flank, you wonder how anyone can possibly walk up this seriously angled slope with only a pair of hiking boots. I had visions of an epic adventure with myself and Lynda clinging onto some rock crying for mommy to come rescue us. The butterflies started to turn in my stomach right from day one. Everyone you speak to that has either been up there or knows someone who has, has some or other horrifying story about the ascent to the mushroom. I was beginning to think this was maybe not such a good idea. I find out later that Lynda is secretly wishing in the background that the weather never really clears up for the Eiger because she is not so sure she can deal with the scary bits. Despite all this, I’m asking everyone if they can take us up and the promises keep coming but no-one ends up taking us. There were some parties that went a few times and we didn’t get wind of it until it was all too late. I started to think that one had to join an Eiger Secret Society in order to get up there. As with all things in life, Everything Happens for a Reason, and you can’t ever see WHY but if you hold out long enough it becomes very evident. All the trips that we missed to the Eiger where really dodge with regards to weather and rock conditions and we could count our lucky stars we were not on any of those. As it turns out, one very fine day was on the cards and there was a buzz everywhere about going to the Eiger. This one we certainly could not miss. We had bought ourselves a sling and carabineer each which we were going to use to get across onto the mushroom. From previous trips we heard the guys commenting on how they almost froze to death up there and so we made sure we had ample jackets. It’s not as if Lynda and I are new to the mountains so we had everything covered and ready for our “epic” adventure the following day.
We got out of bed at 5am and had our breakfast and made sure we had everything we needed including money for train tickets because when you land you are far from anywhere and so you need to get to the closest train station to get the trains back home. There were 14 people on this trip and that made us a little calmer because we were sure that not all 14 people would be able to outwalk us and leave us behind lost and wondering the west flank of the Eiger. One catches 3 trains from Lauterbrunnen to get to where one starts walking up. This is the station just before the train disappears into the Eiger Mountain. The Jungfraubahn railway runs in a tunnel inside the Eiger, and two internal stations provide easy access to viewing-windows in the mountainside. The railway terminates at Jungfraujoch, the highest railway station in Europe, located in the col between the Mönch and the Jungfrau. It’s a fascinating piece of engineering. From here you look straight up the west flank and up near the top on the ridge line of the North Wall, you can clearly see the top of the mushroom sticking out although it’s very small. My first thought was ^%$#@&^% crap ^%$#@@*^”!, you want me to what!!! I’ve had my fair share of time in the mountains and I know when something looks more or less far, IT’S BLOODY FAR! The steepness of the talus doesn’t quite look “walkable”. I began to wonder if this was such a good idea. Immediately the thought came to me “watch what you wish for…” Then I thought, 14 people couldn’t be wrong. We began the assent and soon enough the line of people stretched out far and I just had to get myself and Lynda as close to the front of this as I could simply because I didn’t want to get left behind or lose the strongest leaders up front. Poor Lynda, I always end up pushing her but she is my tough cookie and she simply pushes along and manages to stay right in there. One third of the way up and I decided that the best way to deal with hard walking was to call my very close walking companion “da MP3 player”. I quickly selected some Tiesto which befitted the most awesome surroundings we were in and I let the magic of his music teleport me into another dimension where my mind dislodges from the physical being and I no longer register anything physical. This is a magical place and here I can push the body harder and longer. I also disengage from what would normally make me feel edgy. All is good. I’m in a happy place. You no longer hear your breathing. With this, I’m charged and I feel endless energy take over and I just seem to go on fairly effortlessly. At one point we are walking on loose sand and stone which make one think of walking up sand dunes except its black and every step you take turns into three as you feet sink and slide down. This begins to tire you out but before long you are thru it all and onto rock again. Some of the rock bits get your heart beating a little but as long as you don’t look down, all is ok. Tiesto keeps me distracted and I find my fears are kept at bay. We get to a climbing section and lucky for us the Swiss BASE guys had fixed ropes up for us to pull on. Although this might be the case some people are still not happy to go thru this section. I’m glad that I’ve at least got a little rock climbing behind me and this section doesn’t wobble me. I let Lynda climb first and I climb close behind her for moral support. By this stage Lynda and I are pretty much at the front with the three or so leaders. I’ve got my mountain antennas on and I’m plotting the route in my head because I know that I only need to see it once and then I’ll be back as many times as I like when I like. Another 45 minutes or so and we reach the mushroom. Exhausted but fascinated. You take a look back down the west flank that you have just climbed and its spell binding. You get the idea that if you had slipped somewhere you might have been rolling for a while. Wow, what a place. Like all mountains that high, everything seems out of scale. It’s as if you can reach down and play with the little train far down in the valley below. It looks like a big scale model. If it weren’t for the tiny movements in the valleys below, it would all look a little fake. But there is nothing fake about nature, its true beauty and sheer scale. Somewhere underneath us, buried deep in the Eiger rock was a tunnel with a train running in it. This is brilliant Swiss engineering and precision. Far in the valleys below, many tourists ambled along on their hikes oblivious of the 14 individuals whose hearts were beating a little faster as they gaze into the vast emptiness below that they are about to hurl themselves into. Soon we are joined by Dean Potter, an American free climber, alpinist, BASE jumper, BASEliner, and highliner. He has become famous for many free solo ascents and speed ascents in Yosemite. He has an unbelievable amount of achievements and yet is as humble as you can find them. It feels humbling to be on the Eiger with such a great name in climbing. The whole experience, is almost unreal and yet very real.
Time to kit up and get across onto the mushroom. This is when the pulse fires a little faster and in your mind you visualise your jump over and over. I try to gauge how far my wingsuit will take me and I ask as many questions as I can from all those around me in order to find out what my best options are. Others that have flown wingsuits there point out a distant train station that looks pretty far to me but still doable. Lynda and I wait for the first batch of brave souls to cross over to the mushroom and jump so that we get an idea of how this all works. Slowly, one by one they clip onto the ropes connecting the main headwall to the mushroom and they grab on like kids crossing a stretched rope, hanging upside down with their feet hooked over and hand over hand they edge themselves over to the mushroom. You hear various expressions of fear and cursing once they are over and you begin to feel the edge swirling in the air. The first couple of people go off and all goes well with some flying far in wingsuits and some tracking hard trying in vain to fool gravity as their bodies look like they are barely staying above the stretched steep talus below. We have seen enough, now it’s time for our turn. The cross over to the mushroom is as scary as it looks and the exposure a little overwhelming but we make it over and we are happy to be next in line for some play time. We do some final checks and Lynda votes to go first. She gets herself to the exit point and pulls all her focus together for the jump. We all have our little launch habits that we are probably unaware of unless someone has pointed them out and Lynda’s are somewhat cute and happen without fault before she leaps off the rock. She shuffles around on her feet as she is counting down and with a text book launch she propels herself forward with a hard push, arm wings stretched out and head held high. There she drops away into the void below and immediately turns the position into a fairly aggressive head-down position building her speed up immensely. You can clearly see her change the flying position into a hard rolled over attack angle that makes you think she is about to dive straight down into the talus below when instead the speed and angle of attack transfers into lift and as if a line is attached to her back she gets pulled out into the wide open and she is thrusting into the distance at high speed. She just seems to go and go and her body shrinks so much that it begins to look like she is going to hit the ground in the far distance. I hear someone saying, “She should pull now…. she should pull now…. she should pull now…. she should really pull now”. For a moment it does look like Lynda is about to fly herself into the ground without opening her parachute. 45 seconds sounds like a short time but when you are watching someone accelerate towards the ground at a tremendous speed, it seems like forever. Finally Lynda opens and we all realize that she is in fact still high off the ground and in no danger at all. I guess no-one has seen a small suit like that fly off the Eiger and go for so long. I’m next. My exit not quite under control and a little steeper than I would have liked but good enough. I begin to fly and I maximise everything in order to go as far as I can. With that, I keep over amping and I end up too head down with my leg wing flapping indicating to me that I’m flying like crap. I adjust and get it back and then the same thing again. This keeps repeating throughout the flight but I still make it right over the train station below before opening my parachute. I got the distance but I wasn’t happy with my flying. I blamed it on all the jerseys and jackets I was wearing under my wingsuit that made my wingsuit extra tight and uncomfortable. Feeling despondent and at the same time exhilarated I made the decision there and then to do another jump off the Eiger right away. What was I thinking….? Thoughts of a delirious man obviously. I had Eiger fever.
Lynda was walking down to meet me at the train station I ran to her and told her my plan. Let’s catch a train to the next station, the station where you catch a train that leads up to the bottom of the Eiger walk. But before that Eiger train, let’s have something to eat at the restaurant and pack our parachutes. Lynda didn’t look convinced but I could see in her eyes that she was not going to miss this if I was going again. We got the train, had something to eat at the next station and packed our parachutes ready to go again. We climbed onto the Eiger train again and before we knew it we were on the west flank of the Eiger doing it all over again but this time there were only three of us dumb asses. Everyone else has called it a day and rightly so. Once again, what where we thinking? The Eiger twice in a day, now that is just pure stupidity. The hill seemed steeper, the time longer and it was all in the blazing sun. Great because I could leave my jackets in a locker at the station and only walk up in a T-Shirt which meant my wingsuit would fit better and hopefully I’d have a good flight. Well, if you want to know how the second climb went, go three paragraphs back and triple anything I said that hinted at pain and suffering. To add to our anxiety, the clouds were slowly building in the valley below and as we edged closer to the mushroom it looked like we were going to walk all the way back down without jumping. Everywhere you looked the clouds covered below and it was looking very bleak. I prayed silently as we moved along with optimism that the weather just give us a break for our jump. We couldn’t have put in such a huge effort to face such a huge disappointment. We get to the mushroom absolutely exhausted and peer over the edge. There in front of us the clouds below open just enough to reveal our flight path. It’s a miracle. My prayer answered. Maybe it was my sister in heaven looking out for me. I’d like to think so. We kit up in a hurry and get across onto the mushroom. Got to go quick, this window might not last. Lynda goes first but before she can get off we stand fast as a helicopter flies around below right in Lynda’s flight path. Flying into a helicopter will just spoil the day. We wait patiently hoping the clouds don’t cover in again and it finally flies away. Lynda goes off and has a superb flight just as before. I go off concentrating on everything including a better exit than last time. I go steep just as planned and come tearing out of it into full flight. I tweak every position on the suit and I feel the sweet spot. The acceleration is magical and I feel it in my gut that this flight will take me further than the train station. I know that there are some terrain drop offs after the train station but I also know that they don’t go off far enough for me to be able to fly to the next town far below in the next valley but I’m going to go as far as I can possibly go. I come tearing over the train station and I pick my line just right of the forest ahead as I know I won’t make it over the whole forest. This follows the train track to the village below but as I’m flying down the hill I’m losing altitude at a rapid rate. I make a last second call and I see there is one more downhill ahead and I commit to making it there. In front of me are powerlines which I know I’ll barely clear but I’ve committed and I just need to go. I fly over them with about 4 meters to spare and the terrain drops away but not much and I pull immediately. Holy crap that was close. The pilot chute comes out and because I’ve opened in full flight speed the canopy bangs open wobbles for a second and I touch down on the hill before I can do anything. I stand there a little dazed. I let out a ripping scream of joy as some hikers come running over the hill to see what happened to me. They keep asking me if I’m alright and I just keep laughing and telling them I feel better than James Brown. I can’t believe the distance I’ve just made. What a flight, what a sensation. I feel absolutely alive. I’m trembling all over.
That night Lynda and I felt the pain. Our bodies broken and very tired we climbed into bed swearing that there was no way we would do this again anytime soon. The following day we get up late and look out the window and up towards the Eiger. There in front of us another beautiful day. Not a breath of wind, not a cloud in the sky. We knew that we just had to do it all over again. We ate breakfast and before long we were once again on the Eiger making our way up to the mushroom. Difference here is that we were alone, it was later in the day, much warmer and I packed all our cameras so that we could get some nice photos and video. I wanted to take some nice photos of Lynda flying with the Eiger North wall in the background. I think I got it right. Check out our gallery, there is a priceless photo of Lynda wingsuiting with the Eiger North wall in the background. Needless to say, the climb up to the mushroom on this day took longer and Lynda and I were absolutely exhausted. The cameras and helmet wore me down completely and both Lynda and I were having serious humour failure. None the less we made it to the top and the day presented us with flawless weather. We took our time and it was great just being the two of us up there. A magical feeling and soon all pain and tiredness was forgotten as we prepared for another wonderful Eiger jump. This time it would be me and her together in flight across the valley below. We made our way to the exit and I waited for Lynda’s count. She launched off and I dropped away right beside her. She dropped away from me a little but I flew hard and caught up to her fast, flanking her on her left side. I wanted to be at her level in order to capture her in the centre of the photo with the north wall behind. I flew there for a while taking photographs while watching the intense concentration on her face as she focused on flying her wingsuit. I wondered when she would realise that I was right next to her a mere 1 meter away. I dropped lower hoping she would finally see me when she glanced over and saw me. She got so surprised that a wide smile streamed across her face and suddenly her body was following her head and she banked off to her right while twisting her head and body to face me. I laughed and followed her crossing over the top of her onto her right side this time staying a little up leaving her to continuing focusing on her flight. We flew for a little while longer and she opened her canopy. I opened mine soon after this time leaving me ample canopy flying time. I aimed for the path below and took all my wings off ready for landing. I achieved what I set out to do, take a great picture of Lynda flying along, on level with the Eiger in the background or at least I thought I had. I still needed to see. Although we felt absolutely shattered, there was nothing that could wipe the smile from our faces. We got on the next train and a few train changes later we finally arrived back “home” to our little Swiss village – Lauterbrunnen.
What a day. I feel so privileged to have a loving wife who shares my dreams, our dreams. Humankinds dreams of self human flight in such a special place. A tiny little country surrounded by the biggest and most beautiful mountains. A country that allows us that freedom of expression of our sport. A country that allows us that dream, that privilege.
And so we continue to live the EdLyn Dream…..
Peace and Love to everyone
Eddy & Lynda