Let’s take the fast way down: Climbing star Steph Davis takes a short jump off a big cliff
A ruthless half-hour climb getting up, a deadly half-minute plummet getting down. It’s hard to decide which sounds least appealing, but this is how American climber Steph Davis spends her days – climbing ﬁendish mountain faces, pausing to enjoy the view, then base-jumping back to the ground. Fresh from the world’s ﬁrst ascent-and-leap from the 400ft Castleton Tower in her home state of Utah, Davis will be a key speaker at the Kendal Mountain Festival (mountainﬁlm.co.uk) in the Lake District in November.
You have been a climber for most of your life, but only started base-jumping last year. Were you getting bored with descents?
I’ve been friends with base-jumpers for about six years – we all like the same places, a lot of the best climbing cliffs like Castleton happen to be the best base-jumping cliffs – but I didn’t think I wanted to do it myself. [Laughs] Because I was too scared, basically. Then last year …
You made the leap?
I made the transition from climbing to falling! It’s always exciting when something’s new and you’re learning so much. There’s a really strong tradition of mentorship among base-jumpers. They’re an even tighter community than climbers, because there are fewer of them.
Is there a rivalry between the two groups?
Base-jumpers love climbers, because climbers know how to get to the top of things. When climbers get involved in base-jumping, the base-jumpers are so thrilled that they teach them and help them and they mentor them. They’re like, ‘Yay, we’re so glad this climber is starting to base-jump because as soon as they are competent and ready to go they’re going to help us climb!’
Which is the riskier sport?
With base-jumping, stuff happens really fast and small problems can lead to big accidents. There’s a lot of decision-making, fast. Everyone I know has had at least one major accident, and that’s not necessarily the case with climbers. There’s not really a feeling of competitiveness because base-jumpers just want everyone to live, basically. [Laughs] If you go to a base-jump and everyone survives, then everyone’s really happy.
Any tips for other climbers who are thinking of leaping off once they reach the top?
The cliff needs to be at least 400ft tall, and you want it to be a really clean face because you don’t want to hit the wall. Hitting the wall is bad.
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