While 20th Century humans are perfectly capable of taking to the skies, doing so in a huge metal machine just isn’t going to cut it for some. Like a bird, we want to soar.
For many of us, this dream begins and ends in our imagination, but not for professional mountain climber and base jumper Joby Ogwyn. With the invention of the wingsuit, he has become part of a new generation of daredevils and now, after gainign several years of experience, he is preparing for his biggest jump yet.
At age 39, Ogwyn will summit Mount Everest before descending more than 10 000 vertical feet at speeds of over 240km/h, all of which will be aired live on Discovery Channel in May.
How do you prepare mentally for the jump?
“I don’t think it’s something that happens overnight. It takes years,” he says.
“In the beginning, I was very afraid; just trying to stay alive and doing the bare minimum. But you become more comfortable, even a little jaded about the danger, and you’re able to do more with it.
“Nowadays we have amazing wingsuits and the technology just gets better and faster. The suit that I’ll use on Everest, for example, is a smaller wingsuit. People refer to it as a tracking suit.”
What is your biggest fear?
“Well, I think that all of our systems, all of our technology, everything works really well, but the weather really has to be manageable. I can jump and do the project in a wide variety of conditions, but there are limits as to being able to do it safely, and that’s the key.”
How do you beat the fear?
“I have been doing this type of technical high-altitude work for most of my life. Obviously dangerous places like Mount Everest are what they are, but I don’t spend any time worrying,” Ogwyn says.
“Fear is something that everybody has. The world can be a dangerous place. Everybody has to be on their guard, especially if you are out in the wilderness. I think the main thing is to be able to manage that fear. When you have a really good team of people to work with and you’ve planned well, you should be fine.”
Is jumping off things an alternative to climbing back down again?
“I’m not thinking about saving myself the trip back down,” Ogwyn smiles. “I’ve summited a bunch of mountains and I never mind climbing down. It really came from wanting to jump off of higher and higher things, and having the experience that I’ve had over the last 20 years in the Himalayans, I wanted to explore it in a different way.
“For this particular project, obviously, I will be very glad to be sipping hot chocolate in base camp and knowing that my guys are on their way down. It’s going to take them two or three days at least for the whole team to get off the mountain. In many ways, I don’t think any of those guys would really want to be jumping off like I am either. I think they’ll all be happy to walk down.”
What part of the jump is most risky?
“The flight has multiple stages, kind of like a rocket with different little boosters. Things fall away or something else is added,” Ogwyn explains.
“The suit I have is a smaller high-performance suit; a lot of the technique is in the arms and shoulders. In a bigger wingsuit that has more material, the legs are really most of what you use to control the suit, but for me it’s a lot more in my arms.”