As you may already know, the Lauterbrunnen Valley, where I’ve been living for the last year, is one of the most popular places in the world for a sport called BASE jumping.
What you might not know is that watching the BASE jumpers from the safety of the ground or the cliffs is an equally popular activity.
BASE jumping, in case you haven’t heard of it, is when someone jumps off a cliff, attempting to “fly” out into the valley or along the side of the cliff before pulling a parachute and floating to safety on the ground. The people who do this are experienced sky divers (you’re supposed to have upwards of 300 sky dives before you start BASE jumping) and they fall into two categories:
The first category wears a track suit, which is a special suit a little larger than the person that lets air flow in and helps the jumper “track” (move) out over the valley and/or alongside the cliff walls. The second (and generally more dangerous) kind of BASE jumping is in a wingsuit, which makes the jumper look something like a flying squirrel as they fly out from the cliff. With a wingsuit, you can generally fly farther, but it also takes a lot more skill to use.
Lauterbrunnen is a hub for both kinds of BASE jumping and it can be a breathtaking thing to watch.
In case you are headed to Switzerland this year and want to catch up with some jumpers yourself, here’s how to find them:
If you want to watch from the valley floor as they swoop overhead, walk away from Lauterbrunnen and toward Stechelburg on the main walkway along the valley floor. About 20 minutes into your walk, you’ll notice a trail leading off to the left toward Trummelbach Falls. If you look up toward the cliffs on your right, there are three BASE jumping exits here. Stick around for awhile and you might just catch a few jumps—especially if it’s a sunny day, the weekend, or the summer (people still jump in winter and on weekdays, but there are generally less jumpers around, so chances of catching them are smaller).
If you’re interested in following them out to their exit points and watching them jump off the cliffs up close, your best bet is to try and meet some jumpers and get invited along on their next hike. The Horner Pub is the main hangout for BASE jumpers in the Lauterbrunnen Valley, so this is the place to find them.
Keep in mind that to hike to the BASE exit points, you’ll want a climbing harness (you won’t be climbing, but the last portions of the hikes are steep and if you trip, you fall off the cliff and there is no coming back. So it’s best to wear a harness and hook into one of the many ropes at the exit). Also keep in mind that hiking back up from the exit points is generally pretty tough. These trails aren’t really meant for two-way hiking.
Final note: Tourists sometimes go to the cliff edge without a harness or walk out onto the BASE jumping ramps (harness or no – this is a BIG no-no). This is an extremely terrible idea. Trust me, you don’t want to end up in the Bern hospital on life support (or worse). Wear a harness and stay an appropriate distance from the edge. And keep in mind that even wearing a harness, there is an element of danger in these hikes and those cliff edges. Anything you do, you do at your own risk.
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