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High Dive

Welcome to Moab, Utah: the only place in the world where you can tandem BASE jump off a cliff.

August 2013

Editor's Note: The tandem BASE jumps described in this article are no longer available. Sadly, Mario Richard died on Monday, August 19, following an unrelated wingsuit accident. 

The salmon-hued spire of Moab’s Castleton Tower stabs at Utah’s cobalt sky as I grind my heels into the cliff’s edge and suck down slow, measured breaths. Two inches from my toes, a massive void spreads out—a vast, chilling emptiness matched by the growing hollowness in my stomach. I try not to think about the “death waiver” I signed earlier, releasing Moab B.A.S.E. Adventures, the first organization in the world to offer tandem cliff jumps, from responsibility should I crash into the canyon floor.

“Are you ready to do this?” asks my instructor, Mario Richard. He’s hooked to my back via a system of straps and carabiners strong enough to lift a five-ton truck. I give a thumbs-up, bend my legs in preparation, and do my best to remember the Hail Mary. We jump.  

I’d driven six anxiety-filled hours overnight from Fort Collins to meet Richard and his wife, professional rock climber Steph Davis. The co-owners of Moab B.A.S.E. Adventures began offering tandem jumps in May 2012. Buoyed by more than 20 years of parachuting experience, Richard is a natural fit for this adventurous frontier: He’s completed more than 2,000 BASE jumps, and he’s never sustained an injury more serious than a sprained thumb. 

Making the leap with Richard requires general fitness and mental fortitude. While one cliff sits just 20 minutes from the road, accessing our jump site—the 1,400-foot summit of Parriott Mesa—requires a two-hour hike and a scramble along a cliffside trail.   

It’s from the top of Parriott Mesa that Richard and I hurl ourselves earthward, plummeting into Castle Valley at 65 mph. In the moments before the parachute opens, I feel bodiless in midair. The adrenaline rush brought on by free fall carries with it a sense of hyperawareness: Lines are sharper and colors brighter; miles beyond Castleton, I can practically pick out snowflakes falling in the La Sal Mountains. Three seconds feels like three minutes. Richard calls this time, between the jump and the landing, “the Now.” 

The feeling recedes a bit as he pilots our chute through the valley in sweeping arcs, pointing out our shadow as it moves against Parriott’s sandstone walls. But I’m still riding the remnants of that rush nearly two minutes later when we hit the ground butt-first (per Richard’s instructions) amid a cloud of pink dust. We exchange high-fives, snap photos, and spend our last moments together savoring the residual glow from the Now. Or, if I have my way, the Now and again.
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IF YOU GO
Prerequisites: Jumpers must weigh less than 185 pounds. 
Gear: Wear durable, weather-appropriate clothing and closed-toe shoes. All technical equipment is provided. 
Cost: $499 (basic leap from the 900-foot Mineral Canyon cliffs); $699 (Parriott Mesa jump) 
When: Go year-round, though you should avoid the extreme heat of July and early August.
Info: moabbaseadventures.com
Getting there: From Denver, take I-70 west past the Utah border to exit 182 (about 310 miles), where you’ll head south on U.S. 191 for a little more than 30 miles to reach Main Street in Moab.