Earlier this year, Squirrel team wingsuit pilots Matt Gerdes, Roch Malnuit, and Erwan Madoré pioneered a new wingsuit-BASE jump of the Dent du Géant (The Giant’s Tooth) in the Alps – as well as two more brand-new wingsuit BASE launches with friend Pierre Fivel. Here’s a behind the scenes look – and some in-flight entertainment. Watch the video and check out Matt's words below.
It was a busy week. We opened three new jumps – safely. That’s a good feeling.
The research is all the kind you do with your legs and feet. You have to go there to look from the top. Roch and Erwan have an incredible amount of alpine experience. They knew all of the routes. We lasered the Dent du Géant from the bottom (while skiing nearby) back in January 2012. Erwan checked the Rognon du Plan a few weeks before we jumped it, and we always knew the Noire de Peuteray was big – but until you are standing on the summit, looking down and checking it with a laser, it’s hard to know if it’s possible or not.
The trick is to bring the least amount of gear possible. That makes the climbing much scarier, having short ropes and so little protection. But it’s less to bring down – and whatever you bring up with you is coming down as air luggage.
It’s hours up and seconds down. The Noire de Peuteray was the longest. It was 3hrs hike the first day, a night in the refuge, then up at 2:30am to climb for 10hrs… and then a 2-minute flight to land right next to the car!
We need light wind and good visibility. So we have to choose the weather days perfectly. Hiking back down, or being stuck on the top, or jumping in marginal conditions are all nightmares.
Poor visibility is terribly dangerous. And yes, we did fly through clouds. If it lasts for more than a second or so, or if you don’t know exactly where you are going, you can be in big trouble. For a short time, when you know what the terrain is doing, it’s OK for experienced pilots.
Roch led us up Dent du Géant. It was a relatively straightforward ascent, with a giant rope to aid us through the blanker sections of the wall to the 4,013m summit, from which we flew our wingsuits most of the way back to Chamonix. Afterward, I asked Roch why the rope was on the spire and he said that part of the reason was to help local guides get their clients to the summit because there are very few easy alpine routes on the Italian side of the Mt Blanc Massif.
We rode the tram up at lunchtime for Rognon du Plan. But that didn’t mean this was easy. We ran down the arête, and as the route passed to the north face, I felt the pull of the exposure –1,500m of airy space behind me as we inched along the face to reach the part of the cliff that was jumpable. The exit point was a beautiful flat table of granite, and we flew all the way back to Chamonix, burning off the 2,600m of altitude in 2:30 minutes.
The next day started the night before. We hiked to the Borelli Refuge on the Italian side of Mt Blanc and settled in for the night. We set our alarms for 2:30am so that we would have plenty of time to reach the summit and descend in daylight, in case it wasn’t jumpable for some reason. But a short distance into the route, Roch’s words about the south-side routes came back to me. It was horrendously loose, dirty, wet, exposed, and difficult to navigate. There would be no down-climbing.
It took 10 hours to reach the summit. My mind never once strayed from the task at hand, which was to make it through the next pitch of climbing without killing myself or my friends by setting loose one of the 10,000 refrigerator-sized blocks that were held to the mountain by clumps of wet sand and melting ice.
If I said that I enjoyed that climb, I would be lying. But the summit was awe-inspiring and the moment that we looked over the edge to the steep east face, we knew that we would be home in a couple of minutes… and we were.