" Happy is he who can with a vigorous wing
To soar towards the luminous and serene fields"
Wrapped up in my sleeping bag, waking up annoys me, I struggle to open my eyes and clear my thoughts. It must also be said that the day before was trying. With Max, we climbed the 500 meters of the North face of the Cima Grande, then caught in the fog, the descent route was capricious to finally reach our bivouac with headlamps. I pull the zip of the tent and poke a disheveled head through the opening. I immediately catch a gust of humid wind and notice that the morning sky is filled with clouds. I crane my neck to take a look at the south face of the Cima Grande which I see sprinkled with a white film on the upper third. It snowed overnight from 2700 meters.
I had a great plan for the morning, going back to the summit via the normal route and base jumping from the north face. At the time, I tell myself that it won't be for today, that I will have to postpone this beautiful idea to another day. I slip back into my sleeping bag, not without eliciting a few grunts from Max, and finding my cocoon of warmth with satisfaction, I go back to sleep for two more hours.
When I get up again, surprised, the wind has died down and the clouds have descended to the bottom of the valleys. It's 8 a.m., all my equipment was prepared the day before, the desire and motivation come back and I decide to go! I take a large backpack containing my parachute, a 50 meter rope, with harness and descender, in case I cannot jump and have to rappel down.
I pass in front of the Auronzo refuge and quickly, swallowing some biscuits and some fruit. I go up the long scree towards the right of the south face of the Cima Grande. On the climb, I overtake a team made up of a guide and his clients. Perhaps I should have let them go ahead to make sure I found the exact spot for the route attack. But I don't want to be slowed down or risk taking stones sent inadvertently. Without waiting, I start climbing following the directions in the guidebook. The route leaves in a system of gullies to the right of the south face and returns towards the center to the summit ledge that we had visited the day before, lost in the fog. It's not very hard but it's easy to make a mistake and deviate a little from the easiest route. This is the problem with busy routes, many tracks are left by mountaineers and this quickly creates confusion.
I am solo, that is to say without means of belaying, carrying out movements of 3 on the climbing rating scale. When it becomes 4, I've made a mistake and I turn around to find an easier route. With a 7 to 8 kg backpack, my free climbing margin is reduced and I have less room for error, my concentration is at its peak. I move forward with regularity, happy in the movement, in the elevation. Far below, seas of clouds spread out on either side of the deep valleys around the villages of Misurina and Auronzo. After a while I found the route that we had taken with Max during our descent the day before. I am now on familiar ground, I know roughly where I am, I am no longer navigating by sight in the limestone ocean. This is when the snowy games begin.
The seas of clouds during the ascent
This autumn sun is slow to warm the high peaks of the Dolomites. It's cold and my fingers are going numb, I decide to climb with gloves. If I lose feeling in my fingertips, they stay warm when I clear the snow-covered holds to place my hands and feet on them. In many aspects, I realize that this is a first in my overall experience. A normal route as long as 500 meters of climbing... In a similar level of difficulty, the only similar experience was with Max during the ascent of the north face of Olan and its 600 meters of base. I was then with a companion, the route was decided together and the presence of the other was reassuring. There I am alone in my decisions. I no longer hear or see at all the rope of the guide and his clients that I had overtaken on the approach.
After two hours, I reached the ledge on which we had gotten lost yesterday in the mist. This time the view is clear, it's 10 a.m. it's splendid. I then catch up with a second team made up again of a guide, a father and his son. The old guide is called Gilbert, very nice. By the look and particular shape of my bag, it immediately identifies me as a base jumper. And it is four of us that reach the summit of Cima Grande. 2999 meters…This splendid mountain is not missing much to pass the 3000 mark!
At the top of the Cima Grande
At the summit cross, we take photos and continue to chat. As part of his guiding duties, Gilbert has regularly accompanied base jumpers on this ascent and knows precisely the potential exits from the face. In 1992, Erich Beaud, the European pioneer of base jumping, was the first to jump from this mountain by rappelling down a ledge 30 meters below the summit. The paraalpinism topo also indicates that the jump is possible from the cross, but that it is more steep and less aesthetic at the start. This description inspires me less. Gilbert then assures me that all the jumping clients he has brought do not leave from either the first or the second exit, but from another place halfway between the two and accessible without making a rappel. I'm hesitant to trust a non-jumper, but access is easy and I decide to take a look. A little de-escalation allows me to reach a beautiful platform which dominates slightly positive gray slabs. I can take a few steps there to gain momentum. Imbued with the profile of the mountain thanks to the locations the day before, I know that below these slabs are the enormous slopes of the north face. All you have to do is pass the slightly positive gray zone with the momentum to find yourself several tens of meters from the wall. I like it, and I validate Gilbert's idea. Something strange calls to me in the wall under the exit. It's like a backpack hanging on a point and frozen by frost. It looks like a bovine skull bleached by the elements. I don't dwell on this detail and start to equip myself.
After checking my extraction needles and the correct positioning of my extractor in the back pocket of the bag, I put my parachute on my back. I then carefully tighten my chest and leg straps and finally, I adjust my helmet around my head. No GoPro, it's heavy, it can distract you and anyway, I didn't have anything to recharge it during this road trip in a tent and Citroën C3. I throw the rope into the void which falls 600 meters and arrives at the foot of the face. At the moment, I don't see it, I hope it hasn't gotten stuck on some rocky spurs.
I don't waste time because there is a little wind coming from the north. I would have preferred to have southerly, or even better, zero wind. For a cliff jump having a headwind, this is never good in the event of an incident, a gust could knock me back onto the wall without giving me time to correct a possibly misdirected opening. I then regret not being able to call Max, in order to have an opinion on the wind at the landing zone. According to what we agreed, he is down to watch the jump but he no longer has a phone! He lost it the day before, when we were looking for the descent rappels. In fact, I didn't know it but he had already found it, whole but really damaged after these 500 meters of free fall. I turn around and wave to my three friends at the summit who are watching me during the preparations, looking slightly anxious, from about ten meters away.
I breathe calmly and deeply now alone facing my exit, on this perfect platform. I concentrate and ask myself a series of questions again: do I really want to take this jump? Is it worth it? Are the conditions at departure and arrival met? Am I in good shape? Do I have any doubts about my equipment? The lights are all tending towards green except for this slight headwind for me. But given the extremely overhanging face and the height of the jump, I am sure that I will have time to correct my flight axis in the event of a bad orientation. I close my eyes, I visualize my momentum, my impulse, my stability in the air, the ground coming closer, I look for my extractor with my right hand, I pull, ouch a twisted 180 at the opening, I correct it by pulling the rear elevator, I find my flight axis and I'm going to land. End of viewing. I repeat this exercise two or three times. In the distance the Dolomites are sumptuous, there are so many steep peaks whose names I don't know. I choose a point on the horizon that I will focus on to allow me to make the best possible impulse. I'm going to keep him in view for the first second of the jump. This will allow me to make a flat start and then I will slowly bring my head in, place my chin against my chest and only look at the ground while slowly bringing my arms behind in order to take a plank position and move away. from the cliff.
Last minutes, last breaths before the jump. Totally focused on the present moment, everything seems perfect. The mind remains in control, manages to control the palpitations of the heart and the trembling of the legs. I am fully aware of the moment, of my sensations in the face of emptiness. No extraneous thoughts, nothing else exists.
That’s it, I’m ready, and like a mantra, I clearly state: “3,2,1 and…Base!” »
I launch myself, right foot, left foot, right foot, I push, I give everything I can in this impulse, and that's it, I'm in the void! Picking up speed, I look down and see that I'm passing the gray tiles well, everything speeds up, the wind roars in my ears through my helmet. Wow, all of a sudden, I find myself in the void, I have passed the slabs and I am at the level of the slope, the speed continues to increase. The day before, I had my butt in the void hanging on some of the most aerial belays of my climbing life, I know that the cliff is no longer a danger in this jump. I am simple stardust subject to gravity.
The ground is still far away, I trace through the air at terminal speed and I advance on the embankment, crazy! The pleasure is at its peak! I make the jump last for another second or two then I grab my extractor, and with a firm gesture I send it as far as possible from my right side. Vflaaaaaaac! My sail opens, perfectly on axis. Hands shoot out to the controls and I start flying to prepare for landing. The jump is not yet finished, you have to stay focused, but fortunately the air is stable. Small green spot in the middle of a chaos of gray blocks, I spot my rope right in the middle of the scree. Flawless. In a few turns I land next to the latter across the slope of rocks. It wasn't the best idea because a few loose, protruding stones rolled onto the fragile fabric of my parachute. Perhaps I would have done better to aim for the clearings further down. But hey, everything is fine, nothing broken, what a magnificent jump!
Max poses in front of the Tre Cime di Lavaredo. From left to right: Cima Piccola, Cima Grande and Cima Ovest.
I don't base jump just for a handful of seconds but for a whole morning like this. To climb one of the most beautiful peaks in the Alps, to vibrate with intensity in each of the moments preceding the jump and of course for the pure enjoyment of a free fall. But if this moment is so beautiful it is because I dreamed it, I projected my imagination onto this exit and the associated mountain long before. Everything then takes on another meaning, a spiritual form which gives depth to sporting performance. The fact of having climbed the north face the day before also allows you to soak up the place, to fully immerse yourself in the environment and thus increase the intensity of the moments experienced.
Finding Max after the jump and sharing my pleasure and excitement with him is a source of fraternal happiness. With the setbacks of my early departure, we arrive late at the end of the morning for our meeting with Sofia. Met a few days ago on the Sella towers, she is waiting for us for a climbing route on the Cima Piccola. The smallest point of the Tre Cime di Lavaredo, it was the scene of the very first cliff jump in the 1960s by a certain Erich Felbermeyer. So let's soak it up by climbing it via the famous Spigolo giallo, let's feed our imagination and we'll see what future projects will come out of it!