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Dispatches: Leaping lionhearts

Base jumping thrill seekers find Mecca on the Squamish Chief



Donald Schultz is afraid of heights.

Yet the South African born, L.A.-based extreme athlete and adventure seeker regularly throws himself off of high rise buildings, sheer cliffs and mountain tops. He admits he only has a two to three minute window to do so before fear prevents him from launching. That's why he takes various pre-jump assessments of his launch sites, estimating possible complications from wind currents, overhanging cliffs, drift possibilities and landing locations. That meant two hikes up the 2,000-foot Squamish Chief before he felt conditions were right for a jump earlier this month. Originally set on jumping in a wing suit, Schultz and jumping partner - internationally recognized base jumper Sean Chuma - decided to forego the flying squirrel outfits for a straight-up base jump, which involves a running leap and free fall off the side of the Chief.

"A lot of the press and media make it come across as if we have a death wish but if something is dangerous, we just don't do it," he said during a telephone interview from L.A. "Obviously there is a certain amount of danger in what we do but if there is a chance that you're going to die, I'd never do it. I love life way too much. Base jumping is in reality a very safe sport - what makes it more difficult and dangerous is making it illegal."

While base jumping off the Chief isn't illegal, local search and rescue crews have spent time and resources rescuing jumpers who improperly calculated the risk. During the summer of 2010, two base jumpers had to be rescued by local authorities in separate incidents after failed attempts left one stranded on a cliff after being blown back into the rock face and another dangling from a parachute that became tangled half way down the Chief.

"As a resident and a police officer I think that with all high risk sports there should be a degree of responsibility for those doing them and there should be some sort of standards and consequences, both in insurance to pay for the search and rescue and all the work that goes into it afterwards if there is a problem because it definitely increases the possibility of hospitalization or recovery for all the things people expect and it's because of their own actions," said Squamish RCMP Staff Sgt. Guy Pollock. "I think anything done safely or with some sort of with safeguards in place is okay but if there is no legislation then it's a little more complicated. The sports are increasing faster than they've been able to keep up with the legislation to deal with it."