Just before he steps off the edge and hurls his body into the air, BASE jumper Randy Schultz utters a word to himself: freedom. It's an abstract noun that gives him a concrete reason to defy gravity and death to jump from cliffs, bridges and mountains.
One such morning a few months ago, he got a chance to say that word from the second peak of the Stawamus Chief. Schultz and his friend started early in the morning, hiked up the Chief in two hours to reach the second peak at 7 a.m. A mild wind blew and as the first light of the morning broke the two BASE jumpers checked their chutes and prepared to jump.
"I felt calm and happy," Schultz said recalling the experience at a coffee shop in Brackendale. "I stood up there and let my skin feel the fresh air."
Then he walked back a few steps, took a deep breath and ran to hurl himself straight into the air.
It's the thrill that the BASE jumper is after; it's not audience or fame he seeks. It's a solitary sport in every sense of the word; you make the decision to jump from something high and if something goes wrong, you take the blame - if you are still alive.
And yet, its daredevil practitioners say there is a method to this seemingly reckless madness.
"We are not crazy guys with a death wish," says Kane Gray, a BASE jumper and a Squamish resident who has made the Chief his launch pad for several BASE jumps. A trained sky diving instructor, he says he did 5,000 sky diving stunts before he could even think of BASE jumping. (BASE is an acronym for the four categories of fixed objects one could jump from: buildings, antennae, spans and earth.)
His first BASE jump, from a 360-foot cliff in New Zealand, left him shaken, but also excited to try the sport again. Once he got over that first jump, he tried the sport in Canada, New Zealand, and the United States.
"It's the ultimate thrill and for me it's been a progression from my sky diving skill," he said.
For Randy Schultz, Gray's partner in BASE jumping, it's been a slow progression from snowboarding to sky diving and then finally to BASE jumping. Schultz said he took lessons at Twin Bridge, Utah and made 200 sky diving jumps before he could make his first BASE jump from the Chief. Even then, he brought a mentor along with him who could read the wind and guide him on the nuances.