Tim Emmett – Base Jumper
“Not another one” said Tim into his mobile, “that’s five so far this year. How did he die?”
Tim is a professional rock climber and base jumper. In order to attract sponsorship and patronage, he must always push the limits of what is safe and sensible – on second thoughts, please cancel the word ‘sensible’, because what Tim does for a living can in no way be classified as sensible. No life insurance company in the world would touch Tim. I just hope he at least makes it till middle age, because as well as being an adrenaline junkie par excellence Tim is also a very nice guy. This is because he’s a very happy man. His appeal is enhanced by the fact that he always seems so deliriously jolly.
He’s so nice that those of us who are not as happy as he is can maybe forgive him for being so. No doubt he’s so happy because he’s always having such a huge amount of fun, living completely in the moment and not worrying about unimportant things like living past thirty. Maybe fatherhood would make him be more careful with his life, it certainly made me much more conscious of my own mortality. His perfect build, good looks and fit physique lead one to expect a deep macho voice, so it’s a bit of a surprise when you first hear Tim open his mouth, as an incongruous contralto emerges. Most odd, like the Gods had played a joke on him when handing out the testosterone “How about this, Zeus” suggested Dionysus, “we’ll make this one as masculine as they come, but give him a squeaky voice, then watch people snigger when they meet him.” Sorry Tim, I just couldn’t resist that one.
I first met Tim in 2005, on a small ledge halfway up the sea-cliffs of Pembrokeshire in Wales. He immediately asked me if I’d like to go deep water soloing with him and his mates. They were about to traverse around the cliff until they were over deep water, then solo climb up, using the depth of the water below as a safety net for when they fell off. I had heard a bit about this sport and really fancied a go, but I’d also heard that for safety you should really do it at high tide, whereas at the time the tide was receding. I pointed this out to Tim, who shrugged and said that he reckoned that we ought to “have at it.”
It didn’t take me very long at all to decline, citing a prior appointment which both of us knew really amounted to a lack of bottle. I came away with the impression that Tim had (in an extremely friendly fashion) invited me along to do something that was really rather dangerous. The next time I saw him was when I paid for him to visit Koh Lao Liang in Thailand when, after I had bandaged him up after a climbing accident, he invited me to do something which seemed to me equally certifiable – deep-diving at night. I explained that, whilst I’d love to, I was only qualified to ‘open water’ certification level by PADI, so hadn’t been trained to go so deep or to dive at night. Tim’s response was that neither had he, but he reckoned we ought to “have at it.”
The next thing I heard about Tim was that he had climbed to the top of the climbing wall on Tonsai, Thailand and had been preparing to base jump off. Our friend Trevor Massiah was at the base of the cliff, updating him via mobile phone about the wind strength. It was really important that the wind didn’t blow too strongly onto the cliff face, as otherwise Tim might be smashed against the rocks and would then surely be killed. An English base jumper had died attempting the same jump the previous year- he had fallen while solo-climbing the ascent prior to his jump. The wind refused to die and Tim was in a quandary. He could either jump or he could solo-descend the face, which is even more dangerous than solo-ascending it, especially as it was by now getting dark. He really only had two choices – either jump or wait till morning to descend. But bottling out just isn’t on Tim’s agenda.
Trevor, however, kept on telling Tim that the wind was too strong. The subsequent conversation went something like this:
Trevor: “It’s still too strong.”
Tim: “You sure?”
Tim: “Has it slackened at all?”
Trevor: “Yes, but only a tiny bit, it’s still not safe”
Tim: “Did you say the wind had died?”
Trevor: “NO, I DIDN’T”
But it was too late. With a cry of “have at iiiiitttttt” Tim launched himself into the growing gloom. Mercifully he landed safe and sound on the beach the right interval later (very soon, but not strawberry-jam soon).
Back to the first line of this article. Tim and I were at the time sitting in a pub in Bristol, England, nursing a pint of Pedigree each. He explained that five of his friends had died in extreme sports accidents over the previous year. One had died while deep-water soloing. Deep-water soloing can be, literally, safer than golf if you want it to be. You climb out of a kayak directly up a rock face and then fall or jump into water that you know is deep enough, with the kayak waiting to pick you up. But some people don’t want it to be really safe – Tim’s friend had drowned, in front of his wife.
Another friend had decided that normal’ base jumping wasn’t thrilling enough. He had ascended a very high rock face and jumped off.
Most base jumpers, after jumping, will do everything humanly possible to get as far from the rock face as quickly as possible, as it represents such a hazard to their safety. But when the thrill of doing this grows stale, some die-hards decide to don a suit with webbing between the arms and torso and to use this to stay as close as possible to a very large rock-face while plummeting
earthwards. The idea is to almost hit all the ledges on the way down, but not quite. Tim’s friend had been hugging the face during his descent and had misjudged the size of a ledge hurtling up towards him. He died instantly but then, upsetting for Tim, landed at Tim’s feet.