Wingsuiting in Utah Trip Report – By, JT Holmes
With the National Parks’ ban on BASE jumping, us 'flying monkeys' are driven to the outskirts of civilization to find cliffs suitable for wingsuit flying and terminal BASE jumping. In the remote Northwest of the Southeast Utah desert’s Eastern most boundary lies a cliff with so few people around that one can shoot a gun in any direction, fly a wingsuit, open a parachute, or even shoot a gun while flying a parachute, as our friend and Air Force Special Forces Squadron commander Dan Schilling would prove on the last day of our trip.
Notch is a cool place and its large NW limestone wall is in a powerful canyon. There is nothing like desert air after a storm, and we did not see another human in the 6 nights we camped and hiked, no cell service, no internet. The place is fascinating with an abrupt transition from granite to sedimentary/ limestone rock. Lots of bolted crags near the campsite for fun when windy.
I journeyed there twice in late May. The cliff, being in Northern Utah has Mormon blood, so it is no surprise that she doesn’t just spread her legs for you. With a 4-hour hike to the summit on day one, we were forced to hike back down, being that 2 of us are nursing minor knee injuries, the hike back down was slow. All in all though, once we made it back to camp our spirits were rejuvenated by a well-supplied camp and perfect desert evening weather. We shot at cans while seated in chairs. The cans really had it coming, they even tried taunting us, but in the end our superior fire power prevailed. It is amazing how much fun shooting cans can be. And with Dan Schilling showing us the ropes, we learned the basics of gun safety, holstering, quick draw, and did lots of fun drills and contests. Proud to say we picked up all 4500 rounds of brass before we left.
Next defense the prude mountain threw at us was a snowstorm. Considering the weather, and our need for good footage. We called in a heli, as we knew any window of opportunity at the treasures of Notch Peak would be a short one. With the helo, we’d be able to strike quickly. The heli, a red Hughes 500 was very capable at altitude and also proved to be rather affordable.
Atop the cliff, we waited while it snowed, ready to hop off at anytime once the clouds gave way. We waited and waited and waited, and we were both cold and nervous. Notch Peak is advanced skill level base jumping. The wall is positive and unforgiving, yet totally good to go for a skilled wingsuit base jumper. Thing was, this was the first BASE jump of the summer, so naturally the butterflies were about. With snow accumulating up high, we launched from winter and flew into summer 3000 plus feet below. It was a very visual flight, yet rather conservative. Took a mellow line turning left as soon as the suits glide ratio became flatter than the slope of the mountain. The further left (down canyon) one flies, the better a landing area you get. Landings were fast and amidst rocks, but uneventful. Could not have asked for a better first jump of the summer. To back it up, we did one more, this time out of the helicopter, exiting about 300 feet above our BASE exit point and deeper in the canyon. The cool thing about jumping this way is that with the pilot already doing 50 knots, we start to fly instantly, and we can achieve a fun, longer, safer line of flight next to the mountain and easily make it to the best landing zones the canyon has to offer. The scary thing about jumping this way was climbing out of the helicopter, we were low enough that if we fell, we likely would not have had time to open our parachutes. That may still sound like no big deal, but with the heli moving and arms and legs constricted in the wingsuit, each move was taken with tremendous care and courage was gathered before leaving the comfort and safety of the seat.
That was it for us and jumping. We drove home on highway 50 with the windows down and the spirits high, unsure if we would ever experience that place with such magical conditions again.