The Half Dome Bungee Jump video is on youtube. It's best when watched in HD and full screen.
WARNING: The activities described herein were designed and rigged by an individual who has been certified as… (um, either a jumpmaster or insane, maybe both) who has made over 1000 jumps off a variety of objects. If you attempt to re-create this jump without knowing what you are doing, you will likely end up freefalling for over 11 seconds, hitting about 200 miles an hour, and being splattered over the jagged talus below. In short, don’t try this!
On June 15, Father’s Day, I was standing on the edge of a 2000 foot high cliff, the Northwest face of Half Dome, when suddenly a loud whistling sound, like that of a falling bomb, accompanied by an incredibly fast moving flash of an aerodynamic shape made my heart skip a beat. Diving down towards the valley floor 4800 feet below, hot on the heels of a slower bird, I realized it was a Peregrine Falcon. It’s pretty much my favorite animal; a good omen.
I checked the gear for the fourth time, and then stared down at the massive drop below me, twice the height of the Empire State Building. I looked to my left, over where the top of the mountain curves around and provides a fantastic view of the incredibly overhanging perch I was standing on, The Visor. I expected to see a half dozen of my friends. Instead I saw a crowd of perhaps 100 people watching me. So much for my hope that the boulders on The Visor would have given us some privacy so we didn’t create a spectacle. The people were lined along the edge of the cliff, like Indians about to ambush the cowboys in an old Western movie. Bows and arrows replaced by digital cameras.
What led to my precarious position? About a year previously I climbed the Snake Dike route up Half Dome with my friend Jason, and met another friend John on top to see if a Bungee Jump would be possible. John rappelled over the edge and made some measurements with a digital range finder. It was 170 feet from the top of the overhanging Visor, to where a free hanging rope would touch the lower angle wall below. I identified my biggest concern then and it remained in the forefront of my mind throughout the planning, would we hit the underside of the Visor when we rebounded back up?
But really it all started even further back, in my hometown of Danvers, Massachusetts which used to be Salem Village where they crushed one of my ancestors to death with stones because he refused to bow down to the man. It was the Blizzard of ’78, when the area got more snow that we had ever seen. I was 10 and my brother Rich who was 14, came to me and said I had to come down to our school down the street and check out the snow. The snow drifts were so high that they made it up to the 15 foot high roof on one end of the building. We climbed up onto the roof and then Rich led me to another side where the snow drifts didn’t form right against the building. 10 feet below and a few feet in front of us was a six foot high snow drift. Rich launched off the roof, landing in the soft snow. I summoned my courage and followed him. We then found higher and higher jump spots, culminating at the three story high cafeteria roof. The snow drift was 35 feet below us and 10 feet away from the base of the building. Between the snow drift and the building was a light dusting of snow on asphalt. Rich pushed off, just making it into the center of the snow bank. I was more scared than I had ever been, but somehow found the courage to follow him. I sunk up to my head in the snow and panicked for a second when I felt trapped in the snow. But I quickly trashed my way out, and headed right back up for another jump. But don’t worry; I repaid Rich by getting him into rock climbing and bungee jumping.
30 years later the plan for Half Dome was in place. But a week before our trip John informed me he wouldn’t make it. With 85 pounds of Bungee gear, plus cameras, food, etc., we knew we were looking at a brutal 17 mile round trip hike with almost a mile of elevation gain. So once in the valley we recruited Dave to help us. On the hike up Jason asked Dave why he had wanted to do an insanely tough ground breaking type of solo big wall climb he had completed earlier in the year. Dave’s reply with no hint of bravado or bragging was “Three out of four guys who have tried it died.” I knew we had found the perfect fourth for our little adventure. We also had a group of friends join us to watch, three who had never done any hiking before, and a trip up Half Dome was their introduction to hiking, and they all made it!
The day didn’t start too well. We took a wrong turn and lost about ½ hour. Then we walked past the last spring where we could fill up water and had to back track and waste some more time. We struggled up the steep cable route with heavy packs on our backs, and finally reached the summit.
I went to the edge and dropped a tape measure. I wanted to confirm the digital measurements with something physical. I saw the end of the tape getting close to the rock below and checked the distance. 150 feet?! Oh no! I couldn’t believe it; all the planning, all the preparations, all the effort to get everything up to the top of this huge mountain and now it looked like it was all for naught. I had built the bungee cord for a 170 foot jump. It felt like all the blood drained out of my body. I resolved to find out what I had to work with and started letting out more tape. The first thing I noticed was that the wall bulged out where the end of the tape measure was hanging. I moved over a few feet around a corner on the Visor, and the angle of the jump drastically changed. Just moving over three feet on top, put the end of the tape far from where it had been, over a bigger space. I kept letting more out. 160 feet. 170 feet. It hit 180 feet, but it looked awfully close to the wall. I left the tape hanging and brought Rich with me and we walked to where the spectators would soon be lined up. It was tough to tell from that angle but it looked like we might have enough clearance. We went to the other side of the jump spot and shimmied out on a rock that sticks out over the edge like a diving board. From that angle we could really see the jump space… it looked great!
Massively relieved we went about setting up the system. Four spring loaded rock climbing cams provided our primary anchor. We backed that up with a long rope going around a huge boulder. A thick rope ran from the anchor to the top of the bungee cord, which was hanging just below the lip of the overhang. A skinny rope was ready to ascend back up, or be rigged into a hauling system with a 3 to 1 mechanical advantage through pulleys if a rescue of an injured jumper was required. The ropes were protected from sharp edges. The system was thoroughly inspected and checked. Nothing left to do but jump.
Because I did not want to extend the bungee too far and hit the rock slab below, or rebound too high and hit the Visor above we did our first two jumps by rappelling off a rope hanging from the lip. I lowered myself down right next to the bungee cord, until I got to the end of the rope, then did something that is the worst fear of many rock climbers, I rappelled right off the end of the rope. After a short free fall I felt the familiar feel of the super strong bungee cord begin to arrest my fall. I rebounded up and kept an eye on all the clearances around me. Everything looked acceptable. I ascended the rope and my comment when I got to the top was “We are so golden. It’s perfect. It’s like it was designed for bungee jumping”. We raised the rappel line so Rich would get more freefall and I watched his jump from the side to check how close he got to the rock. Everything looked great. I was ready to jump from the top.
Normally when you bungee jump from a bridge you push off straight in front of you. This introduces some swing into the jump, lessening the impacts. But pushing off on this jump would be very bad. You would swing back in at the top of the first rebound and possibly spring straight up into the solid granite. I got ready to jump, turned sideways to the edge and hung one foot out over thousands of feet of air. The wind had picked up, but my old friend the falcon was still circling below. I was about to join him. 5. 4. 3. 2. 1. I stepped off; accelerating from 0-60 m.p.h. faster than the most expensive sports car you could buy, the wind noise picking up to a roar, enjoying every moment of one of the most intense experiences of my life. I rebounded back to within 15 feet of the Visor. Close enough for a thrill, far enough for safety. After a few more rebounds with some back flips thrown in for good measure the rope was lowered to me and I ascended back up. Big smiles, high fives, and shouts of joy followed.
Rich, Dave, Jason, and I made some more jumps and had a fantastic time. The sun started getting low, so we ate some food and packed up. At the bottom of the cables I was already thinking about the next time. Anyone want to carry a 50 pound pack to the top of Half Dome?
Haha! "Shame on you" Classic. There are always haters and trolls out there who need to complain. That jump was simply some rock climbers taking some really big "falls" on a very dynamic rope. No harm done to anyone or anything.
Interesting! ...My personal sh#t scare was back in 1962 flight? testing the Fulton Recovery System with Bob Fulton at Ft. Bragg, NC Special Warfare Center. At the time it was the home of the 5th SF Group under the command of Gen Wm. P. Yarborough.
Anyway....You are snatched off the ground or out of a raft by a fixed wing aircraft C119 or C-123 flying overhead that snags your assent line using a kite, and in some cases a weather balloon; and then they reel you into the aircraft with a winch. This was in development for the field CIA spooks, SF teams, and downed pilots to use in extraction from hostile areas or at sea.
I did about a dozen of these unjumps and never quite got used to it, and then went over to N.E. Laos for 16 months engaged in snoop & Poop and other sneaky activities.