Steph Davis: Flying prAna Wings
Notch Peak has been on my radar for several years. Way out in the west desert of Utah, on the border of Nevada, it sits on the desolate stretch of Highway 6/50, known as “the Loneliest Road in America.”
Notch is the second tallest vertical cliff face in the States, right after El Cap, and it has loose, adventurous multi-pitch routes reminiscent of the Italian Dolomites. It’s remote, scary and big. In recent years, wingsuit jumpers have been drawn to Notch, thanks to its height and legality (it’s on BLM land), but the intimidating, rugged nature of the place will always keep it from being very visited.
To me, Notch presented the potential for the ultimate jump/climb combination: a wingsuit base climb. So far in the States, no one has made a wingsuit base climb–at least, none that can be shared or reported because most of the likely candidates (Yosemite and Zion, to name two) are shut up inside National Park Boundaries and cannot be jumped legally.
In early May, I went to Notch Peak with Mario and with several friends from 3 Strings Productions. The wingsuit base climb required a lot of legwork: we needed our base rigs and wingsuits to be waiting at the top of the climb, and we needed climbing gear to be brought down when we jumped. This is why it made sense to make this adventure into a film project- we had extra legs to help us, since people needed to go to the summit anyway to shoot, and then walk down with camera gear. We also needed to jump Notch a few times first. It is a very serious jump, and in fact we lost a friend there on our last visit.
When we had our gear in place, Mario and I got an alpine start to climb a 9 pitch route called Fin Du Monde, with an extra finish called Road to Perdition. The climb was just as adventurous as I’d been told, and with many interesting varieties of loose limestone The climbing itself was great, but it was hard to trust all the rock. At the summit, weather seemed to be coming in, so we very quickly geared up and jumped, landing safely in the north wash where we had started hiking up that morning.
This month I’m starting to jump a new suit, the Phoenix Fly Viper. My suits have been steadily getting bigger each season as wingsuits are progressing unbelievably fast right now, but the Viper is another beast entirely: it can’t get much bigger than this one, which offers some advantages but also some compromises in flight. I like to stay up to date with the latest wingsuit technology, and it’s really interesting learning to fly different suits, as they are all so different in how they handle and perform. I’m climbing at Rifle a lot this season but I’m dedicating a lot of time to skydiving right now too, trying to learn to tame the Viper in time for the summer wingsuit season in Europe – where the potential for wingsuit base climbs is endless.
~ Steph Davis, prAna Ambassador
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