Steph Davis: Adventure In Europe
Steph Davis spends another summer in the EU doing what she loves most.
July got off to a rainy start in the Alps this year. Ian and I flew into Zurich to discover that our bags were in New York or Paris or possibly both. Luckily I’ve learned the hard way to never check a base rig, wingsuit or climbing shoes. We had the essentials, so we decided to head to Lauterbrunnen in Switzerland where we knew we’d find friends who could lend us a sleeping bag or two and where we could make some wingsuit jumps while waiting for our baggage to appear. This wasn’t the original plan, but then when is the actual plan ever the original plan?
I’ve been coming to Europe to jump once or twice a year for the last seven years, and have never really found the best option for sleeping, I guess because from my point of view the best thing would be the free-est and most convenient thing to facilitate the most possible climbing and wingsuit flying, and you can’t really have both when traveling in Europe. There can be a lot of rain which can make it pretty grim in a tent, and you can also end up spending over $30/night to camp in a tent in a crowded camp ground, as there’s a real lack of wild open spaces where you can just roll in and bivy (unlike, say, Utah). If you stay in hostels, you spend a lot of money, have the stress of not really knowing where you’ll sleep at night when you’re on the move because of weather, and usually you have to sleep in a room with a lot of strangers which is difficult for us feral types.
This year I decided to spend a little extra on the rental car to get one we could sleep in so it could be a little more normal. If there’s one place I feel comfortable sleeping, it’s in a vehicle. On a side note for Europe travel beta, I researched this a fair bit in advance and the Toyota Avensis has proved to be a pretty good Europe sleeping car option—still not too expensive to rent compared to the cheapest compact, getting about 34 mpg on the highway, and with seats that fold down perfectly flat for a very large sleeping platform. We brought Therm-A-Rest NeoAir Trekkers, which are ridiculously comfortable and lightweight, with the matching sheets and blankets, and it’s been amazing having no stress whatsoever about where to sleep even when it’s dumping rain. And it’s unbelievable how much more at home and comfortable it feels to be in Europe on a normal roadtrip, sleeping in your rig!
The Avensis turns out to have not one but two secret trunk storage compartments and a massive glove compartment, so it’s easy to stay really tidy and organized.
It’s hard getting a specific vehicle, as rental companies say you can’t be guaranteed an exact model, but if you call the rental company direct after reserving, you can put in a request for the specific model they advertised on the booking site, which is what I did. However, since Delta did not yet want to give us our bags containing said Thermarests and sleeping systems, it was a little less convenient for the first few days. At least we had base rigs, wingsuits and a guitar and friends did hook us up with some sleeping gear in Lauterbrunnen. The great advantage of being a seasoned dirtbag is you don’t mind wearing the same clothes for 5 days, and you can fully deal with waiting that long for a toothbrush as long as you have your rock shoes and a wingsuit.
We were blessed with one perfect day of weather, so we headed up to the Jungfrau which I think is one of the most beautiful wingsuit jumps in Europe.
It’s a three hour hike up alpine meadows, scattered with bi-color goats and curious sheep, surrounded by views that look like backdrops from The Sound of Music. You fly over grass meadows and curve around seemingly endless cliff bands back to the valley floor.
The Jungfrau was one of Mario’s favorite jumps. Ian and I flew with some of his ashes, and I know he would be happy.
When the bags finally arrived, three days after we did, we were free to run from the rain. When the Alps and Dolomites are getting shut down by rain and clouds, you can always count on Arco to be jumpable and climbable and overall enjoyable. You have to love a place with a 3000 foot wingsuit jump and endless limestone sport crags and where you can buy fresh tomatoes, bread and wine for basically nothing.
Fabio and Adrianna, a couple who started the Brento Base Bus service last year, have single-handedly changed the base scene at Brento. Because this jump requires a 45 minute car shuttle up very steep, narrow, winding roads, it used to be fairly inconvenient to jump it. The Brento Base Bus started as Fabio or Adrianna driving a single van taking jumpers up from the wonderful Zebrata bar at the landing zone twice a day last year. When we arrived this year, we found that Fabio and Adrianna had expanded to 3 vans driving up 3 times a day, a snowmobile for winter, a hostel in their own home for jumpers, and a new baby boy named Giorgio who naps happily in his car seat during the ride up. They have also installed a wind meter at the landing area which you can view on an iphone from their website if you are standing on top of the mountain wondering about conditions at the bottom, and a web cam on the face which you can also see from the website in case you are somewhere else wondering if it’s cloudy or clear at Brento.
It’s so nice to see this friendly and motivated couple seeing a need and providing it and becoming successful—as Fabio always says from the driver’s seat of the van while answering his cell phone and beeping his horn around narrow, blind curves up the mountainside, “I love my job!!”
The Base Bus leaves every morning from the Zebrata Bar at 5 am, 7 am and 9 am, and then again at 6 pm. However the Italian schedule is nothing at all like the Swiss tram schedule, and there’s always time for a coffee stop or to wait for jumpers who aren’t finished packing yet. Most admirable of all, Fabio and Adrianna offer to return and give a free ride down to any jumper who decides to walk off the top due to wind conditions after the evening bus ride—they never want anyone to feel pressured to jump in bad conditions because they lack a ride or don’t want to spend the money for a return trip, so they have chosen to offer this escape plan at their own time and expense.
The storms have passed, and we are off to the Sputnik jump in Switzerland, another one of the most amazing jumps in Europe. And on Friday, I’ll return to the Dolomites to attend the Adventure Outdoor Festival in San Candido. Last summer I really wondered if I would ever fly a wingsuit again, if I would ever come to Europe again. It’s very good to be here, and what I have learned is that life doesn’t stop, ever, and we don’t either. Life is full of adventures and incredible moments—as long as we are ready to live them.
~Steph Davis, prAna Ambassador