Project: Mont Rebei
Not so long ago, on the end of May this year (2014) a rather extraordinary event in the world of rope-jumping took place, we raised the ante as to sport jumping on dynamic rope and set a new world record in free fall depth using belay rope systems.
Location – Mont-Rebei gorge – the highest rock wall in Spain. The height of the vertical part to the steep slope is 390 m. This was the place where our team Rock&Rope (Ukraine) and team Pyrenaline (France) together with a startup Spanish team High Jump made record-breaking really deep jumps. The deepest and at the same time record jump made 330 m of absolutely free fall and 425 m of total fall involving suppression. Getting ahead of the story, I’d like to indicate that by any definition it’s the most difficult object we have conquered so far.
Retrospective note: the previous rope-jumping world record in free fall depth was set in Norway in 2010 by joint forces of Rock&Rope and team RAPT from Saint Petersburg. We hit the record of rope-jumping father and pioneer – Dan Osman only by few meters. That time our record jumps marked 280 m of free- and 360 m of total fall, and that according to our measurements and calculations exceeded Dan’s result only by 20 m.
Besides in May 2013 Polish team Dream Jump declared that they managed to exceed all these figures at the very same place in Norway. But primarily due to specifics of the belay rope system they use, absence of the record jump video, any data, measurements and absence of any other proves we consider this declaration, putting it mildly, false.
But let’s get back to the location. The Mont-Rebei gorge cuts its way through a 25 kilometers long rocky wall that stretches from east to west. There is a river at the gorge bottom and a dam downstream, so basically the whole gorge is a giant water storage basin.
During our stay the water level was extremely high. Even the local BASE jumpers doubted the very possibility of jumping in that BASE season, because the only landing areas have been hidden under the water. By the way it was really strange to see broadleaved trees under the water, to look down from the bridge and there, at foot depth, view tree-tops covered with leaves. Just across the river goes administrative (and soon maybe state border) between two regions – Catalonia and Aragon. There are 6 BASE exits in the gorge: 4 of them on the Catalan side and 2 on Aragonese. The highest exit that has the longest vertical wall section is located on the Aragonese side – this very exit was chosen for jumping. The BASE exit we have picked for rope-jumping is regarded as training exit. Although having seen a lot of beginners spots for base-jumping I wouldn’t call that one “for beginners”.
I visited this rocky wall few years ago and I figured potential of this exit for rope-jumping. The wall struck me as a "challenging object" from all perspectives: logistics, rigging, jumps, especially deep jumps, maybe record jumps. On the same occasion I visited few other objects. All of them were subsequently “jumped” by French team Pyrenaline. For them, as residents of Toulouse, the gorgeous Spanish Pyrenees – is home, kind of "sandpit", like Crimea used to be for us. Here they carried out a lot of climbing, highline and rope projects, shot an impressive film. Last year having visited Norway with Polish team Dream Jump, guys contacted us and offered to put into action a joint ambitious project – try to set a new world record in free fall using rope systems, because imaginary results of the Norwegian project claimed by Dream Jump were not acceptable. They said: "There’s a good object in Spain." "Mont-Rebei?" – I asked. That’s how we started our adventure.
The French made “reconnaissance trips”. It helped to gather new information and details about the object. We began to understand how to deal with local authorities and how to get permissions for our activity. It was decided to admit to the project a young Spanish team High Jump. We delegated powers in the following way: The French, being closest to the object, arranged base camp and most of the equipment, we took care of the technical and organizational part, served as "brains of the project" so to say, and the Spanish engaged in bureaucratic part related to obtaining permissions for the event.
Since the main part of the preparations came to the peak of the crisis in Ukraine, the number of participants from our team (Rock&Rope) was reduced from 6 to 3 people.
The Rock Empire company supported our project and provided various equipment, including one of the key success components of this project – 600 m of thin 7.8 mm dynamic ropes for the jumping rope. Despite the awful mess in the our country the rope from the Czech Republic came pretty quickly. The French got support from Courant – 1.6 km static ropes and lots of other equipment. Chulanka store (France) has also provided us with different camping equipment. We are also grateful to Le Bonheur est dans le Pot for such an essential project support as food, they provided almost all the provision for our project. High Jump for the project borrowed elektro jumar ActSafe from their friends at TvSport. Ivan Kharkhan constructed "Disconector 2.0." And we pre-assembled the jumping rope beforehand.
The expedition looked well-equipped, two weeks left before the departure and I felt relaxed. But as in a good adventure movie it seems to me that large and ambitious projects should always have passion, drama, intensity of emotions. And so it all started...
Two weeks before the project launch the Spanish received a rejection letter from the local national park, that is responsible for the Aragon part of the territory, saying that we can not hold any events at this time of the year, and that it is possible only starting from mid-July – when it’s incredibly hot in hear and strong winds blow. That’s when we together with the French realized that we have completely lost control over how was going the Spanish part of preparations concerning official permissions. Turned out that it was going nowhere for three month, despite the volumes of information provided to them, High Jump shrugging their shoulders offered to close the project or reschedule it on July. By we and Pyrenaline team without a shadow of doubt decided to go for it and deal with problems on-the-spot. So in fact the project began while the very possibility of its actual beginning was an open to question.
Upon arrival in Barcelona we were joyfully standing at the counter of the baggage claim area. More and more bags and backpacks were passing by. Here is one of our sacks, that's the another one, more bags. All passengers found their luggage, the indicator board went black. One sack is missing. It can’t be so movie-like simple and so obviously silly. Yep, our sack did not come. And of course among all our bags and sacks the irreplaceable one went missing – the one containing thin ropes for the controller tongue. And this happened despite my 1,5 hours standing in a queue in Vienna when I checked whether the luggage was not lost during transfer. Imagine such a situation: Austria, 40 people in line, only two managers in the central airport of Austrian Airlines, main desk and then suddenly one of the managers gets up and goes home because his work shift is over, business class yells but keeps hopelessly standing in the queue. We find the French and try to sort this out. Apparently, the lost luggage is in Vienna and perhaps tomorrow morning it will arrive. We set off to Mont-Rebei.
We arrived in our base camp late at night. A few days before our arrival Pyrenaline guys arranged it at the distance of 6 kilometers away from the exit. Any closer place wouldn’t suit for many reasons. But let's put it this way this was the most comfortable camp I've ever seen. We slept in tents on thick bed mattresses. "Why, – said the French – we still had some place in the car, so we brought the mattresses in!". Healthy deep "like home" sleep ensured relaxation and quick recovery. Well, at least the camp is alright – we thought.
Friday morning we had to travel to Zaragoza for a meeting at the local institution. This institution is responsible for biodiversity in this reserved area and it was first place where we had to take a permission for the event from, but they wrote the rejection letter about the hold off till July. There we met guys from High Jump. Together we went to the institution. Paulo from Pyrenaline in fluent Spanish communicated for a while with an officer. The fate of the project was being agreed, either it will take place or we pack this wonderful camp and go elsewhere... Approved! We did persuade them to give us a special permission. But this was only the beginning of a long and exhausting story of permissions.
As it turned out our plan of obtaining permissions that was drafted according to the information received by means of reconnaissance trips and further preparations to the project was, putting it mildly, incomplete. It seemed that due to the specifics of our activity the local authorities playing safe (just in case…) made up the list of the requirements on the hoof. So, after we got the first permission in Zaragoza, Paulo (Pyrenaline) and Marta (High Jump) almost every day, in parallel work on the rigging system, went to get more and more new permissions. All in all 1 200 km were covered in search of more new papers, that were required by local foresters. Thus every time precisely this paper had to be the last one and no other permission had to be needed. And so it went for seven times! To crown it all, because of the above-mentioned border between the two regions that goes directly through the canyon, one part of the rope system was fixed in one region and we jumped in the other region. In the local village councils Paulo was already known by name. Actually only thanks to his efforts and perseverance we managed to solve all the bureaucratic problems. So now you know how we prepared rigging and made tests being under psychological pressure when day after day we are asked to suspend work or even to start packing ropes.
But on the rock, no matter what, the work was in progress. Every day the joint team "Exit" struggled its way to the rock, half of the way was covered by jeep loaded with 10-13 "fighters" and equipment, and another half where the road ended and the fun began we walked on foot. To hinge the rope system we had to bring up about 600 kg of equipment walking on rocky terrain – no paths, only thick, thorny, “friendly” Spanish bushes. The work on rigging was progressing. Before attachment the system was calculated very accurately so we didn’t have to make any big changes. The rope systems were hanged per day. In the battle "wide river at the bottom and the most difficult terrain with a bunch of nasty shrubs" team versus "pushy little people" the last won. International team worked perfectly. Every day we awaited news about permissions and the missing ropes. The rigging became more fleshed.
On the fifth day having returned to the camp late at night I saw Paulo standing near the table, that was lying on the ground on its side, and making an awkwardly sad face. The table was turned tabletop in my direction so that it looked like a shield. As I already knew about the next permission obtained that day and a fallen table was not an everyday attribute in our camp, I figured it out that Paul would try to trick me and then he would be like “guess what”, then he would turn around the table and there would be the missing rope! So it was, the table was blocking our orange sack with ropes out of my view. Right on the fifth day when everything was ready for the tests we finally got our lost 300 m ropes delivered. We were almost happy. The sack as it turned out had been quickly found (in the first 24 hours) but somehow it was being delivered much longer, our nerves were strained hearing something like "looks like we found it, we will check the matter", "gave it to delivery service", "somewhere in the delivery service, probably". As the courier explained later our sack was simply lying in front of him for 3 days.
Date of the project was chosen carefully. Having pre-consulted with local BASE jumpers and climbers on the weather and especially on the wind we have chosen the end of May. It is warm, not hot, and least windy – the locals have told us. As a result for the two week staying at the Mont-Rebei we were wearing T-shirts for about 12 hours if summarized. The rest of the time we were bundled up in PrimaLoft, underfur and membrane warm closes! In the evenings the French often wore thick puff jackets! Seeing that we recollected how right before leaving for Spain we packed our warm closes deep inside the closets until winter. Because Spain is a hot country, isn’t it?
Sometimes the views, landscape colors, humidity and temperature were suspiciously similar to the wet Norway but not to sunny Spain. We even had the similar feelings. Our minds projected associations first with a washing machine, where we were loaded in, then with a dryer... So far we have seen horizontal rains in Norway, but here the rains were perfect as if matched using a levelling unit. We also enjoyed upside down showers, it looks as if it is your body have been turned upside down. Generally due to the very specific geometry of the object three differently directed wind currents can blanket simultaneously the whole rock, so it feels like some kind of a wind-layered cake. The longer we stayed on the rock, the worse the weather became.
It took us the whole week to complete attachments and test the system that ensured safe jumping. To construct this system we used more than 3.5 km of different ropes adjusted accurately above the gorge. After we threw two test-weights few things became obvious: a) the system works well, b) exit is a vertical wall with bunch of shelves, meaning a jumper has to jump far forward, fall steady and track longer for deep jumps, c) big shelves stand out starting from the mark of 360 m.
Morning of the seventh day. Out of 6 claimants by random draw we picked the first jumper. The dawn and landscape were incredible at this moment. Mathieu pulled the lot at once – destiny have chosen him to be the first. Emotional tension before the first jump was enormous. If one of us (Rock&Rope) was to jump first I wouldn’t have been so nervous. But it was Mathieu, not the most experienced jumper from Pyrenaline. Setup of the first jump – 260 m of free fall. Mathieu was calm. I was at main assist, Ivan at the first assist. Mathieu made jump, failed the discard from the exit, but shortly regained control and without overturns in about 50 m began steady fall in “box” position (position adopted from parachuting), suppression – an explosion of cheers, applauses and conclamations. Aaaahhhh...that’s a relief. Without tracking and with unstable discard, Mathieu was falling very close to the wall. However we had quite a margin to the disturbing shelves. That was food for thought to the less experienced jumpers from Pyrenaline and High Jump and a reason to fear.
The next jumper was Sergey. We increased the free falling setup. Sergey can do anything – discard perfectly, fall far away forward. Sergey is simply the best.
Then it was Matthias’s turn, he is a beginning BASE jumper and so his ability to jump didn’t arouse our concern. Не flew far away forward. The ActSafe jumar was of great help to recharge the system and conserve our strength.
My turn. I put on a tracking suit and try to calculate statistics for record jump. Setup – 280-290 m of free fall same as during our record in Norway. Classy, lengthy jump, ropes do not lead, I fly really far off the rock. Even making less qualitative jump (ratio of horizontal speed to vertical) it’s possible to jump deeper.
Then jumps Ivan in tracking suit. Setup 270 m of free fall. Spectacular falling: just making a good discard from the exit he jumped over everything that Matthias had to fly over by tracking. But Ivan didn’t show good tracking, after 80 m the falling became chaotic and Ivan struggled to regain control till the suppression. However his confident discard balanced the errors and Ivan was very far off from the wall. Though these 10 seconds were pretty nervous for us.
Next was Gautier – also a beginning BASE jumper. Setup was the same. Great jump by any definition. Here we run out of volunteers to try this exit. Less experienced jumpers displayed sadness and dismay, and it was quite objective.
Next jump was mine. The weather that provided only rare “windows” applicable for jumping now got worse. Due to thunderstorm, wind and rainfall we had the whole day to think everything over. Suddenly hail came to visit us. We made a snowman-jumper. Filled an improvised fridge with ice. I kept thinking about the system adjustments for jumping, double-checked everything ten times, then again thought it over, there was plenty of time.
In the evening guys found a great cure for waiting – car-yaking (towing of a kayak by car) in a large puddle near the camp and were fooling around.
Weather forecast predicted a “window” in the morning, sometime for an hour, and afterwards it would be very windy. So we got up early. Approaching the car we discovered a flat tire and dead battery. The wheel changing looked like a pit-stop in Formula 1 in 60s. We drove, walked, prepared the system, rechecked everything. Setup - 330 m of free fall, 40-50 m more comparing to my previous jump. The results of this jump would show whether it was possible to jump even deeper. We prepared everything really quickly. The wind started to blow. We rechecked the settings again and I jumped ....
I tried to fly as far as possible and down the hill to the river. On the 5th second the controller tongue slightly turned me to the right, toward the scree, I changed direction and kept flying as before. Suppression, very deep trajectory of slowdown, margin over the trees is about 20 meters. Comparing to margins of 80-100 meters at previous jumps, this looked scary. At least now it was clear – this is a record, there is no way to jump deeper here. We analyzed the data obtained from the GPS tracker and video records – 330 m of absolutely free and 425 m of total fall, the suppression completed much lower than ending of the vertical part of the object, and I managed to fly more than 100 meters off the wall.
Having descended I got a long-awaited day of rest, because there was no sense in going back to the exit from the bottom, it would take 5 hours and lot of strength. From the bottom I observed as guys were moving the exit 60 meters lower and slightly to the side. There was a ledge from where failed discard or chaotic fall would be not so crucial. It inspired guys from Pyrenaline and High Jump, they too will be able to jump.
This exit was less vulnerable to direction and strength of the wind and "window" applicable for jump is much broader. Thanks to the terrain on this exit ropes did not cling to everything when recharging. Setup - 220 m of free fall. One by one jumpers went down to the exit: Paulo, Marta, Simon, Loïc, Adrien, Carlos. Our jumps were mixed with showers and gale-force winds.
It was especially difficult for Ivan and Paulo during these jumps. They were assistants. We tried to use every possible "window" during the day, so Ivan, Paulo and next jumper were stuck on exit in 5-minute readiness for a jump. The exit situated on the wall so they had to endure all the nature whims hanging on the railing, there was nowhere to hide and climbing up was too long and pointless, a waste of precious time, because some “windows” were only 10-15 minutes long. And during these minutes the team needed to bring the system from "parking while windy" into "operating" mode, recheck everything and only after that the assistants evaluated the situation and decided whether it was safe to jump or not.
Washing machine in "high psychological load wash" rinsed Ivan and Paul for two days. Carlos was the final jumper, on this our mental and physical strength was exhausted and our stay time was coming to an end.
Demounting took one day. It was the final strain of the remaining strength. Even Guillaume, the camera man, despite the problems with his foot, left the camera and helped us to pack. Almost all the equipment was brought down, packed and run by kayaks to the car.
But for the local kayak club help, we would have dragged the equipment along the path for another day. And probably we would have died after that! And so three people brought down almost all the equipment.
Sitting in kayak and towing another one loaded with equipment I thought – what a wonderful happy-end, just like in a movie. The weather allowed us to take everything down in perfect conditions – no wind, no rain, and now this kayak float at sunset – the final, beautiful dot in our adventure. In the middle of the float though it was dark, wet and cold I was very grateful to Simon, who persuaded me to float to the cars and not to go on foot …
As the food was provided by Bonheur est dans le Pot a brand that specializes in eco-friendly and vegetarian products, and as we lived far away from civilization the project happened to be almost fully vegetarian. Only a couple of times we managed to get to the city and buy some fresh meat. It was a holiday and we ate food! :).
We thank our sponsor Rock Empire and Courant Corde et Process for their great help, and all the project partners :Le Bonheur est dans le Pot, Chullanka, TVSport, GENYX, Kayaking Mont Rebei and all those who get involved in this project.
Participants of the Mont-Rebei project:
Frédéric Marie (photographer)
Carlos Torija Muñoz
Guillaume de Maeyer
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