Everest: Survivor Interviews

The infamous, tragic events of the 1996 climbing season on Everest have been the subject of dozens of articles, documentaries, and books, including, of course, Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air.

An now, finally, inevitably, that story has made its way to the big screen, though in a version based more on the other accounts--notably those of Beck Weathers and Anatoli Boukreev--than on Krakauer's. The multiple accounts that came out of the tragedy offer conflicting characterizations of the events, with many other climbers seeking to correct what they saw as Krakauer's errors.

I haven't yet seen the film, but the clips I have seen are astounding in their portrait of the mountain itself. The cast, however A-list they may be, inevitably must take a back seat to the peak and capital-N Nature. (Much of the high-altitude footage benefited from the skills of cinematographer Kent Harvey, who I had the pleasure of climbing Aconcagua with in 2009.)

And perhaps that's for the best: there are simply too many characters and too many conflicting narratives of what happened there on May 10th and 11th, 1996, to squeeze into a two hour Hollywood feature. From a narrative perspective, one of the tragedy's main lessons was that memory, particularly at altitude, is unreliable, and that's perhaps too subtle a point for a film of this magnitude. 

Everest is an evergreen topic for Outside Magazine, and over the years I've written about it a number of times. The most memorable was when I tracked down and interviewed many of the 1996 survivors for a 2006 piece timed to the tenth anniversary of the disaster. Some highlights:

Charlotte Fox: "Everybody tried to do the right thing by speaking their feelings from the get-go, and a lot of them were misrepresented..."

Ken Kamler: "Right away, coming off the mountain," he says, "everyone had different ideas about what happened and who did what. Everybody saw things and remembered things their own way."

Lou Kasischke: "But it goes back to the fact that each of us saw and experienced the event from a different perspective. We each sat in a different seat in the stadium of Everest."

Ang Dorjee: "So many people have the same questions again and again," he says. "Also, it makes me sad."

Pete Athans: "There was this perception out there that we were raking in record profits from our hapless clients and flouting the environment," he says. "Nothing could have been more untrue."

Beck Weathers: "Like a good hobbit, I'm trying not to have adventures..."

Read the rest here.

Trevor Paglen Plumbs the Internet

When I started looking into the network of undersea fiber-optic cables that carries 99 percent of global internet traffic, I had many resources at my disposal, including a couple of very good books and an amazingly comprehensive interactive map. There are two realizations you come to quickly when you start looking into the subject: first, the infrastructure of our wireless world is incredibly physical, dependent on earth-bound plumbing much more than satellites; and second, that the entire system has been turned into an incredibly efficient surveillance tool by the NSA and others.

When I came across artist Trevor Paglen's work, it seemed to perfectly embody both of those points, with his investigations of the hidden elements of the NSA surveillance state forcing viewers to reckon with both the tangible internet and their own lack of privacy while using it. A piece I just published on NewYorker.com looks at the cables through the lens of Paglen's latest show, up now at Metro Pictures gallery in New York.

(Read my full piece at NewYorker.com. Paglen's show runs through October 24 at Metro Pictures, 519 West 24th St.)

On Newstands: Michigan Extreme Skiing

My story on skiing Mount Bohemia, on Michigan's Upper Peninsula, is in the October issue of Skiing Magazine. It's online here, but it also just hit newsstands and here's the opening spread:

Doesn't that make you want to go out and buy a hard copy? For old time's sake?

Great photos by Keri Bascetta and stunt skiing by Marcus Caston (thanks guys!) to help illustrate what it's like to ski "the Midwest's only extreme terrain" way out on a peninsula in the middle of Lake Superior. Truly unlike anywhere else I have ever skied.

Now go pick up a copy.

Dillingham, the President, and the Pebble Mine

President Obama’s recent tour through Alaska was, by most counts, a resounding success. He was received warmly (mostly); delivered two powerful speeches focused on addressing the challenges of climate change and a thawing Arctic; and even managed to have some fun, carrying himself throughout the trip with the sort of smile and awe typical of a first-time Alaskan tourist. He went on a glacier hike, ate ice cream, played with puppies (behind the scenes details on that here), and traded in his suit and tie for a windbreaker-and-hiking-boots look that one observer characterized as "outdoorsy dad." In his vacation photo album--which is way better than yours--you can practically feel his sense of relief at having escaped DC.

The milt heard round the world: When an excited spawning salmon made a mess on the president's shoes, the world heard about it.

In the Bristol Bay fishing hub of Dillingham (pop. 2,400), one of two small communities the president visited, he really let his hair down, visiting with fishermen on the beach--where an overexcited pink salmon milted on him (see above)--before participating in a traditional Yup'ik dance with local kids at the high school. On his way out of town, he made an unplanned stop at the supermarket, where he befriended a local baby.

But there was one big issue that went unremarked, at least directly, from the president’s side during his visit to "salmon country": the proposed Pebble Mine, a massive copper and gold mine that Dillingham locals see as perhaps the greatest threat to their salmon-centric way of life. The mine would sit amid prime salmon habitat, and has become a hugely contentious issue, pitting those who would welcome the mine's jobs and economic impact against the majority of Bristol Bay residents who fear that it could prove catastrophic for the salmon runs that their economy relies on. 

The Obama Administration has been an active participant in the fight to protect Bristol Bay, blocking offshore oil and gas exploration and backing the EPA's involvement. The EPA began studying the mine in 2010 at the request of local tribes and in early 2014 took steps to initiate a process that would block or severely curtail the mine's development. That process is currently tied up in litigation, following multiple lawsuits brought by the Pebble Limited Partnership against the EPA.

There were a number of rumors swirling in the weeks leading up to the president's visit, but given the legal limbo, and his focus on climate issues, it was extremely unlikely that he would address the Pebble issue directly. But his decision to visit Dillingham, the center of the anti-Pebble movement, where he had to know that every news shot would include an anti-Pebble sign, seemed to many to be an implicit gesture of support for the EPA's action against the mine.

Locals made sure that the president would know what was on their minds, lining the roads from the airport and through town with anti-Pebble signs and banners and telling every reporter who asked that salmon and Pebble were their top issues. Perhaps more important was his carpool companion on the short ride from the Dillingham airport to nearby Kanakanak Beach: Robin Samuelsen, the chairman of the Bristol Bay Economic Development Corporation and a key figure in the fight against Pebble.

"I was sitting there talking with the president of the United States in Dillingham, Alaska, riding down my own street saying ‘this is unbelievable,'" Samuelsen told the Alaska Dispatch News. But despite the excitement, he stayed on message, talking to the president about the region's remarkable sockeye salmon run and bringing up Pebble, which the president said he could not discuss because of the ongoing litigation.

The president touring a traditional fish-drying rack. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

But during his salmon-handling beach visit, the president talked about Bristol Bay to the pool reporters nearby, and his remarks made it clear that he'd been listening (emphasis added):

THE PRESIDENT: Even though we’ve got a cloudy day, I think everybody has a sense of how beautiful this place is.  And the scale of fish that come through here is remarkable.  If you catch -- or if you've eaten wild salmon, it’s likely to have come from here.  And this has some of the biggest salmon runs, sockeye, in the world.  And it’s part of the reason why it’s so critical that we make sure that we protect this incredible natural resource, not just for the people whose livelihood depends on it, but for the entire country.  About 40 percent of the wild-caught seafood in America is caught right here on Bristol Bay. 

And it represents not just a critical way of life that has to be preserved, but it also represents one of the most important natural resources that the United States has.  This is one of the reasons why we have shut off oil and gas exploration in this region.  It is too fragile, and it is too important --

AUDIENCE MEMBER:  Thank you.  (Applause.)

THE PRESIDENT:  -- for us to be able to endanger it in any sort of way.  And this is something that obviously has strong support for the people whose livelihoods depend on it and for the people of Alaska. 

But there are other threats to this environment that we’ve always got to be alert to.  And hopefully by us coming here, we’re highlighting the need for us to keep this pristine and make sure that this is there for the children and grandchildren, great-grandchildren of all these wonderful fishermen.

The "other threats to this environment" line seemed like a clear reference to Pebble, and not everyone was happy. Some Pebble supporters who flew in from the village of Iliamna, near the potential mine site, held signs that said "For Pebble" and were disappointed not to be able to meet with the president. As Mike Heatwole, a spokesman for the Pebble Limited Partnership, told reporters in Dillingham, "Our view is that if the president is interested in the issue he should try to hear from all perspectives about it including those closest to Pebble who would like the jobs Pebble may provide."

In what remains of the Obama presidency, we'll certainly be hearing more about climate change and Alaskan Natives, and likely also about Pebble. Back in DC, the president continued his mix of positivity and purpose as he came down from the high of the trip. "I think that everybody who has a chance to come up here will marvel at the incredible natural beauty of the state of Alaska," he said in a post-trip video posted to Twitter, "but the reason we're here in particular is to describe in real concrete terms what's happening with climate change."

(This piece was republished on Medium.com)

Obama in Alaska: A Recap

President Obama's recently concluded visit to Alaska made some history--he was the first sitting President to venture north of the Arctic Circle, and certainly the first to hike a glacier with TV survivalist Bear Grylls. But it was his engagement with the place, its people, and Arctic issues that led to an overwhelmingly positive response from Alaskans. I wrote about the reactions for Outside.

The visit generated a ton of goodwill in a state that might not always be considered friendly to a liberal President. The reaction from Alaskans was positive verging on giddy. In a state where even the biggest city, Anchorage, can feel like a small town, and where most Presidents only ever stop over to refuel, it was the sheer momentousness of the occasion, the sense of history, that won most people over.

That, and the fact that Obama was so obviously enjoying himself, whether dancing with Native children or accidentally getting milted on by a ready-to-spawn pink salmon.

Read the piece here.

Final WTC BASE Jumper Sentenced

The last of the three WTC BASE jumpers, Marko Markovich, was sentenced today to 300 hours of community service for the jump, which took place nearly two years ago.

Judge Juan Merchan gave Markovich a stiffer sentence than his co-defendants--Brady got 250 hours and Rossig 200 hours--because, according to the NY Post, he felt Markovich was the least remorseful. "Of the three defendants," Justice Merchan said to Markovich's lawyer, "none have shown more contempt for the process than your client.”

For my background on the case, see my feature at Outside online here.

President Obama: It's Denali.

On the eve of his historic trip to Alaska, President Obama announced the official reversion of the highest peak in North America, Mt. McKinley, to its Athabascan name. From now on, the mountain, like the National Park it sits within, will be known as Denali, and our 25th President, William McKinley, will slip further into obscurity.

With the President's approval, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell signed an order Friday to officially change the name, with the announcement coming Sunday, 24 hours before the President's arrival in Anchorage. Functionally, the name change makes little difference in Alaska, where the peak is widely called Denali--meaning "the high one" or "the great one" already--but it is seen as a symbolically important step and a sign of respect to Native Alaskans, whose cultures revere the mountain.

The move was greeted with widespread praise in Alaska, where it's been a popular topic of conversation since Sen. Lisa Murkowski introduced a bill to change the name in January. The primary dissenting voices seem to be coming from Ohio's Congressional delegation, who see the move as an insult to Ohio native McKinley, despite the fact that McKinley never set foot in Alaska and that the peak was named on an explorer's whim in 1896 as a sign of political support as McKinley mounted his bid for the presidency. (For an alternate take on how it got the name, see here.) Ohio has found a predictable ally for its cause:

I was on Take Two on Los Angeles NPR station KPCC this morning to discuss the name change and Denali’s history. My segment starts at about the eight and a half minute mark in the audio player here.

Freedom Tower BASE Jumpers Get Fine, Community Service

Two of the three men who BASE jumped from the Freedom Tower in Lower Manhattan in September 2013 were sentenced yesterday by Justice Juan M. Merchan in State Supreme Court in Manhattan. James Brady and Andrew Rossig were fined $2,000 each, along with 250 hours of community service for Brady and 200 hours for Rossig. The third jumper, Marko Markovich, will be sentenced August 17.

(Illustration by Erin Wilson for Outside Magazine)

(Illustration by Erin Wilson for Outside Magazine)

In June, a jury acquitted the men on a felony burglary charge but found them guilty of two counts of reckless endangerment as well as of violating the city ordinance prohibiting BASE jumping, all misdemeanors.

In spite of the dismissal of the felony charge, the Manhattan DA's office argued that the jump constituted a serious crime and had pressed the judge to sentence the men to 60 days in jail to deter those who would consider such a stunt in the future. Justice Merchan denied the request for jail time,  but, according to the New York Times, he made his disapproval clear:

“They made a very poor decision,” Justice Merchan said, calling the tower “an iconic building constructed on hallowed ground.”

“These defendants tarnished the building before it even opened,” the judge added, “and sullied the memories of those who jumped on 9/11 not for sport, but because they had to.”

For the full story of the jump, the NYPD investigation, and the legal and political wrangling surrounding the trial, check out my story at Outside.


Graveyard Point Goes Mainstream

I haven't always been the most forthcoming with details about Graveyard Point, the squatters' community of commercial salmon fishermen in which I have lived and worked over the past half-dozen summers. It's a quirkily unique place with an attraction that can be difficult to explain to people who value things like hot showers and sleep. More than the difficulty of explanation, there was also a protectiveness to my reticence: those of us lucky enough to have earned a place in that community have viewed it as something almost secret, a unique place to be shielded from the influences of the outside world, lest it become corrupted and lose its potency as an antidote to civilization.

Typical fishermen's gathering on the Schrier crew's porch. Photo (c) Corey Arnold 2013.

Typical fishermen's gathering on the Schrier crew's porch. Photo (c) Corey Arnold 2013.

To that end, we have kept reality TV producers and other vultures at bay, but who are we kidding? I've written about the place, and my co-conspirator up there, Corey Arnold, has photographed it extensively, and as cell phone service has gradually improved in rural Alaska, and as cameras and even smartphones have proliferated around camp, it was only a matter of time before the world learned of our little secret.

The most comprehensive outsider's perspective on it to date is this snapshot of the place and its denizens published in the Alaska Dispatch News over the weekend. It features a great selection of Corey's photos from Graveyard years past, a video interview with him and another video focused on the great people behind the Iliamna Fish Co, and offers a small window into our world up there and the many characters I am proud to call my friends and colleagues.

Having just returned from a quick trip to fish the peak of this year's salmon run, this piece only heightened the nostalgia that always bubbles up soon after leaving Graveyard. Sometimes it seems a year is too long to wait to return. There is truly no place like it.

As for this new exposure, I'm not too worried. Graveyard is a place that's constantly in flux: the cast of characters changes slightly each year, as does the shape of the gradually eroding banks along Kvichak Bay, the integrity of the gradually rotting boardwalks and buildings, the course of the channel in Graveyard Creek, the wind and the weather, and the timing and force of the salmon run itself.

Change is inevitable, and I'm not by nature an optimist, but I'm hopeful that some of the things we most value about Graveyard--the community, the solitude, the clarity, the work, the fish, even our decrepit cabins--will survive whatever changes are ahead.

And, fortunately, it remains a very difficult place to get to.


Freedom Tower BASE Jumpers Cleared on Burglary Charge

The jury in the trial of the three men who BASE jumped off the new World Trade Center tower in lower Manhattan returned a verdict yesterday: not guilty on the top count of burglary, guilty on the lesser counts of reckless endangerment and violating the city's BASE jumping prohibition. 

BASE Jumpers Markovich, Rossig, and Brady (L to R). (Photo: Steven Hirsch / NY Post)

BASE Jumpers Markovich, Rossig, and Brady (L to R). (Photo: Steven Hirsch / NY Post)

The three defendants, Marko Markovich, Andrew Rossig, and James Brady, jumped off the tower in September 2013 and were arrested in March 2014. From the time of their arrest, the jumpers' attorneys had argued that the felony burglary count was an over-charge, an overzealous response by the DA's office to a security lapse that was an embarrassment to the city, the Port Authority, and the NYPD.

"This verdict is the same as the plea we would have taken a year ago," lead defense attorney Timothy Parlatore told the Daily News, criticizing the resources that were wasted on the investigation and trial. "The main issue in the case was the district attonrey's office taking a misdemeanor and trying to turn it into a felony.... They probably wasted half a million dollars on this case."

During the two-week trial, the defense had argued that the burglary charge did not apply, while the prosecution contended that it was appropriate and warranted in this case. Manhattan DA Cy Vance issued a statement focusing on the conviction for the lesser charges rather than the dismissal of the top charge.

“In the nearly two years since this BASE jump occurred, the three men who parachuted off One World Trade Center have yet to acknowledge the dangerousness or cost of their actions,” said District Attorney Vance in a statement. “The defendants took pride in their perceived accomplishment, and seemed to relish evasion of authorities. Today, a jury found their stunt to be reckless and illegal.”

The jury, which began deliberations last Wednesday afternoon, seemed at a deadlock when they submitted a note to Judge Juan Merchan earlier Monday, according to the Daily News, but came to a decision later in the day.

Sentencing will be on July 10th.

(For more background on the case, see my feature at Outside here.)

Large Things Evoked by Small: RIP James Salter

Though he was 90, it still seems too soon for us to be without James Salter's voice. A giant, a master, and a man I count myself fortunate to have met, interviewed, and lunched with. "We are all poor in the end," Salter wrote in his 1997 memoir, Burning the Days. "The lines have been spoken. The stage is empty and bare. Before that, however, is the performance." And what a performance: New Yorker, West Pointer, fighter pilot, skier, climber, raconteur, and one of the finest prose stylists you'll ever read.

After years of admiring Salter and reading him obsessively, an assignment for Outside in 2011 finally gave me the excuse I'd been looking for to meet him. I set up an overly elaborate lunch at Eleven Madison Park, and we talked and ate and drank a glass of wine each while I tried to keep myself together. All the while, in my head, all I could think was, "I'm having lunch with James Salter. I'm having lunch with James Salter. I'm having lunch with James Salter. Don't fuck this up!"

I must not have fucked it up too badly, because we remained in touch afterwards, as he completed his final novel, All That Is, which I reviewed for GQ when it was published in 2013. The novel's epigraph reads, "There comes a time when you realize that everything is a dream, and only those things preserved in writing have any possibility of being real." And it was in some ways a valedictory. From my review:

Over the course of three hundred pages, All That Is progresses through the rooms of a well-furnished life, tracing Phillip Bowman's adulthood from his time as a young man in the Navy up through his career as a book editor in New York. He is no adventurer, but he is solitary and ambitious, a priest to publishing, though by no means celibate. ... In addition to sex and the relations between men and women, the book contains many of Salter's other long-time themes: action, honor, loyalty, and friendship; the devotion to a life well-lived, and the gulf between our imagined lives and our actual existences; and the recognition that the sublime and the sad, the highs and lows of life, are hopelessly intertwined. What's changed most from his earlier work is the vantage point.

There is a moment early in the book when an aging man—Bowman's wife's grandfather—confronts his flailing son and takes stock of his own life. "He could hardly construct how he had gotten from there to here," Salter writes, and that, as much as anything, is the explanation of this book: reconstructing the "there to here," plotting the waypoints of a life—war, college, sex, love, marriage, divorce, death, heartbreak, joy, illness, betrayal, redemption—and drawing the reader along for the ride. This is the view from the summit of life's hill rather than midway up its flanks. It is a story told by someone looking backwards with the benefit of a lifetime of accumulated knowledge.

The last time I spoke with him was late last year, while reworking our lunchtime interview for inclusion in the forthcoming book Conversations with James Salter, set for release this fall. He was delivering some lectures at UVA at the time, and sent back a subtly edited draft of our interviews--cutting out, in his words, tk--interspersed with some Faulkner quotes. I remember at the time thinking back to this passage from Burning the Days, all the more appropriate now:

"Somewhere the ancient clerks, amid stacks of faint interest to them, are sorting literary reputations. The work goes on endlessly and without haste. There are names passed over and names revered, names of heroes and of those long thought to be, names of every sort and level of importance."

He was speaking then of a friend, but I think it applies here. He was a hero of the highest order, and his name, his reputation, and his work will continue to be revered.

Jury's Out in Freedom Tower BASE Jumpers Case

Since the two-week trial of the World Trade Center BASE jumpers concluded early Wednesday afternoon, the jury has been deliberating. Defendants James Brady, 33, Andrew Rossig, 34, and Marko Markovich, 28, can only wait while the jury debates the four charges against them, including one felony burglary count and three misdemeanor counts, two for reckless endangerment and one for violating the actual BASE jumping statute.

Closing arguments last Wednesday saw both the defense and the prosecution attempting to hammer home their own narratives surrounding the jumps, which took place in September 2013 and were recorded by the jumpers on helmet-mounted GoPro cameras. To the defense, the charges were overzealous; to the prosecutor, they were warranted.

The defense team hit on the same points it had since the arraignment: yes, these are the guys who BASE jumped off the tower, but they are highly skilled experts who endangered nobody but themselves and are being overcharged because they embarrassed the Port Authority and the NYPD by exposing security lapses at the site. Timothy Parlatore, the lead defense attorney, representing Andrew Rossig, went first.

“In this case, most of the facts are not in dispute: these are the men who climbed to the top of the Freedom Tower and jumped off,” Parlatore said. “On your shoulders today rests the all important decision of whether to permanently label these defendants as criminals.”

Much of his argument centered on the most serious charge, for felony third degree burglary. The core of the defense argument hinges on the wording of the burglary statute, which applies to breaking into a building with intent to commit a crime “therein.” They argued that because the crime was committed outside—they jumped from the communication rings atop the tower’s roof—the burglary charge does not apply but that, because “they did what they did in a manner that embarrassed city and state government officials,” they are being made an example of.

“What I told you on the very first day of this trial remains the same,” Parlatore said. “Was the jump committed safely? And where did they jump from? Was it inside, or outside?”

The trial itself had been contentious, and featured a couple surprises. Defendant Markovich took the stand in his own defense, but the biggest surprise was the testimony of Kyle Hartwell, who was initially charged with the three jumpers for serving as an accomplice, driver, and lookout. Shortly before the trial started, he took a plea deal to avoid a felony conviction and jail time. It was the same sort of deal that the defense had sought for the jumpers, admitting the crime but avoiding the life-altering implications of a felony conviction.

(Hartwell’s testimony probably won’t change much in the jury’s mind, but it did clarify a couple points I’d gotten wrong in my earlier article. The jumpers had told me that they had carried their gear in with them on the night of the jump, and that Markovich’s pilot chute had gotten caught on something and damaged while climbing the stairs. In fact, Brady had stashed their parachutes and other gear on site the day before, and the pilot chute had been gnawed to shreds by rats by the time the three men retrieved it the next day.)

Attorney Joseph Carozzo, representing Marko Markovich, made clear that he felt Hartwell had been coerced into cooperation. “He had to cooperate,” Carozzo said in his closing. “That’s what he had to do to be treated fairly. Nobody’s mad at Kyle Hartwell.”

Carozzo, like the others, spent a good deal of time arguing against the idea that there was any substantial risk in this jump to anyone but the jumpers themselves. They are experts, he said, professionals whose “only objective in this jump was to jump off successfully and land successful. There were no tricks in this jump,” he said, before trying to underscore how little danger there was to anyone on the ground. “This is a great New York story, that three people jump off the Freedom Tower and there’s only one 911 call.”

Assistant District Attorney Joseph Giovannetti disagreed, of course, sticking close to what his office has argued all along: that these three men are selfish thrill-seekers who knowingly disregarded public safety and flouted the law for their own kicks. In their view, the communication rings on the roof are part of the building, and therefore the burglary charge is appropriate.

“You heard them crowing and bragging about what they did [on the podcast], giving a blow by blow account of their crimes,” argued Giovannetti. These men, he said, are criminals. “Don’t let the defense confuse you about this,” he continued. “What the defense is trying to do is confuse you by mixing up the words indoors and inside.” Giovannetti went through a series of analogies ranging from the jury box to a boxing ring to Central Park to Derek Jeter standing in the batter’s box to try to show that to be “inside” doesn’t necessarily require a roof overhead.

Giovannetti did not mince words, and he accused the defense of twisting the law, coaching witnesses, and mispresenting the potential jail time faced by their clients. One of the most entertaining moments came when he quoted back from an occasionally profane podcast of the defendants describing their jump, which surely involved more F-bombs than he was comfortable with.

“Don’t let the defendants pull the wool over your eyes or talk you into not being able to see the forest for the trees,” he concluded. “The defendants put their enjoyment above the law.”

It’s now in the hands of the jury. “This is the hardest part,” Parlatore told me after the jury was sent off on Wednesday. “They could come back in five minutes, they could come back in a week. All we can do is wait.”

Trial Begins for Freedom Tower BASE Jumpers

The trial of the the three men who jumped off the new One World Trade Center tower in lower Manhattan in September 2013 began Monday. The opening statements stuck closely to the rationales and strategies outlined in my Outside feature covering the crime itself and the pre-trial hearings: the prosecution argued that these men are habitual criminals who disregarded the law and endangered the public with their selfish behavior; the defense argued that they are highly skilled technicians who planned the jump precisely, put nobody in danger, and are the victims of an overzealous prosecutorial attempt to save face.

"This case is about their decision to put their egos above the law and above the safety of New Yorkers," said ADA Joseph Giovannetti, as reported by the New York Times. He went on to highlight the charge at the core of the case:  third degree burglary, a felony which could carry a sentence of up to seven years in prison and which the prosecution feels is merited because the men went into the building with the intent to commit a crime. The defense team will argue that, because they jumped from a communications ring on the roof, they were not "inside" of anything.

The most interesting development as the men head to trial is a report from the Daily News that their alleged lookout, Kyle Hartwell, who remained on the ground and did not jump, will testify against them. There's no additional info yet on what sort of a deal he was offered for his cooperation, but when when I filed my article in April, he was still part of the case, charged with the same crimes as the jumpers themselves.

More updates to come later in the week.

Carl Boenish and the Origins of BASE Jumping

This weekend sees the debut of Sunshine Superman, a documentary about BASE jumping pioneer Carl Boenish. It's a film that's become much more poignant, and perhaps much more important, in the wake of last weekend's BASE jumping accident that claimed the lives of Dean Potter and Graham Hunt. I spoke with the film's director, Marah Strauch, for a Q&A for Outside.

It was in Yosemite in the late 1970s that Boenish started what was then known as fixed object parachuting or cliff jumping. An electrical engineer turned aerialist, Boenish left his job behind to pursue skydiving and aerial cinematography full-time. “But,” as he says in an archival interview in the film, “after 1,500 skydives over 15 years, you become so proficient at it that you wonder, ‘Well, what else is out there.’” 

Boenish became the ringleader of a band of likeminded jumpers, including his wife, Jean Boenish, who graduated from the cliffs of Yosemite to other objects and locations. He had an offbeat charisma that sometimes verged on manic, but he was also highly organized and practical. He worked tirelessly to legitimize BASE jumping as a legal sport and cataloged its development obsessively, mounting 16mm film cameras to his and his partners’ helmets.

His death, during a jumping accident in Norway in 1984, the day after he and Jean set the Guinness record for world’s highest cliff jump, came as a jolt to a sport still in its infancy. And though decades have passed, Boenish's death—and the film—provokes the same conversations we’re having now after this week’s tragedy. (Boenish was 43 when he died—the same age as Potter.)

The film itself, which took eight years to complete, is a tremendous feat of research, storytelling, and imagination It splices together Boenish’s personal footage with atmospheric recreations of scenes for which no footage existed, and includes interviews—sometimes funny, sometimes confounding, often emotional—with his co-conspirators from those early days. 

(Click through to Outside to read my conversation with director Marah Strauch.)

The Other Man: Remembering Graham Hunt (1986-2015)

An accident during a wingsuit BASE jump in Yosemite on Saturday claimed the lives of jumpers Dean Potter and Graham Hunt. While Potter was a legend in the outdoors world, Hunt was relatively unknown, and in the wake of the tragedy, most of the chatter centered on Potter, rendering Hunt little more than a footnote. To shed a little more light on Hunt's life, I did some reporting, spoke with his friends, and came up with this remembrance, published on Outside's site today. Click through for the full article.

Since the news began to filter out that two men had died in a wingsuit-flying accident in Yosemite on Saturday, thousands of words have been written about one of them, Dean Potter, 43, and far fewer about the other, Graham Hunt, 29. 

Which makes sense: Potter was a towering figure in the outdoor sports world, a renowned-climber-turned innovator, and a proselytizer for a range of high-altitude pursuits, among them highlining, free-BASEing, and, of course, BASE jumping and wingsuit flying. So when word came that Potter had died, the tributes poured out, many of them nearly ready-made, because, while tragic, Potter’s passing was not entirely unexpected. 

Hunt, on the other hand, was mostly unknown outside of the close-knit fraternity of BASE jumpers and climbers in the Yosemite orbit. What’s more, his complete disinterest in self-promotion and nearly non-existent digital footprint rendered him un-Googleable, which has meant that most of the coverage in the immediate wake of his death barely registered who he was, other than that he happened to be flying with Potter when something went terribly wrong. The basic narrative was, “Dean died, and this other guy was with him.” 

But among those who knew him and had climbed, jumped, and lived with him, Hunt had a reputation for soulful, unshakeable competence and confidence, for being reliably reliable when situations got tricky in the mountains, as they often do for this tribe. He’d progressed rapidly in his early twenties from the climbing gyms of Sacramento to the walls of Yosemite, with 5.12 first ascents to his credit. He was someone people turned to frequently when they needed a solid partner for exploits in the Valley. In recent years, he’d gravitated more towards jumping and wingsuit flying, and though he’d only been at it for five years, he’d gone full tilt, evolving from apprentice to being among the sport’s best. “Whatever he focused on, he became really good at, and he was probably one of the top wingsuit flyers in the world,” says Shawn Reeder, a photographer and climber who met Hunt shortly after he arrived in Yosemite as a 22-year-old. “He got really into jumping, and Graham and Dean became really good friends through jumping. He was Dean’s partner, his compadre.” 

Or, as a Facebook post from slackliner and BASE jumper Andy Lewis put it: “Graham Hunt was a G who rolled silent like lasagna. He was known only by those who needed to know.” 

(Read the rest at Outside online .)

Talking BASE Jumping on Sirius Radio with Jay Thomas

I spent part of yesterday afternoon as a guest on the Jay Thomas Show on Sirius, discussing my latest article for Outside about the men who BASE jumped off NYC's Freedom Tower. Also on the show was the jumpers' lead attorney, Timothy Parlatore, so forgive the "two Tim's" confusion.

Here's a recording of the full segment:

And if you haven't had a chance to read the piece yet, it's posted on Outside's site here.