BASE jumpers can try to explain away the fear, but, when someone is standing at the edge of a cliff looking at a pile of sandstone talus 800-feet straight down, logic is no longer in play. The body naturally resists being thrown off a cliff, even with reassurance of a parachute. Bones just don’t want to be broken.
What makes Tandem BASE Jumping such a good idea is that more experienced leapers can push first timers over the edge while actively looking after them. To prepare us for the big moment, Mario Richard, our instructor from Moab BASE Adventures, carefully rehearsed the sequence of the jump, repeating the metronomic countdown: "3, 2, 1, and jump." Even after an afternoon of practice, we were weak-kneed, passive participants when the real countdown finally came. Our great leap forward had become the ultimate trust fall. Two seconds felt like 30, then our chute opened and a fatal plummet transformed into a scenic glide toward the desert floor 1,400 feet below.
"That moment between stepping off and the parachute opening, that's our product — that's what we offer people," says Richard, who realized that it was the exhilaration of the fall, not the empowerment of the leap, that brought people back. When he and his wife launched Moab B.A.S.E. in November 2011, theirs was the first company in the world to offer tandem BASE jumping off a cliff and only the second to offer tandem BASE jumping, a program that allowed adrenaline junkies to sample the sport without months of training. What Richard has, and what the jumping operations that have followed his lead don't, is amazing southwestern scenery.
One jump site sits at the top of the 900-foot-tall Mineral Canyon Cliffs on the appropriately named Green River while the other, the aformentioned Parriott Mesa, stands in Castle Valley like a forbidding fortress. The hike to the launch zone is strenuous, but you don't have to worry about walking back down.
More information: Moab, next to Arches National Park, is a 4-hour drive from Salt Lake City and a 6-hour drive from Denver. The jump cost for Mineral Canyon is $499 while the cost for Parriott Mesa is $699.