Steph Davis on Human Flight
Published on 11/07/2012
By Mallory Ayres
For most of us, jumping off a cliff is something that happens in a dream, the kind where you take a ragged breath and wake up just before you hit ground. For Steph Davis, it’s a passion. She calls two of her loves, base jumping and wing suit flying, ‘human flight’ and is constantly breaking ground in the extreme sports realm. Her specialty is probably the most dangerous sport in the world: free soloing (climbing without a rope) rock faces and then base jumping or wing suit flying off them. She also has a pretty impressive climbing resume that can stand on its own, including being the first woman to free climb the Salathé Wall (El Capitan) and summit Torre Egger (Patagonia). So how does she approach activities that hover between ‘extremely dangerous’ and ‘mildly psychotic’ on the risk scale? Not only did she give us some interesting answers, she told us how we can get in on the action too.
Q: You do sports that many people consider dangerous, like base jumping and free soloing. Do they feel dangerous
A: Yes, they do. Over the years I've seen a lot of people injured or die in my sports. I think it's important to take risk and danger extremely seriously, both in planning, preparing and execution.
Q: When and where was your first base jump? Were you hooked from the start?
A: My first base jump was from a bridge in 2007. Yes.
Q: What has been your most exhilarating jump so far? Why?
A: The Black Wall in Kandersteg Valley [Switzerland] stands out a lot, and also Varan in France, both wingsuit base jumps off beautiful mountains. Both required full hikes to the top (no cable cars or car shuttles), and both require having confidence in being able to fly a good distance over terrain.
Q: What is usually running through your head as you stand on the top of a cliff before a jump?
A: I spend a lot of time observing the site, asking questions of others, and calculating distance. For a wingsuit jump, I think a lot about the line I want to take, always choosing something that has a lot of options and "outs." I make sure I have a plan for where to open and where to land, and what I can do if things aren't working out right. If it's not a wingsuit jump, I make decisions about how long to freefall and what my options are if I have any kind of parachute issues. Just before leaving, I think about the exit, and focus on trying to get a good launch and the best body position.
Q: Can you describe the suit you wear when you wing suit fly and how it works?
A: Basically, it's a suit with nylon wings for your arms and legs, and you glide on the air resistance as you fall. I fly Phoenix Fly suits. For several years, I was flying a Vampire, and this season I got a Venom. I upgrade every time they bring out a new model, so I'm anxiously waiting for the Viper to come out next season.
Q: You’ve had many climbing accomplishments. Which one was the most satisfying for you?
A: Free climbing the Salathé Wall on El Cap stands out for me, as well as free soloing the Longs Peak Diamond. Probably my favorite project, though, was free soloing the North Face of Castleton Tower in Moab and descending from the summit by a base jump.
Q: I’m sure some of our readers would be interested in learning how to base jump and wing suit fly. What are the first steps a person should take getting into sport like this?
A: They should read my new book, and they will learn all they ever wanted to know! They can also check out my blog at highinfatuation.com. But mainly, you need to do lots of skydiving first.
Q: When will your next book come out?
A: It's called Learning to Fly, and will be out on April 2, 2013