by Tracy “Space” Walker
When I discovered BASE, El Capitan was the ultimate exit point. I felt that I could not be a true BASEer without jumping it. It was the birthplace of Modern BASE jumping. I had video tapes of Carl Boenish’s stuff. It was so grainy, being a copy of a copy of a copy. I was living in Louisiana at the time—nothing but flatlands and antennas. I think now that a pilgrimage is a journey to a destination with portals to the next level. I didn’t know that then. I just knew that I had to jump El Cap.My first time at Phoenix DZ in Z-hills, I fell in love with the place and its people its lifestyle. Quit my job in Louisiana and started doing trash runs for the DZ to earn jump tickets and hung out with the BASE crew, Rick, Dennis and Brenda jumping all kinds of things with them, listening to the “No-S**t-There-I-Was” stories around the campfire. These 3 of the BASE crew had already jumped El Cap.
I left to hitchhike from Florida to California with $40, thanks to a local, Jay. I was stopping at summer competitions to pack for some of my competition teams along the trip. It took about a month as planned as that was when the BASE crew was to arrive in Yosemite.
I arrived at Muskogee, Oklahoma for the Nationals where one of my teams that I was packing for were training and competing. A master packer from Perris who gave me extra work with his team packing and said he could help me get to the Cal City DZ by hitching a ride on a Twin Otter that was based there.
Wow, we flew over desert, more desert and then the Painted Desert and then the Rocky Mountains. The pilot explained that the Rocky Mountains was only a part of the chain of mountains that stretched from Alaska to the tip of South America. I was astounded. My vision of mountains before seeing this was something like a few cone-shaped mountains shoulder to shoulder that got sheared off in places by glaciers. The view blew my mind.
We took a truck to from Cal City to Perris Valley. After arriving I worked another weekend packing because the rigger had sprained his ankle and needed help. After the weekend I took a bus to Merced Calif., then another to Yosemite the next day.
I knew my BASE crew from Z-Hills was in the park, but I didn’t know how to find them. I did have a telephone number from some guy called Moe Viletto. I rung him up and asked him where the crew was. He wouldn’t budge. He replied that if he knew this information he wouldn’t divulge it anyway.
“If you are part of the BASE crew, you will know where to find them, bye.”
Hmmmm. Bingo! I knew where I could find them, the climbers‘s camping place. I asked where it was and headed in that direction. Moe was right; I did know where to find them. I went to Sunnyside campground and wandered around, then I heard Rick P.’s insanely unique laughter.
I was growing a Yosemite profile—long hair and beard, so I could shave it off if a video of me was confiscated. I was totally unrecognizable.
I walked up to Rick and said, “Hey man!”
“What do you want?”
“I’m Spacey Tracy.”
He finally saw past the long hair and beard and gave me the BASEbro hug. We started talking at the same time about everything, like chickens cackling. We calmed down a bit when Dennis and Brenda joined in; once again our crew was complete. Rick asked me how much cash I had on me. “A hundred,” to which he replied, “Well then you can pay me that 75 you owe me and the other 25 you put in the kitty for the van.”
First on the menu was the Rostrum. It was to be my first “E.” I was a BAS_ jumper up to this point; I just needed that “E.” I wanted it to be El Capitan, but we were a team and jumped together. I followed Dennis, waiting until he was open and clear to launch. We were used to jumping together and had our protocol.
The Rostrum isn’t really a hike; it’s more of a walk down and then a climb up about 20′, with belaying for flatlanders. I was standing close to the exit point with Rick pointing out the flight plan and obstacles. I noticed a mosquito on Rick’s shoulder preparing to drill for blood. In the South, it’s quite common to slap a mosquito on a friend; it’s a Southern courtesy. As Rick was pointing out the hazard power lines standing a couple of feet from the edge, I slapped that bitch of a mosquito on Rick. We weren’t geared up yet. I think Rick got a little upset at being slapped on the back at the exit point without gear. Once he released my throat, I could speak. But what could I say? “Boo!” seemed out of the question.
The jump went as planned, but I had forgotten my shoes and only had sandals. Dennis told me to reconsider at the exit point as the car-sized landing zone was among glaciered stones—the round ankle-breaking type. The LZs were far from ideal but I felt ok with the main LZ and the alternative LZ. I followed Dennis off the exit. I knew he was a conservative pilot. I turned 2 seconds past his turn point. He made the LZ. I missed and took the alternative one with half the area.
We all made it to the getaway van a minute after landing and were high-fiving it all the way to the pizza shop. It was a cool place to chill. We’d sit near a group of diners and when they would leave pizza slices, we’d snag them.
There is a certain order about the practice of snagging another diner’s leftovers. The climbers had sorted this out before us and we would wait in an invisible line to snag the leftover pizza, giving each other a big thumbs-up for scoring big—big defined as 3 slices per person. So I and the other 3 members of the crew snagged some slices as a couple in the pizzeria watched us. Well, at least the lady was watching—come to learn her name was Jamie.
We thought they were in line for snagging pizza, but she said no, she and her companion wanted to hike Half Dome the next day. That was next on our itinerary as well, so we agreed to hike Half Dome and camp out overnight with them. She wanted to cook us all a big breakfast but we told her we’d be leaving Half Dome too early and we would just get something in the valley (read: snagged leftovers). She didn’t understand but backed off about breakfast.
The hike was awesome for me the next day with the crew.It was my first hike in the mountains! No sign of Jamie and her companion but you snooze, you lose.
On the incredible hike up, we were stop checked by a hot Rangeress. We had our permits in the stash bag, making them easy peasy accessible. As she was questioning Brenda from our crew, I snagged some potato chips from Dennis’s stash bag to make everything look normal. I myself didn’t have a stash bag, I had a soft suitcase tied with Dacron lines so I could utilize it as something similar to a backpack. I was a bit on the munchie side, as we all were. The hot Rangeress proceeded to tell us about the dangers of thunderstorms and give me crap about my Florida hiking sandals (yes, I had forgotten my shoes again).
I gave the potato-chip bag to Dennis and then this bird swooped down and snagged it. Dennis picked up a stone and threw it at the perch where the bird was. He missed the bird, but startled it, causing it to drop the bag. Rick almost caught it before it hit the ground (he had munchies too). The ranger explained the genus and the name of the bird and how annoying they could be but that it was protected in a National Park. The type of the bird was the “Steller’s Jay” (Cyanocitta stelleri)’. A species that I called Stellarly annoying (The most annoying screeching food thieving jerk bird number one who ever took flight in a National Park bird.).
The hot rangeresss left after wishing us a good time. We made it up the stairway to hell that was built by juvenile delinquents with the misfortune to be institutionalized in that area. We did the cables and arrived on the summit as sun was going down. It was awesome.
I heard someone far away call my name. It was Jamie and her companion. She said she brought breakfast stuff anyway and started blahing about which way to cook eggs was the best, sunny side up vs poached, blah-blah-blah. Dennis and Brenda winked, leaving the rest of us at the campfire. I asked her if she could see something above. “Like what?” she asked. “The Milky Way?” I replied, as it was as moonless clear night and we were at about 9,000ft MSL. She was a city girl and couldn’t see the stars. She was impressed with my knowledge of the constellations and I got laid. Just joking about the “laid” part.
OK, bad joke. What really happened was that her companion passed out from exhaustion, Dennis and Brenda were doing the hoochie-coo and left us—Jamie, Rick and me—at the campfire. It was about 11 p.m. and Jamie started going on about breakfast again and hiking back down together and blah blah blah.
She went for a wee while Rick and I discussed if we should tell her our plan to commit a criminal act at sunrise. We decided to break the news to her at midnight. It just seemed like a good idea—the time, I mean. Midnight rolls around and Rick explained in detail why we didn’t want to stick around for breakfast, that we were going to take a shortcut down to the cafeteria. She asked where the shortcut was and we pointed to the edge. Then we explained that we’re going to have some illegal fun by BASEing off. She said, “Yes, of course,” sarcastically.
I don’t always get sarcasm. Rick and I showed her the rigs. Mind you that we were drinking a whisky from Scotland. The protocol was to bring a bottle up to the secret stash place, take the bottle there and leave the one you brought. Old school. Anyway, we woke up the next morning on an overhang with a hangover. We start gearing up and Jamie says, “You guys are serious.” Rick messing about his gear and says “F*&^%%g rats.” The California ground squirrels had eaten through his stash bag for some nuts that he was holding out on us. Serves him right. Jamie asked if her companion could photograph us. Rick, Dennis and I all had the Yosemite beard; Brenda didn’t though. Short discussion, we decided it was OK. I told her our campsite number. The campsite that Moe Viletto wouldn’t tell me, remember? Muhahaha.
Rick told me the flight plan which was the freefall delay range and stay near the mountain as opposed to flying out over the valley where one could be easily seen, the best LZ and approach and the most likely direction to land because of the valley winds.
Our jumps went off without a hitch. As I was slope swooping down, I felt a cold trickle down my leg … Hmmmm, I thought. My plastic waterbottle had cracked because of the barometric pressure difference and it looked like I pissed myself. We were walking out and the rangers came upon us and began to interrogate us but then thought that I pissed my pants and let us continue on our way. We made it to the cafeteria and had a 99-cent breakfast special.
Rick asked, “Hey, how would you like a cold beer?”
I mulled this question a bit and asked him if it was a bit too early to be asking stupid questions. He showed me how to open the trash receptacles and scavenge the drink cans (5 cents redemption per can) from them. Dennis and Brenda went back to the campsite for some hoochie-coo again. Rick and I scored big time on the can deposits, got a six-pack and snagged some leftover pizza from the customers at the pizza shop and enjoyed it at the base of Yosemite Falls.
Life was good.
We head back to the camping site to sort out the El Cap hike for the next day with Dennis and Brenda. Dennis was angry, Brenda was gone … Dennis said to just leave him alone. I wanted to say, “Like Brenda just did?” I didn’t say it, but I still like to push my BASE bros—however, I have learned not to mosquito slap on the exit point.
Anyhow, Rick said we’d do the Cap anyway, without Dennis and Brenda. Game on. My target was in range. Dennis told me to take his gutter gear, a Pegasus with no flare power.
I did and then things got interesting …
About the author: Tracy “Space” Walker, BASE #283, made his first BASE jump in 1987. In the past 26 years he has managed to fit in a few more along the way while mentoring BASE students, most notably Felix Baumgartner. Tracy is still active in BASE and currently taking his sweet Southern time writing his memoirs in his adopted country of Germany. To learn more about Tracy , visit the Cynthia Lynn Chronicles to read “Take Care, Space: The Tracy Walker Interview.”