Phoenix Works On Permanent Solution For BASE Jumping

By Nadine Arroyo Rodriguez
Published: Wednesday, November 19, 2014 - 9:04am
Updated: Wednesday, November 19, 2014 - 4:02pm
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(Photo courtesy of Scott Frankson)
A still from Scott Frankson's GoPro video shows a fellow BASE jumper before his parachute is opened.
(Photo courtesy of Scott Frankson)
A still from Scott Frankson's GoPro video shows fellow BASE jumpers before they land.

It’s not illegal to BASE jump in Phoenix, but it’s not legal either. Unlike the federal government, Phoenix doesn’t regulate the extreme sport at its parks. For years BASE jumpers have leaped without any regulations.

Hiking Echo Canyon is a steep trek. But hiking it to then jump off one of its rocks is quite a workout. You may even say it’s crazy. For Scott Frankson and a few of his friends, this is just another day at the park.

“Yeah I think we have seven jumpers here today,” Frankson said.

These thrill-seeking enthusiasts are BASE jumpers. BASE stands for building, antenna, span, and Earth. It’s an extreme sport where people jump off from very high places with a parachute. The group is headed to Bobby’s Rock, their preferred jumping spot on Camelback Mountain.

After 20 minutes of hiking we arrive at the base of the rock. The team climbs the rest of the trail to the top. Icdecide to wait at the bottom for them to fly down.

The landing area sits behind a community of upscale homes. Frankson has been jumping off this cliff for nearly 20 years. Other members not as long. They say they jump anywhere between two to three times a week if the weather and wind cooperate.

In 2013, the Echo Canyon trail was closed for a one-year renovation. That meant no hiking and no BASE jumping. When it reopened earlier this year, BASE jumpers returned.

Ken Vonderscher, deputy director of Phoenix Parks and Recreation said the city of Phoenix does not have any specific BASE jumping laws.

"Typically we prefer that our folks that come visit the park stay on the trails,” Vonderscher said.

The city has been aware of BASE jumping at Echo Canyon for some time. This is a public park and visitors are not restricted to where they can hike, climb, or jump. On average the city responds to about 150 calls per year for help from hikers.

“We’ve had a few injuries there over the years, four or five from base jumping crowds," Vonderscher said.

Vonderscher said the city heard complaints from people questioning the safety of the activity and of noises the group makes when they leap off the rock. The parks board directed its staff to meet with the jumpers. The plan is to create a protocol for BASE jumping at Echo Canyon Park.

“Because of the liability issues and opportunity for someone to get seriously injured or worse, that’s one of the prerequisites that we require to go forward and look at some type of permitting system or issue an activity permit,"  Vonderscher said.

Jan Ghelfi has lived at the mountain for years. Her rear balcony has a clear view of the rock and of the BASE jumpers.

“I think if anybody does have any complaints maybe they need to meet one or two of them on a personal basis or watch them. Watch them pack their canopy, watch the care they take," Ghelfi said. "I’ve actually watched them put their canopies together out here on the deck. They’re very precise.”

Back at the base of Bobby’s Rock the jumpers are starting to leap off. Frankson is among the last to come down. 

And like the parachutists, negotiations between the jumpers and the city remain hanging in mid-air. The city has not finalized any guidelines and the jumpers say they’re not going to stop leaping from the rock.

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