Last week I went to one of the Wilderness Lectures, a series of winter seminars in Bristol hosted by a small group of adventure fanatics with the purpose of bringing extreme and niche sports to the attention of likeminded locals.
Our audience ranges from armchair to active adventurers, from school-students to the retired. All are united by a sense of wonder and a willingness to open their minds to the experience of others; all are explorers in some way, whatever their age or background.
They’re well organised and often very impressive. It was Tim Emmett‘s turn, ‘TV presenter and extreme athlete’ in his words, to take to the stage. He described his two latest adventures to a packed out house and hushed reverence.
his ice climbing trip to Helmcken Falls in British Colombia, Canada where he and his equally insane pals continued to develop a pioneering form of ice climbing. Which essentially boils down to finding the biggest, slippiest ice cave and playing spiderman in it. Helmcken won out because it has a waterfall that plunges past at high volume all year, generating a constant light mist that freezes and coats the enormous cave behind with ice appropriate for their needs. They developed and climbed a seven-pitch ascent with ‘holds’ sometimes only 4mm big. That’s the width of two matchsticks.
The photos were incredible. In one, viewed from above, the waterfall crashes though a plunge pool skimmed with iced. The hole is 300 feet across, the invisible pool beneath is 150m deep. It’s vast, but it looks like a delicate white version of a cosmic black hole. The ice creeps steadily across the pool during the coldest, minus 20 times of the year, edging closer and closer to the impact point. When the weather heats up, the waterfall is reinvigorated and smashes the encroaching ice back. The result is a formation that looks like crumpled sheets.
Climbing is the first love of the Taunton-born adrenaline junkie, but not the only. Enter daring tale number two – wingsuits in Pakistan. It’s a progression from base jumping and therefore requires a high, straight cliff for optimum results. Where higher and straighter than Trango Tower in Baltistan, part of Himalayan Pakistan?
Tim has a new wingsuit which he called ‘the Daddy’ because it comes with inflatable bits, carbon fibre wands and general cleverness which means that this suit can travel 3.5m forward for each 1m down, contrasted with about 1.5m forward with the old suits. Technology continues to improve as the scientists look to glean clues from the bird world, though this is patently not flying, ‘it’s falling with style’. They’re experimenting, among other things, with different materials on each side of the wing to see if they can increase lift.
The only trouble with Trango is that it takes at least a week to get there – flight, bus, Jeep and trek up to the remote base camp. Then you have to acclimatise, check the landing site (so I’ve learnt) a six-hour trek the other side of the mountain, and finally yomp up to ‘the exit point’. Getting to the top of the mountain isn’t even the end of it; then you have to climb or tunnel through another massive layer of snow, the technical term for which I forget.
Tim described his desperate attempt to get to the coveted jumping point, saying at one point he was “hanging by a hold about 3mm wide above a 7,000 foot cliff and wondering what the hell I was doing”.
“Fucking hell,” murmured a man to my left.