BASE jumpers flock to Camelback Mountain for 'best 10 seconds'

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(Source: CBS 5 Investigates) (Source: CBS 5 Investigates)
(Source: CBS 5 Investigates) (Source: CBS 5 Investigates)
(Source: CBS 5 Investigates) (Source: CBS 5 Investigates)
(Source: CBS 5 Investigates) (Source: CBS 5 Investigates)
PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -

It's late in the afternoon on a Tuesday, and three men are hiking one of Camelback Mountain's less-used trails. It's a steep, 30-minute climb to a summit on the west end of the mountain. These are BASE jumpers, and they have their sights set on the top of one particular cliff. It's a cliff that sees dozens of jumpers and hundreds of jumps each year.

"A lot of people think we're just some crazies, strapping a parachute on us and chucking ourselves off a cliff," said Scott Frankson, who jumped off his first cliff in 1992. "We have years of training and experience in the skydiving world before we try this," he said.

Frankson and his two companions are carrying backpacks that contain special parachutes. They are designed to open quickly.

"Quick, simple and reliable," said one of the men. "Everything about the gear is designed with that in mind."

[WATCH: BASE jumping from Camelback Mountain legal but "discouraged"]

This particular cliff has a face that stretches about 300 feet above the desert floor. The top has a lip that hangs over the side, just a couple of feet, and that makes it attractive to BASE jumpers.

"BASE" is an acronym that stands for four categories of fixed objects from where someone can jump: building, antenna, span, and Earth (cliff).

Things happen quickly when someone jumps off a cliff. That's why these jumpers need to be experienced. If the chute opens "in," meaning it opens facing the cliff, the jumper could slam into the side of the mountain. If the wind suddenly changes direction, it could blow the jumper into the side of the mountain.

Jumpers have just a couple of seconds to make any adjustments or corrections, but here at Camelback, they have an admirable safety record. Just two jumpers have been injured in recent years.

[READ MORE: BASE jumper injured on Camelback Mountain talks about near-death experience (Dec. 29, 2016)]

[AND THIS: BASE jumper rescued in third technical operation of the day (Dec. 27, 2016)]

[THE OTHER ONE: BASE jumper smashes into side of Bobby's Rock on Camelback Mountain (Jan. 13, 2013)]

Even the most experienced BASE jumpers get some jitters just before they jump.

"There is still that element of fear, that twinge of fear. But that's pretty natural," Tristan Wimmer said. "If you're up here and you don't have any fear at all, there's probably something wrong with you."

The jump here at Camelback only lasts about 10 seconds. The jumpers take a running leap off the edge, arch their backs like they're getting ready to do a belly flop, and the chutes deploy two or three seconds afterward.

You can hear a deep, loud pop as the chutes fill with air and stop the jumpers' free-fall.

"It's probably the best 10 seconds of canopy flight in this part of the world," said Wimmer.

We have years of training and experience in the skydiving world before we try this.

Not everyone is thrilled that Camelback is so popular with BASE jumpers. A spokesman for the Phoenix Parks and Recreation Department sent the following statement to CBS 5 Investigates:

"The city of Phoenix promotes safe and responsible hiking, and BASE jumping is an activity that is discouraged on Camelback Mountain and throughout the city's deserts parks and mountain preserves. In addition to the many dangers associated with doing that activity, it often forces people to be in undesignated and off-trail areas. Activity in those areas is prohibited by city code and can add to the already difficult job park rangers and first responders have when locating and responding to someone in need of assistance or emergency medical care."

But BASE jumpers like Frankson argue that their sport is no different from mountain or cliff climbing, and he notes that the BASE jumpers' safety record on Camelback stands up admirably against the safety record of recreational hikers. Rangers and firefighters are often called to rescue hikers several times per day.

[MORE: CBS 5 Investigates]

MORE ARIZONA BASE JUMPING STORIES


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Morgan  LoewMorgan Loew is an investigative reporter at CBS 5 News. His career has taken him to every corner of the state, lots of corners in the United States, and some far-flung corners of the globe.

Click to learn more about Morgan .

Morgan Loew
CBS 5 Investigates

Morgan’s past assignments include covering the invasion of Iraq, human smuggling in Mexico, vigilantes on the border and Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Maricopa County. His reports have appeared or been featured on CBS News, CNN, NBC News, MSNBC and NPR.

Morgan’s peers have recognized his work with 11 Rocky Mountain Emmy Awards, two regional Edward R. Murrow Awards for investigative reporting, an SPJ First Amendment Award, and a commendation from the Humane Society of the United States. In October 2016, Morgan was inducted into the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Silver Circle in recognition of 25 years of contribution to the television industry in Arizona.

Morgan is graduate of the University of Arizona journalism school and Concord Law School at Purdue University Global. He is the president of the Arizona First Amendment Coalition and teaches media law and TV news reporting at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

When he’s not out looking for the next big news story, Morgan enjoys hiking, camping, cheering for the Arizona Wildcats and spending time with his family at their southern Arizona ranch.

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