I was asked a few questions about climbing and B.A.S.E. jumping by editor of Outdoor Magazyn - Michał Gurgul, during last Mountain Movie Festival in Lądek Zdrój. Our talk released as an interview over one month ago (Polish version avaliable here). If you are interested in similarities and differences between these two activities, especially psychological ones, you are welcome to read the text below. *** Building, Antenna, Span, Earth - B.A.S.E. Base jumping is undoubtedly an extreme sport, extremely risky and - in comparison to other mountain sports - not very popular. We ask Marta Sokołowska - the first Polish woman who climbs and B.A.S.E. jumps, what is the parachute jumping off rocky cliffs, mountain peaks and various structures made by man. Michał Gurgul: Is it true that you are the first and for now the only Polish woman who also practices climbing and B.A.S.E. jumping? Marta Sokołowska: Yes, no other Polish woman has combined these two disciplines so far. B.A.S.E jumps are probably not too popular activity, aren't they? Does it a result of the high risk involved in doing this sport? B.A.S.E. jumping is an expensive and dangerous activity. Expensive, because the equipment you need for jumping is not cheap, not to mention the very high costs of preparation, i.e. skydiving (AFF course and many many jumps from the plane). Dangerous, because only since the beginning of this year 24 people have died [note the interview took place in September 2018]. Among them were both very experienced people and with little experience in this discipline. As you can see, there is no rule here. Perhaps it would be easier to understand that someone who is not very experienced makes a mistake. Either an experienced person loses his routine. But if someone dies, who you do know that has a conservative approach to jumping and is very careful, meticulous - you realize that in fact everyone can make a mistake. So, do the random factors sometimes cause an accident? Random factors affect only indirectly. There is always some reason of the accident, there has always been made some mistake, whether at the stage of preparation for the jump, the knowledge of the place and the specifics of the jump, or at the decision-making stage. The reason is always human mistake, but we do not get to know always where exactly. If someone jumps alone and gets into an accident, then if his camera wasn't found, it is difficult to say with certainty where the mistake was made. In the case of this sport, is it difficult to talk about learning from mistakes? When it comes to mistakes leading to fatal accidents, yes - that is obviously true. Risk is an inseparable element of this discipline. For me, it is very important not to increase it, to respect the boundaries and leave a certain margin in case something goes not exactly as I would like. How can you reduce the risk? Is it about gradually gaining experience? Yes, as more practice as better. The places from which we jump off and the jumps - due to their specificity and skills they require from the jumper - can be divided into those relatively "safe", because they are quite easy technically and those which are difficult. Assessing your own abilities and choosing proper jumps that are right for you, that's really matter. Also, not skipping steps, or gaining experience gradually, it is so much important for me. It's good to jump a lot off the plane - it's a good (and only) way to learn before getting into B.A.S.E. jumping adventure. I think, however, even when you've already started jumping off the cliffs, it is still good to keep skydiving. During jumps off the plane you can practice various maneuvers in the air in a safe conditions, because of large distance to the ground and without any objects that you can impact with. There are, however, some things that you can not train while jumping off the plane, for ex. exit - the way you push off the edge when you launch. When you jump off a cliff, the moment of exit is very important. It implicates how the next part of the flight will look like, and its correctness depends on how much you separate yourself from the wall. So are B.A.S.E. jumps much more dangerous than those from the plane? Yes, indeed. You jump from a plane mostly at 4000 m above the ground, you have all the sky for yourself, without any objects you can hit. You have two parachutes: the main one and also reserve parachute, which you can use if necessary. You land on a big, grassy field. The jumps from the plane are regulated by the regulations of Civil Aviation Office, i.e. if the weather conditions aren't good enough, the wind blows too strong, the cloud cover level is too low, the jump organizer will not allow the plane with jumpers go up. In case of B.A.S.E. we jump from much lower heights, which means that we have less time for reactions and decision making. We jump from objects, so we have something to impact with if something goes wrong. We do not have reserve parachute. Instead of large, grassy field, we often land in cramped, not so comfortable places. There are no regulations in B.A.S.E. jumping and this is something that I really appreciate. It allows me to make my own decisions and decide about myself. We can not blame anyone for any mistake we make. When something goes wrong, it won't be a fault of load organizer, weather station or any other force - here everyone makes his own decision and takes responsibility. When I am up before a jump, in a group of people, it is very important to me that everyone decides whether he will jump or not. Whether current conditions are ok for him or not really, and if he feels like jumping. No one will tell you that, since you have climbed this mountain and others decided to jump, you also have to jump. Everyone decides for himself, according to his own situation's assessment and well-being. This is a personal decision and responsibility. And being honest with myself.
So the sense of freedom and independence is important. And does it happen that you give up on a jump? For me, jumping is first of all freedom and responsibility. From the moment my feet push off the rock, I'm alone with myself. I am the only person who is responsible for me and whom I can rely on. Flying in the air above the trees, passing rocks, feeling the speed at which my body moves ... this is freedom, long seconds of real freedom. You asked me if I would give up on the jump. Of course! I think that making the decision to give up on the jump is just as important as decision to go for a jump. This is also freedom. I can skip the jump even when everybody jump. Even without any objective reason. It's enough to just not feel like jumping on a given day, at the moment. I do not have to excuse oneself for it. In such moments I just sit and ask myself what is wrong, I give myself time. Most often, after 30-40 minutes, the answer comes and either it dispels my doubts and I decide to jump, or just go down. I listen to my intuition. There is also something, without which I know that I would never decide to start B.A.S.E. jumping. It is an awareness that I am not influenced by opinions of others. First of all, I listen to my intuition, which has already saved me from incidents during climbing in the mountains several times. Of course, I listen to people around and what they think, but I don't follow them blindly, regardless of whether they are encouraging or discouraging me to do something. I always consider opinions of others, but ultimately I make my own decisions .
You compare climbing and B.A.S.E. jumping. Both disciplines are close to you. How did it happen? For over 10 years I have been climbing in the rocks and in the mountains, mainly in my beloved Dolomites. I have been jumping from a plane for over 5 years. Already at that time, I thought it would be great to be able to combine both of these passions. When getting back after some climbing in the Dolomites, a jumper just flew over and a parachute deployed over my head. I remember this moment to this day. It made a huge impression on me, I liked it amazingly. Then I thought that I really wanted to jump in the mountains and I believed that it is possible, that this is not reserved only for gods and heroes. Of course, the idea of jumping was a combination of fascination and fear. I was and I still am aware of risk associated with B.A.S.E. jumps, but risk always exists when I go to climb in the mountains as well. In general, any activity in such a dynamically changing mountain environment is risky. Where there is a risk, there is also fear. We are always afraid of the unknown. But there are also things that fascinate me so much that it is worth taking risks to experience them. Climbing and jumping are worth it. How does it feel to be on the edge knowing that you are going to jump off it in a moment? Are you not scared? The moment when you approach to the edge of a cliff, you prepare mentaly for the jump, this is the most intense moment of the entire jump. When you jump into the air, everything is gone forever, the decision is made, gravity works. Just before you jump, you get concentrated maximally. You breathe. Apart from this moment there is nothing more and nothing else matters really now. You are your body and your breath. Just like in yoga, which - in my opinion - is so good preparation for coping with stress in many kinds of difficult situations. You ask me if I'm scared ... I'm scared like everyone, but it's not a frightening fear. There is a certain level of fear acceptable to me, with which I can act effectively and with a clear, focused mind. If my fear had risen far over this limit, it would mean that I have doubts, and doubts do not come out from nowhere - they are warning you and require to be considered. On the other hand, if my fear level fell far below this magical limit, I would not jump. Lack of fear in a real life-threatening situation is not a natural phenomenon. It shows either an incorrect situation assessment or a serious mental disorder. In both cases, a person who does not feel fear is a dangerous for himself. You said that climbing and jumping are worth to take a risk for you . Why is this connection so appealing to you? If you like mountains, understand and respect their rules, climbing on their walls and jumping off them is a beautiful way to experience them and yourself as well. This is playing with gravity! Climbing is an action against gravity, falling and flying are using it and enjoying it. Both of these activities are very exciting, and combining them seems natural and extremely accurate. And yet they are so different at some point. Leaving aside the obvious technical or physical differences, it seems that they require a very different mental attitude, different mindset. Yes, there is definitely the difference in the mental approach to climbing and jumping. By switching from one activity to another, you also have to switch the way of thinking. If you want to have a progress in climbing, you have to take challenges beyond your own capabilities - to try routes in difficulties which exceed your possibilities. You have to fall, try again, fall, try again...until you succeed. I mean, of course, rock climbing at the crags. When climbing in the mountains hanging on the rope isn't so cool anymore. When you climb, the main limitation is muscle strength, technical skills and our head. If you decide to climb way too difficult route - at most you will not even take off from the ground. But you can try. Yes! If it comes to B.A.S.E. jumping, you can not think like that! Just jump off a cliff is easy - anyone who gets up somehow, can jump off the cliff. But when you decide to jump, there is no return anymore. This is the final decision you make when being on the top of a mountain before you jump. There is no room for testing your possibilities here. In this discipline, if you want to survive, you must act within your own limits - do not force them and not go beyond them as you do in case of climbing. You mentioned that you have moved to Italy and now you live near the Dolomites. Does it mean that there are no suitable places for jumping and flying in Poland? Yes, I have lived near the Dolomites, in the Prealpas for a year and a half . The Dolomites are my favorite mountains since I started to climb. I spent a lot of time there climbing and climbed dozens of routes over last 10 years there. The fact that I see straight thru my window those huge cliffs which I jump off, , that I have so many rocks around to climb, and the Dolomites are almost at my doorsteps - this is living my dreams. In Poland large majority of jumps are illegal industrial jumps - antennas, chimneys and other structures. In Tatra Mountains on the Polish side there are not many walls suitable for B.A.S.E. jumping, and besides, it is also illegal. Is law more liberal abroad? Jumping in cities is illegal everywhere. But in the mountains in Italy you can jump legally. Fortunately, jumping off the cliffs is not forbidden. Here you are a free man. Do you have any dream places where you would like to fly - in Italy or in general - in the world? Oh yes! There are many such places just in the Dolomites. And other than the mountains you can get to the top as a tourist following via ferrats, I have so many walls that I climbed in the past years and where I'm sure that you can jump off. Also when it comes to Dolomites, I have a lot of projects and ideas for projects. Apart from various jumps in Europe, my dream is a long, several-month long trip to the United States of America, where I also have the Climb & B.A.S.E. project, but I will not reveal any details.
I wish you all successful jumps and realization of this great plan!
Thank you! :)