Trollwall 1984 updatedby Stein Erik
The Trollwall 1984
My heartbeat doubled as I clutched the rocks while inching my head over the cliff. Looking more than a mile strait down into the valley, dark green trees lined the blue and white river swollen with melting July snow still deep atop the mountain I lay upon.
Ill prepared, my jersey was wet from the sweat of a 3 hour climb, and my adidas soaked from the deep snow. Short on sleep and heavy with sorrow, I scanned the rocks below where Carl had bounded to his death at 120 mph just yesterday. As the thin air, physical and mental trauma overcame me, I shut down.
My consciousness slipped from my body and for a time everything in the universe was clear. I saw my purpose in life, how all things are connected and that I was just a fool.
Then I was shaken back to earth by Erik Fenz, my base jumping teammate. "What happened to you? I've been shaking you for 5 minutes - we thought you were dead."
"I thought I was too..." Climbing down the backside of the Trollwall the air thickened with the altitude drop, as did my mind. It became harder to remember the vision and by the time we reached Andalsnes I could only remember that I had had a mystical experience but the details were gone.
The Base Jumping world record adventure started in 1978 when I lied about my age to skydive at the Harold and Judy Lange Parachuting Center. It was the summer before senior year in High School and my friend Erik dared me to go.
Jumping was easy for me and I made about 12 jumps that fall. Erik had difficulty in the beginning and that fueled his drive to become better than me. He jumped several hundred times that first year and got a job in an air show crossing Australia while I went to the University.
In the fall of 1981 with base jumping still in its' infancy, the world record was off El Cap at around 3000 feet. From growing up in Norway, I knew of a cliff that was 5500 feet and suggested to Erik that we could go for the record. Erik had lots of free fall time and experience, and I had lots of cliff diving practice for sub terminal air speeds.
I called the Alan Landsberg production company which handled the TV show "Thats Incredible" and negotiated a deal for $100,000 if we bring them film of the jump. They declined to film it or be involved prior to success because of the danger. We could do a lot of partying and have a long adventure with $100,000, so we started planning.
It took until the spring of 1984 before we got our plan together. Erik was running a business and I was teaching windsurfing at the beach in Florida. Erik and his girlfriend arrived in the morning in the old red VW Bug and Victoria was unusually pleased considering how she and my girlfriend both objected to the adventure.
"Sorry man" said Erik, "Tori just emptied our joint bank account so I can't buy a ticket to Norway". "I have enough for a round trip, I"ll just buy us two one ways" , I said as the smirks disappeared from the girls' faces. "We're going to be rich after the jump anyway so it doesn't matter".
They were furious and we made our escape. Two days later we were drunk in Norway visiting old friends and relatives and this lasted about 2 weeks. Then while partying with 3 girls at a campground, one of them showed us the newspaper with a story about base jumping in the Trollwall. Apparently Carl Boenish was already in Andalsnes waiting for the cloud cover to lift so he could make the world record! Eriks eyes got real big and he admitted that he had talked about the project at a skydiving party and now we had competition. Carl had contacted a production company which handled a stunt show and told them about doing a record attempt at the Trollwall.
Productions flew Carl, his crew, the full production company and equipment to Norway where they rented a hotel and a helicopter. Conversely, Erik and I were in tents, eating a loaf of bread and a quarter wheel of cheese. Half drunk at sunset, we had the girls drop us at the train station and promptly got on the wrong train.
A few days later we arrived in Andalsnes in late evening but with the midnight sun we decided to walk to the base of the cliff to scope it out.
(Erik) "Remember walking to the base of the mountain the first night and an old drunk Norwegian dude pointing at the cliffs in their ominous dark presence and saying "that is the devils mountain" - quite scary..got the adrenal glands going. The next morning Jeannie is drawing me a map as to where to go to get to the spot and drawing the spot where carl jumped from and then saying "No don't jump from there, we have not researched it yet." I still have the original piece of paper with her drawing on it."
Walking back to town we decided to spend our last kroner on beer at a local pub. The pub was very busy for a small town and turned out to be a celebration... of Carls world record jump. This was the biggest thing to happen here in a long time.
We found Carl and congratulated him. "Where did you jump from?" I asked. The cliff wall snaked through the valley and there were many rocky peaks along the ridge. Over the years the locals had named these rocks and bluffs after chess pieces.
"We went from the Bishop" Carl said. I said "I was just there and thought that the Castle ( Stabben) ( looked higher".
"No", said Carl. "Look at any chess set, the Bishop is always taller than the Castle".
I should have shut up. "Those rocks were named hundreds of years ago by simple people. They are based on appearance, not exact height, so we are going to jump the Castle." Carl was visibly nervous now. "You guys should come to our hotel for breakfast tomorrow at 10:00 and then we can go jump together" Since Carl knew the mountain already, and of course being broke and hungry now, we agreed.
So we hiked out of town, set up the tent in the and rain and tried to sleep.
The next morning we went to the hotel. "Carl had to go to town for a few minutes to arrange our travel back to the States" said Carls wife Jean. "Have some breakfast".
An hour goes by and still no Carl. We talk about their jumps yesterday, strategy/technique for the landing field before the river, and look at the map of the cliff pasted onto the hotel wall. Jean would look at her watch, out the door at the driveway, and back at the map.
I knew in my gut something was wrong, but didn't say it out loud.
Finally after another half hour Jean says "I'm really sorry to have deceived you, but Carl was afraid you might take his record away so he went at sunrise to jump the castle. He should be back already and you guys can go again together in the afternoon. But since we have been here 2 weeks with all this excitement and now after the record has been won, all the production crew, news teams and spectators have gone home. Maybe Carl is waiting at the landing field for a ride and nobody was there to pick him up. Why don't you guys take the rental Volvo and get him and then head back up the mountain. I don't want to jump again today and I need to pack."
When we got to the field, Carl was already dead. I talked with the sheriff. We arranged to meet with the teenage climbing guides the next day and look at his takeoff point on the Castle. Then we went back to the hotel to tell Jean.
I climbed the 7 flights of steep narrow steps to Jeans room where she was waiting for Carl so they can travel home.
I knock on the door. What can I say I wonder. He would not have made this last jump if it were not for me risking his record by a few meters. Jean answered the door.
"I don't know how to say this, so I'm just going to say it. Carl is dead. I'm sorry." At 23 years of age, this was the hardest thing I had ever had to do.
Erik Fenz Off The Wall
When an American dies overseas, there is extra paperwork. Add in the media circus, and that Base Jumping is illegal in Norway, and it gets complicated. Speaking Norwegian English and skydiving I helped the Sheriff as best I could.
While climbing back up to investigate, the guides agreed to tell me what had really happened.
This is what they told me:
We drove up the backside until we arrived in the parking lot for hikers. We hiked for about 4 hours and Carl was noticeably strained from the climb. He had been awake for several weeks with the excitement and the midnight sun and this was much more difficult than when they had used a helicopter. Upon reaching the Castle rock, Carl dropped pebbles and counted to determine the safe free fall distance before outcropping in the cliff would be sticking into the flight path. The Bishop had been perfectly strait down allowing for a very long free fall. But the Castle was not the same. It would only allow a quick hop and pop. Carl had packed his chute with the slider up for a high speed deployment. The slider ring holds the lines together slowing the opening of the chute so it doesn't explode like a paper bag. But for quick hop and pops, the slider needs to be down so the low airspeed will be able to inflate the kite. Repacking the chute on the edge of a cliff with sharp rocks, twigs and wind gusts might make a malfunction so he would just make it work. He put on his flight suit, strapped on the harness and helmet and stepped toward the edge.
Then he stepped back. "Do you boys know the Bible" Carl asked. Wide eyed and breathless, they said "Yes, of course" "DO you know the story of when the devil takes Jesus high up onto the Temple roof up tempts him to cast himself off... for surely the angels will rescue him"? Yes, they knew that story... Carl reached one hand over the other shoulder and patted his parachute. "I don't need any angels" he said. Then turned, took two steps toward the edge, and on the third step, he stumbled. Barely pushing away from the cliff, he deployed his pilot chute immediately with no apparent wind. The pilot lazily drifted out pulling the main chute slowly out of the pack. One side of the chutes ram air chambers filled with air but the other was not. The inflated side flew forward, but the limp side created drag and the kite turned sharply. Hanging from the lines below, Carl was whipped around and slammed into the cliff. The force of his body against the cliff was greater than gravity and for a moment there was no weight in the chute. It crumbled as the air squeezed out of the chambers. Then gravity regained charge of Carl and he peeled off the cliff rolling down the vertical face and winding his lines and kite around him like a cocoon. Another 5000 feet at 120mph and Carls tightly wound body bounced 30 feet in the air like a basketball.
The boys now had the fear of God in them. They had witnessed blasphemy, and instant fatal consequence. Afraid of making God angrier, they removed the film from the camera that had recorded the jump and exposed it so it could not be published.
Erik could see the change after my experience on the mountain top. "I'm not letting you jump" he said, right before he went to jump. "You're distracted."
I didn't like it, but he was right so I didn't jump.
Erik Jumped 3 times, the third time he had a 30 second free fall with only a 2 second canopy ride before a miraculous landing in the rocks. He came out with his face glowing. "Get me out of here before I die" he said. We decided not to document the record of the 30 second free fall because the only way for someone to beat it would be to bounce.
(Erik) "I did a stand up landing amongst the rocks and I thought for sure I was going to get hurt, but was lucky I was jumping a small high performance parachute at the time. Came out glowing, yes, you were in the meadow further down, where I had landed the first jump. glad we got out of there. One of the climbers later died in an avalanche under the Trollwall. I remember is Carl getting cremated and you driving the car (Volvo) in a bad storm all the way to Oslo, real fast. Carls remains were in a box which I used as an arm rest. The woman at the house where Jeannie was staying would not let her take the remains into the hotel. Also remember Carl saying "remember the story of Jesus and the angel, well this is my angel" tapping his parachute and jumping. Pretty profound time that changed both our lives forever.."
Less than 12 hours after the drunk local had pointed at Trollwall and said "That is the devils mountain", Carl died quoting the devil tempting Jesus to fly.
25 years later Erik is a healer in Boulder and Berlin. He still skydives regularly. That summer I quit drinking and haven't jumped since. I run a small church (Saint Galileo) and am a Kite Surfing instructor - Still flying, but at low altitude over water so crashing is less critical. From time to time I still get memory flashes about the experience on the mountain top. For now, I am content with the knowledge that I am a fool. Every day I thank my angels and pray for wisdom.
"We could have ended up number 8 and 9 on the list if we had tried a little harder. (black humor)"
4 Comments Add a Comment
Several people have asked why I wrote the story after so many years.
After I learned that over 140 basejumpers have bounced since 1984, and as most were inspired to jump at least in part by Carl Boenish, I wanted the remaining living jumpers to have a chance to learn from his mistakes. The "folklore" surrounding his last jump was sorely lacking in real detail and did not amount to anything beyond hero worship.
|is very good to know the reality of 100% over the death of Carl Boenish, in my opinion was greedy and selfish with Erik and his friend, I am a BASE jumper and I have met some BASEjumpers with these same characteristics selfish, always be the first by above their own friends. I do not like those attitudes|
|Commamdant, I dont believe some of Eriks story. Did you know Carl could have been Base 1 but let 3 others go before him on the same day. His last jump was a fun jump. The official record was done with the production company. I higly doubt he wanted to beat Erik to the top. My guess if he only met Erik the day before, he probably thought Erik might not make it to breakfast and Carl chose to go on ahead. He did things like this. Probably couldnt sleep. Another part of the story I find difficult to believe is if Carl thought this was a slidder down jump and he packed slider up he would not have made the jump. Carl knew well that if conditions changed it was time to stop and re-approach the jump at a later date. Those were his own rules.|
|Your beliefs, assumptions, guesses and doubts are wrong. You weren't there. We were. There is no joy in this story, no profit or glory. The truth doesn't require your belief or affirmation. I told it as a warning for all.|
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