A lot of people think that you’d have to be criminally insane or just plain stupid to jump off a 300 ft. high cliff into a narrow canyon. Others may think that 300 ft. isn’t really that high, and it must be quite simple to just dangle attached to a rope. And if you’re me, you’re probably thinking, “Where else am I going to pretend to be James Bond and fling myself off really high stuff and look really awesome doing it?”
Yeah, that last one’s a bit imaginative, I know, but it was the only way I could talk myself into going canyon jumping in the Swiss Alps because here’s a little secret that nobody tells you–once you’re up there on the edge of that cliff, there’s really only one direction you can go. Down.
I’ve been to Interlaken a few times before, but never really gotten into the hype of the city. For those of you unfamiliar with its reputation, Interlaken is a haven for adrenaline-addicted, adventure-craving backpacking hippies, and while I like incense and campfire sing-a-longs as much as the next gal, I wasn’t convinced that having my stomach jump back up my throat and my bladder empty all over my jeans while skydiving would be the best impression to leave the Swiss, who are notoriously clean and composed in all manner of situations. And so I partook in the scenery, taking long walks around the two lakes adjacent to the city, browsing store windows for Swiss army knives and enjoying the local cuisine (and trying not to think about the hardening of my arteries as I chowed down an entire plate of rosti, a greasy mixture of hashbrowns, cheese, and ham).
But despite the incredible views of the snow-capped mountains, the crisp clean air and the faint clinking of cowbells as the cows munched on grass and scratched their big brown heads against the trees in the fields, I still felt like I was missing something. My Interlaken experience felt incomplete, especially after hanging out in the lobby of the Funny Farm and seeing the rush of incoming people, all chattering excitedly and reliving their experiences after spending the entire day trying unsuccessfully to kill themselves jumping out and off of things.
So I thought long and not-so-hard about it, and decided that canyon jumping would be my thing. I kept picturing myself leaping off the side of a building like Angelina Jolie in Mr. & Mrs. Smith, my black trenchcoat floating behind me as I sank gracefully to the ground, or jumping spread-eagled into the abyss of the canyon, my limbs stretched to the limit like a flying squirrel. And of course, I would have bragging rights for at least a week after returning to Florence, impressing the hell of out my friends back home who were stuck behind a desk sorting papers while I swinging through a canyon in Switzerland.
I booked my jump for Sunday morning, and when the yellow Alpin-Raft van pulled up to the hostel at 9 am, I gathered with the other jumpers, a group of 6 or 7 of us who were almost silent as we drove up the winding highway to get to our jump destination, quietly contemplating what we were about to do. When we arrived, we got out of the van and walked a few minutes through a narrow path in the woods, finally reaching a tarp-covered platform rigged with harnesses and ropes, and a Swiss man standing there grinning at us as we signed our consent forms.
One by one, they jumped. All I could focus on was the pale blue creek below, mesmerized by the dizzying height of the cliffside. I watched as jumper after jumper shrieked and hollered as they plunged down into the canyon, swinging across the length of it with their arms up in the air. And then, all too soon, I was the second to last one standing, being clipped to a giant rope and strapped into inevitable doom.
So I walked out onto the tiny metal platform, my heart racing and palms greased with sweat. Suddenly, I didn’t feel like James Bond anymore, but like a toddler who was about to pee her pants. The canyon guide clapped one hand on my shoulder and said, “Alright, are you ready?” I looked at him, as panic-stricken as a deer in headlights. He laughed and said,”You can do it. Just go.” And so I went.
It’s impossible to describe the feeling of canyon jumping accurately. Somehow, I can’t find quite the right word to convey the overwhelming terror and absolute peace I felt at the same time, the sense of falling and flying together as you hang suspended in mid-air for an instant, or the rush of bitter cold wind stinging your face as you swing out across the expansive gorge. In the end, it wasn’t the thrill of acting out my superhero stunt-woman fantasies or the instant street cred of telling all of my friends what I’d done that made the experience much more meaningful than I’d expected. It was knowing that I’d jumped into the canyon despite not knowing what would happen, letting myself go and just enjoying the ride on the way down. And that feeling, more than anything else, was enough to have me walking into the Funny Farm breathless and excited to re-live my experience with the other adventurists of Interlaken.