WATCH: Climber Pulls Off First Wingsuit Jump From Aconcagua

One of BASE jumping’s most ambitious pioneers brought in the New Year with the first wingsuit flight from South America’s tallest mountain.

Tim Howell had traveled to Argentina’s Aconcagua with a small group in December to attempt the 6,962m summit. Howell and a couple of friends were just a couple hundred meters from topping out when harsh weather forced them to turn around.

After returning to Camp 2, located at about 6,000m up the mountain, Howell decided to strap on his wingsuit and go for the jump. While the British veteran of wingsuiting has pulled off BASE jumps around the world, flying off Aconcagua on Dec. 29 meant something special to him.

“It was really a big deal for me. Because no one had done it before,” Howell said in an interview Tuesday. “This is my biggest achievement on the wingsuit side of things.”

For Howell, that’s no small accomplishment. The climber and alpinist has completed about 1,000 BASE jumps since getting started about 10 years ago.

He’s done wingsuit jumps off all six North Faces in the Alps, multiple cliffs in the Grand Canyon, and Half Dome in Yosemite. He’s also jumped from mountains in Scotland, in Jordan’s Wadi Rum valley, and in Greenland.

From Aconcagua, Howell’s flight lasted just three minutes.

“I was pretty stoked to have landed it,” he said. “There’s definitely no adrenaline when I jump because everything needs to be really calm. When I land, there’s a sense of accomplishment.”

tim howell

Celebrating the successful Aconcagua flight. Photo: Howell


Planning for the Aconcagua jump

There’s no doubt that BASE jumping remains a dangerous sport. But Howell believes that advances in technology — and athletes’ preparation for jumps — have improved the odds in recent years.

For the jump from Aconcagua, Howell made sure he did his homework and flight planning.

The preparation starts with being as acclimatized as possible to begin the flight with a low heart rate, he said. He spent eight days in Aconcagua’s national park before leaping from the mountain with just a wingsuit and a parachute.

Planning includes complex calculations of the glide ratio, mapping the terrain, checking out the landings, and understanding wind direction. There’s a need for trigonometry for some of that work, and Howell used a laser range finder to help with his math.

“I have a notebook full of numbers and calculations,” Howell said. “I don’t think I’ve ever needed to do that for climbing.”

tim howell

Preparing for takeoff. Photo: Howell


Skidded on the landing

At such a high altitude, the air is also 50 percent less dense compared to sea level. That means “everything takes longer,” Howell said, which is why his landing “was not as good as it should be,” he said with a laugh.

“My wingsuit just got a few holes in it,” he said. “When I landed, it was like a baseball game. Skidding it into the finish.”

BASE jumping is unlike many other sports, he added, because it requires a completely different set of skills — usually climbing — just to reach the point where you can “exit” the mountain. For several years now, Howell’s niche has been using his skills as a climber to jump from new mountains around the world.

“For me, I’ve always pushed the narrative that it’s not a jump,” Howell said. “It’s not a stunt for me. It’s a logical, thought-out process.”

So what’s next for this climber at the vanguard of wingsuiting? The Himalaya, of course. Though he’s never visited the world’s tallest mountain range, Howell is heading there this summer, in hopes of a multi-person BASE jump (called a multi-way) from Laila Peak (6,096m).

“Nobody’s ever really done that sort of thing before,” Howell said.

Check out more of Howell’s BASE jumps and climbing exploits on his Instagram.

Andrew McLemore

An award-winning journalist and photographer, Andrew McLemore brings more than 14 years of experience to his position as Associate News Editor for Lola Digital Media. Andrew is also a musician, climber and traveler who currently lives in Medellin, Colombia. When he’s not writing, playing gigs or exploring the outdoors, he’s hanging out with his dog Campana.