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In an interview with Giovanni Zaccaria, Tim Howell speaks about his base jumping background, about what led him to his "Lhoste Wingsuit 8k" project and about his first attempt to basejump from an altitude of over 8.000m.

What is your mountaineering experience?

My experience at altitude is limited, I had never been above 6500 metres before this expedition. Most of my expeditions have been completely autonomous, without external support. I was used to carrying all the equipment I needed, and from this point of view it was a very different trip.

I climbed for 10 years in the Alps, I climbed the 6 famous north faces and not only that, many big walls around the world. I've been to Malawi, Mozambique, Kenya, Greenland, Italy....

What is your experience as a base jumper?

I have made over 1100 jumps in my 11 years of activity. I was the first and so far only BASE jumper to jump in the UK, Vietnam and Kenya. In a wingsuit, I jumped from Aconcagua, the highest peak in South America. I have travelled and jumped in 48 different countries, always looking for new places to jump from. Often I had to be creative and find a way to climb up to the place I had chosen for the jump.

How did you start jumping? Did you start climbing to explore new jumps or did you start jumping to explore mountains in a different way?

I have been climbing more or less forever, and the places I knew for climbing were often ideal for BASE jumping. Once I was in Arco di Trento, and I was climbing a long route on Monte Brento.  I was bivouacking on the wall and early in the morning, it must have been 5 a.m., I was woken up by the sound of someone flying alongside me in a wingsuit. At that very instant, lying on that ledge, I thought that the next step in my activity would be that: I wanted to climb mountains, and then fly down them.

Tell us about your last expedition to Nepal

I went to Nepal to try to climb Lhotse and jump down from an altitude of 8100 metres. A crazy adventure, no one has ever jumped in a wingsuit from so high.

The highest mountains on earth are stunning, the views breathtaking, and I met beautiful people. On the other hand, we know that these are places where there are queues of untrained mountaineers, there is rubbish lying around...and when you are there you feel all this. So it was a new experience for me in many respects. In my previous trips I had always been self-sufficient and essential. Here, however, I had wifi, a cook who cooked for me and real beds at base camp. I also realised how much patience it takes to climb such big mountains. There is also time and space for boredom. 

Big adventure but no jump: what are your feelings about it?

To begin with, I must tell you that it was quite shocking for me. Right up to the last moment, in fact, I was convinced that I would be able to jump! We were climbing the North face, and there the conditions were really perfect. Once I got to the ridge, I looked out over the south face and saw only thick, dense clouds, 1000 metres below. There was no doubt about it, I was not going to be able to jump that day.

How do you prepare for this kind of expedition?

Physically I always try to keep fit, but I don't train specifically. I often go to the mountains and push my physique to the maximum. Maybe it's not a particularly scientific method, but it works. For this expedition, however, I concentrated a little more than usual on endurance training.

Mentally I did a lot of visualisation practices: I imagined myself up there ready to jump, my thoughts, the flight. I also had to do a lot of calculations to estimate the flight trajectories. I needed all this information to keep my mind calm, relaxed and focused. I knew that I had allowed for a margin of error in my calculations, and that gave me a lot of peace of mind.

Practising requires patience and perseverance. How do you not get into an obsession?

Sometimes it is easy to know when it is time to turn back, as in this case. The clouds were too thick and would remain all day. There was no question of jumping or not. Other times, however, it is not so easy. But when the risk is high, too high, I like to tell myself this phrase: 'when you have a doubt, it means there is no doubt'.

For me this means that when even the smallest thing is not in place, it is better to give up. Especially when life is at stake. I think I have never dared too much, never felt in danger from a passion that has become an obsession. I like to think that my mental attitude is what has saved me and kept me alive all these years.

Regarding this, how does your business evolve as time goes by? What do you see in your future?

It is a strange, peculiar sport. Facing the limit is not easy, when the limit is the border between life and death. Always pushing on the accelerator is not sustainable. That is why I am not interested in 'proximity flight'. For me, flying means looking for remote places and planning expeditions to get there. If, before jumping, there is climbing to do or skills in various disciplines are required, that is very attractive and motivating to me!

What is the importance of friendship and climbing partners in a solitary discipline like jumping off a mountain?

The support and trust of friends and family are very important to me. Even if I am flying alone, there is a great team behind every expedition.

You are married, what does your wife tell you?

I always say that risk is what forged our relationship from the beginning. I met my wife at a skydiving drop zone. She was the instructor and the first time we spoke she was yelling at me because I was too close to the tail of the plane! Then the first few times we went out together we went wingsuit flying in the Alps for a few weekends. We quickly learnt how each of us behaves in stressful and dangerous situations. I don't think my relationship has influenced my activity, but it has somewhat changed my perception of risk. You can't approach a discipline like BASE jumping with the same approach as other sports: with downhill for example I learnt by throwing myself headlong, perhaps recklessly, thinking that somehow it would turn out well. I learnt over time that this is not the right approach.

So what advice would you give to someone who would like to learn BASE jumping? 

My life is one of passion and sacrifice. I feel lucky to live the life I have always dreamed of. However, I think that you should never rush things: everything stems from a passion for a sport. Then with time this passion became a lifestyle for me and everything fell into place, without forcing my hand. It is essential to remember that you don't do these things for others, for external motivations, but only to listen to yourself and your inner voice!

✍️ Giovanni Zaccaria


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