Thrill seekers land backflips into Lake Tahoe from 99-foot rope swing (videos)
October 21, 2017
Standing on a hunting stand attached to a tree in D.L. Bliss State Park 140 feet above Lake Tahoe, Nick Coulter listens to his friend shout the countdown.
He pushes off, clinging to the handle of the 46-foot rope swing as he launches out past the trees and rocks. Once he's cleared the obstacles, he lets go 99 feet above the water and rotates into a double backflip before landing feet first in the turquoise waters. Everyone cheers.
At the end of September, Coulter and a group of fellow cliff jumpers recreated a rope swing originally invented by former Squaw-based pro skier and cliff jumper Mike Wilson.
Seven years ago Wilson went viral with a YouTube video of him performing triple backflips into the Truckee River using a rope swing.
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"I got a phone call from somebody at YouTube, and they said it's the first time we've ever had a sports video be the most watched video on YouTube for the week," said Wilson.
Wilson began looking for other spots around the Tahoe Basin to try out rope swings. He eventually landed on an unlikely section of cliffs in D.L. Bliss State Park.
"When I first set it up everyone looked at me like I was crazy," said Wilson.
But there was a method to his madness. After extensive calculations ("I'm sort of a physics geek," he laughed), he landed on a setup he was comfortable with.
Wilson bolted a cord between two boulders roughly 150-feet apart, and from the middle of that, attached his rope swing and handle. This setup kept him clear of the cliffs and shot him out far enough to miss the shallow rocks in the water. He went on to land a quadruple backflip off that rope swing.
It was this setup that Coulter and his friends recreated this fall with help from Wilson, who now lives in Bermuda. Though to the average person, the rope swing might sound insane, for Coulter and crew, it was par for the course. They spend their weekends traveling to the Pacific Northwest to throw backflips off 100-foot waterfalls. They're part of a tightknit community of cliff jumpers around the country that travel around in search of the next highest cliff, all while sharing their adventures on YouTube.
"We waited until the end of the summer when we had a better aerial awareness. We've been doing lots of cliff jumps and setting up swings to built that air awareness to get the confidence to go off this big old 99-foot rope swing," said Coulter.
"There are only a handful of people capable of hitting this swing. We were very careful with who we chose."
Nevertheless, leading up to the jump, they were still nervous. There were a lot of variables involved: the cable, the handle (or more accurately, the triceps pushdown rope), the shallow rocks below.
"It was incredibly nerve-wracking. We were just almost sick to our stomach for the three weeks leading up. It took three different weekends to make sure that it was ready to go," said Coulter. "We had a couple of failed attempts to get it set up, but as we were setting it up we made all of these adjustments. We were getting really nervous. Is this really going to happen?"
Not everyone did the jump, but Coulter, along with friends Brandon Beck and Chase Reinford took the plunge.
On the day of the jump, Wilson, who was in town for his sister's wedding, made a surprise appearance — and even took a turn on the swing he designed seven years ago.
"It was pretty exciting hitting it again after so many years since I haven't been training or jumping nearly as much," said Wilson.
"I don't do it for an adrenaline rush. I don't really get an adrenaline rush. It's more a sense of accomplishment. Adrenaline is overcoming a fear. For me, if I'm nervous about something or not 100 percent comfortable with it, I'll walk away. I feel like I haven't prepared properly for it," explained Wilson. "I'm the opposite of the adrenaline guys. I try to avoid the rush and calculate everything."
For Coulter and his friends, it's about pushing the limit.
"We'll get wetsuits and jump when there's snow around Lake Tahoe. It's our biggest passion," said Coulter. "We're always just pushing ourselves higher and higher."