Lucky Chance on BASE-soloing and Death Swinging
Lucky Chance started getting attention from the mainstream media last year when a video appeared on YouTube of him BASE jumping off the “Death Swing,” a 100-foot-long, clifftop rope swing in Australia's Blue Mountains. Chance, a 27-year-old stuntman, rock climber, and former circus performer from the Gold Coast, has ticked an impressive list of feats over the past decade, including headpoints of hard UK grit routes like Knockin' on Heaven's Door (E9) and Australia's first known BASE-solos (more on that later).
I spoke to the madman himself to get the story behind the stunts and find out more about what he's planning next.
How did you get the name Lucky Chance?
Just a series of fortunate events that led me to think perhaps it was my calling to change my name to Lucky Chance. I was working in the circus at the time, and when you're working in the circus, you've got to do things like that.
But why that name? What does it mean to you?
It's the first name that came into my head, to tell you the truth. I was like, “Oh yeah, I can change my name to anything.”
Since I changed it, I've had a whole string of unfortunate things happen to me. I was like, maybe that's karma. But after about six months it sort of leveled itself out, and now I find I've been, yeah, really lucky.
On your blog, you talk about “BASE-soloing.” What is BASE-soloing, and how did you get into it?
BASE-soloing is rock climbing with only your parachute as your safety system. I grew up climbing in the Blue Mountains in Australia, and I got into BASE jumping because I wanted to make use of the awesome environment. When you're climbing up a cliff, you'll at some stage come to thinking that you want to jump off of it.
I was able to combine those interests: do a rock climb in the Blue Mountains without a rope, with just a parachute. And when I got to the top I jumped off and floated back down to the ground.
If you were to fall off partway up, how useful do you think that parachute would be?
Well, the funny thing about BASE-soloing in the Blue Mountains is nothing's really high enough to warrant doing it safely. If you fell, the likelihood of your parachute opening up and catching you, and not making you hit the cliff, or rocks, or a ledge, is minimal. It's really just kind of a novelty.
In Europe, you could do it. You can climb these 3000-foot cliffs safely, with a parchute on your back, and if you fall off, you can just track away. In the Blue Mountains, it's just stupid. But it's really fun.
Are there other people doing BASE-soloing? I've only ever heard of you and one other climber, Dean Potter, doing it.
Yeah, basically I've just heard of Dean Potter doing it. I don't know of any other people who do. No one would BASE-solo unless they were already kind of a solo climber, because you have the same mindframe.That's what I like, and there aren't many people who like soloing, they're few and far between. So to find someone who's a solo climber and likes BASE jumping is quite a narrow margin.
You do a lot of dangerous things. Have you ever had any close calls?
Yeah, definitely. I have a couple that spring to mind. When I was climbing in the UK on the gritstone–gritstone climbing, if you're familiar with it, the harder it gets, the more dangerous it gets, because you're not allowed to use bolts, so as the grades go higher, E8, E9, E10, you have to climb them pretty much without a rope.
I had done a few E9s already, but there was one particular one that was the reason I did my trip to the UK, Knockin' On Heaven's Door. It's pretty hard slab climbing. It's not a death fall, it's only like 15 meters, but you fall onto some rocks on the bottom. So you definitely don't want to fall.
I had partied all night, hadn't slept, and I went out in the morning and it was perfect conditions. I wanted to make the most of it, so I tried the climb, and it felt great, I was doing it cleanly. So I thought, I can't miss out on such a good opportunity, and I did it.
But having been out all night going hard, I was at the end of the crux sequence and my legs started shaking. My muscles were just exhausted, and the footholds were really small. I was up on the top of the climb, in no-fall territory. I was expecting to come off any second.
I got to the top and was like “Shit, I really thought I was going to fall off.” That made me think, perhaps when it's your time, it's your time. If it's not your time, you're just not going to die, you're just going to keep on living. That was the first time I thought I might be invincible.
Then it happened again, when I was doing the Death Swing in the Blue Mountains. I did a triple backflip, but as I let go of the rope I was off-axis. Because it's such a long rope swing, I wasn't facing forwards, so I was twisting as I was doing my backflips.
So when I threw my pilot chute out, my leg hooked around it and got tangled. I was about 150 meters above the ground at that stage. I was trying to get it off my ankle, and it was not coming off, and I was falling and falling. I'd fallen about 130 meters, and I was aware that I was just going to be dead. And I'm like, oh well, it's been a good ride, but it's over now. This is it, I'm going to die.
And just before I hit the ground, somehow the velcro got extracted off my bag and my parachute inflated momentarily. So I hit the ground, land on my two feet, not a scratch on me. Went through trees, rocks, perfectly safe. I was like, “How the f**k did that happen?” That was crazy.
Was that the jump that was caught on video?
No, I ended up doing the jump ten times. It was on the tenth time, which coincided with my one-hundredth BASE jump, that it happened.
I haven't done [the Death Swing] since then. Since then I've been much more wary of BASE jumping acrobatics. Things can go wrong, turns out. Not knowing what can go wrong is what makes you so brave.
Going back to the Death Swing, how did you get the idea to do it?
I just kind of thought in my head, “what's the coolest thing I could do?” I knew the spot, I had done the rope swing on a harness plenty of times before. The idea to do it on some loops and let go at the other end and do some flips was just kind of the coolest thing I could ever think of.
I thought it out for six months. I brought up my acrobatic skills and my BASE jumping skills to the point where I felt like I could already achieve it. And once I felt like I could achieve it, I kind of lost interest in even bothering to do it. It's like, once you realize you can achieve the challenge, you lose interest in the challenge altogether.
But I did it anyway, because there was no point in not doing it, and it was awesome. And I called it the Death Swing because, well, I almost died.
You mentioned going to England to climb the grit routes. As I understand it, you took some time off from climbing after that. What was your motivation? Injury, or just boredom?
Oh, injury. I was loving it. I was climbing better than I'd ever climbed, better than I'd dreamed of climbing for the last ten years. I was finally as good as I'd ever wanted to be, and I was thinking, yeah, life is just starting to get good.
Anyway, I got tendonitis in my forearms and I couldn't climb anymore. Just overtraining. My forearms swelled up for a month, and I couldn't close my hands. The injuries just kept on coming back and back, and I thought, I can't rock climb anymore. That was my whole life, everything I'd ever devoted anything to. What else was I going to do?
Then I thought, well, I've always wanted to BASE jump. So with my last $50, I caught a plane to Spain, with no money, and went to work at a drop zone, skydiving and packing parachutes.
So what's next for you?
I'd like to go to Europe and do the big walls, and get into wingsuits. But now I'm kind of looking at kitesurfing, paragliding, power-motoring–paragliding with a motor–I'd like to jump out of a powermotor. Anything that has to do with being up high, being in cool places, having cool stuff to do. I guess it's just opening more doors, and living several lifetimes in one.