Frank Gambalie lived to test the limits of BASE jumping
Fragment of story that appeared in ESPN The Magazine’s Feb. 21, 2000, by Janet Reitman
NEARLY DAWN in Yosemite, and the crisp June air crackled with an icy chill. Atop the ghostly summit of El Capitan, the park’s most famous peak, BASE jumper Frank Gambalie knelt by the western precipice, shivering slightly. Yosemite Valley lay 3,600 feet below, sliced by the Merced River and enveloped in velvet darkness. Gambalie stared into the abyss, then, tethered to a short length of climbing rope, he belayed down several feet until he hung backward off the wall’s face. He pulled a stone from his pocket and dropped it, following its trajectory, calculating its fall rate against the wind. He repeated the experiment several times. Then he pulled himself back onto the summit.
In minutes, Gambalie would jump from this spot, plunging nearly a third of a mile and accelerating to a heart-stopping 120 miles per hour before deploying his parachute 1,500 feet above the valley floor. He’d BASE jumped from the eastern face of El Cap more than a dozen times, but the western, or Salathe, face, was more challenging. To avoid spanking the side of the wall, he had to clear a large boulder protruding 100 feet below the summit, then immediately sail away. Gambalie had made this jump once before – the only person to have done so.