In the opening of one of Beau Weiher’s BASE jumping videos, which features the culmination of a successful solo descent off a mountain top, the audio track of his GoPro footage captures the satisfied belly-laughter of someone whose appetite for life is sated only while soaring through the skies.
“Yeah, buddy,” Weiher says to himself as he lands his parachute in a neighborhood below the mountain. “That was spicy. That was some spicy action.”
Weiher, of Missoula, died Sept. 13 attempting a BASE jump from Glacier National Park’s Mount Siyeh, a 10,000-foot behemoth he’d successfully jumped from previously.
Weiher died too young, and his community of friends, family, climbers and BASE jumpers has mourned him publicly, posting photos and videos of his adventures on Facebook.
Those images are evidence, they say, that in 22 years he crafted a life brimming with the passion, ambition and experience of an accomplished mountain athlete, his commitment to the rarefied sport of BASE jumping less an obsession with its adrenaline-inducing thrills than its requisite level of intense focus and commitment, which characterized his philosophy on life.
Jeff Shapiro, a professional athlete who lives in Missoula, met Weiher when he moved to Missoula from Colorado to pursue BASE jumping full time, having quit his job as a carpenter. The two made fast friends and their relationship deepened as they began climbing, biking and BASE jumping together on a regular basis.
Shapiro said BASE jumping partners share a bond that transcends most friendships because they depend on one another completely.
“He was an old soul. And when you face your own mortality on a regular basis, which is an element that is undeniable in the art of BASE jumping, you really gain some perspective,” Shapiro said. “It gives you humility and lets you very intimately understand the difference between what is trivial and what is important. The result of his experiences in the mountain allowed him to gain that perspective, and it’s one that most people never achieve in life.”
BASE jumping involves leaping from a fixed object and landing with a parachute. It’s an acronym for building, antenna, span and earth, which are the four categories of features from which participants of the fringe sport jump.
According to Shapiro, who first met Weiher skydiving four years ago in California, he had completed hundreds of dives before progressing to BASE jumping, as well as wing suit flying, which involves wearing a specialized suit to lend the human body surface area to fly through the air before deploying a parachute.
“He knew what he was doing. He was not a rookie. He did all the necessary training and really respected the progression to reach the point he was at,” Shapiro said. “There were some mistakes made, but he was not a reckless person just hucking off cliffs. He was a very skilled practitioner of the sport, and unfortunately he had an accident.”
Because Weiher had attempted the Siyeh jump solo, no one knows what led to the fatal mistake. His body was discovered the evening of Sept. 14, less than 24 hours after family and friends told park officials he was overdue from the solo trip east of Logan Pass. Weiher was attached to a deployed parachute.
“It’s all speculation, but from what I understand they found him 1,000 feet below the summit on the wall wrapped up in his parachute,” Shapiro said. “He may have ended up in a poor body position and had to deploy early. He may have been knocked out or killed after contacting the wall, or had his parachute deflate if it contacted the wall. He may have experienced line twist, which is one of the dreaded malfunctions that BASE jumpers can have. It’s all speculation.”
Shapiro described Siyeh as a classic jump because of the steep nature of its north facing cliff and the incredible views of Glacier Park it affords. Although BASE jumping in Glacier and most national parks is illegal, Siyeh has been jumped numerous times, as well as flown in a wing suit, Shapiro said.
Weiher’s fatal jump was also not the first time that a BASE jumper has made mistakes on the mountain.
In 1998, James Kauffman jumped off the summit of Siyeh and experienced problems immediately. He flew into the rock face of the sheer, 4,000-foot cliff and his parachute became snagged in the rocks. Kauffman dangled beneath the point about 400 feet below the summit for several hours until rangers were able to rescue him.
He ultimately pleaded guilty to federal charges and, following the conviction, was sentenced to two years probation and ordered to pay nearly $9,000 to cover the costs associated with his rescue. He was also ordered to sell his parachute and apply the proceeds to the cost of his rescue; and was banned from the park during the period of his probation.
Members of the BASE jumping community, including Weiher, are opposed to prohibitions on BASE jumping, and petitions regularly circulate seeking to legalize it in national parks.
According to the website The Adrenalist, which features athletes who participate in extreme sports, Weiher grew up in Pagosa Springs, Colorado, just north of the New Mexico border.
Shapiro said the high-level of concentration and calculation required in the sport of BASE jumping doesn’t leave room for adrenaline junkies, and Weiher possessed the unique headspace and skill of an accomplished athlete.
“Every one of us that does this thing, you have to act as a professional. You have to keep your act tight because the consequences are so high. There is no room for error,” Shapiro said. “You have to be on your game 100 percent. It’s not skiing. You can’t crash. Respecting the progression is a concept that Beau really believed in. Slower is faster. It doesn’t have to take a long time to learn, you just can’t skip any steps. You can’t cut corners. And Beau was a guy who didn’t skip any steps. Beau was jumping what I would consider to be a very forgiving object.”
In an interview with Spencer Lund of The Adrenalist, Weiher explained his decision to quit working and pursue BASE jumping full time.
“I began to realize each person is a product of how they spend their days. The only way to become a good carpenter is to spend a lot of time doing it. After buying some warm clothes, replacing broken tools and maintaining a vehicle I needed specifically for work, I realized I was paying to be a carpenter,” he said. “It immediately became apparent I would lose nothing if I could re-evaluate my needs. Simply put: I’d rather be a broke BASE jumper than a broke carpenter.”
Weiher’s Facebook page is covered with posts by friends expressing their condolences, as well as photos of Weiher in the mountains and soaring through blue skies.
Kevin McCracken, a friend of Weiher’s who lives in Bozeman, blacked out his profile picture to indicate a loss in the BASE jumping community, and wrote “BBSD Beau,” an acronym for “blue sky, black death,” and added, “fly free.”
“He was an amazing kid,” Shapiro said. “He was one of the more positive and optimistic people that I have ever met. He had a passion for life that I think few can ever achieve. His energy was contagious. He was exceptionally bright and smart and motivated, and he did things based on one ambition, and that was to be a happy and fulfilled person and to give the best of himself to the people he cared about most.”