Summer Issue 2016
[Editor's note: Jeff Edwards has been called the "cliff jumping guru of Southern California." He knows better than most how to safely jump and stay alive. Here are his tips for a fun, exciting, and safe summer of jumping.]
YOU MAY NOT be aware of it, but there's an outdoor playground right in your backyard. The Pacific Northwest is blessed with an abundance of rain and snow, which feeds thousands of lakes, rivers, streams, and creeks. Chances are, less than 30 minutes from your house, there's a deep swimming hole with a perfect cliff for jumping.
Once you find the spot, you'll have to take a few precautionary measures to ensure that jumping is safe. NEVER jump into a swimming hole before checking to see how deep it is. Even if the locals told you it was deep, you must inspect the water yourself before diving in. First thing to do is wade in a bit until you get to the landing spot, then sink down and touch your feet to the bottom while raising your hands up above your head. The basic rule: If your feet touch bottom and the water is above the tips of your fingers, it is likely deep enough to jump... off smaller cliffs.
Without getting into some boring math equation, if a cliff is 20-feet tall, you want your landing to be at least eight-feet deep. The bigger the cliff, the deeper the pool will need to be. If the cliff is 40-feet tall, you'll need 12 feet of water. Anything bigger than 40 can be dangerous, so only jump if you're an experienced diver.
After checking the depth, you need to swim around the landing area and look for rocks, logs, and random debris in the water. I've seen someone jump into a 20-foot-deep swimming hole, land on a floating log, and break his back. You must be aware of your surroundings before you take that leap. Some swimming holes are located along flowing rivers, and anything can drift by while you're standing on the cliff. Situational awareness is essential in this sport.
So after you've checked for depth and debris, it's time to jump. I suggest starting at 10- to 15-foot-tall cliffs. From this height, flopping can be painful, but not deadly. DO NOT walk up to a 50-foot cliff and blindly jump in. Even if you've seen other people try it, that doesn't mean you're capable of doing it. Do you think you can just step onto a skateboard, and drop in on a vert ramp without getting hurt? The people jumping off those 50-footers have been practicing for years to get to that point, so even if they land safely, there's no guarantee you will.
So now that you're standing on top of a 15-footer, the first thing you do is look down where you're gonna land. Then make sure the cliff isn't slippery. (If people have been jumping off the same spot all day, chances are it will be wet from dripping swimsuits.) If the platform is sketchy at all, you shouldn't jump. You need a strong footing to launch yourself off the cliff and into the swimming hole. I've seen people slip while trying to jump and barely escape with their lives.
Once you make sure it's okay to jump, take a step, and leap as far forward as you can. Stay sort of tucked into a ball; you want your weight centered in your chest and your knees bent while falling. Right before you hit the water, straighten out your legs and put your arms by your sides. You'll sink down into the deep water and swim up feeling refreshed. Then, do it about a million more times until the sun sets.
Once you get comfortable with jumps, try going a little higher—but never do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable. If it seems too high, it usually is. That's your eyes telling your brain you shouldn't jump. Work your way up slowly, and always try new tricks (like flips and gainers) on smaller ledges. I over-emphasize how important it is to be cautious.
Still want to jump? Here are some cliff-jumping spots within an hour of the Portland area:
• High Rocks on the Clackamas River. Here are 15- to 30-foot jumps into a slower section of the river, near the town of Estacada.
• The Narrows. Also along the Clackamas River, featuring 15- to 20-foot ledges. There used to be a tree that spanned the river with a perfect 20-foot jump, but the US Forest Service cut it down over the winter.
• Bonnie Falls near the town of Scappoose. It features 15- to 40-foot ledges next to a small waterfall.
• High Rocks. Also along the Clackamas River, but this one is in Cross Park in the town of Gladstone.
All of these spots should only be jumped during the summer; the water is too fast or cold to jump any other time of year. Have fun, but stay safe, stay alive.
Want to see cliff jumping in action? Check out Jeff Edwards' documentary of his cliff jumping tour of the Pacific Northwest below. Get more pics and info at jeff-edwards.tumblr.com, and losangelesswimmin.com. Follow Jeff on Instagram.