Go Jump Off a Bridge

It’s a miracle that Bozeman locals Simon Clemens, Eric Kuntzelman, and Trevor Olson are alive.

No, they didn’t get swine flu. It’s just that the Montana-raised trio have been flirting with danger since before they were old enough to flirt. Their latest offbeat antic: “slack-jumping” off an abandoned train trestle at the Pipestone recreation area.

Clemens coined the term slackjumping when he built a giant ropeswing out of a climbing harness on bridge in North Carolina. He convinced his fellow army recruits to jump directly off the bridge, free-fall, and then let the slack swoop them into a giant swing. When the momentum wore out, the jumpers self-rappelled down—and did it again.

“It’s definitely life-affirming,” says Kuntzelman. “There’s always a moment right after you jump you when you think: oh God, it’s not going to hold.”

That’s why the three rely on both their combined knowledge (Clemens works in laser engineering, Kuntzelman sports a physics degree, and Olson has degrees in both physics and math) as well as their experienced climbing backgrounds to make absolutely sure the swing does hold. Every aspect is doubly redundant and then backed up. Before anyone jumps, the crew throws a rucksack of gear as a dummy, making sure everything works. Next, Clemens jumps first. “I’m always the guinea pig. I’m not going to watch anything bad happen to anyone else,” he explains. Then, as each person prepares to leap, one of the three checks and double-checks every piece of their gear.

“We’ve got so many safety checks that it’s not really dangerous,” insists Clemens. “If you were going to die doing this, it’d be on the interstate, driving up.”

Still, Kuntzelman is adamant: this isn’t a do-it yourselfer. But, the three are happy to give their friends a swing, or even the Pipestone visitors they meet who, curious, bike or four-wheel over to see if they really saw someone jump off a train trestle.

“I couldn’t not try it,” says local MSU researcher and bartender Sonya Iverson as she remembers her first jump. “I couldn’t wait to show up at work with pictures of me doing this.”

Recently, the trio tested out their newest slackjumping upgrade, the “Superman”-style harness. Instead of sporting a traditional rock-climbing harness, the jumper wears an additional climbing harness around the shoulders, and the whole thing is carabineered in the back—so the jumper automatically takes a flying Superman position.

“I’m never doing it any other way than Superman again—it was even more of an adrenaline rush,” says Olson.

As to why the three continue to court danger, Kuntzelman sums it up succinctly: “Basically, we’re too poor to go to Six Flags.”

To see slackjumping in action, YouTube “slackjump Montana.”