Tim Howell is a BASE jumper and climber. BASE stands for Building, Antenna, Span and Earth, and represents the different objects you can jump from. Tim left the Royal Marines and decided to continue his 'North BASE' project - an idea of climbing and jumping the six classic North faces of the Alps (Grandes Jorasses, Piz Badile, Matterhorn, Eiger, Cima Grande di Lavaredo and the Petit Dru). Tim's been part of a new wave of BASE jumpers in the UK, and has opened exits on Ben Nevis and in the Slate quarries of North Wales.

Tim Howell

Can you tell us a bit about the wonderful world of BASE jumping [Building, Antenna, Span, Earth] and Wingsuiting?
Unlike skydiving, which is highly controlled, BASE (much like climbing) gives you the freedom to do what you want. When the consequences are high, we do our best to make the right decisions, and that's what appeals to me. Much like Dean Potter said, 'it's the freedom.' You have to gain experience from skydiving before finding a mentor to guide you in the world of BASE. The first time I saw a BASE it was in the locations I climbed, like Tonsai and Monte Brento, for example. It seemed like a logical next step for me.
The lowest I jumped from was a blowhole cave in the Algarve at 27m. The UK scene is amazing; there are a few people that are really exploring the remote cliffs and crags out there. I've made a guidebook for the cliff BASE jumps in the UK. Four years ago, we had 30 different recorded jumps. Now we are on 140, with plenty more potential.
I seek out aesthetic jumps. Often I'll see a picture online and make it my mission to travel there and jump it. This is true for the first ever wingsuit jump in Vietnam and the big walls above Lake Michealson on Mount Kenya. My last jump in Greenland will always be a stand-out jump. From a small Inuit town, I hiked up a hill at the back of town. Immediately, I found a spot to jump. I jumped out as the sun was setting and a yacht was sailing out of the bay past the icebergs. I flew my canopy around a sea stack and watched two humpback whales playing in the water.

Tim establishing a new jump in Greenland

What have been your most enjoyable days in the mountains?
It's always the people that make it enjoyable for me, especially when you combine that with a successful jump. Ewa (my fiancee) and I often talk about when we started wingsuit BASE jumping, and think of those times as some of the best days in the mountains, even though we were inexperienced. Maybe it was the naivety that made it so much fun. Some of the bigger challenges that pay off become memorable days. The variables needed - particularly the wind conditions - are so precise, I often have to approach these challenges with a mindset that the jump might not happen, and instead I’ve had a great day on the mountain. But if it does work out, it’s even better. We had one such day on the Diablerets Ridge [Switzerland], where we all planned to descend via different methods of flight. It was hugely ambitious, but in the end everything was on our side and resulted in an incredible day on the mountain.

What’s your 'North BASE' project?
It's an ongoing project, for sure! My aim is to climb the six great north faces of the Alps, by the routes described by Gaston Rebuffet, and then BASE jump from the summits. I started when I was serving in the Royal Marines, so finding the conditions, time and partners slowed this project down, but I'm slowly ticking them off. So far, I've climbed and jump from the Eiger, Tre Cime and Piz Badile. Sometimes I can cache the wingsuit at the summit via an easier route, so I can jump as soon as we summit. At other times, the climbing conditions aren't appropriate for flying, so I have to return another day. Piz Badile had never been jumped, so it was really exciting to find a new exit. While all the other exits have been jumped, no-one has set out to climb and jump from them all.

Do you see climbing as a means to get to the top of something, in order to jump down… or is it something you enjoy in it’s own right? Does your attitude fluctuate?
It really depends on the objective of the day. I often choose a climb or jump because of its aesthetics, like an incredible rock feature or an amazing location. So sometimes the climb is just a mandatory method of reaching a beautiful jump. I love the prolonged commitment that climbing big walls and alpine routes have, unlike the split-second commitment needed when stepping off the edge of a cliff. In recent years, I’ve set my sights on Wingsuit projects, such as opening the first exit in Vietnam and Malawi, and my climbing has taken a hit. It’s hard to find a balence when you need to train for two sports.

Tim mixed climbing in Scotland.

What drew you to joining the Royal Marines?
I was working in South Africa as a Ranger in the Kruger park, but a combination of problems led me back to the UK. The new President of South Africa had made it harder to extend working visas, as well as a recession hitting, which had a huge effect on my supplemented income of tips. On top of all that, a work colleague shot his wife and then came looking for me... so I thought it time to head back to the UK. I knew my Dad would be on my case about a career, and coming from a military background, it was an easy option for me to join the Marines. I've always been motivated by a challenge, and the prospect of joining the Marines for a career of adventure and travel excited me. It also created opportunities that I wouldn't have had as a civilian. I left after seven years and, although I don’t regret leaving, I do miss it. Even during the arduous training, I spent the little free time I had either skydiving or climbing abroad.

You posted a photo of a Mini Cooper on your Instagram. What’s your thoughts on sponsorship? Is BASE a lot more attractive than climbing?
I find this a very interesting subject, with many clichés involved. I think it's important to promote brands that you really believe in, and not to sell out. Sponsorship has enabled me to complete projects and visit places I would never have been able to before. BASE jumping is far too niche for most companies to be involved with. While climbing brands used to support BASE jumpers, it's very rare now. Just like Clif Bar dropping a lot of their athletes that seemed too extreme for the public image, often brands don’t want to be associated with the seemingly reckless bravado of BASE jumping. The trip with Mini Cooper was creating social media content for the brand; they might not necessarily have been looking for BASE jumping content, but the places these trips take me to always have options for jumping! Sponsorship in BASE jumping is a tricky one. People can feel pressure to perform a jump, even more so if you're less experienced. I’ve definitely felt it in the past.

Tim jumping in the Dolomites. It felt wrong to crop this image, so press Full Screen and enjoy!

Follow Tim on Instagram, Facebook and on his website.
Tim is sponsored by Jöttnar