People who do know him say there's no use in telling him anything other than "be careful." "Everyone in the family knows Ammon will do what he wants to do," his older brother, Gabe, says. "He always has."


In mid-January, McNeely's Cherokee sat in the dirt lot of the Parachute Center in Acampo, north of Stockton. The green Jeep is to McNeely what a shell is to a tortoise — his itinerant home when not camping or crashing at Kait's or a buddy's. All his belongings — parachute rigs, rock climbing gear, three skateboards — are thrown in the back, and a photo of him and Kait adorns the dashboard. McNeely hasn't paid rent for 15 years.

At the drop zone for going on three weeks, McNeely has settled into a life seemingly designed by a 16-year-old boy. He and other skydiving junkies jump out of a plane all day. Then they hurry inside to watch the video they shot of each other, high-fiving and exclaiming "Siiiiiiick!" At day's end, they sit around a bonfire while reliving their skydives, downing beers, smoking weed, slapping the flanks of the drop zone's dogs, and listening to an old peyote farmer strum "Hotel California" on his guitar. They retire to beds in a metal shed, McNeely to his car.

McNeely climbs a tower and 
jumps off.
Joseph Schell
McNeely climbs a tower and jumps off.
Jumping during the day increases the risk of getting spotted.
Joseph Schell
Jumping during the day increases the risk of getting spotted.

Details

SEE ALSO:

VIDEO

Go On an Illegal Tower Jump with Ammon McNeely

BASE jumpers Ammon McNeely and Jade Tatom talk about the politics and emotions of BASE jumping. SF Weekly cameras follow McNeely on an illegal BASE jump off a tower 40 miles east of San Francisco.


Love and BASE Jumping: Q &A With Bob Ash, Fiance of Bay Area BASE Jumping Victim, Shannon Dean

The Taser Chronicles

Read the National Park Service's official reports of threatening visitors with Tasers.

U.S. District Court Criminal Complaint against Ammon McNeely

Read the official account of McNeely's Tasing.

Related Stories

More About

At age 40, McNeely is something like the Lost Boys' rad uncle, man enough to use a hot-pink parachute. (One newbie said McNeely had invited him out at midnight earlier in the week to watch him jump the tower, fawning, "I love Ammon. He's cool.") McNeely is the one who leaps over the bonfire and posts the picture on Facebook. He explains the hazards of shotgunning a beer while swinging upside down on your rope from a cliff (Look on YouTube for "THE YOSEMITE PIRATE!!!"). In the video, he delivers a line that could act as his mantra: "I'd rather live 40 years of excitement and fun and exhilarating and just wooo, full volume than 80 years of la-di-dah-di-dah, you know, boring." These days, of course, McNeely is also the wildman who got Tased in Yosemite. "The rangers get a bonus for catching a BASE jumper," one skydiver conjectures. McNeely can't help but interject: "They get a bonus or a boner?"

McNeely grew up as the third of five children in a Mormon family in St. George, Utah, before deciding the religion's prohibitions didn't "make sense." He became the first to grow a mohawk at his high school, a punk rocker with an early taste for adventures. He often rode in planes while his dad skydived out. He climbed rocks, trees, and even a 300-foot antenna, just to sit at the top and think. "I would even imagine myself jumping off, and it wasn't a suicide thing," he recalls. "But I just wanted to know how it would feel to fall off."

McNeely skipped college to marry and have a son at age 20, holding down a 9-to-5 job as an IT guy in Irvine. But after he got divorced, he tired of the grind. "I have to go search for excitement because it doesn't fall in your lap a lot of times." He quit his job, "droppin' out of societeeeee," he says as if narrating an adventure movie trailer.

He surfed and skateboarded around San Clemente for a few years, before buying rock-climbing gear and heading out to Yosemite, the cliff capital of the western United States. He has now bagged 22 speed records up different routes on El Cap. One time he fell and hit his head, regaining consciousness to find his helmet cracked and a white puslike substance oozing from his skull. He heard rangers asking if he needed a rescue through a loudspeaker. In his haze, he signaled no, and continued on.

To fund his lifestyle, he puts in about four months a year harnessed to the ceiling of stadiums across the country installing Fiberglas panels (a day job for altitude junkies). "I can make six, seven, eight thousand dollars in a month, and then I go play."

"He's one of the true believers," says Nancy Prichard Bouchard, spokeswoman for Five Ten, the company that has outfitted McNeely with rock-climbing shoes for the past decade. "If he couldn't get a penny or a pair of shoes or harness from anyone, he'd still be climbing."

In 2006, he made his first BASE jump off the Perrine Bridge in Idaho after just 36 skydives (the rule is to log 200 before attempting a BASE). There was only one thing he didn't dig about his new-found sport: the threat of getting caught.

McNeely once booked a hotel room with a group of jumpers at the Palms hotel in Las Vegas, planning to jump off the balcony. The call went something like: "We're on our honeymoon, and we want one that's really high that overlooks the sunset pointing west," McNeely says in a mischievous voice. "Because that's where the landing area is." He laughs.

Some BASE jumpers say breaking the law adds to the rush. Jumper Iiro Seppänen jumped off the Stratosphere hotel and casino in Vegas by sneaking the parachute up to the top inside a stuffed animal. Jade Tatom, a 6-foot-5 wing-suiter who works in Lodi, says he once climbed a crane at a construction site in Norway by wearing a neon workman's jacket over his parachute. Jeb Corliss smuggled his parachute into the Empire State Building in a fat suit.

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27 comments
Aardvark
Aardvark

i agree this article is useless.

as for Amon and the laws regarding Base Jumping: If Amon and the base community want Base jumping to be legal, organize yourselves and go about creating change in a professional and coordinated way. Im all for sticking it to the man, preserving access for great things like climbing and jumping. BUT Getting drunk, jumping, and then running from the Rangers isnt going to help your cause one bit.

There is no mention of the fact that Base jumping was once legal in the park with guidelines similar to hang-gliding, but unlike hang-gliders, base jumpers were unable to work with those guidelines, jumped whenever they wanted, and thus made it illegal.

And another reason it is illegal - not mentioned in the article - is the necessary SAR response after someone jumps at mid day. At any given time on a busy summer day there are tens or hundreds of people gazing at el-cap. if someone sees a body falling from a distance, and is unable to see a chute open, they're going to call 911 and report someone falling off of El cap. Every call like this demands a full emergency response from SAR and emergency crews in the valley, including the possible the launch of the park helicopter. This costs thousands of dollars and puts a lot of people at risk.

as soon as Amon and the base community decide to put their energy into a constructive, organized, and professional movement, change will come.

but it may mean laying off the cobras.

John
John

"Somtimes falling feels like flying. . . for a little while" Bad Blake

Theloveguru
Theloveguru

We all just need to be friends. Likes chinesse and terrorist.

KTBee
KTBee

This article was supposed to be about how the NPS badly mistreats base jumpers and how we can all go about legalizing base jumping in national parks. More specifically how the Yosemite rangers are hasseling, out-of-control egotistical assholes, who always are known to take things too far.

Lauren Smiley is an unprofessional newspaper reporter. I happened to be around Ammon when he was talking to her regarding a question she had about him being tased by the Yosemite rangers. He told her what happened and the whole time she was laughing and giggling about him being tased. This is how very unprofessional she is. Who laughs about someone getting tased for a nonviolent crime, a potential lethal force that could and has killed human beings?

There were numerous times when Smiley acted unprofessional. She misled Ammon and manipulated his article. He solely wanted this article to focus on the mistreating of jumpers from the NPS and getting base legalized. That is what she told him she would write about. Ammon is a very genuine and trusting individual. He possesses NO ego despite the fact that he is one of the most accomplished big wall climbers in the world. He did not know that he was going to get burned by this INCOMPETENT reporter. The last thing Ammon wanted was exactly what this article turned out to be. It focused NOTHING on the NPS or legalizing base.

Ammon asked Lauren Smiley not to write the article, when he realized that it seemed she was starting to take it in the wrong direction. Instead, she denied his request and published it anyways. Lauren, you have absolutely no respect for Ammon or the base jumping community. You hurt everyone with this article that your wrote.

For all of you who don't know Ammon personally, I do. He has the BIGGEST heart of anyone I have ever met. He is always positive, encouraging, and helpful. He possesses devotion and passion towards both base jumping and climbing. So much passion that he wanted to spread the word about legalizing base and how the NPS mistreats base jumpers. Lauren Smiley COULD have written a truthful article. One that expressed Ammon's passion in a positive light. One that focused on how base jumping is a legitimate sport with professional athletes. One that showed how out-of-control Yosemite rangers have become. One that discussed legalizing base and bringing awareness to the community. This is the article that SHOULD have been written. This is the article that still needs to be written by a trusting, professional reporter who can do good for the base jumping community.

libertybelle
libertybelle

Lauren as a good journalist was unbiased,

Ammon thinks he is 'king of the hill' that rules and laws are for mere mortals and do not pertain to him

Scrambleeggs
Scrambleeggs

"One that focused on how base jumping is a legitimate sport with professional athletes." You are joking right? The juvenile comments made in regards to this article, the personal attacks on the journalist both here and on "your so called professional athletes" forums is further proof that the journalist was on target.

Matt
Matt

This is a trash article and a shining example of why jumpers do not usually talk to media. Distort facts or make them up as you go seems to be the motto here. And since when did quoting an anonymous forum qualify as a legitimate source? Pathetic!

Lickalotopus
Lickalotopus

Terrible article. You are a mean woman.

Offkey
Offkey

This was a fair and interesting article, please keep your personal judgement of writer to yourself.

steph davis
steph davis

I know Ammon well, and have a hard time recognizing the alcoholic, juvenile, devil-may-care character that this writer has created out of a kind, sincere, well-loved member of the climbing and base jumping communities. It seems both unprofessional and poor style to violate a person's trust with a sensationalistic story that is damaging and hurtful to him.

I'm also very unimpressed by this writer's use of anonymous chatboard obscenities (which I was offended by having to read) to add to the cartoonish characterization she has made of the base jumping community, most of whom are serious athletes and professionals.

Poor use of an extremely interesting and multi-faceted topic, and as others have said, something like this will most likely prevent any other community members from sharing their intriguing sport and lifestyle with future writers.

Partolan
Partolan

Some "reporters" have integrity. Not the writer of this article. I agree with cuzucan. Fuck all the way off.

_cuzucan_
_cuzucan_

To the writer of this artice: Go F yourself!!!! From the BASE community and BASE 1459

baser
baser

All this horribly written article tells me is not to trust anything coming from this publication. Those that know Ammon can easily tell that he was taken advantage of by a worthless no-talent reporter.

Soup
Soup

This reporter chick is by far to stupid to do her job correctly. This is not how jumping objects goes down. And the NPS is the most unfair organization in this country. Lets start getting facts correct. I could care less about A.Mac, but don't try and make us all look bad, Ms Smiley. You fail at reporting.

Gauleyguide
Gauleyguide

I thought this was supposed to be an artical on how unfair the rangers and NPS are towards BASE jumping on NPS land? You lied. Why dont you tell everyone the truth for once?

Anotherjumper
Anotherjumper

I know Ammon personally and actually briefly met the writer of this article. Although Ammon has his faults as everyone does, he is a good guy with a genuine heart, maybe a little too trusting but is very passionate about his lifestyle. After talking with him and based on my initial impression of the writer I’ve came to a few conclusions:

Lauren Smiley manipulated and lied to Ammon saying that the article was about the power-hungry rangers. This type of scum is the catalyst of why I never talk to the media. They don’t care about the chaos that they leave in their wake or the harm they create, they have one objective and that is making a buck and a name for themselves. I’m also under the impression that she broke several laws “trying” to get her story.

Jump
Jump

Wow, this article dose a great job of sensationalizing base jumping and skydiving and making them all look like a bunch of pot smoking drunks. I skydive and base jump with doctors, lawyers, computer programers, ect, none of which resemble anything represented in this story. I guess theres a reason that no one talks to the media, good luck to anyone trying to write another article on base jumping after this gets around the community.

Bikerbawb58
Bikerbawb58

Please keep in mind that this article is partially fabricated in the shallow mind of the writer. Not all of it is fact and some facts are twisted. As usual, the media likes to sensationalize the story to aim for a potential Pulitzer Prize. It is interesting though in this context though. Now if the writer could just find the Zodiac killer we could have another nailbiter!

Photobyautumn
Photobyautumn

A very well written article that portrays the sport and the people well, both their idealism and their faults. I'm a skydiver and know quite a few BASE jumpers. They don't normally talk to media usually so good job on doing a story rarely told so thoroughly by mainstream news media outlets.

Dave
Dave

As someone who would never jump out of a perfectly good airplane, much less something a lot closer to the ground, I think this article is a great read. Glad I can get such thrills vicariously.

I couldn't stop thinking that McNeely is soon going to be the subject of another article if he stupidly keeps doing things like getting drunk before he jumps. Doing it illegally may be half the thrill, but he's not going to do himself, his friends, or the sport any favors by getting himself - or someone else - killed.

John
John

I have no problem with BASE jumpers taking off of El Capitan or other NPS landmarks. I do, however, object to using park service employees and funding for rescue and/or other responses to accidents or mishaps. There have been a hell of a lot more deaths and accidents on NPS lands from climbers, mountaineers, white water enthsiasts and backpackers for years. Perhaps a permit system for such endeavors is needed with proof of insurance or a bond to cover rescues or messy clean up operations. That way I don't have to pay for some fool's folly.

Mike Moon
Mike Moon

that was an exhilarating way to waste 15 minutes of my boring work day... seriously i loved it. I was in Yosemite last august for 2 weeks. i wouldnt be surprised if i bumped into ammon on accident. thanks for the read. i'll be googling books/videos/articles for the next 45 minutes lol. -mike (vacaville)

Paulse
Paulse

I'm an old geezer and I think all this criminalizing everything is anti-American. "illegal delivery of..." what fatuous dildo wrote that law? Laws are not given out in morning meetings, they need to be in the CA penal code for them to be real. They might fall under Park Ranger guidelines and thus be misdemeanors(sp), but this is still absurd.

It is all part of the "Us against them" attitude of elected officials and public employees have, especially those with "power" over others. It seems that once elected, America is theirs and the public is suspect. This isn't just true for adrenalin junkie activities, it's true for a whole range of boring things as well. People with power need to weild that power to feel that they are special, that they deserve that power,that those above and below them admire their use of power,or at least fear it. It's just like school bullies, but here the school administration is the biggest bully, and the ranks of bullies keeps growing. It is as addicting as the adrenalin rush from jumping. Besides,they get paid for it,which proves to them that it's right.

To me it's all part of a hidden truth and that is that we live in a police state as vile as any. Every city,county, state, and fed agency wants its citizens to act like sheep, do what they are told, pay taxes, and not make ANY fuss. WHAT THE EFF has happened to America; a bunch of old biddies complaining about everything has lawmakers criminalizing everything.

I can understand the tresspass part of the problem, but parks that allow "free" climbers can't claim base jumping is significantly more dangerous. Because something is dangerous bears no connection for it to be illegal. One only need look at bullriding and auto racing, surfing, walking down the street in Oakland. I think there is some inherent mental malady/delusion here with the "police" mentality of running the parks, andin fact governance in general. (This is a stretch to compare and I apologize for the connection) This is like the child porno watchers, they watch all the time, that's their job, really bad stuff all the time, yet they are "police" and immune. These are the really sick people. look at all the preachers and we find them to be frauds, like the politicians jumping up and down about gay stuff, turning out tobe closet gays.

God, please save me from the savers. The people running around "saving" the world from basejumping must be weird. It does sound like they got their kicks kicking hisass.

If I were young I'dbe a suit flyer if I could. Please don't let the biddies stop you.

Dan
Dan

I'd suggest hang-gliding off of Glacier Point instead -- it's regulated and legal, and lasts nearly 15 minutes with a trip across the valley to El Cap...scenic and fun.

Randy English
Randy English

NPS ban on BASE jumping is arbitrary and without merit. Higher risk activities such as free soloing are allowed. More environmentally destructive activities such as horseback riding are allowed. I would wager more people die annually going over Vernal or Nevada Falls than BASE jumping. Granted more people walk to the falls than BASE jump, but if safety is the reason for the ban on BASE jumping, the trail to Vernal/Nevada falls should be closed for safety as well.

In my discussion with NPS staff two reasons for the ban are cited. The first is safety. When I have countered with the above arguments about free soloing/tourists going over falls, they have stated their real concern is not the jumper, but motorists crashing because they are watching the jumper not the road. Then the real concern is cited, the fear of subsequent lawsuits from said motorists. The solution for their first concern is simple, scheduled road closures, perhaps for one hour every Wednesday afternoon (arbitrary time/day just for example). No traffic, no distracted motorists. Road would be open for emergency vehicles and since they are driven by professionals there should be no concern about the driver not watching the road. (Some may argue about closing the valley floor to automobile traffic altogether due to environmental degradation but that is another issue altogether)

Their second argument is BASE jumping is a nontraditional activity outside the scope of recreation in a national park. This argument is so spurious that it noes not merit a rebuttal. It makes as much sense as banning digital photography in the park because it was not in use during Ansel Adams lifetime.

NPS land is owned by the people not the agency that oversees the land. The NPS should not have the authority to ban any nondestructive use of the peoples land (Cue Woody Guthrie...)

I am not a BASE jumper. I am a climber/skier/backpacker. I am concerned that if the NPS can place an outright ban on an activity like BASE jumping, the activities I enjoy can be banned as well. Remember for a time in the 50's the NPS banned Warren Harding from his first ascent attempts on the Nose of El Cap due to traffic concerns.

As for BASE jumping off private property, well that is private property and the property owners have rights. Proceed at your own peril.

Dan
Dan

The distracted-drivers-crashing-into-each-other argument is suppsedly why hang-glider pilots have to launch by 9 and land by 10, instead of later when it is better. Maybe driving is the real hazard here.

 
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