AT dawn on his thirty-second birthday the rock climber Dan Osman is poised to break the world record, his own, for a free fall from a standing structure. Using nothing more than the modified equipment of his trade, including single climbing ropes, a full-body harness, and a reinforced anchor, he will jump approximately 660 feet from a bridge in northern California.
During a safety meeting in the hours before departure for the bridge, tasks are assigned to the members of Osman's support team--in this case fellow climbers Geoff Maliska, twenty-three, and Anthony Meeks, twenty. Precise details of the protocol and rigging are reviewed. Upon arrival at the site the three move out across the girders of the bridge, beneath the traffic, 700 feet above the valley floor. Osman rigs the elaborate anchor--a nest of nylon loops, or runners, climbing rope, and aluminum hardware--to a girder near the middle of the bridge. Leaving Meeks to watch the anchor, Osman continues with Maliska another 160 feet across the span.
When he nears the launching point, the rope hanging slack beneath the bridge in a huge arc, Osman ties in, securing the rope to his harness. Because the fall will originate at a great lateral distance from the anchor, when Osman reaches rope's end much of the inertia will be diverted into a rocketing swing 500 feet across the valley floor. As opposed to falling directly from the anchor position, this approach keeps the initial impact--a striking whip when the rope runs out of slack--within reasonable limits.