Taking a Leap of Faith: Finding a Place to Jump

by Cristian Cano | 7/13/18 2:30am

cliffs_graphic

Cliff jumping is a popular pastime for Hanover’s more ambitious thrill-seekers.

by Nadia Koolina / The Dartmouth

It was a Sunday afternoon, and my friends and I were driving in the direction of the Moosilauke Ravine Lodge. We were following a hand-drawn map bequested to us by a graduating senior this past spring — a map to a (supposedly) great swimming spot.

Considering that the map wasn’t exactly drawn to scale and our cell service was spotty, it’s a miracle that we made it at all. But make it we did, and we were all anxious to jump in and take a respite from the scorching summer sun. Once we got out of the car and got a closer look, however, we quickly realized that this wasn’t just a swimming hole.

With its high, rocky cliffs and rich blue waters below, this place was a perfect place for cliff jumping.

Cliff jumping is often considered an extreme activity, one for only the most daring, reckless and crunchy of individuals. I am none of those things, and had never cliff jumped before. I was terrified.

Admittedly, the descent really wasn’t that long at all, comparable to the high diving board of a pool. I was more nervous about the uneven rocks I was standing on: if I didn’t jump of my own accord, these rocks might have forced me to jump against my will. After some deep breaths and a very loud countdown from my friends, I mustered up the courage and leapt forward.

What happened next is a bit of a blur, but somehow, against all odds, I emerged from the water, still alive. My first cliff jump hadn’t ended in death, so at least I had that going for me.

In all seriousness, living in Hanover means that thrill-seeking Dartmouth students and community members alike have access to many prime cliff jumping spots. However, not all of them are marked on your everyday map. This week, the Mirror interviewed three students — Katie Bogart ’20, Davis Brief ’20 and Whit Fanestil ’20 — to learn about their favorite places to cliff jump.

Fanestil described himself as “not that great” of a cliff jumper, but he has plenty of experience jumping off cliffs in the area. He first recalled the Elizabeth Mine, more commonly known as just “the copper mines,” which used to be a popular site for students to jump off cliffs into unusually teal waters. Fanestil noted that the Elizabeth Mine was accessible to cliff jumpers of all comfort levels, with ledges ranging from 15 feet above the water to 60 feet. Unfortunately for prospective cliff jumpers, the Elizabeth Mine is no longer safe to swim in due to recent blasting and draining.

Another good cliff jumping spot that Fanestil mentioned is the Concord Quarries, slightly over an hour’s drive away from Hanover . The remnants of granite mining many decades ago, Concord Quarries is a local favorite that features cliffs up to 40 feet high.

Fanestil acknowledged that students in search of an adrenaline rush are likely to cliff jump even in areas where it may be unsafe or illegal.

“Honestly, I think that because we’re in college, a lot of people are trying to cliff jump … in places that shouldn’t be actual cliff jumping locations,” Fanestil said.

When it comes to safety, Bogart explained that the Connecticut River’s depth and speed vary depending on both the time of year and time of day. The primary reason for this fluctuation is the Wilder Dam. Bogart explains that when the dam is released, water flows down the Connecticut at a much faster pace, which in turn leads to a lower water level. When the dam is held, the opposite is true. For people jumping into the river, whether from a rope swing on the banks or off of a bridge, these transitions are important. When the dam is released and the water level lowers, jumping in can be riskier.

One popular cliff jumping spot that Bogart listed was the Ledyard Bridge, which connects Hanover to Norwich. There, the effects of the dam are easily felt.

“If you jumped off the Ledyard Bridge in the spring, right after everything melted, there [would be] actual rapids between the bridge,” Bogart said. “Even the channelization from the pillars that are in the water is enough that you get white water, which is hard to paddle through.”

While many students learn about the best cliff jumping spots in the area by asking upperclassmen and town residents, Brief arrived at Dartmouth already having that knowledge. Though he grew up in Florida, throughout his childhood Brief and his family made trips to Quechee, Vermont, around a 20 minute drive from Hanover.

A seasoned cliff jumping veteran, Brief first jumped off a bridge overlooking the Ottauquechee River when he was eight years old. His highest jump was also in the area, off the bridge by the Simon Pearce restaurant in Quechee. Brief recommends this bridge to both new and experienced cliff jumpers — there are spots where the drop is only 10 feet, and the height gradually increases, giving more experienced jumpers a bigger adrenaline rush.

Regardless of one’s skill level, however, Brief emphasized the importance of safety. He said that many new cliff jumpers don’t know how crucial it is to check for water depth and debris before jumping, even if a person has jumped there before.

“Every time I go jumping, even if I’ve jumped there a thousand times, I get in the water first, make sure it’s deep enough and make sure there are no floating logs or logs under the water of where I’m going to land,” Brief said. “That’s how you get really injured and die, potentially. If there’s a log sticking straight up, you pierce yourself on it.”

Brief also recommends that cliff jumpers wear shoes. Oftentimes, people tend to drink near popular cliff jumping spots, and there can be glass shards in the water. And even if there aren’t any broken bottles, having shoes just adds one more layer of protection in case someone sinks low enough to reach the bottom after submerging.

Brief rejected the idea that cliff jumping is only for people who love “extreme” things. He talked about a day trip he took with his fraternity and a few other Greek houses in which nearly 60 people went cliff jumping . Some of the people who went were only comfortable with the lowest jumps and preferred to stay near the water, and Brief said that he’d encourage anyone to start small.

Fanestil, Bogart and Davis all recognized the reasons why someone might be afraid to cliff jump for the first time, but all of them were also eager to share their positive experiences and encourage those who’ve never tried it before to give it a shot. With the proper precautions and, ideally, some good friends, cliff jumping can be an exhilarating rush and just one more way to make the most out of sophomore summer.