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Scary Geology: Mountains In Motion

Filed by KOSU News in Science.
December 12, 2011

Here’s the thing about mountains: You can, if you are totally insane, jump off them. Or, under the right circumstances, they — the mountains — can jump off you.

I’ve got pictures of both happening.

First, the jumper. His name is Espen Fadnes. He’s Norwegian. Last Sept. 16, he climbed up a gorge in Stryn, Norway, zipped himself into what’s known as a “wing suit,” peered down a harrowingly high edge, and leapt off.

What you see — and boy, can you see this, because he’s wearing a camera and is being tracked by multiple video photographers from below — is him dropping, gliding, soaring at speeds up to 155 miles an hour, all the while steering with his sail-like arms dangerously close to rock faces and tree tops. I don’t think I blinked while watching this. While there’s a lake at the bottom, he doesn’t land in the water. His landing is as astonishing as the jump. (Don’t watch if plunging through the air like a falcon makes you wince.)

So that’s my man downing a mountain.

Next comes a mountain gliding past men, in this case, a group of screaming Italian guys in the southern Italian town of Maierato. Last February, after a heavy rainfall, a big chunk of mountain in Calabria, carrying boulders, trees and shrubs, all unhinged by water, began a stately slide downward to a valley. It’s operatic in scale. You can literally watch the mountain glide past the town. The police were called. Two hundred residents were told to evacuate. They did, but not quietly.

And, finally, here’s one more, this one so gentle I could imagine doing it myself. In this case, we’re at a mudslide in Wyoming — in the Snake River Canyon, near Jackson, so you’ve got this mountain of earth moving like a slow escalator down to a river, and what we see is a highway worker (this is at about 20 seconds in, you have to be patient.) He walks onto the mound of moving mud, stands there for a little downhill ride, then suddenly, like something out of a Monty Python sketch, he turns, bounds down the mud pile to the highway on the other side, and you see him roaring on foot up the road into the distance–to do what? I have no idea. Maybe the mud ride made him giddy. Mountains seem to do that to people. [Copyright 2011 National Public Radio]

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