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September 22, 2008

Drop Zone

Are you mad enough for the world’s ultimate adrenaline rush?

Climbing Everest used to be the ultimate in extreme adventure — now, it’s all about falling down Everest. Starting Wednesday, for the first time ever, non-professional skydivers can plunge from a helicopter poised right near the peak of Nepal’s most infamous mountain. British adventure specialists High and Wild is offering tandem jumps for beginners ($29,500) and solo jumps ($22,000) for specially licensed skydivers or for those with over 200 logged and witnessed jumps.

The hefty price covers lodging (but not airfare) during the 15-day expedition. This includes a six-day acclimatization trek and visits to villages such as Namche Bazaar — where you can still browse the Internet and fuel up at a German-style bakery before hitting the high Himalayas. The fee also goes toward a post-jump party, where drinks at least will be free.

What money can’t buy you, of course, is gall. High and Wild rates the adrenaline rush of all its adventures, and this one comes in the highest: what they call “touching madness.” Divers will leap from 29,500 feet — that’s 465 feet higher than Everest’s crest. This first season of jumps will last only until January 5, the window of time when the 200 mile-per-hour jetstream that usually roars over the summit is expected to abate.

Still, you’ll be issued a custom-built jumpsuit meant to withstand “extreme coldness.” After all, even the drop-zone is located at a lofty 12,350 feet — the highest “DZ” in the world, according to High and Wild, whose team includes champion skydivers and veteran mountaineers (there’s even a cosmonaut for good measure.) On the way down though, it’s best to keep the girly screams to a minimum: a videographer will jump with each diver to document his — or her — momentous fall.

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