Fact Check

Grand Canyon Leap of Faith

Rumor: Images show a photographer making a dangerous leap from rock to rock in the Grand Canyon.

Published Jan. 1, 2007


Claim:   Images show a photographer making a dangerous leap from rock to rock in the Grand Canyon.


Example:   [Collected via e-mail, 2006]

Dumb luck - ALMOST a Darwin Award winner

This is a case of photographer photographs photographer. The following photographs were taken by photographer Hans van de Vorst at the Grand Canyon, Arizona. The descriptions are his own. The identity of the photographer IN the photos is unknown.

I was simply stunned seeing this guy standing on this solitary rock IN the Grand Canyon. The canyon's depth is 900 meters here. The rock on the right is next to the canyon and safe.

Watching this guy on his thong sandals, with a camera and a tripod I asked myself 3 questions:

1. How did he climb that rock?
2. Why not taking that sunset picture on that rock to the right, which is perfectly safe?
3. How will he get back?


This is the point of no return.

After the sun set behind the canyon's horizon he packed his things (having only one hand available) and prepared himself for the jump. This took about 2 minutes. At that point he had the full attention of the crowd.

After that, he jumped on his thong sandals... The canyon's depth is 900 meters here.

Now you can see that the adjacent rock is higher so he tried to land lower, which is quite steep and tried to use his one hand to grab the rock.

We've come to the end of this little story. Look carefully at the photographer. He has a camera, a tripod and also a plastic bag, all on his shoulder or in his left hand. Only his right hand is available to grab the rock and the weight of his stuff is a problem.

He lands low on this flip flops both his right hand and right foot slips away... At that moment I take this shot.

He pushes his body against the rock. He waits for a few seconds, throws his stuff on the rock, climbs and walks away.


Origins:   One common technique employed by stage magicians in pulling off convincing illusions is to show only part of something, suggest the whole, then take advantage of the
human mind's tendency to fill in the blanks. For example, a magician might announce he is holding a knife and show the audience a blade

sticking out of his clenched fist, knowing full well that onlookers will naturally assume the knife's handle is inside his hand (when, in fact, the knife has no handle at all).

That's the principle at work in the images displayed above, taken by photographer Hans van de Vorst, which seemingly show another photographer making a foolhardy, death-defying leap across two Grand Canyon outcroppings wearing only sandals on his feet, and clutching his photographic gear in one hand! The key to the illusion is what the viewer doesn't see, thereby leading him to make inaccurate assumptions about the whole.

The area shown is a popular photographic spot in the Grand Canyon, for the very reason demonstrated above: if a photographer frames his picture just right, he can make it appear his subject is leaping across a yawning chasm where the slightest misstep will seemingly result in the risk-taker's plummeting hundreds (if not thousands) of feet to certain death on the canyon floor below. What one doesn't see in these kinds of close shots is the connecting ledge just beneath the two rock formations — carefully framed out of such shots — showing the jumper who misses his mark risks falling only a relatively short distance, not plunging "900 meters":

Click photo to enlarge

Although the leap still has an element of danger to it, a reasonably careful jumper primarily risks some bruises or maybe a broken arm or leg, not a plunge into the depths of the Grand Canyon.

Last updated:   22 January 2015

David Mikkelson founded the site now known as snopes.com back in 1994.