In Recess

Outdoor Voices

A Denton attorney fills his downtime with trails, rocks, and rivers.

Interview by Adam Faderewski

Jason Niehaus
Jason Edward Niehaus stands at the Narrows in Zion National Park in Utah after a hike.

When it comes to spending time with Mother Nature, Jason Edward Niehaus is no stranger. The Denton-based attorney’s athletic pursuits—hiking, kayaking, rock climbing, and cliff diving to name a few—have taken him on many journeys, from navigating the 96-mile-long West Highland Way in Scotland to partaking in an impromptu cliff dive in Scotland as well. Niehaus says he enjoys being outside in secluded places because it forces him to be in the moment.

How long have you been a fan of doing outdoor activities?
I started playing competitive paintball and rock climbing when I was 16. I played and coached competitive paintball through college, but gave it up—due to time constraints—during law school. Rock climbing has been an on-again, off-again hobby depending on whether indoor space is available. I tend to injure myself climbing outdoors. Hiking has always been a passion, but I only started doing long-distance hiking after law school. Kayaking is my newest interest.

How did you get started? Was there someone who led you to it or did you pick it up on your own?
I picked up each individually, usually after I saw something on the internet and thought, That looks awesome.

As far as distance hiking, what are some of the most challenging and best places you’ve hiked?
Scotland has been the best, specifically the West Highland Way, or WHW. The WHW is about 100 miles long and starts just north of Glasgow up to Fort William. It’s generally an eight-day hike, but it can be done in seven days if you push through the heavy elevation changes in the middle section, which are days three through five. Some of the most challenging hikes have been stateside, including Zion National Park in Utah due to its high temperature and limited access to potable water and Big Cypress National Preserve in Florida with its wildlife.

What are some of your favorite kayaking spots?
Kayaking is still in the learning-curve stage. I want to eventually get proficient enough to do some Class IV rapids, but I’m not there yet. I’m hoping to get out to Snake River in Idaho next summer to hit those rapids.

Did you begin rock climbing at an indoor facility or outdoors? Is your climbing free climbing or do you tether yourself?
I started indoors while in high school. My alma mater—the University of North Texas—added an indoor wall to its rec center while I was an undergrad. Those facilities were both top-rope, or tethered. When I got back into climbing after an injury, the local gym—Summit Climbing, Yoga and Fitness—had a bouldering (free-climb) facility near my office. I prefer free climbing—it’s a bit more technical, but I can go out alone and don’t have to be reliant on a partner to anchor a rope. My favorite outdoor location is either Hueco Tanks or Enchanted Rock.

When did you start cliff diving? Do you use a parachute or a squirrel wingsuit?
My first jump was a spur-of-the-moment dive while hiking in Scotland. Loch Lomond and the Falls of Falloch are both mid-size dives—30 to 45 feet. I do not use a parachute or a squirrel wingsuit—though the latter looks like a lot of fun—because the target is a water landing. The cliff dives are always into water and always in approved areas. I wish I’d had the opportunity to jump Hell’s Gate in Possum Kingdom before they height-restricted it; that would’ve been a record for me at 86 feet.

Describe how being outdoors and doing these activities helps you relax.
I love these activities because they take me to places where I have very little, if any, cellphone service. The seclusion forces me to take time to relax and be in the moment. Occasionally, I am blessed with a “eureka” moment while on one of these trips that helps to solve a particularly difficult problem with a case.

Though practicing law and these activities may seem at different extremes of the spectrum, do you think they are in any way relatable?
Rock climbing is probably the most relatable to the law. Mapping a route requires planning—which moves to make, how to make them, and the best order in which to make the moves. It’s similar to high-stakes litigation, where each move has a series of risk-benefits associated with it. You have to account for each set of outcomes depending on which choice is made and to plan for any problems early on. TBJ

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