Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Castlewood Highline Movie

Jeff finished putting together the footage from our highlining session. He put a movie up on youtube, and it is pretty good. Make sure you turn up the volume a little bit for added drama. Enjoy!

High Boltage Gap

Monday, May 28, 2007


Let me tell you about the most amazing experience I have ever had.

So you know that I have been slacklining for several years now. Yesterday, however, some friends and I decided to go rig and walk our first outdoor highline. I have walked an indoor highline before, as you can see from this link: The Spot Highline Comp (I'm the last person to go in this movie).

An indoor highline has no comparison to the rigors and intensity of an outdoor highline.

At 8:00 am on 5/27 Jeff, Said and I left from my house to go to Castlewood Canyon. Our original intent was to set up a line at the dungeon area. We arrived at the parking lot at about 9:15 and started the hike up the hill. It is about a mile of class 3 scrambling to get to the Dungeon area, and it took us a good 20 minutes with 50 pounds of gear on our backs. The original spot we decided to set up the line turned out to be a lot shorter than we remembered (I hadn't been there in several years, and what I thought would be a 30 foot gap was actually only 15). After a little searching, we found our ideal spot.

We decided on a 65 foot span which was about 50 feet off the deck. I set all of the anchor points with my gear and anchoring expertise, and in most cases, everything was triple redundant. On the south side we anchored to two trees, two bolts and two cams. On the north side we anchored to three bolts, two rock slings, one cam and one hex. After I was satisfied in all of the placements, we equalized the points, and set the line.

Above is a picture of the equalized anchors leading to the line.

Next we tensioned the line with Jeff's pulleys. After about 6 tensioning sets we were satisfied with the tension and then removed the pulleys from the system and replaced them with 10,000 lb shackles. (The pulley system was only rated to 2,000 lb, so by removing the weakest link we were able to make the line safer).

We were actually walking on two lines, one of which was threaded with a third line. We did this so that if one line failed, we would still have two others to catch our fall, hence the redundancy. After the lines were tensioned, we taped the two together and then were ready to go. Jeff had the first attempt, but wasn't able to go more than 5 steps or so. The line was really loose even though we had tensioned it a lot. After more analysis of the system I concluded that this was due to the fact that the anchor systems were so complex and large, that they themselves had a very consequential spring constant which was allowing the line to move so violently. In order to walk you had to have extremely tight control of your body. It ended up that I was the only one of the three of us who was able to walk it. I bet with a more controlled and static anchor setup, Jeff and Said would easily be able to walk it. After all, Said is one of the best trickliners in the world.

Above is a picture of me with the first walk of this highline, and the first walk of any highline in Castlewood Canyon.

We spent about three and a half hours rigging the line, and about three hours attempting to walk it.

The exposure is a big part of the mental game you have to play. Each of us could easily walk this long of a line two feet off the ground, but up high, the adrenaline is the master. The line calls the shots. If it wants to throw you off, then you fall. To prevent injury, we wear helmets and a harness with a leash attached to the line. I managed to catch the line every time I fell, which was only a few times, but in the event that you can't catch the line, the leash is there to save the day. Even so, there is little you can do to subdue the feelings of dread, nausea, excitement and unavoidable elation as you walk.

With other high risk sports such as bungee jumping and skydiving, there is the same sort of rush. However with Highlining this is much different. For rope and bungee jumping, there is little work required, you simply plunge into the void and hope there's enough tension to keep you from hitting the ground. In skydiving, there is a bit more work involved, mainly keeping yourself oriented in the right direction, and steering your canopy, etc. Highlining isn't even in the same ballpark, at least at first. You can't just plunge into the void and expect to get across. Every step requires so much concentration and control. You have to control your feelings and your breathing and your heart rate, and you have to subdue your surroundings and focus all you've got on the one goal of making the next step. I can honestly say that this was the most mentally, physically and emotionally taxing thing I have ever done. And I loved it.

After all was said and done, it was a thunderstorm that persuaded us to pack up and go. I am really glad that we decided to set this line, and am excited that I was lucky enough to control my feelings for that long, even though it is the hardest thing I have ever done. In comparison, this is a pretty mild setup as well. People have walked lines as long as 180 feet and as high as 1200 meters. I have plans for higher and longer lines than this one in the next couple of weeks.

It is hard to explain to people how and why highlining is appealing. I imagine the biggest reason is that so few people actually encounter situations where their fear dictates their every move. To me, being able to control the fear and emotion is an incredible feat. I can now more easily understand myself and my limits, and I will continue to grow to be hopefully a better person. Once you have found peace with your feelings and emotions, and can still walk the line, I think this is the most spiritual experience you can ever have.

(Nobody has ever been severely injured or killed while highlining)

Picture Perfect Penitente

It sure has been a while since the last post. I've been really busy! Finals ended up going very well, and the summer is finally here! Last weekend I got back from Penitente Canyon in the San Luis Valley of Southern Colorado. It was a really fun trip. I planned the whole thing singlehandedly, and I gained a lot of experience that I will need and use for future trips that I take. There were 10 of us guys from CU and New Mexico Tech who were in the group. We stayed for 5 days, so it wasn't terribly long, but it was really fun. We got a lot of climbing in, including several 5.10's and 5.11's and a few 5.12's. The most memorable route was a really fun crack climb up this really shear face. It was rated at 5.11c, and certainly felt like it!

It started out on a really reachy undercling move and then got really crimpy at the top. Once you reached the roof you had a "thank God" undercling, and then you finished up the finger-crack to the left. It was a very great and aesthetic climb.

Another really fun climb was this 5.10 hand crack that I led on trad. Trad is short for traditional climbing whereas you place your own protection into the wall as you climb rather than clip into the pre-existing bolts in the wall. This was a great climb! Over the five days we ventured to different areas and climbed different routes. In total I think we climbed 30 routes that week. Most of the other guys were only climbing 5.10 max, so we taught them how to lead climb, and then James Sloan and I often went off on our own to pursue some harder routes.

Another great aspect of the climb was the food. I bought many luxurious meals for us to cook, such as peanut butter and jelly, and s'mores. Seriously though, we had steak, baked potatoes, burgers, beef stew, breakfast burritos, anything and everything that sounds good while camping, we ate. The camping was quite spectacular as well. I slept outside under the stars every single night. The view of the milky way was amazing, as the moon was out of phase. The site that we were camping at was spectacular in its own right, as it was right across the valley from the Great Sand Dunes, and above that were the prominent Crestone Needle and Crestone Peak that we all had climbed just this last summer, which was an epic itself.

Overall it was a very enjoyable trip, and I am looking forward to returning again next year. We scoped out several great spots for a highline, and will definitely be setting one up next year. Also, we got on several routes that severely kicked our butts, so we'll get stronger to pull harder. After the week was over we each parted ways. It was a nice transition point between the school year and the summer. We got to blow off some steam from the crazy year, and got a taste of the awesome adventures that 2007 will hold.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

Final Stretch

I've been bearing down for finals during the last week. I had my first final yesterday, and have 3 more this week. It really brings the whole year into perspective when you sum up an entire semester into 2 hours of testing. So far it has gone without a hitch. Soon I'll be climbing for a week up at Penitente Canyon. I'm really stoaked about Penitente, last year we climbed for a few days, but now we're staying 3 times longer.

Also I wanted to mention that last Sunday James and did a morning ascent of the first flatiron. We started at about 7 am, and were off the top at 10. It was a really great morning, and was a great capstone to the end of a good schoolyear.

My next post will likely be in two weeks time, after I get back from Penitente. We will definitely take loads of pictures, and there is the possibility of maybe setting up a highline. I'm really looking forward to that!