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)