The art of highlining
Story by Peter Duin • Photos by CrazyLarry Photography
As I slide out on a one-inch strand of polyester webbing, I look down. Hundreds of vertical feet below, a stream flows through a valley. Initially I can feel my heart rate elevate but through the control of my breath and thought, I make my legs stop trembling. Keeping my attention on the end of the highline, I suppress my fear of the void lurking beneath. Letting go of the desire to control my situation, I find balance and begin to simply react to the vibrations in the line. Slowly but surely the raw beauty begins to sink in.
Slacklining is the act of walking while balanced on top of a section of webbing that is strung between two anchor points. Very similar to tight rope walking but without the balance pole, the webbing used in slacklining is flat and stretchy. Once feeling comfortable on a line that is low to the ground, one can increase the challenge by elevating the line to any height, and tying into it using a standard climbing harness. For protection, the walker’s harness is tied into a rope that goes directly from the harness to the webbing and ties to a pair of steel rings that slide along the webbing behind the walker. Due to the fact that the webbing stretches, falling onto the leash makes a fall that is smooth and safe, as long as the system is set up correctly. These characteristics help provide an adrenaline inducing sport that is of relatively low risk if the highline has been properly rigged. Falls put the most stress on the anchor points of the line, so naturally the anchor points are the main focus of rigging a safe highline. Trees, rocks, and expansion bolts are common features that are utilized for these anchors.
Due to the minimal requirements of establishing a new highline, the possibilities are seemingly endless. All that is needed is two anchor points with a deep swale or drop in between. I find myself exploring ridgelines constantly looking for gaps with competent anchor points for the establishment of a new line. Simply search highline in your browser and select images to see the inherent beauty of this sport. Although it can be done solo, highlining is more safely done with a partner, as another set of eyes is another layer of safety, which is the elementary principle behind rigging a highline. As the community grows, so does the knowledge and number of newly established lines.
Although the sport has been around since the seventies where it was practiced in Yosemite as balance training for climbing, the modern version of the sport is still in its adolescence. The community is small and communicates often about acceptable practices. At times this knowledge is put to use during highline festivals where a group of highliners gather in an area with a concentration of highlines to enjoy each other’s company and push their individual physical and mental capacities through the act of highlining. Common meeting places for these festivals include; Smith Rock, OR; Arcata, CA; Joshua Tree, CA; and Moab, UT. The community of highliners who attend are welcoming and often incorporate musical instruments, juggling, and various other activities into their down time.
Being born into an active family has all but forced me into a lifestyle that revolves around adventure. As a young teenager I had moments of resistance to the idea of going out for another day of rock climbing with dad when my friends planned a day at the movies or the pool. Growing older I came to realize these activities are not only how I want to focus my life, but that they have shaped my personality from the beginning. Adventure sports have brought me confidence as well as a desire to push myself to discover my true potential as a human being. Highlining has now become the center of my discovery as it forces me to push through more difficult challenges, and has shown me that my thoughts manifest my reality.
For example, if I am out of balance in my head and my emotions have taken over, it is apparent on the highline. When I am confident and feel at peace inside, I am in control on the highline and can accomplish things that may have seemed impossible just hours before. This understanding has challenged me to be more aware of my emotions and gain control prior to exposing myself to the challenges of highlining. Finding balance is the lesson here, not just with emotions, but in all aspects of life.
Sneak Peak at Getting Started
Interested in getting involved? You can join the slackchat page on Facebook to connect with slackliners around the world and view posts addressing previously established highlines. Keep in mind that highliners all learned to slackline low to the ground before taking it in the air. Highlining involves specialized rigging knowledge that should not be attempted without expert instruction. If you have never tried slacklining before, the “primitive rig” from Balancecommunity.com or other slackline distributors is a simple and cost effective way to begin rigging lines of your own. Highlining festivals can be a great place to walk your first highline due to the supportive nature of the attendees. This can be attributed to the teamwork, optimism, and perseverance that the sport fosters.