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What is a traditional climber's slackline or highline?









Copyright© 2004 by Robert Speik. All Rights Reserved.

I saw these folks playing on a slackline on the lawn next to the Heritage Museum in downtown Bend. They are students at the University of Oregon. They asked me to try it out but I thanked them and declined. (I really appreciated being asked. It was a little like my being carded at a concert wine booth.) They gave me their names which I didn't write down and I would be happy to record them here (and email them some of the free original large format images suitable for printing) if they will send me an email. 

"Hey! this is the girl from all of your pictures of slacklining, my name is krystal and the other dude in the blue shirt is brian! we all learned to slackline this year in bishop california for spring break! then when we got home brian bought one, then all of us got them. the second guy in the pictures is chris. thank you so much for putting our pictures up on the web site, my dad really enjoyed them. if you have any other questions let me know and id love to keep corresponding."  --krystal

Note: I am working with Molly Graham, a reporter/producer for Z21 NBC News to do an outdoor sports piece on all these fine folks for the six o'clock News sometime soon. Stay tuned and watch the Calendar.  --Webmeister.

Slacklining is one of those games climbers played in Yosemite during the great days of traditional big wall climbing exploration. Camp 4 saw the early development of slacklining and the Hacky Sack as well as big wall climbing.

In the late 1990s, Yosemite's Camp 4 was preserved from National Park Service development by a lawsuit for the traditional climbers who lived the romance of this era.
Read more at  Read about Hacky Sack here:
--Bob Speik


Here is a description of the origin of slacklining and highlining from The Slackline Brothers web

The Evolution of Slacklining by Chris Carpenter

In constant pursuit of equilibrium, we go through phases of change and adaptation. Constantly being reminded by gravity; we choose many means to flow with that reality. Slackliners are helping to take this one step farther. While walking, bouncing or swinging on a flat piece of tubular nylon webbing, we are constantly playing with that delicate difference between on and off. We were the pioneers in the field of slackliners, and our accomplishments from the early days are only now beginning to fuel the passion for balance within others.

It was the summer of 1983. I was in Yosemite National Park, CA with my best friend Scott Balcom doing some rock climbing, backpacking and living. One late afternoon while kicking back in the Yosemite Lodge parking lot we spied somebody setting up what looked to be a tight rope. Adam Grolkowski was his name, and he just seemed to hop right up on that line. He walked a few times from one end to the other. Then he settled in and started to purposefully swing back and forth on his "slackline." Now this was impressive; almost dance like. Scott and I had been doing some balance type walking on handrails, parking lot chains and such. Scott's brother Ric even had a one-inch hemp rope we messed around with back in 1977. Yet we had never seen anything like this before. Adam really seemed quite comfortable swinging back and forth while listening to his Walkman, and I don't remember him falling off much either.

Adam was in the valley that year with his friend Jeff Elington. Also an accomplished slackliner, Jeff would set up his slackline parallel to Adam's. They both preferred to walk on 3/4 inch flat nylon lines at a length of about 20 feet. And the two of them had a juggling act where they would balance on one foot and pass juggling clubs to each other. It was fun to watch. They made it look so easy. Adam was also working on doing a handstand on the slackline. Without any assistance, he could push into and hold a handstand for a few seconds. There was nothing about this feat that looked at all easy. Now Jeff and Adam were not in Yosemite Valley to show off their talents. They were there for a purpose, and that was to walk the Lost Arrow Spire 2,900 feet above the valley floor. They had brought all the necessary hardware including a very heavy sixty-foot length of metal cable. Despite the fact that both men were very talented line walkers, the Lost Arrow Spire was not successfully completed that summer of 1983.

Upon returning from Yosemite that summer, Scott and I both purchased our own slacklines from the local mountain shop. We both started walking one inch tubular nylon webbing, and for the next year, spent nearly every weekend slacklining together. Scott proved to be the most talented on slackline within our group. Chuck Tucker, Darrin Carter, and Ric Phiegh were messing around with slacklining a little back then. Yet Scott and I were the ones who continually pushed each other. So together, behind the mastermind of Scott's ingenuity, we experimented with a number of different lines and lengths. The 9/16th super tape at a 45-foot length was our favorite. This line proved to be very springy and especially good for swinging on. We also walked 2-inch webbing at a length of 80 feet. We walked on and broke a 30-foot length of tubular bootlace. (Warning! Be careful with bootlace. It can leave welts.) We strung and walked a 118-foot length of one-inch webbing (very much like walking on the moon). And we also experimented with doubling up the lines. Scott strung bootlace within bootlace; we never did break this one. We also tripled the lines. This process involved stringing two 9/16th lines through the inside of a 1 inch tubular line. This tripled line was our strongest slackline that we later used for highlining.

As you can guess, highlining involves walking slackline up high. We still had that visual image of Jeff and Adam wanting to walk "The Spire." Yet Adam and Jeff had made the attempt with cable, not slackline. While the cable was strong, it proved to be too difficult at this length without guy lines. Therefore, our experimentation proved worth while in the pursuit of slackline accomplishments.

It was the fall of '83. Scott was 20 years old and I was 17. Together, with the help of "Ironman Rob" Slater, Ric Phiegh and Chuck Tucker, we set up our first highline. The location was at our favorite rebel hangout we called "The Arches" (a towering structure of freeway overpass located near the Rose Bowl in CA). The underside of this freeway was the perfect starting ground. Perched at about 80 feet off the ground, we set up a 2-inch wide slackline strung at a length of about 22 feet. Once secured we had Rob try the line first. Rob was one of those fearless types. An extremely successful aid climber, he had barley practiced walking the slackline for maybe 15 minutes in Scott's front yard. So, sure enough, he fell off, and we now knew for certain that our line could sustain a healthy fall. I was next in line to give it a try. Secured to the slackline with a swami belt and tether, I made it out three steps before I was grabbing the line and swinging into big air. Now Scott had watched two of us fall off, and he came up with a great idea. He rigged a second line just above his head stretching lengthwise. While holding the line above, one felt much more comfortable with the start. Focused and well balanced before letting go, Scott successfully walked across the first ever slackline highline. After he completed his first attempt, I also successfully completed the walk.  Charged by our success, we did the walk a couple more times that day without the use of a guideline. Ric, Chuck and Rob also traversed the line, yet they held onto the guideline above for balance. Actually, Chuck held on with two hands while being double belayed. With this first highline completed, we helped pave the way for future highliners.

Scott and I returned to the Arches to walk the highline a number of times in '83 and '84. Yet now the reason for going back was to practice for the ultimate highline, the Lost Arrow Spire in Yosemite. Walking 2,900 feet in the air is an art form all its own. And, I would have to say that Scott was by far the most driven to complete this highline walk. He had designed a very strong highline (tripled line), and he reproduced the span of the walk while practicing with pure focus.

That summer of '84 was the first year we went up to walk the Lost Arrow Spire. Our crew for that trip included Darrin Carter, Bob the Aid Man, Scott and Me. Darrin and Bob did the necessary rock climbing out on the spire, while I remained back on the rim of the granite wall to take pictures. The day was epic. We had a slight breeze and lots of sun. Once the line was rigged to go Scott contemplated the walk for what seemed like hours. I watched from a distance as Scott gave it his first try. He turned back immediately. Scott balked a number of more times until he really committed himself to go. Once he committed, however, he made it out a couple of steps only to try and jump back to his starting ledge. He lost his grip and proceeded to slip into the void of swirling air and height exposure. I seem to recall him screaming. He was, of course, caught by his safety line. A bit shaken, he did try it a few more times unsuccessfully. I, however, didn't really have the desire to try it myself after watching him flail around out there. It proved scary enough for me just watching it happen. So the Lost Arrow Spire had once again foiled any highline attempt for another year.

The next year, however, was another story. Scott changed his focus from pure balance, to a more holistic approach of mental visualization, line and distance perception and of course a balanced regimen of practice. My passion for highline, however, was beginning to wane at this time. I was a senior in high school with college knocking at my door. I was urged by Scott to return with him to Yosemite that summer of '85, yet I declined and moved to San Diego in pursuit of my own independence. As a slackliner, I had accomplished my goals. "Swing walking" close to the ground and riding the line were my specialties. Highlining, while extremely rewarding, just wasn't as fun for me as swinging. Scott, however, was driven. He returned to "The Spire" that summer and recruited his friends Matt Dancy and Ken Klis as the climbing crew. Another acquaintance, Paul Borne, showed much enthusiasm and was brought along to help rig the highline.

Scott and Paul rigged the line late in the afternoon July 12, 1985. The day was very breezy and the wind continued to blow throughout the night. The next morning at 8:00 am the breeze died down. Now was the perfect time. Early morning, fresh and ready to go, Scott rappelled down to the highline. He traversed the line Tyrolean style so that he could walk from the spire to the Valley wall. Once in place and secured to the highline, Scott took his time to mentally prepare himself. He could feel the confidence swell within himself. This was not new to him. He had stood here before, and he was truly lusting to reach the other side. There were a number of false starts; but this year, he could nimbly jump back to the spire with ease. On two different occasions he got out as many as five steps only to fall, grasping firmly to the line with his hands. Hardly shaken from the events his determination pushed him. Again, being five steps out, he could feel himself loosing his balance. Yet this time something clicked within his mind. Instantly his consciousness switched to the Zen of "the here and now" as he puts it. He had been lusting for the other side instead of being comfortable with where he was NOW. Simultaneously he regained his balance and composure. Virtually focusing on putting "one foot in front of the other," this mantra spoke comfort to him. He had now walked 45 of the 55 foot walk, and he was feeling pretty certain he would make it. From the gallery of viewers there was uncertainty and complete silence, except for the clicking of camera shutters. The smile on Scott's face grew. With calm resolution, he gracefully took his last step to the granite ledge that had eluded him the year before. The jubilation was enormous. Scott Balcom had successfully walked the Lost Arrow Spire July 13, 1985, and with that walk inspired the growth of highlining on slackline as we now know it.

Without a doubt, the person most inspired in the field of highlining is Darrin Carter. I have known Darrin since I was eleven years old. Through the years, I have been fortunate to witness his character and skill come to fruition in the field of slacklining. Darrin was around in the early days. He accompanied us on an Arches attempt, walking with the help of a guideline. He would come over and slackline with us in the front yard on occasion also. But the seeds were not truly planted until he watched Scott fail his first Spire attempt. Once those seeds were planted though, Darrin within the next decade had proven himself to be the top highline contender. Darrin made the Lost Arrow Spire his first highline adventure. An extremely high goal to obtain, the Spire proved unattainable for Darrin the first time he attempted it in '92.

Darrin, however, was never one to back down. Returning the summer of '93 he successfully crossed that elusive chasm, and he was now the only other person to walk the Lost Arrow Spire in Yosemite. Darrin's domination in the sport of highlining, however, didn't really come about until he moved to Tucson, AZ in 1995. His training ground was a rock formation in the Santa Catalina Mountains called the Fins. Scott had attempted a walk at this location in 1987 with no success. Darrin returned to that same spot with Scott in April of 1995. With absolute determination and the intended domination of his goal to become the ultimate highliner, Darrin made eight consecutive one way crossings of this 65-foot span. Scott made one. A demon inside Darrin was born. He could feel within himself that his purpose in life now made sense.

With bold conviction, Darrin made multiple trips to the fins over a number of weeks and made highlining his life's work. He was a machine. He was also the first person to ever turn around on a highline and successfully walk back the other direction without falling. Scott had made a turn on a highline, yet was unable to maintain his balance there after. Darrin's focus naturally shifted to mastering the Lost Arrow Spire.

The 10th year anniversary of Scott's crossing of the Spire became Darrin's target date for his Spire mastery. Darrin made his training for this new goal a job. His highline technique truly became flawless. He built within himself this incredible ability to block out the majority of fear that is associated with walking up high. Cutting off his survival instinct, he uses a warrior attitude to help cope with the intensity of walking surrounded by big air. Darrin made his return trip to the Spire in July of '95 with complete confidence and intensity. Scott accompanied Darrin's crew of friends that included Chuck Tucker and Tim Kirkwood. On the actual day of the walk, Darrin was like a caged animal waiting to be cut loose. Pacing, barking instructions, impatient and ready to go, Darrin had a unique way of psyching himself up. The brunt of his intensity was aimed at Chuck Tucker (also present to walk the Spire that day). Chuck, however, passively let Darrin do his thing while Scott Balcom and Tim Kirkwood assisted with the line setup.

Once the line was ready to go, Darrin did just what he had set out to do. He walked the hell out of that line. Very confident and in the now, Darrin walked with smooth solid technique. First he made a number of one way crossings. Then he really got in the groove and started turning around, walking back and forth. On one occasion he even walked for about 20 minutes without stopping. Scott made a crossing for old time sakes. Chuck Tucker also managed to get across, with his very unorthodox slacklining style, for the second time (He successfully walked the Spire in 1994 his first time). Now that Darrin had mastered the Lost Arrow Spire, he did take it one step further. It was the sort of thing one thinks about yet rarely tries.

I am not sure of the dates, but I do know that Darrin has now made eight separate crossings of the Lost Arrow Spire without a leash for protection. Imagine yourself 2,900 feet in the air, on two pieces of flat nylon webbing walking for the sport of it with nothing to catch you if you fell. Now that is intense. Personally, it is very hard for me to even conceive. Walking free hand, without a counterbalance pole, unprotected at that location, I truly doubt that there will be another person for quite a few years that will reproduce that incredible feat. So with the years behind us and nothing but time ahead of us, we look forward to the continued development of slacklining. Handstands, juggling, swinging, dismounts and, the ultimate rush, highlining can breathe new life into extreme sports, and this sport is still so incredibly new.

As individuals, we balance on a regular basis, and it is only natural that we take and nurture that ability. As slackliners, we balance with focus and purpose in pursuit of confidence and accomplishment. So give it a try. Be it walking a slackline; debating an issue, or even helping a kid to ride a bike, the equilibrium of life is in flux. Discovery of the boundaries between on and off helps everyone in the long run.

Remember, It's "Just One Foot In Front Of The Other"





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