Stepping into the Abyss
Back in 2010, while highlining above the expansive red rock desert of Utah, a new and innovative rope swing concept was born and put into practice. At this time in my life I had been traveling across the country for several months with an international group of adventure athletes, establishing new highlines in space and breaking world records along the way. We had made a few stops to Yosemite National Park, Joshua Tree, San Francisco, among many other iconic American destinations, eventually showing up to the majestic desert of Moab, Utah in late November. During our traveling marathon of crossing lines we attended the second annual GGBY (Gobble Gobble Bitches Yeah) highline gathering, where some of the best slackliners from around the world were attending a week long under the radar desert celebration. Dozens of lines were rigged and walked, more world records were broken (including the longest free-solo walk of its time at 100′) and people were sharing rigging knowledge openly. Between the creative minds of Jan Galek, Faith Dickey, Jordan Tybon and myself, it seemed a natural evolution of ideas to eventually use one of our highlines for the application of a new rope swing system. We had been collectively playing with this concept at the festival using a similar concept to what legendary rock climber Dan Osman had pioneered many years before us. While honing our walking balance atop these one-inch wide pieces of fabric we were inspired to construct a 70 foot long pendulum rope swing above a sandstone cave. The jumps were successful and the rigging was solid. Everyone felt the sudden rush of excitement in creating something new while experiencing the unforgettable beauty of falling with gravity. We laughed and rejoiced as a group about the accomplishment and then swiftly moved onto our next highlining destination.
This new desert location presented a much greater potential for free fall, through a narrow slot canyon, about 400′ deep and 130′ wide at it’s largest point. Anticipating the rush of excitement ahead our hearts began to race and our nerves were instantly activated. After finishing the rigging process over many hours and double checking our thorough work, we anxiously stared into the abyss below and imagined ourselves plummeting through the air in the biggest pendulum swing we had ever seen or considered possible. Since it was my birthday that day, I was offered the first human test jump on the system (note that we first used a weighted haul bag as our initial test swing before human trials). To say the least, I was both anxious and excited for the opportunity. I strapped on my climbing harness, tied into the rope swing, pulled myself out into the middle of the canyon (on a tyrollean traverse we had made) and dropped into the slot canyon with a giant grin on my face. After the adrenaline subsided and nervous faces of onlooking friends transitioned into relieved expressions. The proof of concept had been solidified and suddenly everyone couldn’t wait for their terrifying turn on the new vertical ride we had devised.
Flash forward to 2013, after hundreds of highlines had been rigged and walked all over the world and my experience pioneering rope swings developed even more, I was approached by Scott Rogers to facilitate the first commercial film project of our enormous canyon rope swing. The video montage I published from the first rope swing experience surprisingly caught the attention of over 400,000 YouTube viewers in a short time and was featured on several international television shows and shown on CNN news. This sudden viral exposure explosion opened the door for future momentum as more film makers were eager to repeat the adventure. Devin Supertramp, who currently boasts almost 4 million online YouTube followers was excited about the project and contacted us as result. Realizing that we had the most rigging experience and knowledge amongst his group of 30 excited youths from Salt Lake City, we became directly responsible for the entire rigging set up and crew safety operations. Over a very cold 3 day period in harsh winter conditions, we facilitated over 20 inexperienced jumpers to step into the void and taught them the climbing skills needed to safely ascend out of the canyon on fixed ropes.
Due to our professional handling and thorough rigging, everyone who was part of the project left with a HUGE smile on their face, a greater sense of their personal empowerment and a profound appreciation for our rigging skills. Scott and I helped film and document the experience as well, rappelling from ropes inside the canyon to capture unique angles where other film operators were unable to work safely. This type of project is where we most naturally shine as professional athletes and videographers, capable of capturing the epic shots that require advanced rope skills while maintaining an enthusiastic attitude the whole time. Little did we know then, but this viral video launched a career of commercial rigging opportunities and adventures all around the world for both us. We continue, to this day, documenting big adventures and following our dreams of building complex rope systems for commercial work and inspiring others to find the courage within themselves to overcome any life challenge.
Check out the Behind the Scenes edit below!