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 all over the world and my experience pioneering rope swings developed further, 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. Read more
Yosemite National Park is a majestic land rich in climbing history, a long Native American presence and marked as the birthplace of modern highlining as we know it today. For a long time it’s been preserved as a sacred place of grandeur and natural beauty, dominated by an abundance of extraordinary waterfalls, diverse wildlife and gigantic granite walls that erupt from the valley floor reaching for the heavens. Without a doubt, these glacial polished amphitheaters beckon to every rock climber and adventure seeker to test their courage and strength on the towering white rock above. Attempting to capture the scale and impressive qualities of El Cap (short for “The Captain”) and the rest of Yosemite’s environments is hard to convey in words, but the feeling and perspective of seeing the larger than life white cliffs for the first time will leave any visitor with a lingering sense of awe remembered for a lifetime. As millions of tourists flood into the park every year, the scene at Camp 4 and around Curry Village can leave the outdoorsman with a sense of claustrophobia and unease, but luckily the backcountry is only a short backpacking distance away. There the hustle and bustle of millions of tourons (common nomenclature for “tourists” and “morons”) can be avoided if you have a solid set of hiking legs. Leaving the crowds behind, along with the many domesticated Yogi bears trying to steal your PB&J sandwiches, is where true adventure can be found.
I’ve been frequenting different parts of Yosemite for the past 5 years, and it was during my first visit to the park when a new passion was sparked and my worldview was absolutely shaken. I think back at my first experiences looking up at Yosemite Falls as a significant catalyst in my life. It profoundly altered the creation of all future chapters in my path from henceforth. It’s sometimes difficult to define the moment, or origin, of such an impacting life change, but seeing Yosemite Falls from below (towering some 3,000 feet above the Valley floor) left me with a yearning for adventure which I couldn’t resist. Experiencing the powerful roar of the waterfalls near its base, while dumbfounded by the sight of humans casually walking above its crest on a piece of one-inch webbing, I was inspired and intrigued. I felt a pull, drive and desire to suddenly experience that sort of freedom for myself.
My previous year of life had been defined by a nomadic migration living out of my car with an irresistible obsession for rock climbing. After being introduced to ropes and technical climbing in college, while constantly watching films of young men and women traveling the world with a singular obession of going up, I was inspired to follow in their footsteps. Unlike many university graduates who haphazardly question their post-school life, I knew exactly what I wanted and more importantly I knew how to get there. Since discovering my vertical passion I started taking summer college courses and studying constantly to graduate from the University of Oregon as fast as possible. The moment I turned in my last homework assignment was the day I left my old structured life behind, with no regrets. I opted out of walking at graduation, not caring that I had finished in the top 1% of my class in the Romance Language department. I reorganized my life into a small Honda Element vehicle, with a custom sized bed in the back, to see the world from new heights. My journeys led me from one climbing destination to the next, beginning in Squamish, Canada, and heading south along the west-coast corridor to many world-class climbing meccas. I touched many cliffs and boulders around Smith Rock, Bishop, South Lake Tahoe, Yosemite, Joshua Tree and other pocketed areas in new terrain. I simply followed the seasons chasing good weather and eventually ended up moving east toward Hueco Tanks State Park in Texas and then Flagstaff, Arizona. The year had been phenomenal and I had progressed from bouldering at a beginners level to sending V10 in some of the best climbing destinations in the country. My sport climbing abilities saw a spike in technical improvement, my gear placements were improving and my strength to weight ratio was exponentially on an upward trend, until IT happened…
Injury set in. I was bouldering in Arizona and heard the dreaded heart breaking sound that plagues the minds of active climbers. SNAP went the pulley in my middle finger, the swelling commenced quickly and tears seeped from my eyes near the base of the boulder. For the average person working a 9-5, this is not a common injury, but for climbers who put extreme amounts of physical strain on their fragile fingers, it’s unfortunately a relatively common occurrence. For a “dirtbag climber” living and breathing to to play on rocks, this can be a serious time of change and potential depression. After realizing I wouldn’t be climbing hard for at least another 6 months to year, I had to make new life decisions. Like all events which appear both tragic and liberating, there was a lesson to be learned here and life would go on. My path of simple living and obsessively dreaming about the next route had to shift in a new direction.
Russ Phetteplace sending the classic Lost Arrow Spire Highline, 3,000′ above the Valley floor.
Russ Phetteplace practicing yoga on the classic Lost Arrow Spire Highline, 3,000′ above the Valley floor.
Shortly afterward, I found myself backpacking for a week into the depths of the Grand where I hoped to find answers to new life questions. After some healthy introspection in the depths of the desert paradise, I decided to go back to Yosemite National Park. Shortly after arriving in the Valley I headed toward Yosemite Falls, I looked up and saw the most beautiful highline in the world being walked with total grace by Jerry Miszewski. In my previous climbing experiences I had already started casually slacklining in parks around Eugene, Oregon. It was around that same time when I was introduced to rock climbing outdoors at Smith Rock State Park, treating slacklining as a common rest day activity from the routine of cranking down on rock and torturing my tendons. By chance, I had also rigged and walked the classic Monkey Face Highline at Smith Rock after six-months of slackline practice. It was an incredible new challenge to my balance but the thrill wasn’t strong enough to supercede my climbing goals. I was absolutely terrified from the exposure below my body and was shaken by the mental focus needed to walk in balance on a highline back in Oregon, but the level of Jedi focus these highliners possessed dancing 3,000 feet above the Valley floor was on another level.
Rigging the classic Lost Arrow Spire Highline
Jason Lakey sizing up the Long Lost Arrow Spire Highline
With my finger severely injured and the reality of long recovery seeping in, I needed to find another way to keep my brain stimulated, my body moving and my soul happy. I decided then and there, at the base of the grandiose Yosemite Falls, that highlining would become my new life focus. Since that day, I’ve relentlessly decided to follow a path of global exploration, guided by my inner intuitions and balanced passion pursuits. It was inevitable that I would eventually buy a camera and attempt to capture this unique space, and so continues the constant challenge of finding the right angle and image to capture my heroes living awesome in nature. The act of rigging a highline and walking above the great abyss is an almost indescribable sensation. Through still imagery, filmmaking and storytelling I try my best to convey this natural beauty to the greater world. This lifestyle stimulates my senses and leads to extremely profound feelings which help define and challenge my character in a way I’ve never encountered before. Sometimes the walk on webbing is calm and meditative, while other moments its filled with fear and terror, shaking my total sanity and balance. It’s in these contrasting emotional bouts that we push our personal limitations of what is possible in the void. The slackline family which seeks out these adventurous pursuits is ironically a very grounded group, communally supportive of one another and totally blissed out collectively. My fellow highlining, climbing, BASE jumping and rigging companions are now more like a blood family to me. They understand my worldviews and meaning making of life. It is with them that I find acceptance and love.
Brian Mosbaugh taking a break on the Taft Point Highline with El Cap in the backdrop. Photo by Daniel Carrillo
Our dreams are filled with BIG goals that straddle what’s possible or impossible, and for this reason we’re pushed in new insightful directions learning something new and exciting everyday. We remain young, despite our growing grey hairs, and push forward like there is no tomorrow. The present flow of life is what matters most in this type of reality. Instead of stressing the importance of accumulating monetary wealth or collecting shiny objects, we willingly accept a simple way of life. We see the world as a living playground to cherish and take care of, knowing that it’s at greater and greater threat by our collective human impact. For this reason, we respect the wild places where we dwell, adventure and grow together. In chasing down these dreams of elevated adventure, constructing arbitary lines in space, jumping into the abyss and climbing large rocks for no apparent reason, I’m somehow reminded of my small size and become immediately humbled. I don’t exactly know why we do what we do, but a love for the outdoors and a universal feeling of being with family is what keeps me coming back for more…
Eric Rassmussen rigging the Long Lost Arrow Spire line
I’ve included some photos and a video of a highlining trip I took to Yosemite in 2010 and 2011 to accompany these words. These images are a tribute to how inspiring Yosemite National Park is and it’s also a tribute to those that have taught me so much along the way. I want to thank Scott Balcolm for setting a new standard of adventure by walking and establishing the Lost Arrow Spire Highline back in 1984. You did the world a favor on that day. I also want to thank Jerry Miszewski, Pierre Carrillo, Eric Rasmussen, Jeremy Louis, Julien Desforges, Hayley Ashburn, Russ Phetteplace, Damian Cooksey, Emily Sukiennik, Jan Galek, Faith Dickey, Jordan Tybon, Damian Czermak, Mical Korniewicz, Andy Lewis and SO MANY others who not only inspired me to find greater balance in my life as I was learning to walk a slackline but who also shared with me their wealth of knowledge in rigging and living gracefully against the grain of modern expectations. I hope these words and images will have somehow inspired others to follow their own dreams with passion. May everyone continue to inspire and be inspired!
Russ Phetteplace hanging out in the exposure during the rigging of the Yosemite Falls Highline
Since 2013 has rolled around, outside temperatures in Moab, UT haven’t been above freezing for very long… In fact, they’ve been hovering in the teens mostly and dropping as far as -15 degrees Fahrenheit at night! When it comes to the winter, and cold climate in general, I typically scare away running south to environments resembling summer and pretend the planet doesn’t tilt on its axis in a balanced way. This year, however, has brought on new changes and challenges and I’m finally starting to embrace, if not tolerate, these very cold conditions. My camera batteries are in revolt from the decision but remain relatively cooperative, allowing for some incredible feats to be captured with a little extra charging. One might assume I would take up a winter sport now and finally enjoy the mountains on skis or a snowboard, however, my passion continues leading me on a path of highlining, rigging and adventure filming/photography in this beautiful space of unlimited desert adventure. Since returning from Joshua Tree during the holidays, I left beautiful Utah in its typical glory of red cliffs and warm temperatures only to return to a different, yet subtly familiar landscape, which maintains a lingering layer of white and has given me a new appreciation for indoor heating.
Scott Rogers sending Mario during sub-zero temperatures in Moab, UT.
The weeks have “flown” by as one project has led into the other, all of which have been full of new learning experiences and opportunities to meet amazingly talented people with a similar drive to document adventure sports on the cutting edge. Above is a brief trailer of footage compiled between Slacklinemedia.com, Monkey Den Media and the epic SkySightRC team which we’ve been working with to capture some breathe taking and inspiring highlining/B.A.S.E. jumping footage. I’m so excited to be surrounding myself and working with such motivated and talented individuals. Every person has contributed somethings special to this project and I very much look forward to the adventures to come from all our hard work and raging in the cold. As history tends to repeat itself, the continuing cycle of adventure is guaranteed to mature into the next step of what is shaping up to be an amazing year so far!
Scott Rogers sending Mario during sub-zero temperatures in Moab, UT.
For more information concerning SkySightRC and the awesome work they’ve been doing, check out the links listed below. Make sure to “Like” their pages and follow up on continuing projects as they capture life from new unparalleled aerial perspectives never before seen!
Jared Alden tests his balance on the newly constructed “Floatline,” consisting of 5 slacklines meeting in space to create this 130′ long beast. The central line was tensioned only by hand, without the aid of pulleys, making for a very loose and disorienting walk to attempt. The three combined images create an accurate depiction of this experimental and creative rigging design. The approximate depth of exposure is about 400′ making for a very dizzying and disorienting experience. Of the handful of accomplished highliners who attempted this line, very few made progressive movement on it with the exception of Jared Alden. He was able to link his advances with several falls while demonstrating impressive composure despite the loose and challenging circumstances. The line was engineered by Brian Mosbaugh and Julien Desforges in Moab, Utah.
The life of a Moab highliner often involves a lot of wandering in the desert and traveling over rugged and rocky terrain via 4 wheel-drive vehicles. The approaches are typically pretty short but for this most recent project the hike was half the battle. The drive from Moab passes through a pleasant corridor of rock cliffs alongside the Colorado River, eventually leading into Castle Valley. Provided with a refreshing scenery of mountains, rock towers and scattered mesas there is infinite highline potential all around. As the snowy peaks of the La Sal Mountains begin to show signs of accumulating snow caps, the temperatures are beginning to cool as winter nears and projects continue to rage onward and upward. After an hour of hiking alongside steep scree slopes, across cliffs with fixed lines (known as a “via ferrata”) and eventually up vertically fixed ropes, you arrive atop the playing field. Parriott Mesa is the ballpark which stands out as an incredible highline location with vistas and exposure hard to beat anywhere in the world. It was during this last summer that Hayley Ashburn, Andy Lewis and Scott Rogers established the first highline here, a beautiful line appropriately named “Rim with a View.” It showcases the majestic mountains in the distance, quaint farm fields below, multiple desert towers nearby and the infamous Fisher Towers almost out of sight. During my first trip to the top of this formation I was blown away by the natural beauty and the room for adventure it beholds. Not only is Parriott Mesa well known by rock climbers in the area for its epic pick of desert cracks leading up amazing phallic towers but it’s also the site of many BASE jumping exits. In fact, it’s currently one of the few destinations where local BASE jumping professional, Mario Richard, has established a business of tandem BASE jumping!
Upon getting to the summit of the mesa with our heavy packs, friends Richard Webb, Ethan Holt, and Ryan Matson (accompanied by our canine friend Big Fuzz, who patiently waited below) were all psyched to get our rig on and start walking amidst this stunning landscape. As we finished tensioning the line and putting on harnesses, I was both excited to walk the line and capture some incredible images of my friends being bad ass. The rig was ultimately walked by all of us wearing big smiles and a bright sun in our face for the majority of the day. Photographing highlines in this condition can often be a difficult task if you don’t get the right light or angle from the sun, but that days mission provided ample opportunities to snap off some amazing images. Luckily for me, with the remaining rope from our pulley set-up, I was able to rappel down the cliff a short ways to access a small ledge and get a new angle on the line. Below are some photos which demonstrate the beauty of Utah’s sacred desert, mountains and local monkeys.
After spending the day walking “Rim with a View,” it appeared obvious that many new highlines could be established atop this formation. What caught our eye most was a longer version of the line we were walking, which extended out to a more exposed prow that jutted into greater space, offering dizzying views and exposure. So with our minds made up to come back soon and excitement coursing through our veins, we charged the drill battery that night and prepared for the next day’s adventure. Following the same slog uphill for 1,500 plus feet to the summit, we returned with heavier packs and anticipation for a establishing a new highline. It turned out that only Ethan and I were able to come back a couple days later after waiting out some rain which shut us down that day. With our psyche high and legs well rested, we had enough energy to get the job done and install a new addition to the growing resume of Moab diverse highlines. The new project, to be named “Line of the Lost” (since the terrain vividly reminded us of what Land of the Lost would look like) was a great success. Measuring in at about 140′ long with approximately 400′ of direct exposure beneath, and another 1,000′ of extra height to the valley’s surface, we were psyched to put another notch on the belt of projects conquered. Both Ethan and I were first to walk the line, Ethan getting the send in one direction and myself walking it full-man and on my first attempts on-sight. This is one of many desert adventures which Ethan and I have embarked on and it never gets old sharing such unique experiences with best of friends. I feel honored and blessed to be surrounded by such motivated people in my life…
This is of course not the last or longest line to be established atop Parriott Mesa. On the same day as walking “Line of the Lost,” Ethan and I installed anchors for another highline along a different aspect of the mesa. The new project looks to be around 200′ long, with amazing exposure beneath and the potential for a swingline if people were so inclined to help carry more ropes to the summit. So with that being said, life continues in Moab with many promises of adventure ahead and countless more towers to climb and span.
Several years ago while adventuring around Moab, Utah a couple of friends and I began experimenting with the concept of using highlines as anchors in space for epic rope swings through slot canyons. The initial purpose of the highline is of course to challenge your sustained focus and balance while walking its length, however, if you begin to think outside the box and flex your creative mind many other ideas begin to resonate… Below are some photos from the most recent “Kingswing” at Smith Rock State Park, rigged and executed by Brian Mosbaugh, Ethan Holt and an awesome crew of Canadians! In addition, the two short videos demonstrate how far a little rigging creativity, team work and rope ingenuity can take you. The first film shows the beginning of this pioneering technique and the second demonstrates the progression of such rigging many years later. May your palms sweat and your heart beat a little faster. Cheers and stay tuned for more video of the Kingswing in action!
Jenny preparing for an exhilarating 200′ of free fall off The Kingline/Kingswing
Heyyyy Fritz! Get your swing on buddy
Fritz both elated and tired from the 200′ of vertical ascension on a bouncing anchor and on dynamic rope
Fritz hanging in space after ascending 200′ of bouncing dynamic rope
I've committed my life to the pursuit of world exploration and pushing the boundaries of human limits. I have a strong passion for climbing technical rock routes, BASE jumping in the mountains and walking lines of 1-inch webbing at varying heights. In this shared space I hope to convey the stories of inspiring outdoor communities and individuals who interact with nature adventurously.
Slackline Media is a shared platform where all forms of slackline and other adventure sport related news, blogs, projects, photos and films can be openly viewed and appreciated. It showcase the evolving lifestyle of actively balanced individuals who are continually pushing the boundaries of human achievement.