The e-mails volleyed back and forth for a couple of weeks. Digital communication across separate continents discussing the details of a new German television series in the making. Think American Ninja Warrior meets Survivor. The premise being that two teams of German celebrities will explore the vast wilderness of Southern Africa, competing in a series of outdoor obstacle courses over water, land and air. The competitors will travel over 2,500 miles distance through rugged environments in a windowless freight container, stopping only to compete against one another in a succession of impressive outdoor challenges across some of Namibia’s most breathtaking sceneries. They’ll jump from helicopters into water, rope swing out of one of our patented space nets and free fall hundreds of feet above the ground, among many other exciting physical and mental tests.
The new rigging assignment was to build a space net that would be suspended somewhere in the desert of Namibia, as part of a new adventure reality television show called Global Gladiators. Our objective was to prepare a new net that would have a rope swing component out of it, something we’ve only prepared in the home comforts of Moab. The game plot was designed so that the contestants would cross a long horizontal rope (tyrollean-traverse) hung in the middle of a canyon to access our suspended net, scramble around on the large hammock surface to find a hidden hand-held bocci ball, free fall out of the net into a large pendulum rope swing and attempt to throw their ball at a fixed target below. Basically a very extreme game show version of bocci ball. Easy enough, right? Well, from a rigging stand point Scott Rogers, Tiffany Junge and I knew this was going be an extremely technical rigging task in a very harsh desert environment. We naturally smiled at the new challenge and began devising a plan. With no time to waste we started brainstorming innovative ideas together, drawing up design diagrams and making important calculations.
Before knowing all the details of the job ahead we needed to first do a reconnaissance trip to Southern Africa. Global Gladiators sent Scott Rogers out to Fish River Canyon, which happens to be the largest canyon system on the continent of Africa, located in southern Namibia, to find the perfect space for our proposed rigging challenge. Upon returning to Moab, he reported that the most promising gap he could find was 400 feet across, at its smallest span, and the rock quality ranged from very bad to pretty solid. A geological mixture of optimism with a hint of spiciness. We knew this big budget project was going to be full of new obstacles and the scouting trip confirmed this to be true. Amenities, available gear and human support, we were told ahead of time, were going to be scarce so our pre-expedition logistical planning would have to be extremely precise for everything to be executed flawlessly. In addition to our homework, we were given a second assignment to create another challenge for the show that would take place at a totally different location in Swakopmund, immediately following our de-rig schedule. The expedition was shaping up to be jam packed with lots of excitement and hundreds of miles to be traveled across vast parts of the African desert, in the midst of their hot summer season. This was a job that would require military precision, effective team communication and impressive rigging expertise. With next to no shade available in the canyons, temperatures were forecasted to be hovering around 115 degrees fahrenheit and we would only have access to a very small rigging team at our side. Considering all the facts on the table, we smiled once again, realizing that our decades of accumulative rigging experience, desert acclimatization in Moab and unique climbing/rigging skills made us the most qualified and only professional team in the world capable of completing such a task, with crew safety always at the forefront of our minds.
Fast forwarding a month, after a mirage of logistical planning and flying half way around the world to a new desert environment, we all found ourselves gathered in a small studio apartment in Windhoek, Namibia with extreme jet lag. We unloaded our massive coils of ropes, metal bolts, steel carabiners and remaining gear on the floor to begin prepping. The following days would consist of meeting parts of the Global Gladiator’s production team, sourcing more ropes and materials in town and then eventually heading out across the desert expanse to confront a multitude of rigging tests ahead.
The design of the space net to rope swing challenge (titled “Spidernet-Boule”) was that each contestant would manually pull themselves across 400 foot long horizontal ropes (tyrollean-traverse) to the center of the canyon, while hanging 120 feet above the rocky ground from a climbing harness. Once positioned above the suspended space net we would lower them into our colorful net, attach them to a new leash system and they would begin scrambling about the perimeter of the webbing, searching through a series of dangling black bags to find a specific colored hand-held bocci ball. Once found, I would attach them to a separate 100 foot long rope swing, already secured to the edge of the net, so that they would plummet toward the ground at high speeds and attempt to toss their bocci ball at a tree target below at the apex of their swing. To conclude the game, we would lower them carefully to the ground from the swing ropes and they would be judged based on their ball accuracy to the target and time taken during the challenge. Depending on how close the ball landed to this target determined how many points they would accumulate as a team and as individual competitors. At the end of the game, the losing team would be forced to pick a team member to leave the television program and thus no longer be in the running for winning money or being crowned the Global Gladiators champion.
Working 16-20 hour days to prepare this stunt, 5 consecutive days in a row with no more than 4 hours of rest per night, we accomplished our rigging goal and provided an extremely adventurous experience for the German contestants. Despite the long hours of work in very harsh desert conditions, temperatures hovering around 114 degrees most of the day, we kept each other safe and focused as a team. Our effective ability to take care of one another in the high stress environment, while maintaining safety as our primary objective throughout the experience, was noted by the production crew and they left with a tremendous amount of respect for our professional rigging abilities. What we created and coordinated as a cohesive team unit was nothing short of world-class rigging with an awe inspiring outcome for the Global Gladiators television program.
After wrapping up production with the 8 German celebrities and spending the following morning de-rigging the net, we barely had enough time to breath or celebrate before setting off on a 14 hour drive to our next set location of Swakopmund. Read more