Rigging a Highline Safely : When it all goes wrong

Sometimes, to get through the dark months of winter, one needs a dream; a goal or ideal to look towards, to create, to channel one’s energy into.
My most recent project was a culmination of over six months’ worth of creative input, serving as a form of sanity prevention, and yet I still failed my mission. Twice.

The beginnings of what never came to be

The beginnings of what never came to be

This post covers exactly what it was like to have my project shut down. Read on to discover how my team and I avoided death from falling….

Black Down sits proudly as the ‘highest point in Surrey’, boasting 50 mile views across the planes of southern England. We had spotted a potential highline there in 2013, and attempted to rig it just before Christmas. The aesthetics of a manifested highline across such a majestic backdrop was clear to anyone who creates art.  But due to a lapse in concentration during our first rigging attempt, we were forced to de-rig the line, without having walked it. Frustrations increased, but we knew we would return for a rebate effort, and I would get to create the image that had been burnt in my visual cortex, what would seem, permanently.

Our second attempt was much more efficient. Building the necessary components on a friend’s driveway the night before meant that all we had to do was unpack the highline from a bag. Just attach, tension and send.
That was the case, right up until the send bit.

The sun was blaring through the gap in the trees, illuminating my field of view like a barcode; sun, shadow, sun, shadow. As I shimmied myself out over a safe exit point, I began my ritual. But I felt dizzy. I felt off. I mistakenly interpreted these rich signals as fear. When in actuality, my nausea was reasonable.

It turned out that both trees we were anchored to were moving in the wind and under our tension, far more than we had ever accounted for. Sometimes you can’t tell how an anchor will behave until it is under tension. The closest tree to me felt like it was going to make an unholy crunch, snapping itself out of the soil and down the side of the mount.
To try and disprove my hollow-bellied feeling, I stood in the tree whilst Rob shimmied out along the line, instead.  The movement I felt through the line and into the tree’s structure was at a level I could only describe as more dangerous than safe.

Plagued with thoughts of critical injury, death, horrific scenes of failed hardware and the consequences of having to live with such a failure (I couldn’t live with that on my name), we made a joint safety decision to banish any further attempts, and de-rig the line – after 6 months of expending creative input into making this possible. I’d seen pro climbers in films talk about times where they’ve had to walk away from projects, due to danger, but didn’t know what that actually felt like., until now.

So I encourage you out there to make safety your first priority, despite the possibility of you rigging the highline to create a feeling of vulnerability and exposure. Paradoxically, you cannot rig a highline to get those emotions unless it is technically rational, compiled logically and set up safely. The nature of rigging a highline requires a lot of experience with using unusual gear in safe ways – it’s not something you can just have a go at.

My ego and pride took a big bash when we walked up to the bench set view point, looking out across the Surrey planes, knowing that this painting would never leave the studio as a finished piece, ever. But at least we’re still alive to find another project.

Harry Cloudfoot is a slackline instructor based in London. In his spare time, he looks for highline projects and writes about stuff relating to rebellious self-improvement.

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Harry Cloudfoot is a writer and explorer of movement and mind. You can check his social media if you want but you'd be better off going and doing something, instead.
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