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Saturday, April 23, 2011

Tuscon, Arizona - unsuspecting highline heaven

Tuscon, Arizona held unexpected highline possibilities atop Mount Lemmon. We had heard there were some lines in the area, and completed three beautiful highlines, one even being a classic from Scott Balcom and Darrin Carter. After four days there, one might have thought we could continue on our journey feeling satisfied; yet the rocky, half emerged spires rising from the mountain sides were whispering to us, we needed to leave a new highline established in the area.
   Daily we scanned the steep hills, squinting our eyes trying to distinguish gaps from shadows, wondering how easy approaches could be, and figuring length as well. Ultimately however, scrambling to the actual rock is the only way to determine whether a highline is possible there. The last day we had the Hawks Bill highlines up, Jordan and I did scramble to a spot, trying to find a tower one could see from the distance. I headed downward, to look up at a gap, and Jordan scrambled atop some rocks and we agreed the spot was worthy of a highline.

Rigging in the wind.
     The next day we borrowed our friend Matt’s truck to drive up the long, winding road to the Windy Point on Mount Lemmon. The day was warm and sunny, but once atop it was clear that the wind was relentless. We scrambled to the gap, Jordan hopping up on the mushroom shaped boulder that would be one anchor, while Janek and I searched for the quickest, easiest climb up the other side. We found the shortest way on the other side, however as Janek climbed we soon realized it was not a route---but a chossy mix of square, fallen boulders with a few places for gear.
    I belayed while Janek ascended, soon he was out of sight and then he called out and I began climbing. It was not difficult, only sketchy because of bad quality rock. Once atop, we turned to view Jordan on the other rock; however it was clear that where he had bolted was at least a meter above our tower.
    It was disappointing, especially considering the beautiful exposure of the line. We argued for some time about ethics of establishing an unlevel line, but in the end with limited time we went for it. Jordan completed the bolting on one side, as we hucked over the rope, then Janek threw the rope to Jordan who tied it to the webbings, pulled them across with a backpack attached holding drill and gear.

Faith getting the first send on-sight, full babe in swami.
    Atop our tower the wind whipped around us, seemingly never pausing. I regretted leaving my jacket near the bottom. Soon I had drilled the three holes to be our anchors. Janek followed suit by blowing out the dust and hammering in the expansion bolt. This rock proved harder to drill into than some of our other locations. Blowing out the dust with a straw was like a joke for the wind as it powered the dust straight into our faces.

    The next step was setting up the anchor, and then attaching the pulley system, line grip to the backup webbing, and tensioning. We repeated the process with the other webbing, using Type-18 as a backup and threaded tubular as the main line. Janek taped, and I rappelled down to the other side. It was then that we batted around the first ascent, and I was allowed the opportunity for the line I spotted.

Jan sending on-sight full man in a swami
    There is nothing like strong, whipping winds to deter one from highlining. Our new line stretched with exposure on three sides, and the wind hit it from the side with force. I tied into a swami-belt and walked the line, fighting against the sideways wind as it wobbled the line. The beginning was a downhill walk, and after a breather on the other side I returned on the uphill journey. Jordan came next, also donning a swami and walking very stably crossed both directions on sight.

   Around this time Scott Turpin showed up, excited to see a new line in his home-highline area. We urged him to give it a try, and he scooted out and tried several times, walking solidly until near a boulder one could see out of their peripheral vision. After a few tries he took a break and Janek took his turn. His steps were slow and measured, his knees bent. Several times he stood so still I was speaking from below to “take a step!” yet; as usual Janek completed the line on-sight.

Scott Turpin
   Scott tried again after Janek, walking both directions. The day was successful, we all sent and the line was established. It was unlevel, but not tragically, and as it was on the highest point, the views were astounding. We took down the line as the sun set over Tuscon, and the golden lights of the city grew brighter and the sky grew darker.

    We had to leave the desert and continue to Texas, yet Mount Lemmon remains a worthy highline location to return to with endless possibilities for highlines, some probably involving long hikes but worthwhile.

Full Gallery: Here

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