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Saturday, August 13, 2011

First Highline in Tatry Mountains, Poland

Along with my highline team SWEL, we completed a project that Janek had been eyeing since he started slacklining. In the south, on the border with Slovakia sits the Tatry mountain range; famous in Polish climbing history and the only alpine style mountains in the area.

We had just finished the Urban Highline Festival, and after a short break we all headed to Zakopane, the town nearest the Tatry's. There we were met by Bartek Gąsienica-Ladzi and Kamil Kluś, two local slackliners. Kamil and his family kindly allowed us all to sleep in an empty room of their guesthouse, in a beautiful mountain style cottage. We spent the first evening planning and then went to a traditional restaurant for dinner on the main street, complete with a small instrumental band playing traditional music. After beer, pierogi and other Polish dishes (all sponsored by Kamil) we headed back to catch up on sleep.

The next day it rained. All day. Our fourth teammate Kwjet arrived in the evening, and we went to borrow helmets from another local slackliner and climber, Łukasz Janczy. The next morning we took a taxi loaded with stuff to the barrier where only guides and employees of the hut can go. He dropped us there, where we left Wojtek with the packs and the rest of us headed up the 10 km hike toward the campsite.

The place was swarming with tourists. Whether old people with trekking poles or girls in high heels, they were all there; headed to the hut to take a picture next to Morskie Oko, the lake at the base of the Tatry's.

In two hours we met Wojtek, wating on the road with our gear. He had ridden in a jeep with all rangers, a sheep in a lions den. We walked with our heavy packs down a bumpy, muddy dirt road to the campsite. After a quick bite to eat and some coffee, we unloaded the gear, sorted what we needed, packed our packs and began the walk to the highline spot.

photo by Jordan Tybon

After one kilometer we reached the hut, a century old wooden house built in the traditional style. It sits next to Morskie Oko, a beautiful blue lake created from runoff of the Mountains. The path leading to Zadni Mnich, our spire, was well-made with slabs of rock laid down solidly leading up gradually. With heavy Deuter packs we were up within 3 hours. The last part was the most grueling, as it is steep and rocky, the place mostly climbers go. We passed the Mnich, the bigger point, and continued on to climb over boulders up to the notch beneath Zadni Mnich. 

We separated into two groups; Jordan and Kwjet making their way up the rocks, despite lack of climbing route. Janek lead two pitches with me on the tower, the temperature quickly dropping and causing us to shiver. After scoping the rock out, both sides agreed it would be possible to rig the line on a mixture of equalized climbing anchors and natural protection, so we left fixed static ropes, stashed our gear in an Ortlieb waterproof duffle bag, and headed back to camp as the sun set.

Hungry and tired, but feeling accomplished for getting so much done after starting so late, we ate a hearty meal of---you guessed it, pasta! Though we should have cooked something more special since it was Janek's 23rd birthday that day...

The next morning at 3:30am,  Kwjet , Janek and our cameraman Wojtek awoke, drank coffee and began hiking toward the highline spot. We knew rain would come that day, and they hoped to get a head start on the rigging. Luck was against them however, and it began raining as they began hiking. Once on Zadni Mnich, the temperature decrease caused the rain to come in snow and sleet, which they endured, finally rigging the line. Jordan and I hiked up in fairly good weather, and saw Janek get the first ascent of the line from the path.

Kwjet also walked, despite their lack of sleep and frigid weather. Once Jordan and I were at the notch, the fog rolled in and it began raining again.

Jordan ascended the fixed rope to the anchor, and after several failed attempts walked the line in complete whiteness. Below JanekKwjet and I cowered underneath slight overhangs trying to stay semi dry, shivering and hoping the sun would return. Hearing Jordan taking falls on the 20-something meter line deterred me from trying, so I decided to wait for the next day, my hikes only purpose was to bring the riggers sandwiches that time.

We retreated in light rain, finally making it down to the hut where we shared beer and rested our feet. Back at camp Jordan cooked curry, and we all fell into our sleeping bags happily.

The next day the weather was in our favor. It was sunny and clear skies, so we ate a hearty breakfast and headed up to our highline spot.

There were many climbers out that day, and they hung on their ropes to take photos of us highlining. Kamil and Bartek joined us, Kamil taking some good tries at the line and Bartek walking it one direction.

Everyone sent the line for a second time, I walked on sight full man in a swami belt, then walked again in a harness with a GoPro on my hand. The line was the most difficult 25m line I've ever swamied. Besides having an injured leg, the exposure was incredible and it was freezing temperatures to boot! It had been some time since I had highlined, and despite the line being short compared to what we were used to, I felt the fear inside of me that reminded me of beginning highlining; when you cannot calm your body down and you must force yourself to stand up and walk.

photo Jordan Tybon

Janek and Kwjet also walked in swami's, then we began de-rigging as some clouds headed our way.

By 3:30pm we were hiking down slowly, with a new line established and sent all around.

It was a successful trip, besides the slightly ridiculous rules of the National Park (i.e. no camping on top of the mountains, no bolting, amongst other laws.) It would have been a good time to chill out, however with our good timing we decided to go ahead and get down to Zakopane.

We made a deal with the Campsite director to drive us and our gear down the 10km road to the bus stop, and he agreed. I took shotgun and after a bumpy ride through the forest we picked the rest of the guys up.

Upon reaching Zakopane, we scarfed down pizza and coca cola, then bivied in Kamil's room before heading back to our homes the next morning.

So in due time there will be a movie produced from Wojtek (

Big thanks to Bartek, Kamil and Łukasz for all their generosity and help! We would not have been able to do it so smoothly and efficiently without you guys.

Urban Highline Festival 2011, Lublin, Poland

Urban Highline Festival official movie from Wojtek Kozakiewicz Vacaspurpuras on Vimeo.

New Female World Record in Highlining!

In June Janek, Jordan and I travelled to Wien, Austria to participate in the first Austrian Slackline Open, which would include tricklining, longlining and highlining in nearby Peilstein.
We hitchhiked and were welcomed by Thomas Snudl to stay in his flat while he was in the hospital recovering from a broken neck in a slacklining accident. It was our first time in Vienna, which is a beautiful city.

The first day of the Slackline Open was spent in a big park. The spot was perfect as it has a sectioned off area with a high fence, which kept the number of park goers playing ball or running with their dogs to a minimum. There were several tricklines set up, as well as two longlines. The longline competition had a 100m trial line, and if someone was able to walk it they qualified for the 160m competition line. I walked the 100m onsight full man, it was on a new webbing from Elephant slacklines. The webbing was sharp. The competition line took me a few more tries, but I managed to send it on my third attempt. Janek won the longline competion by walking it onsight full man in the shortest time. Alex Schulz came second and Lukas Irmler placed third.

The trickline contest had a qualification round, and that evening the finals were held in a brewery. This brewery also had a short urban highline, which was quite fun but had a long line. Elli Schulz managed to beat out the boys in the trickline competition, Janek came second and who came third? I cannot remember...

The next day we awoke early to go to Peilstein. The organizers rigged a 30 meter highline for the competition, and Lukas Irmler and Alex Schulz rigged Mich Kemeters old project line, the 81 meter. The highline contest started with a bang as Jordan went out to do some tricks. He must have been tired because he forgot to tie his leash, and after walking 10 meters of the line it slipped from his harness and hung at the beginning. Everyone in the audience gasped, but Janek and I urged them to be quiet about it---it was better that he did not know. When he arrived at the other end, I told him to wait to do tricks until the return. He tried to turn around on the highline to start back the other way, and fell---thankfully catching the line. He still was unaware that he was solo. We pointed it out to him and he said something along the lines of "oh shit." After that stunt someone was assigned the task of checking every participants knot before they began highlining.

The contest ensued, and despite having a couple months break from highlining I was able to do a double drop knee, lay down, buda, surfing and korean buttbounce.

The competition was tough, but in the end I placed second, Lukas first and Janek third.

After the competition, we went down to try the beastly 81 meters. I had no expectations to walk the line, and watched Christian fighting, Lukas fighting, and of course Alex sending it with no problem. The first attempt lead me out about 25 meters, and I immediately realized it was possible to send the line. The second try I was determined. I turned up Animus Vox by The Glitch Mob, and fought my way to the end. It was a long walk, but everything was perfect; the tension, the weather, the atmosphere...I finally beat my personal record, and set a new female world record in highline length at 81 meters.
The highline was named by Alex Schulz as "Bloody Red."

 The last day of the festival was spent waterlining on a nearby pier in Vienna. The weather became cooler than expected, and windy, but everyone had a great time chilling out and watching everyone waterline.

Big thanks to Doc Slack and Thomas Snudl for hosting us dirtbags, and thank you to all the organizers, Vienna Slackers and anyone else who made the great event happen! See you next year!

What I did last month:

I was extremely fortunate this year to be a special guest of The Natural Games in Millau, France. invited me as the "female ambassador" of highlining, and I felt extremely honored to be given such a title. I had planned to go with Janek and Jordan, however Janek had to work, so Jordan and I set out. After 2.5 days in cars we arrived with Jelena Schradi being our last ride. I was especially excited to meet with her again, as she is one of the stronger female highliners in Europe, and really fun to rage with. On the way we stayed for one night in her village near the mountains in Northern France, it was beautiful and serene. She is a true dirtbag, and still sleeps in her van despite renting a room. She welcomed us with a huge block of gruyere cheese, leftover ratatouille and pasta.

As a special guest I was given a small cabin on the campsite to stay in. This was even more luxury than I expected, complete with a small kitchen, toilet, shower and two bedrooms. The professional biker who was supposed to share it never showed, so Jordan had a place to sleep as did a few other highliners who took the floor. I was so psyched to run into Ivo from fiveten, and he just happened to have a pair of approach shoes in my size, which I needed desperately.

This years highline location was the same as a few years before. To get there we drove through some beautiful villages.

It was a beautiful place, much more exposure than the year before, but also more approach. The forty-five minute hike was not grueling, however in 40+ C weather, and repeating it every day of the festival was exhausting. I found little energy to walk the big highlines there, and was frustrated with my performance. At the top there were many lines rigged, the shortest being 10 meters long, which was almost always surrounded by a long line of eager beginners. I never had the chance to send it before they de-rigged unfortunately.

Many people from the European highline community showed up, though most slept on top of the rocks, ready to awake and send. I would have joined them but being a special guest has it's duties too, which were located in the festival grounds in Millau. I spent much time with Lukas Irmler and Jerry Miszewski, who were also special guests.

One evening we were responsible for judging a trickline competition, which was fun and showed some up and coming talent from France. There was also a nice 50 meter waterline stretched over the moving river. This line was not easy! I sent it both directions with a large crowd of people looking on. I felt a bit subconscious but was able to tune them out while walking. It was a fun line, but with sharp webbing it left some bruises.

Back on top of the rocks, the downside of easy access were all the tourists at the bottom. It felt a bit like a performance. For some reason the theme this year was LOOSE rigging. Every line lacked enough tension, and though lots of the highliner's thought it was great for training, I just wanted to walk the damn lines and train later. I fought hard on a 66 meter line called "French Tickler" that I rigged with Julien, Jelena and Jordan. We were forced to use a static rope as backup due to the windiness of the spot, and matched with verve webbing I had trouble. Jerry cruised the line, as he did on every line there. Alex Schulz and Jerry both also completed a new world record---115 meters long highline rigged on double moonwalk webbing. It was amazing. I had big plans to try that line, but found myself occupied with hiking up and down everyday and fighting on lines over half the size. Not this year.

There was a beautiful 42 meter line that Grischa and Helmar rigged (over a span of 3-4 days) that had so much exposure for such a length. I was so nervous I wore a harness for my first attempt, and with some hardcore concentration managed to walk it on sight full man. I enjoyed watching Jerry love it up' on that line, doing exposure turns, surfing, and making it look like a piece of cake.

The 62 meter long King Line was a beautiful spot, going from one tower to another. I had seen photos from the last time it was rigged, and I was excited to send it. Due to the trend of loose rigging, you could wiggle the anchor back and forth like a giant bowl of jello. This is not normal for a highline. I tried a few times at this tension, but decided instead of beating the shit out of myself I would wait until it was tensioned more. Jordan fought daily on that line until he sent it, taking at least 25 tries he said.

Occasionally the masochistic feeling of wanting to beat the shit out of yourself takes ahold, as I have experienced in the past, but at this time I was not in the mood. They later tensioned the Strong II and dyneema rope backup, and I sent it both ways first try of that day. It was such a pleasure to walk it after the renewed rigging.

The 35m long highline which was new that year was also a pleasure to walk. It went to a wall, which gave it an optical challenge. The place it was in also created an upward tunnel of cold wind, another element to add to the challenge. I walked it on sight full man in a swami belt. This line was especially popular at the festival, with many people trying and sending.

The 20 meter "Wild Honey" highline was also nice, but went to a wall when it could have been bolted to the nose of the rock. I came on the last day to send it, walked it on sight full man with the leash tied around my waist. I felt good on the line and felt the urge to solo it, however I knew at the time that they would come any minute to de rig and this pressure made me decide to hold off on the solo walk.

One amazing part about all the highlines were how high they were---well over 100 meters apiece! This height really adds to the lines challenge wise.

It was a good time, and I look forward to returning next year. I am sure the way the level is being pushed that there will have to be a 200 meter highline in order for any record to be set. I want to thank for thinking of me and bringing me as a special guest, and thank you to everyone who had a hand in rigging the highlines!

After Millau we had time to kill so Jordan and I traveled with Tancrede, Julien, Juliens sister and her boyfriend, Jelena, Grischa and some others to Verdon; a highline heaven I had heard much about. The ride was nice, windows down, playing good tunes. I love driving through southern France. Every time I am there I am sure I could live somewhere nearby. We arrived in Verdon in the night, and by headlamp found a clearing in the bushes where we could sleep.

The first day we agreed to go waterline nearby. It was hot, and everyone was dirty so it was a sensible idea. We caravanned to an amazing turquoise lake, unreal in its color and surroundings.

Along with Jerry, Alex, Christian Krr, Anicet and Jordan we followed the advice of Julien and Millot to find the bolts. We were a bit shocked when the anchors of the line were 5 or 6 meters above the water---this was a mid waterline! Apparently the water level was down that summer, but not the tourist count. British couples paddled by, round and red, followed by asians in full clothing with umbrellas, or loud Americans with photo cameras, every stereotype was there, in a paddle boat, floating right under where our line would be. So, rigging began. The water was the perfect temperature---not too hot, not too cold. We set it up on verve webbing, but naturally with Jerry there it had little tension in the beginning.

I tried first, making it about 15 meters out where the line began a wobbly vibration and I fell off, landing with a splash below. Not only was it a 55 meter long waterline 5 meters above the water, but at any given time twenty paddleboats were passing beneath, something extremely distracting not to mention dangerous. I could imagine the french headlines already "Innocent asian tourists crushed in their paddle boat when insane tightrope walker falls from line." But, being a slackliner these are realities one must deal with.

Jerry and Alex sent the line without trouble, but the rest of us put in a good fight. It was fun, even falling 5 meters into the water. Later we added some tension, and I was able to walk the line. On the way back I  had some trouble as the wind created some crazy vibrations, and in the second half I heard screaming and a whistle blowing. My first thought was something like "what the hell?!" but I intended to complete the line, so I continued walking. When I heard the siren I realized it was the french police, and my friends were shouting back to them to be quiet and let me finish. I did. We then engaged in a reasoning conversation with them, however as everyone is aware there is almost never reasoning with Police. They said what we were doing was forbidden, threatened us and finally we took it down. You can jump 40 meters off the cliffs, but how dare you balance 5 meters above the water!

The next day was highline rigging. Jordan, and I borrowed Julien's sisters car to fetch water from the town. When we brought the water from the fountain back to the car, it would not start. We tried everything, pushing it, putting gas in it, praying, shouting, crying...nothing would make that twingo run.

Desperate, I sent a message to Damien from, who told me it was probably a security mechanism.  He gave me Julien's number, and they also tried to inform us how to deactivate this security. It did not work. We sat in the sun until Julien and his sister arrived to rescue us, and started the car on the first try.

Later we rigged a nice 60 meter line with aeon and verve webbing. Verdon is amazing. You drive to the top, camp a few meters from the highlines, and get 250 + meters of height and plenty of exposure. It was hot, but I liked it. I am Texan after all. I was a bit nervous while taping the line because of strong wind, and I worried that double webbing was not a good decision. Over night I left a wind dampener in case. A wind dampener is simply a piece of webbing or a sling taped to the line to hang down somewhere near the middle. This creates a different shape for the wind to go around the highline, and therefore stops the normal up and down reverberation.

Meanwhile the others rigged a 129.5 meter line (Jesus that was a long line!),

a 17 meter line and a very unleveled 28 meter line. I walked the 17 meter "Little Cemetery Highline" on sight full man in a belt loop swami, then in an ankle leash, and I hoped to solo it the next day.  Grischa was there raging as well.

Anicet, a new friend, was trying many times on the Little Cemetery Line, and he finally sent it, both directions. It was his first line. I love seeing peoples beginnings, it always reminds me that no matter how difficult it is, if you want it you will get it.

The last day in Verdon I walked the 60 meter "Spit or Swallow highline" on sight full man, and free soloed the 17 meter line. I also completed the 28 meter "Cemetery Highline" in a swami, on sight full man. I was happy. Tancrede and Julien rigged a huge rope swing, 80 meters long or more, which took all day. In the evening I witnessed Anicet jump the rope swing while Julien simultaneously base jumped from the cliff. It was epic, and confirmed my desire to base jump someday. The cuties went down holding hands.

That evening we had a party around the fire, cooked a huge dirtbag feast of pasta, and drank many bottles of french wine. I felt the effects the next day when we had to hitchhike bright and early, and I missed a chance to do the rope jump.

Jordan paired up with Celine, a nice french climber who had tried her first highline in Verdon. I left with Grischa, and though it was a meager beginning we soon were catching rides in no time. I thoroughly enjoyed hitchhiking through the small towns of southern france with the winding roads, picturesque buildings of cracked stucco and painted shutters, and beautiful weather.

We even caught a tour bus, another rare treat when tramping. In one town I bought a piece of flan to share with Grischa, and it was amazing.

One ride was with a mother and her teenage son, and for the duration of the ride her son spoke of everything he knew---it was amazing. This guy was so bright and full of knowledge, and he wanted to share it. I could tell they enjoyed having us in the car, and we enjoyed seeing a youth who was so engaging. Hitchhiking always makes me have hope for the human race.

Once in Grenoble we met Jordan and Celine and rode to her home where we would stay one night. In the morning she gave us a ride to Geneva, where we continued on our journey without her.

We caught a ride with a German diplomat first. At some point Jordan and I had to separate from Grischa as we were going to different destinations, and after a crazy ride in a bright yellow van with a bunch of young guys blasting club music and drinking beer (not the driver of course) it was near nighttime and we had not reached Munich. We were at an almost empty petrol station asking for rides when a girl and her mother passed by and agreed to take us to the train station in their home town near the border to Germany. When we arrived we saw that no trains were going until the morning, and the friendly mother offered us a place in her home. She was so kind, and had a beautiful house near Bodensee. We slept comfortably on the couch and on padding on the floor, even had showers and some food and beer. Another occasion where amazing things happen while hitchhiking. She even gave us her information for if we ever passed through and needed a place to stay in the future. It was really special.

The next day we went by train to Munich, where we supported the Gibbon World Cup competition at Munich's sports festival.