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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Ravages of Time in Czech Paradise

A British friend and refreshing character I met during the Volvo commercial shoot, Monte, contacted me this Fall with interest to document my friends and I doing what we do best; being dirtbag’s and highlining. It was all quite last minute, and most of the SWEL team had already made plans to work as the weather changed and take care of real world responsibilities. I wanted to work with Monte and thought it was a good opportunity to create more media for our team and our sport, so finally we agreed to do a project in Czech Republic together.

The SWEL team all met together in Czech Paradise, staying at the home of Kletter kiddies company Jan and Judith. They were quite busy, but it was lovely to see them briefly, and Jan’s home is a little bit of paradise. I was grateful to stay there with the team. The house is quiet, with an apple grove, flowers, soft green grass, and a warm and inviting homestead feel. As autumn was right around the corner, the colors there were also magnificent.

Kwjet had a year old project nearby in Mala Skala, a nice highline in between some special sandstone rocks. We had a short schedule and the British boys (Monte and his friend Luke) were on their way slowly with a demon car that broke down randomly. They were driving from London, so it sounded like an epic adventure in itself.

Klara, a slackliner friend from another Czech Village, joined us for the project and lent her car for transport, which helped us immensely. Czech Paradise has the same magical feeling as Ostrov, but larger scale and with more nooks and crannies of climbing to find. Charlie, a friend from US on a grand European slackline adventure also came along. He ended up as the American replacement of Jordan, who got in a minor car accident in Berlin and suffered a bit of whiplash but was thankfully ok.

We started the rigging process the day we arrived. I lead a non-route on one side to find the anchor, which went up a kind of chimney to a ledge, then followed a real route briefly to another corner ledge. There was little chance for knot placement but the level was easy and the holds were good. I placed some knots upon the second ledge and sling a free boulder so we could make the anchor the next day. The other side was an easier rig, and Janek slung a boulder there.

The following day the British boys came along to document, and we introduced them to a bit of scrambling, harnesses, slings and carabiners. This was a hilarious experience as Monte’s idea of outdoor wear was some fashionable work boots and tight jeans. He crawled where we walked, but broke through his fear and managed to get all the way to the anchor of the highline to film. Kwjet created an amazing anchor on the side I climbed out of slings tied in knots, with 2 knots holding the line, another knot as a directional downward, and a backup to the free boulder sitting on the ledge. It was a very cool anchor and reinforced our ideas of doing highlines on natural anchors.

We rigged with Gibbon flowline and a twin dynamic rope, not an easy setup, but walkable. The line ended up being 53 meters in length and about 20 meters high. Kwjet had the first ascent since it was after all his project, Ancee took a quick attempt then they both had to hurry and return to Prague. It was quite late by that time, so only Charlie was keen for a try, and he fought hard until the sun was low.

The following day Janek walked the line onsight full man, in pink pants and a red pirate hat to boot.

Charlie spent more time trying the line, which was a few meters longer than his longest send, and he worked hard! He also tried the pirate hat for luck.

I sent the line onsight full man as well, fighting hard to stay concentrated. I could feel the fatigue in my legs, however, from highlining too much and never taking a rest. It was clear I needed a break from my own sport. For Monte to film I walked the line various times, also putting on some retro blue spandex for fun. It was fun to work with Monte and Luke, who provided us with laughs and plenty to poke fun at. Monte was sure to wear his retro nike trainers the next day, which were better than work boots but still the opposite of what I meant by “outdoor wear.” He was bolder the second day, even hanging on a sling off a ledge to get a good shot.

The line itself was spectacular despite not being so high off the ground. It was almost at the top of both piles of rocks, and the view around was of the valley, some hills, colorful fall leaves, smoking chimneys, and in the distance some more sandstone towers. Under the line were strange monuments, with “William Shakespeare” listed on one of them, while the other was illegible. Nearby to the lines was a strange mossy tomb with a king’s crown upon it, which Charlie and I had trouble to break into for exploration (Americans when they find old stuff, as usual).

The forest all around was green and cool, with yellow and orange leaves appearing sprinkled about. I was reminded the whole time of why I love Czech Republic so much. The downside is that it is a landlocked country, but every part of it is so cozy and beautiful, that I find myself feeling at home no matter where I go.

We derigged in the night, true to our nature, and all returned to Jan’s country home for one last evening together. The Brit’s joined us that night, and had their fair share of Czech pivo. The following day would be spent on interviews, dropping Janek on the highway to hitchhike to Poland, and giving me a ride to Ostrov and taking Charlie all the way to Munich so they could attend Oktoberfest.

I look forward to seeing what Monte creates with the footage, and hope he continues to work with slackliners in the future! 

Interview with Caro Lobig

Have a look at a recent interview (it is translated in German) with Caro Lobig!


Monday, September 24, 2012

New Highline Female World Record

96.5 meters long (315 feet) "Master of the Universe" Highline in Ostrov, Czech Republic
Rigged on double vectran with the SWEL team, sent one direction.

Also established a new 22m long highline, "Czexas" and ticked off another free solo full man.

More info to come soon!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Swiss Quickie

As the summer ended gracefully and the temperature drop blew in in the form of a gentle breeze, the team and I decided we had one last breath of a project in us. 

With the last minute help of Leki and Deuter, we rented a car and embarked with the original three, Janek, Jordan and I. They started in Berlin, swooped down to Ostrov and picked me up, and we sped along the first world highways through Germany and Switzerland. I had mistakenly left my driving license in Poland and therefore Jordan plowed through the 8 or 9-hour route alone. We passed through Lichtenstein on the way, and my high school dream from German class was fulfilled, however it proved far less romantic than a tiny country sounds since it is in reality a tax haven for the richer Swiss people. An invitation had been extended from the Swiss machine Bernhard Witz to join him and some others at the establishment of a new highline on an impressive freestanding tower.

We arrived after dark, winding through the small roads of a valley wondering if we were headed the right way. We knew at some point there would be a restaurant where we could receive a permit to drive further up the valley, so upon crossing the first full parking lot we stopped. There was a motley crew of strange teenagers hanging around, and as we walked up to the building (almost a renovated barn) I started to think we were crashing a private party. Then came the “BANG! BANG! BANG!” and our logical brains, remembering we were in the Texas of Europe, realized we had stumbled upon a shooting range.

True to a cinematic experience, the guys working there were strange fellows and everyone looked as us like we “weren’t from around there,” but they gave us directions and we booked it before things got weird. 


Up the windy road through the farmland and in between massive dark mountains, we stopped to pick up two young fellows with impressive beards and their semi-wet shepherd dog. They hopped in the back with me and lead us to the parking lot at the base of the way up to our destination. It turned out we were not really allowed to drive all the way up, but it seemed like if we went ahead during the night no one would find out, and none of us were keen for a 2 hour hike with all our food and gear, so we broke the Swiss rules (the gun range was far away by that point) and left our shepherd friends and headed up the dirt road. We finished at a large barn, and Janek and I pitched the tent on a small balcony of wood. Jordan found a room with only logs and wood inside and made it his bivy.

Our Swiss friends showed up early in the morning, but with six people it was evident they did not need help rigging. They took the gear I had brought (100m static rope and some web-locks) and headed up. The famously sleep-loving SWEL team slowly packed up, ate breakfast, and then began the short, steep hike in the direction our Swiss friends had left. At the top we found that the highline approach was a bush whacking, branch-cutting mission. Two fellows from TF1 french tv were there filming, and there was a crew already in the rigging process, so we enjoyed a rare experience of piggy backing. 

With a fire on top of the hill we stayed pretty warm during the bouts of fog passing through. When the sun came out I took a nap in a grassy knoll, and it felt like a proper vacation but with mountains all around us.

They finished rigging after dark, and we hiked back to the farm, then up to the hut with them. Despite having some sponsorship for the trip we were still dirtbag’s on a budget so we cooked on camping stoves and hung out on the porch of the hut, trying not to be intrusive at the expensive mountain hotel. It was drastically colder at night, and eventually we were ready to hike down to our empty farm and sleep. We found a room unlocked which was intended for shepherds, complete with old mattresses in a wood-lined room. Comfort and warmth! With our Deuter down sleeping bags, it was a cozy night.


The next day was also quite relaxed as we gave the riggers time for trying the line before we arrived. 


We hiked up in the afternoon, and finally after a few hours had the opportunity to rappel the 60-meter way to the line. It was not a large anchor to stay on, and it was important to stay clipped into the safety rope at all times as the crumbling rocks slid off the edges and would lead to a 120 meter fall. 

We all stayed perched on the nose of the anchor while Bernhard tried to complete his full man send. Finally as the day wore on he took a break for us to walk. I harnessed up first, and Bernhard begged me not to name the line something phallic (a joke I had been making about the tower). The line was not small, 49 meters in length and at least 120 meters high. It was not going to the top of the tower due to bad rock quality, so both directions provided optical illusions of rock walls melting together. I managed the onsight the first direction, but not without some shouting. The way back I was less concentrated, taking a quick fall after standing up, but repeating the motion and sending it. I happily bestowed the naming of the line to the riggers who had put the time and effort into creating such a highline, so it was called “Rostigraben” which is the invisible border in Switzerland separating French speakers from German speakers.

Jordan and Janek took their turns, sending in good style, but it was evident none of us were used to the core webbing, a heavy experience. 


Bernhard spent some more time on the line, as well as Benoit, and the French TV managed to get their shots. At the end of the day I crossed with Benoit to de-rig, and though it took 3 rappels to get down, we managed to hike back up to the meeting point before the moon was high. Down to the farm, we parted ways with our friends (who went to sleep at the hut) and the SWEL team cooked a pasta feast, I made a fire, drunken hunters yelled garbled English at us from the balcony, and we enjoyed a last night together under the stars.

For a short trip, it was great and without any major complications. We were quite responsibility free for once, and thankful to all the riggers and Bernhard for inviting us. 


Thanks to our sponsors for helping make this trip possible! 

New Female Free Solo Highline Record

There is a nice line in Ostrov that was calling me to solo it. The first experience on this highline was Summer, 2012, when some Czech friends came and rigged it. At 28 meters, it was a couple meters longer than my longest solo, and this intimidated me. I on sighted it in an ankle leash, however it was a shakey walk on strange rigging, and it left me less than confident.

The next time it was rigged I did not even walk it in an ankle leash; I was scared enough in a swami and listened to my intuition to wait a bit longer. The line is called 28 Hertz, walked first by Kwjet (from my somewhereelseland team) when we rigged it's longer neighbor, Electro Boogie (36 meters). It is inside a kind of cove of sandstone towers, and therefore feels protected, yet it does not lack in exposure. In the middle of the line you are very aware of the drop beneath you, and you feel the whole valley on the side sucking at your being. The line is beautiful. I think at it's highest point it is 30 meters, but I need to laser this to be sure.

Being a highline free soloist you meet many different reactions to taking this "risk." It is continually a controversial topic in the slackine realm, despite the fact that climbers have been soloing for ages and are for the most part respected as masters of their craft. I consider myself an ethical free soloist for the most part, I am not reckless or soloing for attention, it is a personal experience and while I never want to "subject" someone to witnessing me leash-less, in some cases you feel the moment the solo beckons and you must answer at that moment. I suppose soloing is very much about living in the moment, you must be completely aware of every atom in your physical being, aware of every reaction your body makes to the situation. For me, it is the purest form of highlining. Something that is special for me is that free solo is teaching me how to differentiate between fear and intuition. I have only backed off of one or two solo's before, and there is no regret. I want to clearly see what I am capable of and not push myself to a point of danger, but learn how to control my fear to the point where I can progress without risk.

Soloing in Moab, photo Scott Rogers

I would never suggest free soloing to anyone. When I started highlining, free solo was so far out of the realm of possibility, I swore I would never embark on such a mission, but 5 months into my highline career I found myself walking leashless, and it opened a door for me which lead to a new form of human experience. I have created this catalyst for self understanding, and I hope I never injure or kill myself in the pursuit of ultimate mind control; however I accept the risk.

What many people fail to remember is just how dangerous most "normal" things in life are. How many people are in car accidents? How many people crash on their bicycles, or catch the flu? What about cancer? There are a million things that can kill us in this world, and most are totally out of our control. Free solo is totally in my control. Yes, it is a selfish pursuit, for if something was to happen I will be inflicting grief on those who care about me, and yet I will be dying for something I love and find worth in, so it will not be a mistake. I am unattached now, so this is the time for me to pursue such things. I believe that when you have a family your responsibility is much greater, but until that point I will continue seeking the meditative, mind and body control that soloing is a vessel for. I should probably write a will about all my gear, huh?

I am on a tangent---back to the point of the post!
During the Girls Only Slackline Festival this year (the third edition!) I rigged a 15 meter long highline for the beginners, which was good solo preparation. I felt entirely calm and unaffected by going without security.

Photo by Kletter Kiddies

Behind this line was the 28 Hertz, my free solo project. With threaded tubular and polyester backup and perfect tension, I had the feeling that it would be the weekend. The atmosphere was perfect---girls everywhere, trying hard and overcoming their fears, while trusted photographers were there to document the festival. I was not worried about lack of documentation as there were about 6 girls around to witness anyways! I asked them first, and said if anyone was uncomfortable to watch a free solo to please leave temporarily. After multiple ankle leash crossings, I felt that I knew the movement of the line well enough.

Photo Kletter Kiddies

I trusted the rigging, and the clouds covering the sun gave for the perfect lighting. I took the leash once more to the far tower, untied the bowline from my ankle and scooted out. Immediately my body was tense, and though my mind felt strong some inner conscience was very aware I was in "danger." Deep breaths, the right songs playing on my mp3 player, and I was standing up from the chongo, taking my first step across the 28 meter (92 feet) highline. My muscles were vibrating, a shake that transferred to the line to create a fast wobble. I was shouting at myself like on a long highine, "Come on! Come on Faith! Keep walking!"

Photo by Fly

I could see a few girls on the other anchor staring at me, huddled around the tower top not moving an inch. I felt the silence despite the music in my ears. I thought about how everyone there wanted me to make it to the other side, and this thought was uplifting. My mind passed between thoughts of nothing and thoughts of what I was doing. The middle of the line was a challenge, it shook but I kept my back straight and remembered the technique I had spent 3 years developing. It seemed endless! Stepping onto the other rock I was smiling, letting out the breath of fear from my lungs, vitality! This was not the last free solo, but it was an important one---it made me realize that I don't need complete stillness and calm to stay in control, I only have to keep walking through the vibration of fear in my body.

Photo by Fly

The leash was on the other side, so after a sip of water and a quick rest, I soloed back to get it.

Photo by Kletter Kiddies

After walking the line full man free solo, it seemed silly to tie an ankle leash on, so I removed it from the line and carried it around my torso, free soloing for a third time. The nervous vibration remained for every walk, but was less on the last one. I felt so happy. Endorphins? Is it all completely scientific and boring? Or is there something spiritual in that experience---of standing in space, balancing, using every iota of my being to LIVE?!

Talking about the feeling. Photo by Kletter Kiddies

In relation to this post I have added my TED talk about Fear: