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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:


Girls Only Slackline Festival III

Time flies! Three years ago I came up with the idea to host a Girls Only Slackline Festival, and with enough interest it was held in Ostrov, Czech Republic, a central location to the European countries with the most female slackliners and highliners. The first year, only 6 girls attended and I had to have my boyfriend at the time come along to help me rig the highline since no other females seemed to know how to rig. 

The second year was almost triple the turnout, with 20 girls coming from around the world to slackline and highline together. We had eight countries represented. Pino of Pod Cisarem sponsored us the Himmelreich cottage next to the pub, which was a luxury to say the least. 

This year was more mellow and with totally different energy than the years before. Around 14 ladies came, from Germany, Czech Republic, Switzerland, USA and Poland. It was incredible to see the progress of some of the girls who had been there the year before.

The girls were so supportive of each other, it was incredible. What seems to be so special about this festival is the lack of competitiveness, each girl is aware of her strengths and weaknesses and uses the others for support and advice. Girls love to talk, this is not just a stereotype, but what is amazing to stand on the towers and witness such a pack of girls talking about highlining! 

There were some old friend who returned again this year, and I was thankful for Ancee and Chrislaines rigging abilities so we could put up highlines efficiently. I had one new line about 15 meters long rigged by the time the girls arrived, and with Chrislaine and Ancee we rigged another 28 meter highline. We had plans to rig a third line but in the end two was just enough. Ancee was sure to rage in her t shirt from the year before!

Often with this festival most of the activity practiced is chongoing on the highline. This seems to be a common learning curve for girls who are just starting out. 

Naturally the progression from chongo is climbing the leash after a fall. This can prove to be a huge deterrent for girls, who lack upper body strength naturally and who dread being stuck hanging in a leash waiting to be rescued. My friend from back home, Kimberly (the badass mother of 4!) learned climbing the leash, and I happily went out and hung with her on the line to give her an up-close demonstration. 

Another important learning process in becoming a highline is catching the line. If you are able to catch you can save quite a bit of energy by not climbing the leash repeatedly. Some of the girls who attended the GOSF this year were quite proficient in catching!

Overall, this festival proved to me once again that it is worth the rigging, the planning and the pushing. There are always girls who are thankful for such an event, one that is for them. You can go to any highline meeting and find boys, but it is rare to experience one with mostly or all females. The atmosphere is different, special, and necessary. I think the festival works as a great filter too---the girls who come are there because they love the sport and they have a legitimate desire to become a highliner. There is no superficial reason to come to this festival; there are no boys to flirt with, not very many cameras, no competitions or prizes, only highlines, slacklines, czech food, czech beer, and girls of all levels. 

I hope this idea of the Girls Only Slackline Festival will catch on worldwide, so that on every continent annually there is a place where girls can meet and share their abilities, passions and curiosities for this sport of balance. I constantly bombard myself with the puzzling question of why there are less females than males in the outdoor/extreme sports world; and the only thing I am lead to believe from observation is that girls are more cautious than boys. They seem to really think about all the possible outcomes of an activity before going for it, and I think this can impede them from trying their hardest in a sport which often inflicts pain (not seriously! It heals!)

There are a few realities that are evident in relation to this problem; women have been fighting for their rights for a while now, and we are still doing so. There is pressure all around us to fit to some unrealistic mold of femininity, and I think this totally inhibits girls ambition for outdoor or extreme sports. By far, highlining is not the most feminine sport, it leads to bruised legs, bruised egos and sometimes less than attractive screaming, heavy breathing and ugly facial expressions. To me, there is nothing more womanly than a girl fighting on the highline, but according to society it goes against everything we are supposed to shape ourselves as. I hope we can change this. Not every girl needs to highline or be a highliner, but those who want should and nothing should stop them.

So, thank you to all the girls who came, who supported, or who cheered from a distance. You are the reason this festival exists!

Volvo Gala Sweden