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Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Tasmania (not Tanzania)

Setting off to an island on the other side of the planet that most people cannot even locate on a map comes with it's own set of expectations. I knew very little about Tasmania other than that it had a wealth of natural beauty, rocks and beaches. I decided not to research the history or find detailed information and rather arrive without such expectations; open armed and explorative. This turned out to be the right way to travel there.

A flight just shy of fifteen hours took me to New Zealand where I popped in and out of the metal flying shells, which continued on to Australia, where I finally caught my small connection flight to Hobart, the biggest city on the Tasmanian island. Though weary and jetlagged, I was awake as the plane flew low into the bay surrounding the city, and the sun peeked through the low hanging clouds shining divinely on the water, illuminating the hills that rolled in shades of green all around the conjoining bays.  It was immediately clear I was landing in a place of great beauty. I have a certain amount of anxiety writing about my experience of the island as it feels impossible to encompass it's beauty into black and white type on a digital white page. The best I can offer is a trip report and snippets about the nature lover's paradise.

The crew was five, Jerry, Preston, Max, Ben and myself. The first night we stayed in Hobart, a clean city that wraps around the bay, which cuts into the southern part of the island and resembles a small Geneva without the mountains. Our contact Simon had a large map of Tasmania on the wall and we spent a good deal of time poking at it, googling the different locations we wanted to explore. After a day of shopping and waiting for my lost luggage, we loaded our ridiculously big rental van full of food, our multitude of bags and set out towards Ben Lomond national park.

Jerry became designated left-side driver, and he did a great job, only nearly killing us once. Four hours of driving lead us through a landscape resembling the central coast of California; rolling hills covered in Eucalyptus forests, some trees reaching far higher than any of the same species in the States. Green prairies lined the road, often full of happy gray sheep grazing or lounging.

Small farm houses appeared, pastel yellows and green, picket fences, white decorative edging around the porches and occasionally a stoic horse standing in the back garden. The small towns always had old tractors, vintage gas stations and at least one cafe and bakery. I had been advised early on to eat as many savory pies as possible, and judging from the free roaming sheep my choice of lamb and rosemary pie had been right. It was delicious. The pies are flaky, golden brown crusts with chunks of meat and thick sauce inside. At about $4 American it was hard to resist.
Thanks to GPS we knew we had arrived, as there was no kiosk or border to the national park. We had taken several dirt roads and watched as the Eucalyptus gave way to pine and rocky, red soil. We turned down another dirt road and drove as far as the van would, sliding a bit on the rocky two-track. We sorted gear, most of which was lightweight amsteel slings, soft shackles, rope protection, and of course tri-cams and the slackline itself. We could see the towering cliffs just above the tree line and we suspected there would be a lot of highline potential, but it was still difficult to determine exactly what we might need. A special aspect of the trip was that there was no drilling involved; all anchors would be natural and removable. It is a great ethic albeit time consuming. We had the lightest gear possible thanks to Ben, and I couldn't imagine doing the same thing with heavy spanset's and steel shackles.

The trail wound through a sparse forest, with massive gray, smooth trees standing like grandmothers of the wild. On the trail, thick bushes overgrew the path and a certain amount of force was necessary to navigate them. The path steadily lead upwards, eventually opening up to a lichen covered scree field that ran along the base of the cliffs as far as we could see. Water was a necessity, and though we knew there was a tarn nearby, we weren't sure where we could access the cliff top. During the hike the clouds had silently glided in, surrounding the rocks and pregnant with water. Rain was coming. There appeared to be a scree covered gully leading up to the top, and Preston ran ahead to scout it, and eventually we were all following up the boulder field. We ascended into the clouds, eventually reaching a plateau that stretched as far as we could see. There were a few clearings in the bushes where we set up our tents, Jerry off in his one person, me with my Big Agnes two person (for my backpack and I) and the rest of the boys in Max's dyneema teepee. The sun was nowhere in sight and we were in a gray fog, our clothes immediately wet. It was how I imagined Ireland or Scotland; vast plateaus of dense green brush and a magical mist hanging over everything. We all gathered in Max's teepee where Preston suggested a percussion party. Collecting all pots and pans within the vicinity, we spent the remaining hours banging on orange juice bottles, pans, stoves and the like, and catching whatever giant spiders wandered in.

My first mistake was leaving my rain pants back home. The second mistake was wearing my approach shoes and leaving my mountaineering boots in the van. My feet and pants were soaked from the get-go, and without sun I had no chance to dry them. Despite the poor weather conditions we hiked up to the edge of the cliff and began searching for gaps. The cloud ruined our chances of seeing the exposure, however we knew the cliffs were sheer and the highest points were around 200 meters from the scree field below. Near camp we found two possible gaps, small distances but aesthetic. We spent another several hours traversing the cliff edge as it went up, then down, then up again. Most of the way I could walk along the rock slabs, but at times I found climbing up the easy class five was quicker. The rock in Ben Lomond is Dolerite, a type of basalt almost like granite but with super friction. Even when wet I didn't slip a single time. After spending almost the entire day looking around, we chose the first gap we'd seen and slowly made our way back.

Jerry was able to gain service and check the weather, and it looked bad for another day. We discussed leaving and returning, but the boys touted their love of suffering, so we rigged in the rain and wind. Max and Preston rappelled on the far side to reach the pillar that would be our anchor. They used the 100-meter static rope to wrap several pillars and eventually we had an anchor and a backup. On the tensioning side, Ben, Jerry and I searched for natural anchors for a long time. The way the rock slabs angled towards the cliff edge made it difficult to sling them, as they had no edges to hold the Amsteel against. Some hours later we managed to sling a free standing boulder and a big pillar quite far back from the edge, and then we ran Amsteel all the way to the drop off, using tri-cams for a directional. It was not simple rigging and entailed a number of rope protectors to prevent rock abrasion. The weather remained heinous and it was a constant sideways thin spray of water, so we finished the rigging and retreated to camp.

The next day was even worse. We walked up to the line and tried to finish the last touches of rigging, but eventually all agreed it was time to bail until the conditions improved. We packed up our wet tents and hiked back down to the van. After descending several hundred meters the weather improved vastly, and by the time we were in the forest near the car it was barely sprinkling. The top of the cliff was so lost in the cloud we were just experiencing something entirely different up there. So, we spread out our stuff to dry, battled land leeches, and waited for the sun.

Our last day was blue skies and sun. We took daypacks and hiked up to the line, and though the wind was brutal, the line was so loose that once it was weighted the walker couldn't feel the wind whipping over the plateau. After three days we were able to officially establish our first highline in Tasmania. We each took our turns, enjoying the short but beautifully exposed line. Around 100 ft long, it sloped up to a pillar on one side and the step off was a challenge but possible. In a small alcove, the walker feels completely exposed on one side as the whole valley stretches out for miles. From the far side the beautiful tarn is visible, a blue-green circle of shallow, crystal clear water.

We detoured to the Bay of Fires for one night, hearing it was a must see destination. We ate pizza on the beach whilst being eaten by sand fleas. We drove up and down in the dark searching for a place to sleep, finally finding a turnoff. I walked along a sandy trail and pitched my tent sans rainfly just behind a grassy dune, keen to sleep to the sound of waves crashing against the sandy shore. My tent has a really neat feature of LED lights inside, and usb or batteries
can power them, so I plugged in my GoalZero Venture battery pack and immediately found myself illuminated. I read late into the night listening to the ocean. At sunrise I heard Max pattering by and I awoke, joining the boys on the beach as the sun crested the horizon. From the wet, soggy Alpine environment to the white sand, turquoise water of Bay of Fires was a small taste of the diversity Tasmania offers.

The following day we headed south towards the Tasman Peninsula. Along the way the map was repeatedly taken out and our group discussed where to go. There were too many options and imposing weather, so we expected only brief windows of time. It was agreed upon to go to Cape Raoul since no highlines had been established there. The landscape gradually changed; the colors became more what I imagined in Australia; dryer beige grasses and auburn fauna, still met by dense Eucalyptus forest. We passed small, quiet towns with unusual names like Eagle-Hawk Neck and Nubeena, finally arriving at the end of the road.

The cliffs were out of sight, we were on the peninsula itself but it was wide and encompassed farmlands and villages. It was growing dark, and next to the trail there stood a beautiful two-story house on a hill, surrounded by a large green open field. Signs along the fence invited respectful hikers to use the composting toilet, and we soon figured out that it was a privately run campground. The owner came to the fence and told us the fee; $5 AUD per night, and twice that if we wanted to use the sauna. We drove our van in and pitched our tents in the field amongst the wild hens that roamed and screeched all around us. They look quite like a chicken only thinner and more athletic. The many geese added to the choir making quite a racket all around us, it sounded like a jungle of poultry.

Andy, the owner of the campground was friendly and inquired about our plans. He had seen our highliner friend printed in the newspaper prior to our arrival and had an inclination as to what we were planning. He offered to hike water out for us. These unexpected kindnesses are part of why I love traveling so much. Once our bags were packed with one night of food and all potentially necessary highline equipment, we started up the trail that started at the dead end of the road and quickly lead us into another forest. We crossed logs, wound through mossy eucalyptus trees, and eventually landed at a cliff edge exposing the endless dark blue of the ocean. I was reminded of the Calanque in Southern France.
On we trekked, now moving downward through stubby old dead trees and thin trunked new ones. Soon we opened up onto the plateau of the peninsula, and the bush bashing began. No trees dotted this landscape, just endless shoulder or head high bushes, thick and rugged. Once we reached the end of the trail we split off and dumped our packs and searched for our gap. Separately we found several options; a big hundred meter projects in an alcove on one side, a sixty-meter gap with sheer two-hundred-plus drops below it, and we all eyed the towers below us in a formation called the wedding cake, named for the candle like spires dotting the small finger of the peninsula. There appeared to be a lot of potential down there so Max and I rappelled in to scout while the rest of the crew rigged the sixty meter gap.

We spent the next several hours scrambling along a slippery traversing climbers trail, dirt sliding, off-width down-climbing, repeatedly looking at Max's iPhone picture of the Wedding Cake attempting to gain bearing. He used my Tendon Lowe 8.9 rope to lead an unknown crack on an unknown tower so we could gain a vantage point, and upon reaching the top we found a lack of rap rings and we were no closer to the gap we had seen from above. The greatest difficulty was how off level all the spires turned out to be. We finally found a second trail that lead to the base of a small tower, which involved a short solo traverse, one that I was happy to have climbing shoes for.

The rock was some of the most friction I'd touched, ever. My skin was raw after one hand jam. Eventually we talked logistics and it was clear getting everyone down there with all the equipment would be a feat, and we still didn't know how to get a connection between one tower and another with sheer drops straight the ocean below the gap. Though we bailed without a new project it was a fun scouting mission.
Several hours later we rejoined the group and found a beautiful new line rigged and almost ready for walking. It went from edge to edge with quite creative rigging. 

When I asked them what they had slung on the other side, Ben answered "Everything." The alcove it was rigged in was a V shape, gradually opening up to a wide mouth exposing waves crashing against rocks far below. The cliffs on the peninsula are long hexagonal pillars, rising out of the ocean in short heights and eventually reaching up three hundred meters. The drop below the highline was impressive. I scrambled to a freestanding pillar some hundred feet back to watch Jerry cross. He slowly and steadily stepped his way across the loose line. The weather was the opposite of Ben Lomond; the sun beat down and caused lethargy and sunburns all around. When I finally scooted out on the line the wind was gusting sideways and making the highline buck and kick like a wild snake. I gingerly made my way to the middle and fell, then repeated my mistake. The scouting mission had used quite a lot of my energy bank and I retreated to the rock to lie down and bask. Later after the wind subsided a bit I got on the highline again and managed to cross it. The exposure was breathtaking. Though far below, the movement of the water was a present distraction.

Before dark we returned to our bivy spot, and I utilized the strong sun to charge my dying electronics. With direct sun my phone was charged in less than half an hour, and I wondered why I had waited so many years to utilize the suns energy! That evening we camped on the peninsula, nestled in the bush and blanketed by a million stars. The following day we de-rigged the line and hiked back through the bush, the sweeping branches of coastal pine, the mossy forest, and finally found ourselves back at the campground for a night. The owner Andy let us look at his maps of Tasmania as we plotted our next destination. We learned more about his plans for the beautiful house; that it would be a bed and breakfast and small farm. They were already producing organic garlic and jams. The house was an incredible work of art; all wood and sustainably built, with a wood burning stove that heated the water while heating the house. Tasmania is famous for it's wood and the house was a perfect exhibit of that.

The next day we drove to the Devils Kitchen, a popular tourist destination where a large arch has been eroded by the saltwater of the ocean slapping against the cliff. Next we drove to the blowhole, a stinky and unimpressive spot where water smashes against a natural tunnel spraying brown rotting-kelp water into the air. The best part about the blowhole is a nearby food-trailer, serving fish and chips, pies, and fresh berry ice cream. Following the map and assuming where the cliffs would be, we drove up a dirt road into the Tasman Peninsula National Park and parked at the end. We walked about a hundred feet to the edge of the viewpoint and found ourselves staring at a perfect alcove. Jerry's laser told us the gap was over ninety meters. We ran around the edge of the cliffs searching for any other coves that could offer other possibilities, but ultimately agreed on the ninety-meter gap. After our last highline missions, rigging a line a short walk from the van was a luxury! We divided to conquer and I began helping weave a tag line through the bushes and trees inside the cove. The anchor on one side was a tree with the edge of the rock slung as a directional.

The stinky ants we had encountered all around the island were in this area also, and quickly invaded our rigging process. On the other side the sturdy railing of the viewpoint became the tensioning side. Not long after we were pulling our slackline across the gap, and true to the style of the trip it remained loose and droopy.

A tourist woman asked Preston about our activities and presumed that we would pull rocks off the cliff and destroy the natural surroundings, and it can be assumed she is the same person who called the police on us. While Jerry smoothly crossed the line the local police officer slash ranger showed up and took a gander. He was friendly and didn't care in the least that we were highlining.

The line was easy for Jerry and Ben, however the rest of us fought on it. Though the length is well within my abilities, transitioning to loose lines is still a mental battle and physically perplexing as I try to let go of my old technique of controlling every shake, and rather learn to sway as the line sways, and take a step when it calms down. This line was no less frustrating, particularly knowing that some tension would make it far easier for me. I accepted my plight and took several turns walking, falling, standing up, walking, falling, repeat. A couple of the guys fetched fish and chips from the food trailer and we happily gobbled them up sitting on the edge of the cliff, staring at our highline and the beautiful endless ocean.

We stayed the following day enjoying the sunshine, explaining to tourists what we were doing, watching the tourist boats pull up below us and point as someone slowly crossed the line. The overall alcove was huge, and across from our little gap was at least four hundred meters in distance. The rock cliffs were different from the hexagonal pillars of Cape Raoul; rather they were horizontal layers upon each other, as if a cardboard architecture model of the coast had been blown up to life size. Atop the cliffs was a vast Eucalyptus forest, and had we followed the Waterfall bay trail no doubt we would have found more alcoves to highline in. It felt endless. Potentially the only thing Tasmania is missing other than Mexican food is a solid highline community.

Jerry was leaving a week earlier than the rest of the group so we drove back to Hobart for a night to regroup and decide what the rest of us wanted to do with our time. There are some impressive alpine environments in Tassie, however access is long and we were unsure if we had enough time left to get anything done. I was dreaming of Federation Peak, however the seven-day access sounded touch with a backpack full of highline equipment, and yet it was difficult to leave without seeing the islands most impressive environment. 

A session of google and showing each other photos of the options lead us to Lake St. Claire National Park. Previous to our arrival parts of Tasmania has been through some terrible fires, and not everything was reopened. We drove for several hours, and for the first time passed landscapes that were not lush. The hills looked barren, with an occasional singular white, dead tree clinging loosely to the hillside. A half dry cattle pond, a barbwire fence and a small white farmhouse with peeling paint were at times the only sign of habitation. Gradually the landscape became greener, and the trees became thicker, and soon we were in a dense forest of tall trees, seemingly impenetrable other than our two-lane road passing through. It was the first time we drove at night, and as the sun set the animals began crossing; wallabies, wombats, devils, possums, it was a miracle we didn't hit one. It was the most wildlife we had seen on the entire trip. The wombat looked like a small, furry VW bus, and the devil was much smaller than I imagined.

We slept on a fire road off the main. The next morning we headed to the park, the sky was gray and rain seemed imminent. We had to take a ferry across the long stretch of the Lake St. Claire. It was expensive, however the six-hour hiking alternative would add quite a bit of time to our trip. We bought our tickets, and then packed our bags for a three-days in the bush. There was no way to make them light; we had lost one of our companions and we had to take food, camping equipment, climbing equipment and highlining gear. We boarded a small boat with a few hikers and puttered across the lake. It was a landscape from the Pacific northwest; dark water surrounded on all sides by dense forest. Classified as sub-alpine, not only eucalyptus trees live here but beech and a number of ancient pine variations.  The peaks were hidden in heavy, wet clouds but we knew they were there. We stopped at one of the huts on the Overland Track, a popular eighty-kilometer hiking trail, and stepped off the boat to have a look. We continued on until we reached the Cessiphus hut near the ferry dock, where a crew of wet and forlorn looking hikers awaited their boat back to civilization. No doubt we would look the same in a few days.

Our packs were upwards of sixty pounds, and we hoisted them onto our backs and set off down the well-marked trail. The forest was less dense and it quickly opened up into button grass plains. A well-built boardwalk wound through these grasses, allowing us to hike above the marshy, wet ground beneath. I was impressed that such a rural and hard to reach park was so well maintained. After seven years of hiking my butt off for highline excursions, it finally dawned on me to listen to an audiobook while walking. I am kicking myself for taking so long to reach this conclusion. With a story in my ears, time flew by. My surroundings transitioned from grassy open marsh to a mossy forest, magical neon red lichens growing up the green fuzzy trees, and the mossy boardwalk appearing as if it had always been there. The forest was darker and darker, and soon there were strange prehistoric-palm-tree-looking plants that gave the impression of dinosaurs about. This was the lost world. We arrived at Pine Valley Hut, our stopping point that night. I slept in the hut on a wooden platform, my Big Agnes Sleeping pad and sleeping bag keeping me warm and cozy but not protecting me from the snoring bear inside. The hut was a common stopping point on the overland track and it had four other hikers sharing the space. Due to aggressive mice, I hung my aircontact pro from the rafters to protect my food. The boys stayed in the teepee outside, where they were visited from a number of creatures in the night.

The following day we set out to hike towards Mount Geryon, our highline destination. Some Russian highliners had established a beautiful line there already, and we planned to either repeat their line or establish a new, bigger line above it. The hike from the hut quickly became steep and bushy, and I grunted up the slope until I reached a small plateau. From there I could see the deep valley we had just hiked out of. We had to skirt around the entire valley to reach Geryon, and it looked far and impassable. The path led down the other side of the plateau, where a number of twisting lakes were visible. I walked along the shallow lakes, beautiful alpine bodies of water not more than a few feet deep. Then I entered the Labyrinth; a confusing collection of rocky mounds sprinkled with skeletal eucalyptus trees. In the distance a giant set of cliffs with obvious highline potential beckoned, while across the valley the gap of Geryon looked more and more appealing. Though rugged, wild and hard to navigate, this park was full of potential.

Eventually we all reached the saddle between the Geryon side of the valley and the Labyrinth, where the guidebook had mentioned a climber's camp. Water was of no issue; tons of small pools were scattered across the rocky slope. There were so many types of mosses, some firm and spiky, unflinching after stepping on them. Others were soft and lush, harboring water. We scrambled across the area searching for a flat spot without water trickling across it.

The boys found a teepee spot with a beautiful front porch overlooking the entire valley, the twisting lakes, the Labyrinth, Lake St. Claire and the endless peaks and cliffs in the distance. A level above I found a flat rock, and set up my FlyCreek tent. Though the tent is for two, it is so light I would happily pack it for myself on another trip, and having space for my pack and still plenty of room for myself was a luxury as well.

There is something so poignant about being in these undisturbed natural environments; the Cradle Mountain area of Tassie is famous for being inhospitable, a title arrogant humans would give a landscape that doesn't bend to their will. Besides the well-groomed path and a peppering of huts, the landscape seems greatly untouched. There are cliffs as far as the eye can see, with no paths to them. The adventurous and ambitious highliner, climber or BASE jumper could open many a route or exit, and yet, it is unlikely to be repeated. Once humans find a landscape that bends to their will, a road goes in, a parking lot, a trail, a signpost, a view never ends, and some years later impact becomes an issue. I stood on the precipice of my short-term home and imagined aboriginals passing through the landscape; hunting, sleeping by the stars, bathing and drinking from the lake, and doubtfully did they ever think about how to make the land yield.

We followed the trail from our bivy as it gradually inclined and passed through another plateau, this one carpeted in the most beautiful moss I'd ever seen. Oval blankets of green, firm speckled peat lay scattered across the steppe, and I had to touch it. Upon closer inspection each type of moss was it's own beautiful geometric work of art.

Cairns marked the path but they seemed to disappear and reappear unexpectedly. We were on our own, for the most part. We couldn't see the gap and it was a wild guess as to where we could summit. Scattered, our group followed the many trails through bushes, over scree, and up gullies, occasionally doing easy climbing moves with our heavy packs to reach what appeared to be the easiest ascent. We huffed and hauled ourselves up dihedrals, grabbing at roots and cracks. It was easy, but adding forty or more pounds of gear complicates easy scrambles, to say the least. Once on top we ventured around the boulder field to the edge, and found ourselves staring at a perfect gap. It appeared level, and the exposure of both valleys dropping to the sides of Mount Geryon and the impressive cliffs of the Acropolis in the background were breathtaking.

It was late in the day, and a discussion of what was feasible took place. Our climbing team felt uneasy about some recent rock fall on the route they needed to ascend to reach the other summit, and our uncertainty about weather the following day left lingering doubt. The reality of going on trips with a group is hearing and respecting each person's opinions, concerns, desires and needs. Despite all sharing the same passion, it is unrealistic to think that four people would always be in agreement. The big gap was beautiful, and desirable, but pressuring those responsible for climbing to that side didn't feel right, and I was concerned about leaving the line up in case we had to de-rig the following day in bad weather, especially considering the approach was slippery and involved some climbing moves. Our alternative was to repeat a beautiful and aesthetic line established by some Russians earlier that year. It wasn't quite what we came to do, however it was beautiful and worth a walk.  While Preston rappelled he carried a thin cord, our tagline for making the connection over the gap. He then climbed up the small middle tower, flicking the tagline over edges so that it hung free. Attached above my ledge, Ben had to walk the static rope along the edge, trying to keep it from hooking on any cracks or ledges, and then rappel holding the tagline until I could reach into the void and grab it. Once the boys on the other side were situated, I passed the slackline and backup rope, pre-taped together, across the gap. We tensioned a bit with a line slider. The weather had shifted since our arrival, and big, fast moving clouds sped up the gulley from the valley below and lingered in the gap we were about to walk across. For long moments visibility was lost and we were in the gray and white no mans land of the mountains.  

When the clouds cleared enough to see across the valley, the twisting lakes of the Labyrinth reflected the patches of perfect blue sky. It looked as if the world was indeed flat and the lakes were windows through the crust to the sky below.

With limited day light we delegated tasks quickly. Our climbing team rappelled to climb a small tower in the gap that acted as one anchor of the line. I scrambled down to a small ledge covered in scree and boulders to sling a large rock that would be the other anchor. The rock was huge, and I had to wiggle up a wet chimney to get the sling around one side, then climb up the other side to finish circling the rock. Protection for the sling was very important in this scenario, as the boulder had sharp edges.

Ben walked the line first, slowly and steadily crossing it in his usual fashion; effortless but as slow as a snail, wearing his little leather shoes. I took my turn and struggled, finding my legs fatigued and my mind distracted by the swirling fog. It had been at least six years since I had fought on a line so short, and though I aimed to attempt it with no expectation, the crushing fear of failure hung heavy upon my shoulders. It is so easy to become attached to our performance levels, and when circumstances lead to us performing worse than we did in the past, it is a tough part of our ego's to battle. I crossed almost to the half and fell, repeatedly. The loose type-18 highline with dynamic rope backup wobbled under my feet and I seemingly couldn't calm it down. At some point I scooted off of the line for the other boys to give it a shot, in disbelief at my own inability to cross it.

The day was drawing to a close and the sun, though invisible behind the overcast sky, was dipping low behind the blue hills. We didn't have much time left. I scooted out for one last attempt. I fell in the same place as every other time, just before the half. I attached my line slider and glided to the far side, the tower, and moved my body into the chongo position. The clouds were a bit less thick, I could see the other side, and I stood up focusing on the technique that was key to crossing successfully. I remained with straight posture, hips equalized over the line, trying to slow all movements down and transfer those movements to the line so it remained calm as well. Halfway across the tiredness set in and my mind was screaming at me to give up. I screamed back, verbally shouting, "Come on!" the phrase so often mentioned in my trip reports.

Near the end of the line I was trying to remain calm and collected while also envisioning how I should step off onto the uneven rock surface. It was a slab and my depth perception was skewed from focusing so hard on the anchor. I tried to step off, losing my balance and almost face planting to the shocked faces of the boys watching. I managed to block my face with my elbow, forunately. My swollen elbow became a lovely reminder of the fight, and I laughed out loud, ecstatic to have sent the line.

We de-rigged as quickly as possible, losing light fast. We fashioned a tyrol for Max to get off the tower without ascending, then carried all gear to the summit to pack our bags. By the time the whole group was ready to depart, it was headlamp hour. The fog has resumed its position in full force, swallowing us and allowing only ten to fifteen feet of visibility. According to the first Cairn, we tied our static rope to some routes and rappelled the down-climb section, now soaked and slippery. We continued on the small trails, Max quickly outpacing us, his lamp just as quickly disappearing into the dark mist. The path seemed much longer than we remembered, and it became a game of "find the Cairn," which started us off confidently until we lost the trail and found ourselves standing on the edge of a cliff peering into the black. It took hours before we arrived wet and tired at our campsites, wearily flopping down on the stone porch by the teepee and cooking a late dinner. My beet, carrot and quinoa stir fry, though heavy to carry tasted well worth the effort.

The following morning we slept in, eventually rising to a crisp blue sky. Alas, it would have been fine to leave the line up. A group of ten or more hikers passed our camp, and an eager woman quickly ventured towards us to ask how many times we had walked the line. Camping by the lake, they had witnessed our entire highline fiasco, from set-up, walk, to the late night shenanigans of finding our way back. The sound had apparently traveled across the valley, and I wondered how many hikers we had kept awake shouting, "Max! Where are you?!" We mentioned our epic return, said farewell and they continued on. The hiking group was a mix of older folks, no one younger than fifty and some looking easily seventy or more. We all felt hardcore by our own rights, and yet an hour later I peered up to see the entirety of the hiking group standing a top Mount Geryon. A hiker I repeated this story to later would say, "Sounds like the Hobart Bush Walkers, they are pretty hardcore."

I was keen for a rest day, but the rest of the group was eager for another highline, so we walked to the top of the plateau we were camped upon and agreed upon a sixty-seven meter long gap. With little expectation, I enjoyed walking on the line, but enjoyed sleeping on the mossy tufts far more. I was saddened later to discovered that the moss is extremely sensitive and dies after being touched. There is now possible a Faith-shaped dead moss outline on one of the beds. We enjoyed one last sunset in one of the most beautiful places on earth; a fiery display of neon orange fading out from the peaks, wispy clouds circling them.

The following day I rolled up my Big Agnes tent, mostly dry, and stuffed the Ethel sleeping bag deep into my pack. Somehow, despite eating most of my food (which I had had to ration an extra day) my pack was the same weight as the hike in. We trekked back to the dock where we had arrived a few days prior, jumped in the lake to reinvigorate our weary bones, and watched as platypuses swam by the banks. The next morning the ferry arrived to carry us back to our van, full of food. Rationing three days of food into four had left me with not even a cashew to my name, and I was famished.

Our trip was nearing an end, but we had time for one more project. Uncertain if the time frame would allow an explorative mission, it was decided to repeat a beautiful seventy-meter highline that our friend had established on the Moai, a classic tower off the coast of the Tasman Peninsula. The weather did us no favors, the clouds hung low and pregnant with rain, and the wind whipped around the coast, gusty and unpredictable. Nevertheless, we packed our gear and hiked the hour and a half in, than rappelled to a ledge to rig. I climbed the tower with Preston, enjoying a fun and easy single pitch route up varying cracks on the backside of the Moai. Impressed with the friction, I was immediately sad that I hadn't climbed more during the trip.

The line was not high, but it was aesthetic. There is something special about walking towards a tower, as if the Creators left such stone figures just for highliners and climbers to enjoy. The waters of the Pacific swelled up around the base, crashing against the kelp-covered rocks, spraying white sea foam into the air. Despite the overcast skies and wind, we all enjoyed our time walking on the line, trying to adapt as unexpected gusts hit from every direction.

Hiking back, I went ahead of the group and resisted using a headlamp until I saw nothing. No moon was visible behind the clouds and no stars guided my way. I allowed my eyes to adjust, making out shapes of fallen trees or switchbacks through the Eucalyptus forest enough to stay on track. I heard rustling all around me, certain that wallabies were hopping around the perimeters of the trail. Finally it was too dark to see, and I succumbed, pulling my lamp out and turning the bright LEDs on. Immediately animals scurried off into the grass and trees, a wallaby hopped away, a lizard slithered under a rock, and there in front of me the cutest possum I've seen clung to a small tree, blinded by the light. I stood still, and the little guy crawled down to the path, and walked right up to me, lightly scuttled over my feet, and continued on his way.         

When I finally reached the beach and the path curved down into the soft white sand, I yanked off my approach shoes and socks, rolled up my pants and immediately immersed my feet in the lapping waves. As the water coated the sand then retracted to where from it came, it seemed the stars were being reflected in the wet sand; bioluminescent organisms glowed all along the border of wet and dry sand, it was one of the most beautiful things I've witnessed.

My last two days were spent being hosted by a wonderful couple, the parents of a gal I'd met while Climbing in Mexico a month prior. They lived in a beautiful, handmade wooden house, overlooking a small bay with occasional surf. I went out for a paddle with Jill, wishing I had more time to explore all the surf Tasmania has to offer. It is clear to me, that to live in Tasmania is to be close to nature, to have good coffee and savory pies whenever you may choose, incredible seafood, and the ability to disappear into true wilderness. 

With only a few weeks I barely scratched the surface of this incredible piece of land, and I hope to return in the near future. Highlining was the point of the trip, and yet it was far from the meat and bones of the adventure. Easily eighty percent of my travel on the island was spent hiking through an array of landscapes, microclimates changing from one turn to the next. The wildlife is everywhere you turn, a wombat crossing the road, a wallaby hopping off the trail or a possum peering down at your camp from a tree branch. The entire landscape evoked memories of Central California, where I called home for three years, but with huge cliffs and mountains thrown in. The small towns and pastel farmhouses with sheep roaming free feel like a scene from an idyllic European summer, and the bakeries and coffee houses are a reminder of the inhabitant’s British origins. If you don't mind bush bashing, long approaches, traditional climbing, creative rigging and unpredictable weather, than I cannot recommend Tasmania more. I look forward to my return.

This trip was made possible by the sponsorship of my own bank account and Deuter. Additional and wonderful gear support from Balance Community, Big Agnes, Goal Zero, Rock Empire and Tendon was much appreciated. A recommended packing list will be coming soon!

Invisible Prisoner - Moabs newest 500ft highline

G4G Chamonix - The Alps

The trouble with teammates who are badasses is that sometimes they cancel trips because they smash their knees leaping two meters from tower to tower in the Czech Sandstones. This was the case with Ancee just prior to our Chamonix meeting last June. Her and I had agreed to hitchhike together, and I was looking forward to the adventure and the company.  To be honest I was also happy that we would divide the gear between two backpacks as well. Alas, Ancee's knee did not heal quickly enough and she had to forgo our mountain adventures.

I decided not to hitchhike alone with two backpacks and a camera bag, and found a rideshare driving from Berlin to Geneva. It was a car full of Polish guys, and the driver kindly dropped them all off at their respectful destinations, which meant I saw all of Switzerland by night and we arrived in Geneva well after midnight. Pika, a super friendly climber and adventure photographer, hosted me before I hitchhiked the rest of the way to Chamonix.

With a tram and a bus and all of my backpacks I reached the border with France, walked a few hundred meters and stuck out my thumb. When traveling with so much baggage I always put the biggest bag visibly and arrange the others behind like dominos so passersby don't see just how much shit I'm actually carrying. It was either my thumb or my visible ropes that caught me a ride directly to Chamonix, accompanying a friendly lawyer in an empty Audi. He took my backpack to put it in the back, a scene I witness often, where the man aims to toss the bag in the bag but struggles just to pick it up.  I hope his back is ok. Upon reaching the center of Chamonix, I wandered around until I found a cafe with space for my Deuter companions and I. A man exited the cafe looking at me so I began my monkey talk mixture of English and a few French words, trying to ask for a menu. The man was exasperated and said a lot of things, and finally I took a menu off some other guest’s table and explained that it was what I wanted. I think he told me I could have it, as he walked away and I realized he didn't work there, in fact. Having fulfilled my role as stupid American tourist, I plopped down and awaited the actual waiter. I paid an exorbitant price for the smallest orange juice I'd ever seen, so I decided I could loiter in their chairs as long as I pleased.

Soon enough I was chatting with two Czechs-turned Canadians who grew up climbing in the sandstones before immigrating to Canada. They were a hoot! They supplied me with a glass of wine and we discussed climbing, life, love and when I would remove my nose ring (when I grew up, the woman suggested.) I enjoyed the conversation but the husband was hungry and he dragged his wine-filled wife back to the hotel, and that was that. Not long after a young man passed by and spoke in French about my visible slackline. He turned out to be a slackliner himself, who spoke English, and half an hour later him and his friend joined me at my loitering table. They supplied another glass of wine, and eventually we departed to find the dirtbag friendly burger joint, possibly the only place you can eat well for under 7 euros in Chamonix. Being a gentleman, one of them insisted on taking my big backpack, and as usual was shocked when he lifted it. After collecting our dinner we sat in the park and I laughed at the absurdity of it all. I was waiting for my friend Thibault who was coming to climb in the Alps. I informed him that he could find me by Chanel, which my new friends insisted everyone knew.

We bivied that night in a parking area a short drive away. I strung a hammock between tree's while the boys lit a hookah. It was a short night. Thibault and I awoke at 6:30 to go climbing, his friend Coco arriving to join. Thinking we were ahead of the crowds, we drove to the lift station only to wait 2 hours to get on the gondola. We took a one-way lift to the first station near Lac Bleu. I was reminiscing about my first real climbing experience, with Janek and another friend, when I was first introduced to highlining and climbing six years prior. Imagining myself then, with no knowledge or proper gear, climbing in a vintage leather jacket from London, with bleeding fingers, I was relieved to be back with more experience.

We hiked the remaining distance to the bottom of a well-known classic Contamine-Vaucher, an easy 16 pitch climb on Aiguille du Peigne.  My Tendon Lowe twin ropes were new and I expected some twists, however the best advice you can take away from this post is to flake your new ropes many, many times before you begin climbing. Coco began the route and led the first five pitches, belaying Thibault and I up. We started the route around 11:30am, and other than rope management it went smoothly. Much laughter and sunny weather made me completely forget that I'm usually cold when in the mountains. Thibault showed us a fancy rope technique when belaying from above, which worked well but was time consuming. Taking in armfuls of rope, you make simple overhand knots on a bite, each loop becoming longer that the last, and then when the next leader departs you simply undo a knot and let out a loop as they climb. 

I took the next four or five pitches, the hardest being a 5c with a fun chimney section. It had a lovely piton inside that was incredibly hard to reach with my t-rex arms. I managed. After getting a bit lost searching for a belay, we lost some time traversing in three people, but we were still laughing. Some Germans rappelling pointed us in the right direction, and Thibault led the rest of the route. At the end, we soloed the last twenty meters to be on the proper summit. By this time fog had rolled in and we were surrounded in a gray mist. Damn it! Our selfie could have been taken anywhere! Nonetheless, we made our stupid faces and the one with the longest arms snapped a shot. It was getting dark and we had twelve rappels ahead of us, and so we began the way down. Though a certain comrade had complained about my 80m twin ropes, they sure helped on the rappel when we skipped several pitches. Either way, we reached the glacier in proper dark, and without crampons and only one axe we searched for the easiest retreat. When we hiked up we had done some easy climbing but on descent, in the dark, it didn't feel like the best idea to repeat. I scooted on my butt half the way, soaking my ass in a cold fashion.  The night was completely still, something I am still thankful for, because cold, biting wind always makes things feel like doom is impending.

We hiked down the long, winding trail all the way back to Chamonix. The thinned out trees became less sparse, and their size increased. The city lights steadily grew larger and tangible, but it seemed we would never reach them. Knees throbbing, soaking trousers and still smiling, we finally reached the cars. Coco left for his home, and Thibault and I ate a gourmet dinner of pasta with olive oil, since the shops were long closed and the restaurants long asleep. It was the best olive oil pasta I've ever eaten. In an empty parking lot next to the forest, I strung my hammock between two trees, blew up my air mattress for insulation, and wiggled into my sleeping bag, happily exhausted. The mountains have a funny way of humbling us, and how easily they remind me that I from Texas and need much more experience!
The following day was some kind of rest, though we went to the local crag to climb a few routes while waiting on Chloe. We found each other in the afternoon and drove to a car park to share a meal and discuss our plans. Basia, our third teammate would be arriving in the Valley with the Poles later, so for the time being Thibault, Chloe and I decided to scout some potential lines. Thibault had an idea, so we decided to have a look.
We packed my twin ropes and a light rack, snacks, and set out early to scout the first location. It was a long approach, 1800 meters, with ladders to finish. We scrambled up some easy climbing once in the notch, and with laser in hand, found a hundred meter gap and a forty-meter gap. Neither are easy projects and would require a dedicated team of people able to climb, haul, and hang off of granite edges. It was a beautiful area, and we agreed it was worth returning to rig in the future. The weather could not have been better, with the sun browning my shoulders I hardly felt I was in the mountains. The notch itself was a small summit on a ridge, and therefore was surrounded by jagged peaks, which make the range. The following day was for rest, after 1800 meters of hiking we all needed it.
Being in the mountains requires constant forecast checks, and it was clear the next few days were not the best weather, so after meeting with Basia who had arrived from Poland, we went for an all day hiking and scouting mission in the nearby cliffs of Passy. The trail was beautiful, and though the peaks and cliffs are much lower than in Chamonix, they boast impressive sheer drops, and behind them the grass slopes down into a valley that looks like the moors of Scotland. On the way up the clouds rolled in, and by the time we reached the cliff edges and gaps, there was no visibility of the village below, or even the other side of whatever gaps we were staring at. The rock was different as well, a funky limestone, crumbled and layered with many cracks formed by water. Uncertainty about the legality of rigging highlines there was the main reason we didn't return, though we knew there was plenty of potential. Base jumping and climbing are restricted due to nesting birds, so it is unlikely highlining will ever be permitted. Wet and soggy, we headed back down to return to our parking spot and camp in Chamonix.

Now that us three girls were united, we began the G4G segment of our trip. To start, we repeated two of the beautiful lines at Tres le Porte. One of the things I love about collaborating with women is how analytical we can be when organizing. We carefully discussed gear, application, weight, etc. and packed accordingly. We would use the same single twin rope for climbing the easy scramble as for the backup. In hindsight, taking both twin ropes would have made our lives a little easier, but we made it work nonetheless. We planned for one night, as our bags were already heavy with highline equipment and camping gear. Chloe decided to eat oats for the entirety of the project, so Basia and I teamed up on meals, eating an array of Polish food she had driven from her homeland, such as tiny cucumbers, dehydrated noodles, and kielbasa sausage.
Early the next morning we began hiking. Chloe took a train with our bags, and Basia and I had the luxury of walking with daypacks half of the way. We met at the Muir de Glace station, collected our backpacks, and continued up the glacier. I was at Tres le Porte three years prior doing a commercial with Tancrede and Julien, and the landscape was familiar though this time I had far better shoes for it. The glacier is wide, and mostly gray from small stones stuck in it. All around us we could hear the rushing water of melting ice, somewhere deep below us. Occasionally we would walk up to a giant hole in the glacier, icy blue with a waterfall and a river disappearing into the cold darkness. We skirted around them and continued on. Cairns haphazardly marked the way. The glacier is a joy to walk on, as it is just a slight incline, and it is so wide that fellow climbers hiking on their found path seem endlessly far away. We stopped occasionally to film silly scenes of our feet passing the lens, or us girls hiking by. Eventually we made it to the start of purgatory: never ending ladders to the top. Going up ladders, some overhanging, with a 65-liter backpack full of gear is no joy. The repetitive motion is one thing, but the burn in my muscles was the greatest challenge. We didn't bother clipping in for safety in order to save time, and counting the rungs did me no favors. Eventually we reached the next section of hiking; a thin trail of switchbacks ascending. Chloe outpaced Basia and I but we found each other at various intervals. Unsure of where the next water would be, Basia and I stopped at a trickle and filled our bottles as best we could. The water slid down the mossy rocks and tasted clean, but it was a slow process. Not a hundred meters more and we found a raging stream! We had jumped the gun.

The last stretch to the top felt grueling, and I was happy to throw my bags down. Chloe and I took my twin rope to get on the other side of the gap. We scrambled back down and around to the backside of the formation, and I looked up at each gulley as I tried desperately to remember how I had climbed it four years prior. For the commercial a mountain guide had taken us up, so I hadn't paid much attention to the route but knew it was something easy. I started up what looked like easy cracks in the granite. Some moves involved hoisting my body weight up, and then reaching out right to find a hold and traverse my feet to whatever available ledge I could feel out. The rocks were loosely stacked and I climbed steadily and carefully as not to drop one on Chloe belaying me. At some point about twenty meters up the easy section disappeared. I traversed out on a ledge covered in fallen rock, the lichen covered granite slick and rust colored. It was starting to appear like proper climbing. I made some moves up on the face, the cracks disappeared for some meters, but I felt uncertain without many gear placements below me, and after some up and down and back and forth, I decided it wasn't the right way. Four years prior whatever we had climbed was far easier than this, and at my climbing level now it shouldn't be so scary. I carefully climbed backwards; removing the few cams I had placed a long the way. We walked farther back and I started up an easy gulley, trailing the tendon twin rope. It didn't feel familiar but quickly I was at the top, without placing a single cam. Soloing up the easy way meant I didn't have to back clean and Chloe didn't need to follow me to retrieve the gear. I exited through a hole in the stones and found myself staring at Basia across the void. 

Traversing along the slant, daintily maneuvering over granite slate just balanced on the edge, I eventually discovered the anchor bolts for the forty-meter line.  In the process of rigging, I rested my hand on a large boulder, about a meter by a meter in size. It quickly began sliding towards the nearby edge, to fall into the space under the line. Was Chloe down there on her way back to the other side? Would I start a small avalanche of rocks triggered by this boulder?  My instinct is to avoid causing rock fall, so I took Basia's climbing sling and put it around the boulder while bracing it with my hand, the weight of it quickly becoming more than I could handle. I cinched the sling tight and tried to pull the boulder back to its original resting place, but it continued its downward motion, and with me in tow! I was sweating and stressing as I clung to the sling, Basia watching it all from across the gap likely wondering what the hell I was up to. I yelled to her what was happening, but knew I wouldn't be able to stop the massive rock from tumbling down. I let go, knowing it was unlikely that Chloe was underneath. It slid a few feet and rested in a crack. I laughed, removed Basia's sling and got back to rigging. Silly me!

Soon the anchor was built and I threw the dynamic rope down the notch below. Basia threw the tag line from the other side, Chloe tied them together, and after a bit of back and forth we passed the slackline across the gap.  After tensioning a bit and taping, it was ready to be walked. The weather was perfect, the sun was still high, no wind passed our way, and the small puffy white clouds dotted the skies above impressive peaks, jagged spikes surrounded our little gap. I understand the desire the first mountaineers had to reach summits; if you stand below them, no matter how high you are, the peaks call you, draw you up to them, a magnetism not everyone experiences as ambition but one that evokes awe at least.

The line was a bit tensioned but loose and we all took some turns walking. It was a fight for all of us, and the first attempts proved the backup rope to be too tight. This is a problem when using a stretchy slackline like type-18, which means we can feel the tension of the backup as we walk. A weird, difficult-to-calm wobble is often the result. After some adjusting, we all took additional turns. I managed to onsight the line, and Chloe put in good time screaming, "Calm! Solid! Calm! Solid!" the entire way across. Basia was on the brink of crossing the forty-meter mark in highline, so she gave the line many tries. Whichever girls weren't walking sat on the granite edge, basking in the sun. I always imagine highlining in the alps as a cold, uncomfortable experience, and yet here we were, stripped down to our underwear working on our tans. One of the joys of being in an all female team was the ability to unabashedly pee anywhere, any time. A joy usually reserved for men, it was a taste of freedom!

As the sun set on the valley our layers came on, but we also spent a good portion of my camera battery taking silly photos of our asses. We cooked dinner, Basia and I eating a soupy Polish dehydrated pasta and Chloe eating oats.

Across the valley we searched for Thibault's lights, as he was on a multi day ridge climb. We yelled into the night and wondered if our banshee calls were bouncing across the glacier and hitting his bivy. By night the sky was black velvet poked through millions of times to expose the light of the heavens. Wrapped warmly in my Deuter sleeping bag I slept long. I woke once in the night, opened my eyes to the most spectacular sky I've ever seen, and stayed awake a few minutes, taking it in.

The next morning we walked the line a few more times, then I glided across so we could transfer the set up to the sixty-seven meter gap established by Thibault and friends earlier that year. Finding the anchors was tricky, especially as nothing looked level from my side. Eventually I found a several confusing bolts, and set to making a useful anchor that wouldn't expose any of the slackline to sharp rock edges. The anchors were so off level from each other that we doubted if we had found the correct ones. I extended out with a spanset for this purpose. The slackline was just long enough to be grabbed by my line grip, fortunately. We tightened it old school style (as in popular three plus years ago).  The line was neat, it cut straight through the long gap, passing near a lower tower, and landing on a beautiful flat edge. We made a backup for the bolts with cams on both sides. My Aero webbing was just long enough to span the gap, with little excess for tying additional backups.

Then, came the walking. I had to remain focused in order to cross it, but the spectacular view and exposure was motivational. Walking diagonally through the gap caused the exposure to change, the first section was over nothing but a far away sloping glacier, and then as I moved into the corridor it felt safe, protected, and then passing over the tower far below lead my mind to fearful questions: could I hit it if I fell? I pushed through the ever-changing mental dialogue, and crossed it successfully. 

It was early and we decided to go ahead and do the push back to Chamonix that night. We derigged the line quickly, and began the hike back. A few hours later, no later than nine at night, we found ourselves at Chloe's car, tired, satisfied and proud of our timely project, and excited to eat a good hot meal again! We rejoined our friend Thibault and shared our success stories in between his van and our tent.

One of the most relaxing of our missions was repeating a local waterline with Baptiste, a young, local highliner. We hiked about an hour on a beautiful sunny day, expecting rain but lucking out with hot sun. Unfortunately we found upon arrival that many of the hangers were missing for the waterline, and we spent a good deal of time trying to figure out how to do the line all naturally. The boulders surrounded the alpine lake were off level or difficult to sling. We set up two lines, a short twenty meter fun line, and eventually an extremely off level seventy meter line, with webbing too short to make it across and therefore a spanset stuck out four meters. On one side the line was easily four meters above the water, which despite the safety of falling in water, is a frightening feeling. The other side was lower, but the line was loose and it was a fight to stay on it. Wind created a huge pulse and it sin waved under our feet, bouncing us off in some cases. The place was beautiful, it was across the valley from the impressive peaks, and they loomed in the distance. The downside was the sheer number of tourists. Despite our little microcosm of slackliners on all other sides of the lake was a constant stream of human bodies, sun hats, khaki pants, trekking poles clicking, and accents from around the globe. We were a spectacle to say the least. At the end of the day the de-rig became quite a mission when we discovered that the boulder we slung had moved and trapped our spanset behind it. We didn't want to give up the spanset, so between four of us yanking on the boulder we managed to remove it, reason to cheer!

The last of our projects is one that was special and has become even more so. We decided to repeat the incredible solo mission of Tancrede Millet, a long time friend and inspiration in the community. He lived nearby Chamonix, and agreed to join us. It was no small alpine mission, though access was easy via a lift to Aiguille du Midi (to have enough time to do it in one day) the rest of the access and retreat involved crampons, ice axes, climbing, and speed. The line itself was beautiful, the altitude being one of the higher lines in the world, over four thousand meters.

Tancrede was in the middle of a liver detox, and was on a strict diet of apple juice. He had a yellow pallor and low energy, however low energy for Tancrede simply meant that he was just above a normal persons stoke. He had two weeks prior become father to a little girl, and he left his girlfriend and newborn for the day to help us repeat his line. Tancrede always had this special smirk and mysteriousness to him; his eyebrows alive with whatever ideas were swirling around in his head. I hadn't seen him in a couple years, and it was with fondness that we met him before dawn at the lift station. We were first in line for the lift, and we stood like mountaineer zombies staring at the dark windows as the lift workers filed in, sitting at the desks waiting until the last possible moment to open. The lights flickered on like in a dream and we were soon standing in the gondola gliding up, up, ears popping as the altitude gained and we soared over the dark forest. The light of dawn began illuminating the horizon, a pink glow that had yet to touch the still sleeping town of Chamonix. We reached the first lift station, then continued on to Aiguille du Midi, the top and final station for Mont Blanc.

I had never been to the top before, and stepping out onto the icy veranda I was perfectly aware of why mountaineers search for summits. We were surrounded by the crisp peaks of the Alps; endless and intangible, blankets of white clouds hovering beneath the summits. We all stopped to take it in. The beginning of our approach was a short down climb off the terrace of the lift station, followed by a rappel. We donned our crampons, walking over icy snow-covered rocks until we reached the base of one side of the highline. Basia and I took the two camalots and slings from Tancrede after receiving a brief description of the "easy" climb we were searching for on the far tower. We hiked around to the backside with one of my twin ropes and two light backpacks containing the necessary gear. I was unsure of the start, and searched for the easiest way up. This appeared to be a dihedral. I moved up the backside of the tower, Tancrede and Chloe far out of view and only Basia staring up at me, hoping I had chosen the right way. I placed my two cams on the way, slung something, but soon found my crack disappearing into a face. Behind me, an endless stream of tourists in shiny crampons and too-right mountaineering pants rappelled awkwardly as a British guide blandly yet firmly told them how to do it. I delicately climbed up onto the face, then back down, and eventually far right to an anchor. I was still an entire pitch from the top, afraid with little protection and unsure of where I should be climbing. I belayed Basia up, and I attempted to go on once she was hanging at the belay. I felt like a fool, scared on a difficult face with no gear, and eventually I was leaning around the tower hollering for a rescue from Tancrede. He quickly arrived, showing me the easy route on a completely different side of the tower. We released Basia, who rapped down to assist Chloe, and Tancrede and I finished climbing the tower on the opposite side, summiting and building the anchors as to avoid losing more daylight. Two hours were lost with me on that rock.
Tancrede gave the line a go first, but it was clear his base jumping and fatherhood had taken much time away from highlining, so he was unsuccessful but still seemed to enjoy catching and standing up on the sixty meter line. By this time the terrace of the lift station was filling with tourists, and our line was in plain view. Our blue skies had disappeared as the fast moving mountain mists glided past, and in the clouds the endless peaks disappeared and reappeared at their own leisure. Chloe gave the line a go, bouncing it and practicing her "Calm! Solid!" mantra. When my turn came, I hoisted myself up to the anchor and took off my multiple jackets and crampons. I was nervous despite knowing the length shouldn't be an issue. Standing up I could feel my muscles exhausted from the week before; the long hiking, heavy packs, altitude. I was aware that time was limited and the amount of fighting would be cut short by our need to catch the last lift down. Somehow, despite all of these pressures, I managed to start taking steps. It was fluid, not easy, but like a river spilling over rocks that stand in it's way. The clouds passed through me, the anchor disappeared and reappeared. It was like an acid trip (though I've none to compare it with). I wasn't aware if I was leaning left or right, I simply adjusted my weight to stay in equilibrium. At some point I was stepping onto the tower, shouting, joyous, feeling so good in the mountains, on this line, it was the feeling of achievement, of purpose. Going back was a similar experience, and with no falls I was back with the girls, feeling their support.

After Basia tried the line, we began the derig. We had limited time to catch the last lift, and once the line was down we divided into two teams, Tancrede leading Chloe out and me leading Basia. They were fast and quickly disappeared, Basia and I were behind two slow climbers. I had never climbed with crampons, so it was a nice way to begin; under pressure and unsure of the way. I climbed up the first rock, attached to Basia by twenty-meters of rope, the rest of it wound around our chests. With backpacks we carefully simul-climbed the easy terrain, with occasional climbing maneuver’s in order to ascend to the lift station. The climbers ahead of us had disappeared, and I followed foot-tracks hoping I was on the correct way. I arrived to Tancrede's face peering down at us, smiling mischievously as he said, "See? You can be a mountain guide!" We rushed through the station, making the last lift down to Chamonix within minutes.

The final repeat project of us three was the forty-meter highline at the top of Brevent. Basia and I hiked while Chloe took the bags. The weather was sunny and beautiful at the start, but according to plan it became shittier the higher we climbed. Once on top, we were layering up as we stood in fog and light rain. Chloe had already begun rigging, and it was a quick installment compared to the previous projects. Despite being short, the fog was so thick that at times only the first few meters of the line were visible. We left it loose and took turns walking, though after one crossing both directions I was satisfied. When the hail fell, we were all cold, wet and ready to go down. Chloe offered to hike down and I happily took up the chance to save my knees some pain and rode the lift back to the valley, sitting in the car eating bread until the girls arrived.

The G4G Chamonix trip wrapped up after Brevent, and I was happy with how we had cooperated as a group. Despite some different rigging preferences in relation to tension (something that can easily be overcome by training all styles of rigging or loosening or tightening a line according to preference) I was confident in the rigging abilities of us three girls, and we communicated well and laughed often. I hope there will be more G4G projects in the future!

Thank you Thibault for being a great climbing partner, your van that kept us dry and warm during the rain and your good humor. Thank you Tancrede, now deceased, for this last wonderful highline mission with you and for hosting Basia and I in your home after Chamonix.