Nylon world record in France
650 meters long & 200 meters high – a storm blowing hard at 100 km/h impeded Alex from crossing the longest nylon slackline in the French Auvergne at first. However, we weren't disheartened and came back with more time available. You can find our documentary “Walk with the wind“, which features our most spectacular project so far, and Alex's report below:
We chose an extraordinary location for the longest highline in the world: a volcano in the French Massiv Central! To be more precise, the two rock towers “Roche Tuilière et Sanadoire“ in the beautiful Auvergne. When I was a child, my father took me to many, in parts active, volcanoes and thus had awaken a fascination for this force of nature in me. Therefore I had been dreaming of a slackline on a volcano ever since I started slacklining.
After months of difficult negotiations with the French authorities we finally could set off: in the middle of September we drove into the largest nature reserve of Europe.
As you don't walk a 650-meter-long highline “just like that”, we rigged two highlines here in the Auvergne for training. In the picturesque village of Viallard near the source of the natural mineral water Volvic I increased my physical and mental stamina on a 150-meter-long line; the gurgling water of the “La Grande Cascade“ was beneficial especially to my concentration and will power.
The site of the world record attempt has an unusual formation history:
The last ice age formed this place. A glacier once made its way through the middle of a big volcano. What was left is only two former side walls (called Roche Tuilière et Sanadoire today), 650m apart from each other and 200m above the former ground of the crater. A perfect highline spot with almost vertical walls and unique surroundings. From here you could see both the last training spot “La Grande Cascade” and the “Chaîne des Puys” (=”volcanic chain”) with the famous Puy de Dome and behind of it the Puy Pariou.
The first challenge we faced was rigging the slackline. With such long highlines it is often extremely difficult to get the slackline to the other side. As there was so much vegetation overgrowth covering the ground, a drone was the only possibility to connect the line. First a fishing line was flown across the gorge, then four increasingly thicker ropes and finally the slackline were pulled across just above the tree tops.
Our drone crashed at one attempt, but luckily it wasn't damaged. I myself didn't even notice it as I was pretaping the slackline set up. We then climbed 200 meters up to the eastern anchor point “Roche Sanadoire” in a kind of rope team. All of us had to carry an oversized backpack weighing more than 30 kg, which moved from side to side with each step. Actually that wasn't very safe because of the steep ascent. Of course, it was also extremely tiring, but everything went well even if we were exhausted, when we arrived at the top.
Pulling across the connecting ropes and the slackline took us until the evening so that we had to finish tensioning the next day. For that we used at both sides CobraGrip pulley systems, the special feature of which is that you can set them back again and again. So in theory you have unlimited clamp travel, which indeed was necessary as we had to pull in altogether 50 meters elongation from the slackline.
When we were finally finished completely with the rigging in the early afternoon, the wind, which had been light in the morning, was now blowing at a speed of more than 40 km/h already. From the very beginning I realized: that won't be easy!
However, nothing could prepare me for what expected me out there. The slackline in front of me made a huge curve; it was blown about 50 meters to the side. Just looking at it is unusal and extremely irritating. But what made me fall again and again was the fact that the slackline was banging incessantly in combination with the wind gusts, which blew me abruptly in any direction lots of times. I went to the side, up and down completely unexpectedly – keeping my balance every single time was just impossible!
As the weather report for the following days was even worse, I gave it my all trying again and again. Shortly before sunset I started my very last attempt. It was a fight from the first meter, but as I knew that it was my last chance and as all my friends were cheering along passionately, I was provided with enormous strength. Nevertheless, I fell after 100 meters. All over and done with. As my shoes were on the other side, I clipped my highline role and roled to the middle, which of course was easy as I was going downhill. There I shortly enjoyed the sunset and wanted to walk at least a few meters.
I managed to stand once, but then not even that worked as the wind had increased enormously within a few minutes. Now I'm getting frightened myself. Let's get out of here! That was easier said than done, if you hang in the air more than 300 meters away from the anchor point and the way back is steep uphill. Exhausted by the many attempts and with a strong headwind I needed half an hour and many breaks to find my feet. Now I saw that the slackline was blown 100 meters to the side and was whipped through the air like a gigantic lasso – an incredible view!
For safety reasons we had to derig the next morning, as nobody could tell whether the setup had been damaged in the storm during the night. As we were going to Schnalstal the next morning, where I then broke the world record in waterlining, there was no more time unfortunately to rig the line again after checking it.
We planned to come back in better weather with more time available so that all the time and energy that we had put into the preparation and setup were not in vain.
A second attempt
We optimised all technical details of the rigging for our second attempt one month later and besides had great help from the local slackline group “Free Dome Line“.
After meeting with the four “Free Dome“ slackliners at the parking lot at dawn, we distributed the material and walked up to the two anchor points. I myself carried the slackline setup to the eastern anchor point together with Clemens and two Frenchmen. When we arrived, the sun was just rising behind the neighbouring volcano.
At the first attempt of flying the fishing line to the other side with the drone, the line melted, because Clemens had flown the drone too quickly. Fortunately the second (and last possible) attempt was successful and we could pull the thicker connecting lines across now. Doing so we were able to use Marinus's recent invention: he had built a spool for coiling ropes, which you could connect to a drilling machines thus saving a lot of time.
That way we had more or less finished rigging shortly after sunset. There were only some backups missing, which we planned to do the next morning.
For that reason and as we got up at a relatively humane time for once, it was already eleven o'clock when I set off walking the line. Part of my preparation is yoga and intensive stretching. They help me both to become relaxed and highly focused at the same time, as well as to feel at ease. This all is an indispensable precondition for a perfect performance.
The first few meters were somewhat unfamiliar, but after I had become used to the line again, I reached a state of flow and could concentrate on the surroundings much more consciously. I was fascinated very much by the basalt towers of lava I was looking at most of the time. The tree tops with their fall colors showed a nice pattern. They looked like multicolored cauliflower from above.
Up to the middle of the line I could advance well when suddenly it started to get windy. I hope it won't be so strong or gusty that it blows me off the line! Being afraid I instinctively wanted to walk faster. I forced myself not to do it, because the faster you walk the more easily you make mistakes that make you fall. Besides, the wind can hit you unprepared. In order to avoid that I tightened my core muscles even more than usually and walked on extremely carefully and slowly.
The most important thing is your mindset. If you don't believe in succeeding, you need not try in the first place. I could profit and learn from my previous achievements: you can do that! So I gathered all my inner strength to ban all doubting thoughts from my consciousness telling myself:
“Last time the wind was much stronger and still you were able to walk the line; this wind is not going to throw you off now!”
Still there were some very close situations, in which I didn't fall just because I let go a yell at the right moment loosening up my muscles that way, as they automatically cramped when the wind abruptly blew me 30 centimeters to the side again.
150 meters before the end controlling the swinging of the line was most difficult. I had to encourage myself: “Let's go!” and in French “Allez!”. That helped me a lot to persevere.
The stress from my and other people's expectations increased with each meter.
For better concentration I told myself: “You are in the here and now!“
Eventually I was close enough to the end to realise that my friends were watching very excitedly. That gave me additional strength for the last meters. The last step, all the strain is gone and everybody hugs me. We celebrate our success. It is teamwork that has made us succeed. We cheer and dance. Then the Frenchmen unpacked local beer, which couldn't have tasted any better.
The energy and effort we had invested paid off!
I will always look back with happiness to this time I spent together with old and new friends here in the beautiful Auvergne, which is also called the heart of France.
Length: 650 m
Height: 200 m
Base tension: 3,5 kN
Tensioning system: 2 x CobraGrip 2 pulley systems
Webbing: Passion (68 g/m) from Elephant Slacklines
Backup: 9 mm semi-static rope (50 g/m)
Sending style: Full Man (both directions)
Date: 16th October 2016