One inch away from flying
Niklas had the rare opportunity to highline between two hot air balloons. By managing the full length he broke the world record for the highest slackline ever walked above ground.
Get an insight in his personal experiences by reading the report below our video.
Location: Outside Barcelona, Spain
Date: April 24th & Mai 5th 2017
Length: 15 m
Height: 1400 m above ground & 1800 m masl
Remarks: 2m unlevelled, highly tensioned, 3D-moving anchors
Athlets: Niklas Winter, Fabian Raffl and Matthias Dilitz
When I met Matthias for the first time in 2014, BASE jumping together in Italy, we instantly got along well together. Matthias is not only a BASE jumper, but also into speed flying, paragliding and even highlining. A real outdoor/adventure guy and always in a relaxed mood. When he mentioned last year for the first time that he is planning a highline between two hot air balloons and I could join him, I was obviously excited. You'll probably never get a chance to walk a higher highline. A completely different experience. And I've never even been in a hot air balloon before…
Of course, things didn't go as planned, the adventure was postponed and I eventually forgot about it. - Until april this year, when Matthias contacted me again, letting me know that it's happening two weeks from then… in Catalunya. So I took a few days off from work to start a little road trip down to Spain. Together with my girlfriend Alexa and my friend Chris, we took my van from Munich towards Barcelona.
First stop was the Gorges du Verdon. We didn't rig any highlines there (shame on us), but we were climbing a lot and in the end I was able to do a BASE jump and a multi-pitch climb back up together with Chris. After a revitalizing stop at a lake and a chilled afternoon in Barcelona we went for another climbing day in the mountains of Montserrat. It was interesting, coming back to the place of our Spaceline-project four years later. This time I climbed Cavall Bernat together with Alexa and Chris. There was unfortunately too much wind for another BASE jump.
But now it was finally time for the hot air balloon highline. We met up with Matthias and his friends the previous evening on a field some 100km northwest of Barcelona. It was our starting point for the next day. There was a lot of wind and it was cold. At that moment, I couldn't really imagine the whole thing going down just a few hours later.
The next morning everything went quite fast. The balloonists and their crew arrived on time and had the balloons ready in no time. So it was time to put on the parachute and climb into the baskets and fly away. We were in a hurry, since we were expecting higher winds later that day. And the only way to navigate with a balloon is by going up or down. So you depend on the winds in the different layers of the atmosphere. We were three people who wanted to try the line and the balloons only had gas for bout 1 ½ hours. That's why we decided to go leashless straight away, which of course also meant full pressure from the first try on.
We finally reached the right altitude and it was time for the first try by Matthias. Just by watching him, I was already quite excited. To walk a line, in such an altitude, which you have never tried before, without a leash and everyone's staring at you… and on top of that the balloons were moving quite a lot. They were going up and down relatively to each other or even spinning in circles. You had the sun in your face, then you were in the shade again… and as another little feature to break your focus, there was the noise of the fire, heating up the balloons every once in a while. So it was really difficult. Matthias took another deep breath and stood up for the first time… and had to catch the line. The baskets were shaking notably. Then he tried it another time and managed to do his first step. However he lost his balance, tried to catch the line again, but couldn't hold on. One man down, two to follow.
The next in line was Fabian. After a few tries he got the feeling for the line and managed to go to the other side, where he finished with a spectacular jump to the rim of the basked.
So now it was my turn. I was still nervous and when I slid out on the line, it didn't really get any better. Just getting my rear foot on the line was harder than expected. Sometimes the balloons were maybe two meters unleveled, the line was short and also rather tight. It was an unusual situation. But you will always find excuses… nevertheless I was surprised that I couldn't really relax the way I usually would. I knew that noting could go wrong. I was safe. However I didn't feel like I could actually control the line, which – of course – made me insecure. Anyone who has ever been on a highline probably knows that feeling. So the only way to break that vicious circle is to just try it anyways. And of course I can also walk short, hard tensioned and unleveled highlines.
After a few tries, making a few steps, I finally managed to walk the rest of the line in one go. Finally my self-confidence was back. And on the second try it should be easy as pie.
Watching Fabian on his next go, making it look easy, I started to put some pressure on me. When I found out that we don't have a lot of gas left and that there was only one minute of battery life left on the camera, I was nervous again. So rather than having a relaxed stroll, I felt under pressure again. When I stood up and started to lose balance again, I decided not to catch. So I was thrown of the line into a few slow flips. Now the pressure was gone and I could just enjoy the free fall. For landing, compared to normal BASE jumps, I had heaps of time and huge landing zones. So that was easy to deal with. On the ground I looked back up to the balloons and fully realized what we actually just did. It was a funny picture, seeing those two balloons sticking onto each other, just connected through the thin slackline below.
The grand finale was Roland and Simon doing an acro paraglide show. After doing “roll-overs” from the baskets they were swirling around the balloons. Altogether it was a really exciting morning. Although I would have loved to go up again and give it a better try, I was still satisfied. And how how luck would have it, it wasn't the last balloon highline project for me. Just three weeks later I did the stunt again for a german TV show.
The project was finished, but the day had barely begun. So I decided to check out an antenna nearby, together with Pao. Pao is a Spanish BASE jumper, who also jumped from the balloons with us. After I packed my parachute we checked out the spot. The antenna was about 80m high and only surrounded by fields, no wires or other obstacles. So it was easy for landing. The wind was also kind with us, so we started to climb up. It was an exciting climb, since there was nothing around. The antenna felt rather exposed and after a certain height it also started shaking a bit. Once we reached the top, we started gearing up, with almost no space to stand on. Then we jumped. Everything went well, we were happy and the whole day was a big success.
For me and my travel buddies it was time to get on our way back to Germany. We did another climbing stop in Monaco and finally reached Munich in the middle of the night. Just in time to go to work the next day. A successful and very special short trip!