The Castle Climbing Centre’s chief rigger messaged me asking if I wanted to jam on their super-aesthetic highline for the annual Garden Party. I was so stoked I temporarily forgot how to type a response! The garden party exhibited the new, outdoor feature boulders in the Castle’s garden, a site dating right back to the crazy, gothic architectural times of the mental Victorians. Here’s how the day went, including my highline ritual exposed, my first dyno comp and a collection of awesome photos.
We had our own private sessions before and after the Party – what a gasm, being able to float within such a rare, skylined aesthetic. Upon arrival, some of the guys were already trying out the line, sharing a common difficulty in being able to get away from the edge, out and across the other side. Until my boy Rob The Tank and myself arrived. We were so excited and buzzing with babble, we literally got up to the roof, harnessed up and tied in as fast as we could. I managed an on sight, full man send (walking the full length of the line, first time) much to peoples amazement. I found the hardest part preventing my knees from buckling – not from fear, but sheer visual and kinaesthetic beauty! When you’re frame of mind shifts from a state of fear, to one of excitement, the highline experience is altered entirely. The ratio of fear : love, without sounding too hippyfied, exists in love’s favour, and the whole process of sending the line strikes positively deep.
Upon arrival, we were so engrossed with the dominating visuals of the highline, staring at it with our heads out of my van windows, that we missed the drive-in entrance to the centre! The perfect reception – let the venue do the talking.
The rigging quality was second to none. Turning up to a pre-rigged highline, only to find it was a cleaner, tighter job than you could ever manage, was one hell of a confidence booster! It meant I could thoroughly trust in the gear, and again, all nervousness was overshadowed by eagerness and excitement.
The power of ritual really plays a part in my highline walking ablity. As highlining is so much to do with controlling the mind, I usually have a set sequence I like to follow which primes my mind for the psychological ordeal its about to break through. The first thing I do when I sit on the line to shimmy out, away from the edge, then bounce my body into the line to see how it behaves. Tennis players obey a similar rule, bouncing their chosen ball before serving. Once I have roughly gauged the tension and response, I’ll stand up, and send the line both ways, as smoothly as possible. These sends are about getting my breathing cadence smooth and rhythmic, with no stutter. If all goes to plan, within 5 or so steps of the first send, I should be walking smoothly with no hesitation. For the return send, the whole thing should be just as controlled, but from the get go. After these two sends, my brain will almost certainly tell me it’s time to get off and have a break. If I’m in for the long haul, i.e. highlining for more than one day, that’s what I’ll do; untie, have a little rest, and go again in the next 30 minutes or so. If I just have the one day to session, I’ll summon a little extra will power, and override that thought that says ‘time to get off’.
Aside from the mental stamina needed to walk highlines constantly, your shoulders need to be pretty bulletproof, too. The castle line was my first highline session this year. I’ve spent the winter learning how to climb, which strengthens the whole body in an intense way, but doesn’t work a couple of muscle groups quite like the slackline does. The best preparation for highlining is to spend time relentlessly walking longlines and waterlines, and by relentless, I mean spending up to 10 minutes at a time walking up and down, turning round etc and never getting off. Doing this teaches you how to rest whilst still walking the line, a highly underrated skill.
After the preliminary warm-up walks are complete, I start to push myself into busting out the tricks. Sometimes I need an added incentive to dig this deep and muscle past the fear and doubt that somehow always seems to want to eat you from the inside. On this line, the incentive came from doing a little highline demo for the crowd in the garden below. And that was it – my inner showman was released and the tricks came out to play…
A nice surprise for the weekend was sessioning the highline with my friend Rob, a rope walker and climbing tank. It was his first highline, and our first slackline session together. The most amazing part? I’ve never seen anyone with Rob’s footwork style, ever. Check out the shot below to see just how the mechanics of his stepping technique work. Amazing.
To top the day off, I wanted to give myself an extra-confidence boost outside the world of balance, by entering the Dyno competition. A dyno is an explosive power move used in climbing to get from one hold to another far away. The photo below shows me charging up, attempting the furthest one of my life! I Tim Ferriss’d last year’s champion for the ultimate technique, 10 minutes before we were due to start! And it worked; I reached round 4 of 7, hitting 2m 20-something – the best dyno of my life….
A massive thanks to Aron and Luke for rigging the line, to the Castle crew for putting on banging party and treating us like royalty, and to photographers Christine and Justin for capturing the highlights.
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