In late September, an international team of adventurers met above the Todra Valley in Morocco to rig spectacular highlines in various lengths and heights, including the longest highline ever built, at this unique canyon. The previous highline world record was held by Nathan Paulin (F) and Danny Mensik (CZ), who ran in the south of France a line of 1020m.
As several hundred kilograms of equipment are needed for such a project, Samuel Volery (CH, project manager), Tijmen van Dieren (NL) and Daniel Laruelle (GB) traveled by van from Switzerland. Apart from some beautiful sunsets in the south of Spain and a juggling and slackline session on the ferry nothing special happened on arrival, but at the harbor the sudden cultural change was evident. Several officials tried to explain that they needed a permit to let the van into the country and get this permission for a little money, but they refused to pay and so it went in the end without …
So the European group continued on its way south through beautiful landscapes along grand canyons. They met nomads, Berbers and other Moroccan locals and it was a journey of great fun, music and expectations of the Todra Valley.
After three days they reached their destination and jumped like a group of enthusiastic children from the van to run up the red rocks and admire the impressive landscape. They could not wait to find out where the best places were to rig the slacklines. “The place was better than we ever dreamed and after an hour a good spot was found” as Samuel Volery later remembers.
When it got dark it was time to check into the nearby hotel. It was much smaller than the group expected. There were five rooms and the hotel was run by Moroccan climbers. All in all, the “Hotel Tiwira” was a bit disorganized but extremely nice.
During the next few days, a few more highliners arrived, so that the project could start now. A team of six started rigging the lines.
At the beginning, the holes for the anchor points had to be drilled and a 4mm connecting rope had to be lowered from the one side called “Scorpion”. It went 150m vertically down and the end of the 650m rope had to be then brought to the middle of the valley. There, a part of the team had prepared the slackline. For that heavy boxes had – the main line weighs 48g / m, the back-up line weighs 26g / m – to be brought there, and then the main line and the back-up line were tapped together.
From the anchor point, the rope was then pulled up. It was fixed with a Pro Traxion pulley, so that it could be pulled in almost without friction and could not slip back. In the beginning, the effort was still minimal, but the higher the bands were pulled, the more power was required, just before the anchor point it was around 1kN (= 100kg).
Once the connection was made it was time for the other side of the valley. There was only steep scree, no vertical slope, so two people with big backpacks made their way up. In the rucksacks, the still untapped part of the webbing were pulled out of the backpack by walking and came to rest on the ground. Two more people followed to arrange and tap the webbing.
When that was done (mostly) without problems, it was time to tension the line. “We were afraid that the line would get stuck on the many rocks, but a few minutes later, the line was already completely off the ground. It was a great moment when we realized we could rig the longest highline in the world with just six people and try to beat the highline world record.
Now it was time to bring the line to the right tension. From the moment the line was completely in the air, the tension was constant 1kN. Now about 100m of the slackline webbing had to be pulled out of the system until the desired tension was reached. Two long hours later, the task was done. The tension reached was about 2.5kN. So they also had a big safety factor in terms of the breaking load of the line, which is at 29kN.
Now the team had only once to check both anchor points to then go to rest. It was agreed that Sam should have the first try, because it was him who organized the project and made it possible by providing all the material in the first place. The next morning after two days of rigging, finally the big moment came to try the longest highline in the world.
“For the first time in a long time, I was a bit queasy to walk a slackline,” admits Volery. “It was a bit intimidating to see more than a kilometer of slackline in front of me. The opposite anchor point was about 50 meters higher than my starting point. That means a lot of work to get out of the line, because the end was pretty steep. “
“I got up and from the first moment away it was a fight with big vibrations. I fell a few times on the first few meters, but I wanted to fight through. Every single step on the first 150 meters was incredibly difficult. I thought I would barely be able to walk that line until I relaxed. But after about 15 minutes of walking and fighting, the line finally calmed down a bit and no longer wobbled around so nervously. The next 200 meters were more stable, but I did not walk as quickly as hoped. There was still a lot of movement in the line. Vibrations forward and backward with alternating changes in tension in front of me and behind me. For a while, I constantly lost the balance. Keeping the balance to one side was much easier. But when the wind caught me at one point and pushed me 30 meters to the side, it took all the effort not to fall. I felt very good that day and was ready to try anything to go this line and so I managed another 400 meters through some gusts of wind. “
When Sam talks about his adventures you can really feel his passion for this sport.
“I always counted my steps and when I first reached 2200 steps I became optimistic that I could cross this big line as well. … “
“But at the same time my eyes blurred, my brain started to slide down, my shoulders were tense and my mouth was completely dry. It was hot because the desert sun burned down relentlessly. “
When Sam reached 2,500 steps, the line went steeply up and it was extremely difficult even for a professional highliner like him to keep his balance going forwards and backwards. “I’ve been on the line for more than an hour and the goal was to go through, it was within reach! Only a little more than 300 meters to go! But it happened that sometimes I stepped onto the slippery backup tape and slipped a few inches back. It became harder and harder to stay focused and new moves in the line became a problem.“
But a few minutes later, he was sitting, full of joy at the anchor point. “After I got off the line, I even enjoyed the warm beer, which stood more than an hour in the glorious sun,” he remarks with a grin. “I knew it was possible to cross the line, but I just had to increase the walking pace a bit. The tension was right, in the middle I had a sag of about 100 meters. The biggest problem was the height difference between the two anchor points, but I should get that under control in the next few days. Also the webbing – HalfMarathon by SLACKTIVITY – specificly developed for especially long highlines, felt good. I was confident to send the line with one of the next attempts without falling.“
Now it was Tijmen’s turn. The Dutchman who also started from the Scorpion anchor point had already crossed two different highlines with 500m +, so he was extremely optimistic to manage a good run here. But this was different! “As he glided over the vertical 150m deep gorge, he was suddenly so intimidated by the circumstances and also by the need to walk more than a mile before he could relax again, that he did not even manage to get up. He just layed on the line for 40 minutes before giving up slowly and frustratedly.” remembers Sam.
In the meantime, the sky became darker and the wind more violent, no one was on the line anymore because of the thunderstorm. Perfect time for a break to try again later. Until the rain began, a dry shelter was found, quickly developed a very violent storm. “Later we heard from locals, that was the first storm in five years. What luck for the international slackliners …? “
“Our biggest concern came true – again!”
And so, what they feared the most: suddenly Can, a Turkish slackliner, jumped up and shouted “there’s something wrong with the line!” The whole crew looked and in fact the mainline had dropped to the backup line. What a nightmare after this great effort to rig it! “We agreed that the whole session was over, but we had to find out the exact reason for it.” It was still raining heavily as they pulled the hanging down line in, it became apparent that the line was burned by lightning or other electrostatic charge. “We decided to detension the line and end the day. Later we were able to warm up at the hotel because we were soaked and freezing. We were not prepared for this heavy rain.” The next day the motivation returned and more people arrived to complete the team. “Together, we examined every single meter of the slackline for further burn marks.” It took almost eight hours to control the entire 2.5km of webbing and they found 7 more places where the webbing burned. “We cut off the damaged parts of the webbing to make sure they were not used.”
Already during another highline world record project that Sam had done more than a year earlier in Switzerland, a highline was damaged by lightning. He was prepared for such a thing: “This time we had enough slackline webbing in reserve to rebuild a similar line. And more importantly, we still had plenty of time to do it. “
A few fun lines between two highline world record attempts
Since the weather forecast for the next two days was not very promising, we rigged two shorter highlines (45m and 120m). Some also spent their time climbing.
“Two days later, we decided to retry again, but after the night a bunch of people woke up one night at a time to vomit all night long for food poisoning.“
The second highline world record attempt
Due to extraordinary circumstances, the team had to wait another two days to build up the highline world record line once more and thus lost valuable time. But then they were ready to start. “The energy was not fully recovered, which is why the process took longer than expected.” At the “Trumpet Side”, a new anchor point was installed which was about 70m higher than before to get the line horizontal. This line was also 10m longer than the first version. “All in all an even nicer line with two anchor points at the same height.“
In the evening just before it was dark the rigging was finished and Dan from Great Britain had his first opportunity to try this massive line for a short time. “He came back with a big grin after marching 150 meters back and forth and enjoying the magnificent view from the line. And he was euphoric to get up early in the morning and crack that line. “
So Dan was the first one the next morning. To make sure that he does not dry out, he took a backpack with a water dispenser and was able to drink while he was on the line. He walked very fast and about 10 catches and 75 minutes later he had crossed the line. “Again he came back with a big grin.” A little exhausted, he wishes Sam good luck for his second attempt.
“Now the line felt a lot easier. Now it felt perfect! But I was not completely regenerated from the nausea of the last few days and my legs were very shaky. “At his first try, he learned that it is better to breathe with his mouth closed throughout the run so as not to lose too much fluid. “The first part was quite easy, but after about 600 meters, a dizziness arose. It was not on the line, but my body started to weaken. I kept going and about 120 meter from the finish I was probably unfocused for a fraction of a second, which was enough to fall. This time I was really angry because it was an unnecessary mistake. “30 seconds later he was back on the line and went to 2m before the anchor point. “But this race gave me the confidence that the line is not too difficult when the conditions are good. I was very happy with this experiment because it was great and a nice flow. I’ll be back tomorrow and hopefully I’ll be in great shape again. “
Tijmen returned to the line a few minutes later, and this time he felt better. He did a good job. “And clearly he was happy about this success.”
Extreme wind conditions
When the team got up the next morning, they were all in good shape again. They went to the line very early to find it was quite windy. Definitely no “sending conditions” to a highlining world record – but worth a try. Sam walked out to the middle of the line and was exposed there, enjoying the line without pressure. And it was fun to be pushed back and forth by gusts of wind. This time it was up to 40m sideways movement only by the wind! After Sam descended, Andri, another Swiss slackliner, finally got his turn. He wanted to make it at least a few steps to go. He practiced for a full two hours on the line and then managed again and again runs of over 10 meters.
But in the meantime the wind became more and more extreme. The line moved more and more crazy and after Andri had left the line, the wind blew at some sections at 100m above the anchor points. A strong storm hit the scene and officers and policemen from the city also arrived to inform the crew that they had to go to the mayor of Tinghier to obtain official permission for the project. Sam recalls “I have to add here that we asked the local authorities before the project started and all of us said that no official permission was necessary. But after the Moroccan television team arrived to film us, everything suddenly changed and the officials became nervous. “
Highlining a matter of local authorities
So they marched down to the town to see the mayor, but it seemed he had more important things to do than talk to them, so they came back with no result. Not sure if their activities are allowed or not. But in the meantime, the wind was so intense that the tapes that connect the main to the backup line were broken. “That’s when we knew our project was over.” Tells Sam, shaking his head. “We did not want to risk climbing on a line that might have been damaged by friction.” Both lines had been extremely shaken, sometimes up to 200m in each direction, so the peak forces were much higher than when walking. “It was spectacular to watch, so we sat for another hour at the anchor point and watched the game of natural forces. A day later, when we checked the line, it turned out that the storm did not cause any damage to the webbing, but we did not have enough people to re-rig the line because some of us had already left.“
The others stayed another five days in perfect weather (!) In Todra Valley to climb a bit and highline on the shorter lines. And then again the police came to tell them their activities are illegal and they have to go back to the mayor for permission. Once again, they went to the city to meet him – again he did not want to spend his time on it. Morocco … “At the moment, highlining does not seem to be accepted in Todra Vally, which is a shame because it’s a real high-line paradise!” States Sam. “The weather kept us from achieving our big goal of a new highline world record for the time being and we will also find a way to get permission for future projects.“
Tobias Rodenkirch is SLACKTIVITY co-founder and an enthusiastic slackliner and climber. With great passion and creativity he works on the development of new slackline material. He started slacklining in 2003 and founded SLACKTIVITY in 2009 while studying movement science.