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Highline Rigging Mini Article

Submitted by slacklinejoe on 2006-01-23 | Last Modified on 2012-12-19

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With the number of people slacklining increasing daily, the act of highlining is becoming more and more appealing to a largely unprepared group of climbers or worse, non-climbers. It doesn't take much to rig a nice lowline and most anyone can get good at slacklining with enough practice. Taking it up high and showing off your real skills under pressure can be an ultimate rush. However, lowline skills don't mean you'll make a good highliner and taking the sport up high without proper precautions is a quick way to end up dead.

My feeling is, if you're really looking to highline then you're tough enough to deal with it and the possible reality of that situation. We (my company, Slackline Express) decided a long time ago to focus the business on the lowline and user-friendly side of things. We have no intent of making a major jump into the highline arena, but we've had enough requests for information and gear to warrant putting a little more information out there. The reason why I'm putting this out here isn't to actually encourage people to jump into it, but instead to make sure people understand a few of the principals behind highlining so they are more educated to make the decision for themselves.

Legalese, strictly because I work in the industry: I'll put this up front and in bold: "Slackline Express LLC does not make any slackline kits which are intended to be the only thing keeping you alive. We don't condone using our slackline kits or advice as your sole tools in highline rigging. Taking the sport up high is dangerous and could easily get you killed. You could be fully educated, trained and do everything right and still end up falling to your death."

To our knowledge, no one has ever died highlining. It is, however, really damned amazing and I hope to hell it stays that way. But with the recent proliferation of the sport and the fact that many are learning on the Web, only time will tell if that fact will still be true in a few years. The only real saving grace is that so few people do it and that those who do are climbers educated in not just textbook knowledge, but field seasoned in rigging.

Ok, since that is now out of the way, here are some basic questions we get.

What is highlining? Highlining is the sport of slacklining performed at a height above what one could fall from safely. This category is further divided by some into Midlines, which are lines generally from 20 feet to say 60 feet high (that part is subjective) and highlines which are anything above a midline. Highlines have been done between rock columns over a thousand feet up.

I don't know much about rigging, can you tell me (over email or phone) how to rig a highline? NO! Highline rigging can be complex and should be taught in person by someone who is experienced in rigging. Even if you follow textbook placements you might not see the hidden dangers or take all of the parts of the scenario into consideration. We firmly believe that no one is qualified to instruct highline rigging over the internet.

What is the difference other than height? A lot. Seriously, you use advanced rigging techniques and equipment to backup and supplement your normal slackline system. That gear is usually not cheap, but the experience and knowledge to know what is safe is what will keep you alive.

What do you need to know?

Rigging: To rig a highline you need to be fully capable at creating SRENE anchors that are built to EXPECT worst-case scenario loads. If you don't know what equalization and non-extending anchors are, you're in for a world of hurt. You also need to understand the physics behind slacklines. They can produce amazingly high loads on anchors, they have snapped fresh and well placed 3/8" bolts and have caused fully rated climbing cams to fail from being overloaded. Most slackers prefer to set bolts instead of climbing gear. Reason one is because good bolts are great for safety, reason two is that slacklines produce loads so high normal lead climbing gear might no longer be suitable for life saving duty. This isn't the place to learn to place bolts or what a good nut placement is.

Spotting a site: not all sites are created equal. First instinct might be to set a low midline mistakenly thinking that it is safer. Nope, bad idea. Why? Because by the time you add stretch in the slackline, walk out to the middle, fall and end up on a leashed fall you've managed to swing down pretty low. Possibly low enough to swing head first into the ground. Ok, so if you place it 25 foot high or more your ok right? Nope, not always. What usually happens is people get freaked out in the first couple feet. Partly because most people aren't used to starting off standing on their anchors and partly because the open space messes with their heads and scares the bejeasus out of them.

Leashed falls at the anchors produce massive loads on one side of the system which is harsh on the system, but that is only partly why it sucks to fall in the first few feet. What can easily happen is you fall forward then swing back into the rock wall, tree or whatever very hard. To my knowledge there aren't stats on injuries in highlining, but most I know have experienced this first hand and often have scars to prove it. Ok, so a highway overpass sounds excellent... Uh, yeah, until you fall in the middle, dangling 13 feet off the ground and a Semi-Truck comes through with a 14 foot high trailer. Bottom line, pick places where falling and swinging won't be horrid and where you have tons of clearance from your leashed fall to the ground. Do us a favor, do it where you actually are permitted to rig one, the last thing we need is someone causing access problems and getting slacklines banned all over the place.

What equipment do you need?

Depends on the location and preference. Some things are given: you'll need anchors, a main line to slack on, backup main lines, various slings/webbing/cordalette to equalize it all together, a fall harness of some kind and a fall leash and connector.

A note on carabiners: Each and every carabiner manufacturer we talked to each recommended we never reuse slackline carabiners for life saving use; slacklines put a high static load which is rough on equipment which is often designed for sudden impact so they stretch during impact, then stretch back. Under a slackline, that doesn't happen, it stretches and stays that way until you un-rig. Don't believe me? Set a slackline nice and tight, put someone on it, then try and open the gate on a carabiner, it won't open because the biner has stretched that tight against the gate. Bottom line, dedicate your gear for slacklines, or, if using a backup system that isn't tightly tensioned, that part could be reused fine, of course. We recommend you invest in some steel rescue carabiners for this reason; they are designed for higher loads, that and bolt hangers won't chew into them like they will do to aluminum while your surfing the line. Instead of normal carabiners some people also recommend industrial rigging equipment such as steel shackles that are rated for 20,000 lb test or greater. While I haven't felt the need for these just yet, they aren't a bad idea to look into.

Anchorage gear: If you're planning to place bolts, make sure that the landowner or access situation allows it. To place bolts, you'll need the usual bolting gear. As I already mentioned, 3/8" bolts have been snapped so there is a strong preference for large 1/2" bolts, 3 on each end, all placed where they can easily be equalized and are all in solid rock. If bolts are forbidden bite the bullet and consider dedicating whatever climbing gear you need to rig the anchors as full time highline gear. Basically over rig the hell out of the anchors because it will be seeing 1500-2000 lb of tension or possibly more if you bail onto it.

Main line: Ideally, you want a main line sewn to fit the gap. For most people that isn't going to be a reality. Instead try and minimize knots and use the strongest knots possible The Frost knot seems to be tossed around as a stronger variant of the overhand knot for webbing and seems to fit the bill. If possible, the no knot or friction hitch is perfect since it doesn't reduce the line strength. For some situations and preferences, removing the tensioning system is a priority so they will want to soft point the line to the anchor to remove the tensioning system. Technically speaking, your normal use slackline may work for the main line since the real difference is that you have a backup main line.

Main line backups: There are differing schools of thought on the fine points of all rigging, and how to make a backup main line is no different. Some people like to thread 11/16" webbing through the 1" webbing on the main line and call that part of a backup system. A threaded main line will get tighter easier for some tensioning systems. It however does mean that part of your backup system is going to be pre-tensioned which isn't desirable. It also can lead to a heavier feeling and slower moving main line which can throw you off. Also, if the 11/16" web has a different enough elongation % than the 1" then it can leave the 1" under-tensioned making it roll around the 11/16" making the line odd feeling. They would then take a second 1" line and only tension it hand tight as the real backup to the system.

My thoughts, instead, are why not move the threaded line to the much looser tensioned backup duties and have the 1" line the main line since that is what you are already used to walking? Either way, once you've got it all rigged, you'll need to bond the two lines together every so many feet with athletic tape. Taping every five feet allows for a common reference number that also aids in measuring the system for proper bragging rights. You can't just measure the webbing before hand since it'll stretch under tensioning a lot. Golden rule, your real backup line should only be minimally tensioned.

Other gear will of course be required to equalize out your anchors and to softpoint out tensioning systems. This will vary too much for each situation to really lay down rules but I will say that cordolettes are really handy for strong 3 point equalization.

Tensioning system: Your highline tensioning system may very well be the same as you use on low lines. Other times you may have to make modifications to your normal scenario to get the system tight enough for your liking since highlines are often fairly long.

Harness: Most highliners I have heard of use their normal climbing harness. However, that isn't always necessary. While I personally would prefer my normal harness, some instead rely on a swami belt out of 2" webbing, which works fine and allows them to easily hook their leash behind them if desired.

Fall Leash: This is often personal preference. Some just use a couple strands of webbing, some use static or dynamic rope. My personal thoughts on it is that by going with dynamic rope you'll be reducing the load on the system, albeit slightly when compared to the more static alternatives.

Connection point for leash: Again, there is a preference thing going on, however most people who have tried the main methods agree that one is superior. Some people will use a single locking carabiner (this makes me cringe), others will opposite and opposed non-lockers (better), and the other option is to pre-thread 1 or 2 rap rings onto the main line before tensioning. Why the cringe? Because you never know how your going to fall and if you fall to the opposite side than your leash is lying then it will rotate the carabiner while you are still falling and risk catching your entire fall against the gate of your carabiner (the weakest part of the biner) if it pops and it could, you'll be a gonner. Opposite and opposed is better, but I have heard rumors of one incident that popped the gate off one carabiner and the other gate was knocked open in the process, leaving them dangling on a partly open carabiner. While I haven't been able to confirm that report, it is a possibility. However, with a rap ring you gain the strength of a rescue grade carabiner and have no gate to worry about falling on.

Anything else I need? I easily could have omitted some gear, but mostly you also need to get in the mind set to actually walk out into space and accept the fact that learning to walk a highline can be damn dangerous. You will most likely bail on the anchors and swing into the rock. Here's a thread to give you a little of an idea of how falling into the rock happens.

What are the hidden dangers? Several, but most are, in general, similar to rock climbing. Anchoring to a single block of rock on one end is obviously not cool. Even large refrigerator sized blocks of rock that seem solid have been pulled off cliffs and taken climbers with them to their deaths. Other things to watch for are your landing zones. If anchoring to slab walls bailing near the anchors will likely put you into the rock... hard.

Got any advice on how to fall?

Basic rules of falling
#1 Avoid falling
#2 If you couldn't follow rule #1 then make sure you try to catch the line in your hands instead of taking a leashed fall
#2 If you couldn't follow rule #2 then your in for a wild ride. Make sure you have a way of getting back up to the main line (tied hand loops, a pair of ascenders, great rope climbing abilities) since your leash may be too long to put the line within reach.

Why don't you make and sell highline specific gear? Litigation and human stupidity. As many folks on this site know, there is a book put out each year on climbing accident reports. Some people do everything right and die while others do everything wrong and had no business being out there in the first place. Some sports are forgiving of the learning curve, much like rock climbing, highlining isn't. Most of the parts you need for highlines can be found at your local climbing shop. If you don't know how to rig it from parts, seek professional instruction.

All this said, I still believe that no one is qualified to teach anyone how to highline off the web. I posted this information more in terms of making sure that no one attempts to rig a highline and is woefully under prepared for what they are getting themselves into. In other words, get out there and learn from someone who highlines and make sure it's in person and you fully understand what is going on before you even contemplate taking that big walk out into space.

And no, I don't make a point of teaching strangers even if they come down to our area. While I've made the big walk a few times, I still wouldn't feel comfortable in the mentoring shoes yet.

Bottom line: this page is strictly for informational purposes only. We (Slackline Express LLC, owners or employees) accept no liability for any omissions or faulty information which may be contained on this page. To put it in common terms: if you or your friends die it would be sad, but it would be your own damn fault.

- SlacklineJoe

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2 Comments CommentAdd a Comment

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i have some rigging questions for a highline but dont have a reliable source to ask.. any ideas on where i can get some anchoring and safe rigging info?
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I have trouble keeping my backup line from affecting my walk.. Also, if you call close to an anchor point, be careful you don't swing into whatever you are anchoring off of.. E.G

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