Highlining with Valentin – The Path of the Sky

Most people have heard of and maybe even tried the art of slacklining. But multiply everything you know by 100 and you’ll get slacklining’s more dangerous and adrenaline fuelled relative – highlining!

Professional highliner Valentin Rapp’s discovered his passion for the extreme adventure sport around two years ago, and here he gives us a crash course on the basics, whilst sharing more about his 3-week highlining expedition highlining through Tasmania! 

  1. Tell us a little about rigging. How long does a rig set up take? Are there different types of lines?

The rigging totally depends on the spot where you want to set it up. The main three questions coming up while planning are:

  • How to get there
  • How to establish a connection between the two points
  • How to anchor the line in a safe way.

Setting it up can sometimes be done in a couple of hours but can also take a whole day or two when the situation is very complicated.

Getting as much information about the spot before you start is very important. In Tasmania for example, we contacted local climbers in this area. Pictures of the rock formations can give you important hints on how to set up the connection and the anchors.

When it is not possible to rappel on both sides and make a knot in the middle you have to find another way to get the line across – bow and arrow, slingshot or a drone for example. When the connection is established we always try to find natural anchors – rock formations or trees so we leave no trace behind. It is very important to have experience in judging rock quality and bolting safely.

When it comes to the line itself we can choose between different materials and thicknesses. Every line behaves in a different way because of different stretch and weight. We use different lines for different lengths and purposes. That means a stiffer and lighter line for walking long highlines and one with more stretch and bounce for tricks and short highlines.

  1. How did the expedition come about? What was it about Tasmania that appealed to you?
    As we are always looking for unique spots to rig our highlines we heard about the famous sea cliffs in Tasmania. After seeing some photos of them we knew we had to go there and got in contact with local climbers.
  1. You talk in detail about falling on the line. How do you deal with something like that? How long did it take to for you to get to a place mentally where something like that wouldn’t be detrimental to your confidence?
    Failing is part of every sport, I guess. In highlining every day is different. On some days you really fight hard with your own mental strength and it is very demanding to get back up again and motivate yourself to try the walk again and on other days you are relaxed and able to just set one foot after the other till you are at the end of the line. Days like these keep me motivated to get out there again and again. 

“Planning and preparation is key for adventures like this, but easier said than done. The team consists of four fit members, motivated to work hard for a couple of steps on a thin line. We are used to carry big backpacks for long periods of time and mentally strong, setting one foot after the other even when the body tries to strike. But how prepared are we for this and what is there to expect from this island?

On paper this walk in should be easier. The cliffs are little more than 18km from the road, but while the map clearly shows a path, there is little or no evidence of it on the ground. It is hot, sweaty and deeply uncomfortable work. The undergrowth is so tightly packed that it grabs at our large packs, yanking us back. We repeatedly have to take them off and pass them through tight gaps. The ground is muddy and slippery underfoot; everything about this place seems intent on making forward progress as unpleasant and as tiring as possible. Oh, and this being Australia, there’s the insects and creepy crawlies. Not just the kind we find back in Germany, but big ones, ones that play on your mind. In reality though it is the small creatures that are most unpleasant; mosquitos infuriate, and leeches feast on us. It’s the kind of environment that wears you down.

Reaching the coast, the view opens out in front of us. After two days of barely being able to see a few metres in front of our feet, the light and sense of space are invigorating. Our body language reflects our environment. Backs straighten, our chests open out and we drop our packs to the floor.

Rigging a highline in these conditions requires patience, meticulous attention to detail and once again, hard work. It is not something that can be rushed, and we each enjoy the process, as if we were solving a puzzle. A fishing line is pulled across the gap, bringing across a thicker line, then the webbing that will eventually transport us. Anchors are built and equalised, redundancies built in. Once set up, I watch the others take their turn, crossing back and forth, finding their own flow. The sun hangs lazily in the sky, and begins to stain the sea orange, the wind dies down and calm descends. Then it was my turn.

I’m no longer scared when I highline. Placing one foot, then another onto the webbing, my mind is almost clear. I feel emotion, of course; I tingle and bristle with excitement as I step into my climbing harness, nerves fire in expectation as I make my way to the edge. This isn’t fear. Fear brings with it negative feelings, these are wholly positive reactions to my situation. I am torn between focussing on the physical task of maintaining my balance as the highline sinks under my weight and appreciating my current position – poised in mid-air, strung high above a calm sea. I keep moving forwards. Not just forwards though. This suggests progress in a single direction. While that is my aim, I am constantly moving, even when staying still. I make micro-adjustments as the line moves under my feet. I allow my knees to rise towards my chest as the trampoline-like bounce of the line lifts me. I allow it to sway gentle in the ever present sea breeze. These movements are barely conscious now, yet they must take up much of my mind. I rarely think of much else while I am out there; it is a quiet place.

Reaching the middle, I pause, then deliberately bounce on the line. My focus tightens further as I work with the swing, playing with physics, simply playing. At the dead spot, in the middle of a surf, my mind loses focus. A rush of stimuli flood in – the exact shape of the pinnacle that I have maintained my fix on since stepping onto the line; the lighter patches of the sea below, where it passes over barely covered bedrock; the gulls that are swooping below me; my friends dotted along the cliff edge; the sound of the breeze pushing around the fabric of my jacket; a million and one other signs that define exactly where I am. This isn’t a slackline slung between a couple of trees in the park, this feels like exploration. Realising what is happening, I try to snatch back my focus, but it is already too late. My heart leaps as I fall, despite my harness and safety line. Instinctively, I grab for the highline, swinging around it. I don’t hurry back into position. The location is, after all, what draws me and my three companions to these remote places. With a well-practiced heave and flick, I am back upright with my sights locked on the top of the sea stack.

It was only minutes after I climbed on to the highline that I stepped off. For all of the intensity of emotion, the physical and mental focus, and the sense of aesthetic in this incredible place, these are fleeting sensations.

We keep playing, not wanting this evening to end. Once again, we discover that the unexpected is everywhere, but more so if you go to the effort of looking for it.”

Click here to read more about Valentin’s highlining journey through Tasmania.

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