Highlining: A Walk Amongst the Clouds

Sam Karthan

My first-time slacklining was during my freshman year of college outside the dorm rooms of the University of Utah. I was an awkward freshman just looking for something to do in between classes. I had no idea how much of an impact the sport would come to have on me. Like most, I was challenged, frustrated and impressed by just how difficult it was to walk a slackline. Some pick it up quicker than others, but generally, it is a skill that takes time to acquire. Eventually, I got the hang of it and immediately wanted to try highlining. I had this extreme curiosity of how difficult the transition from one foot off the ground to hundreds of feet off the ground would be and whether or not I had the mental strength to do it. I joined the “Salt Lake City Slackliners” Facebook page and learned where and when people were going out highlining. 

I quickly discovered that the transition was harder than I had imagined. For the first six months of my highlining journey, every time I would go out on the line, my legs would shake, my upper body would tense up and I would experience anything from minor to severe vertigo. My strategy during this time was to expose myself to what it felt like to be on a highline until I eventually overcame the fear that coincides with it. It turns out that this is not how highlining works. To walk a highline, you must accept and embrace the neurophysiological response, which we call “fear of heights.” It kicks in every time you step out into this empty space humans were never intended to occupy. 

Highlining is a deliberate defiance of evolutionarily survival adaptations and it requires a strong mental perseverance and focus to defy these responses. That is not to say you can not have fun on a highline — it just takes time to learn how to deal with this inescapable feeling. It is a beautiful personal battle everyone goes through and manages in their own ways. 

Walking on a one-inch wide piece of webbing, or flat rope, hundreds of feet high in an endless sea of air has changed my life. It is an ingeniously pointless and silly activity that requires lots of practice, time and effort, but I have found it to be extraordinarily rewarding. It has taught me so much about how to control and channel my energy and breathing — it has become my moving meditation. Highlining for me is about reaching a state of complete equanimity while on the line — every step is one step closer to the present.

If you are interested in joining the slackline and highline community of Salt Lake City, visit our Facebook page, “Salt Lake City Slackliners,and become a member to see when and where you can connect with others setting up slacklines, waterlines and highlines in northern Utah.