What it takes to set a highlining world record

Taylor VanAllen recently set a highlining world record with a 780-foot “spacewalk.”

If that sounds otherworldly, in many ways it is. The third cousin of slacklining, spacewalking is a newer form of highlining (slacklining at elevation above ground or water) that erases your frame of reference.

Taylor VanAllen on Clear Creek Canyon

Taylor VanAllen crosses Clear Creek Canyon during his record-settling spacewalk. Photo: Courtesy of Taylor VanAllen

Imagine walking leashed on a 1-inch-thick polyester slackline, which sags up to 50 feet at the center and is anchored on a cliff edge to the center of second line, rigged in a free-floating T shape.

“You’re looking at webbing and air and that’s it,” VanAllen, 26, told GrindTV. “It’s a harder version of highlining because your anchor is moving all the time. Your mind clings to anything you can see, and when your reference points are all gone there’s nothing.”

The record-setting walk, which more than doubled the previous record, took place above rapids in Clear Creek Canyon, just west of Denver. VanAllen has turned Colorado’s Front Range into a veritable highlining playground.

VanAllen on highline

VanAllen has established nearly 30 new highline rigs in Colorado. Photo: Courtesy of Helen Richardson

With only seven and a half years of experience, he’s now established 29 highlines around the state, meaning he rigged the walk for the first time.

“My friends travel all over the world, but I’m always home. I only highline in Colorado,” he says. “I don’t have that travel bug because there’s still so much to explore [locally].”

VanAllen hasn’t really had time to travel anyway. He’s been studying the sport — talking to local engineers at the Colorado School of Mines, researching how to build safe anchors, learning the legalities of locations and bolting, and raising funds with his stunts.

But he was originally inspired by extreme athlete Dean Potter on TV’s “World of Adventure Sports.” “I saw him go over a canyon and thought, ‘I gotta do this,'” he says. So VanAllen went out and bought a small slackline kit from REI. “I rigged it in my backyard, fell a bunch and just kept doing it over and over.”

Back then, the slacklining community was totally different — virtually nonexistent — so VanAllen admits to trying free solos and unsupported stunts he shouldn’t have. But he didn’t yet have a tribe.

“I had a rough time getting into highlining. It was frustrating finding people who knew how to do it,” he says. “Now you can go online, or on Facebook, and meet people and go to the park to start highlining.”

Although VanAllen, a hockey player, was the mischievous kid who jumped off the roof and roped up things in trees, the risky behavior is over now.

There are more resources these days, and he wants to be a part of making slacklining safe.

“As I grow in my sport and my confidence, it’s all about trusting my gear,” he says. “The only way to feel confident walking is if you trust your rig.”

But confidence is just one thing VanAllen gains from practicing his obsessive discipline.

“Highlining is like no other extreme sport. It’s not like BASE jumping or wingsuiting, where you jump and just let go. You welcome in adrenaline, but then you have to put it aside,” he says. “Fear makes you lose your balance.”

Perspective is another gift of the sport: Highlining is always framed by your environment.

“There’s no other sport that puts you in that kind of space for enjoyment,” VanAllen says. “Sometimes slacklining is just my tool to be outside in nature.”

More stories about high-altitude pursuits from GrindTV

Slacklining smarts from well-balanced pro Heather Larsen

Highlining: The stillness and the fear