Travis’ Travels: Thrilling new sport fostered above Lake Tahoe

Chris Rigby walks a highline, enduring a complete physical and mental workout. By the end of each walk, Rigby is exhausted.

My travels recently led me to a gorge about an hour and a half southwest of Lake Tahoe, California, where I encountered two guys, Jerry Miszewski and Chris Rigby, who are excelling at a new and growing sport called “highlining.” Highlining is a form of slacklining, which is a sport where people walk across a nylon rope that is stretched out between two anchor points low to the ground. Slacklining is a bit like tightrope walking, except that instead of being done on a rigid rope, it’s done on a dynamic, moving rope that can swing wildly up and down, making the sport part balance, part trampoline act. Highliners are distinguished from slackliners because they move the slackline hundreds of feet off the ground, above nature’s beauty. As you can see from my photo gallery in this post, Miszewski and Rigby are part of a small group of people who are pushing the limits of the sport–not only are they walking the lines, but they’re performing tricks on them as well.

Rigby doing a swan dive. I asked him he still gets scared of falling, and he says he does swan dives off the line to try to get comfortable with the feeling.

Rigby setting up his harness, with Miszewski as the peach dot working on the other side. Although the guys are protected from falling via their harnesses, you have to have complete trust in your partner and believe that he is performing his safety precautions with precision. One mistake could send you plummeting to the ground, costing you your life.

A close-up of Miszewski highlining. He currently owns the record for longest highline, at 390 feet. He also founded the company Balance Community, where you can find the latest equipment to push the limits of the sport.

Top, the dogs hang out in the shade while the guys set up the line, which takes about an hour; left, hiking into the gorge with about 45 pounds worth of gear.

Above, Miszewski takes the first walk of the day; right, Rigby does a back bounce.

Miszewski, left, and Rigby on their way out of the canyon after a long day of highlining.