It's hard to imagine that people who spend their time scaling vertical rock walls with rope and harness for fun would have time to invent a new sport. But somewhere in between the travel, the long approaches and the grueling time spent on big wall and boulder, dirt bag climbers created slack lining.
The sport is simple. Webbing, or flat climbing rope, about an inch wide, is anchored between two different positions. Sort of like a tight rope. Athletes then walk on the webbing, practicing focus and balance while moving from one end to the other.
In the early '80s a group of Yosemite Valley climbers started experimenting with said nylon webbing. They would string it up and walk back and forth as a way to wind down after climbing. Scott Balcom, a California native, is credited in climbing lore as the originator of the slack line. Looking to try something new, he started stringing a rope 45 feet above the freeway near his Los Angeles home. High lining was born.
High lining involves a slack line that is elevated above the ground. While experimenting with elevated slack lines, Balcom and his pals discovered a spot in Yosemite that was perfect for a high line challenge. The Lost Arrow Spire is rock outcropping that sits 2,900 feet above the valley floor. Balcom found a way to anchor a slack line between the spire and the opposite canyon rim. It took him two years to walk it successfully.
So what's the difference between slack lining and tight rope walking?
"Tight rope walking is done on a burlap rope and there is usually a net set up underneath it," says local slack liner Sus Edwards. A slack line has a tendency to sway back and forth with the weight of the user. When slack liners high line, they usually attach themselves to the rope with a harness and a tether that slides along the line with the help of a carabineer.
"Practicing on a slack line forces you to focus and stay calm," Edwards explains. "They are easy to set up anywhere."
Edwards, a longtime Boise climber, owns Asana Packworks. He develops bags to carry climbing equipment. Recently his company started making a kit specifically for slack lining. It comes with webbing and a ratchet system used to make sure the rope remains tot. He says that he has sold more than 400 slack lines. The kits retail for about $95.
"It's something to do to kill time instead of just sitting around throwing beer into the campfire," he added.
Walking a tight line like this across an expanse of any distance or height takes a sort of concentration that is almost yogic in nature. Those participating try to find something to focus on at the end of the line and then work on finding a place in the "here and now." Any distraction from the outside creates balance problems.
"You can actually practice doing yoga poses on the line," Edwards said.
Regardless of the mental approach one uses, slack lining is a fusion of balance, strength and concentration. You might add patience in there for good measure. The line can be used as entertainment or training for other athletic whims. Every sport requires balance.
One climber in Boise hopes to put a high line up near Table Rock in the coming weeks.
"I ordered some anchors through the mail and they should be here soon," says Chris Holmes.
Holmes said that the line will be around 45 feet off the ground at its highest point. He will anchor one end to a rock and the other end to his truck.
"Some of the rock up there is kind of questionable as far as creating a firm anchor," he said. "I found a pretty solid spot. It's going to be on the southwest side of Table Rock."
You don't have to climb to use a slack line and they can be two feet or 2900 feet off the ground.
"The great thing about slack lining is it really cuts out the ego," Edwards said. "There is no rating system. It's all about having fun."