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Cathedral spires, a gap that is so obvious when you enter the Yosemite Valley. Never before was it thought that it would be walked. This was mainly due to the astronomical amount of work it would take to get the line rigged, let alone the shear size of the line. However, these things weren't enough to stop Janek, Faith, Jordan, and I from wanting to get this monster up.
Janek and Jordan came to the US in early April to do some serious raging. Yosemite was the second to last stop for them in late May, with this line being the cap of the Yosemite section of their trip. It was to be something epic and never before done. Little did we all know that this line would be one of the most challenging lines ever rigged.
I came to Yosemite on May 21st with the intention to rig and walk a BIG highline. The first thing we did when I arrived was setup Cascade Falls highline, which is a classic that is always a blast to get on. Janek, Faith, and Jordan all got across the line with relative ease, which is awesome since no one has walked this line since Mich and I did it back in 2011. It's such a classic line with nearly 10 years of history, but it gets very little use!
After this line, we as a team decided that we would take on the Cathedral Spires highline project. So, the next day we set out on the epic hike up to the base of the 'small' spire. This hike was absolutely brutal! It was about a 1,500 foot elevation gain up the terrace. The first day we all got lost on the way up, which made the hike take around 3 hours.
Once we were at the base of the spire, Janek and Jordan set out to climb up the 700 foot tall Spire. The climbing up the tower was absolute crap: loose rock everywhere! Luckily, Janek is a world class climber that can get up just about anything. Faith, Grant Thompson, and I were all anxiously waiting to see if this line would actually be doable. We were hoping for something in the 300 - 400 foot range in length with adequate space for anchoring.
A few hours after they started the climb, we heard a big yelp from the top, "It's doable!" This was a happy moment. We all started to get excited and a bit scared. This would be the biggest and most terrifying highline that we had all ever done at 350 feet (107m) long with 820 feet (250m) of direct exposure and 2500 feet (760m) of visible exposure. Now that we had a fixed line on the spire, Janek and Jordan could focus on getting to the top of the other, higher, more difficult spire.
The next day we got a fairly late start. A lot of our team got lost on the hike again and so this delayed us even further. In fact, Jordan made all the way to the top of Cathedral Rock, which is over 500 feet higher than the top of the spires, before realizing that he was going the wrong way. This added 2 hours to his journey. When I made it up there, Jordan and I ascended to the top of the smaller spire on the 700 foot long fixed rope that they had left the day before. We hauled all the tensioning gear up to the top, as well as our hand drills to place the bolts for this anchor. This ascent was not an easy task. Hauling 30-40 pounds of gear up 700 feet of static line is somewhat of a chore. It took me about 60 minutes to make it to the top. This would be something that would be added to the approach to the line that we would be doing every day for the next few days...
While Jordan and I were ascending this tower, Janek and Faith were busy getting to the top of the other spire. With the severe delay in the hike, this was taking a lot longer than anticipated. By the time they made it to the top, Jordan and I were already almost done with our anchor. It was also already getting dark at this point, so they couldn't do anything with their anchor on this day.
On the third day of rigging, Faith and I devoted our time to getting the line across. With this line being so freaking high, there was a TON of obstacles between the two spires. Janek and Faith had taken a leader line up to the top of the spire with them the previous day, so Janek went to the top of this spire, with the intention to set the anchor. He ended up having to run ascend and descend on the spire several times in order to free this leader line from rocks, trees, bushes, overhangs, etc... This ended up taking the entire day! Once we had the line coming from the top of the higher spire down to the base of it free, Faith had to weave the line through several trees and climb/descend across some incredibly sketchy terrain. She was finally able to reach the edge of the lower cathedral spire highline gap. I was sitting on the other side of this gap for several hours watching them struggle.
As a side note, this lower Cathedral Spire highline gap is extremely beautiful! It's an ancient highline gap established by Dean Potter back in the late 90's. It hasn't seen any use since he first established. The next time we rig the upper line, this lower line will definitely get rigged as well.
Once Faith made it to the other side of the lower gap, we had to get the line across somehow. The gap is about 70 feet wide, so throwing a line across would be incredibly difficult. We both struggled with this obstacle for at least 2 hours. Finally, with one last attempt, I was able to throw the line at just the right angle and velocity for Faith to nab it out of the air while hanging off the side of the cliff (wish I had a picture of that catch). Oh what a joyous moment! It was starting to get dark and there was no way Faith could make it back up the way she came down, so we built a tyrollean traverse using the static line.
At this point in the crazy mission, we were all pretty exhausted. Janek especially, who had been working his ass off to get the line up, was completely done. We weren't done yet though! By the end of the third day, we had the line nearly across and still just one anchor set. Drilling the other side proved to be a giant pain in the ass as it was 300 feet below the top of the spire on an overhang. With night approaching quickly and all of his energy gone, Janek wasn't able to place the bolts on this day.
The fourth day, with our hopes up since the line was so close to being completed, we were certain we would get it up today! All we had left was to get the line fully across, send the webbing over, drill the static anchor, and tension the line! Easy, right? No...not easy!
The day began with Faith going back to the base of the higher spire to untie a knot she made in the leader line in order to rappel to a hard to reach spot. This would allow us to pull the leader line up to the lower spire, then we could easily send the webbing over to Janek, who was busy placing the bolts for that anchor. He was full of energy today, so we were all certain that it would happen. Placing 5 bolts by hand takes a very long time. He was up there hanging on the end of the rope for nearly 4 hours placing these bolts. Because it was on a slight overhang, had to hang in a very awkward position while using an old school device called the Skyhook. What an amazing feat that he was able to bolt this anchor himself. Unfortunately, we did not have a properly functioning glue dispenser, so he had to use Powers Expansion bolts rather than glue-ins like we used on the tensioning anchor. But, these types of bolts in the type of rock that is on the spires are completely bomber. I was very pleased with the configuration he chose.
While Janek was busy placing anchors, Jordan, Faith, and I were trying to get this damn leader line across the gap still. There was still some issues with the line getting stuck on trees near Faith, so she had to climb out on these sketchy branches in order to free the line. After a solid 2 hours of messing with the line, it finally broke free! We had it strung between the two anchors around the same time Janek finished his anchor. So, the next step was to get the webbing across the gap. Janek pulled the leader line across and anchor the webbing to the Alpine WebLock 3.0s on that side. By this time, it was almost completely dark outside. So, we all decided that the next day would be walking day and we would apply some final tension to the line then.
Day 5 was the day! This was my last day in Yosemite as I had to get back to the BC warehouse to take care of some things. That meant that I absolutely HAD to send this line today. After 4 days of rigging, there was no way I was going to leave Yosemite without a send. This line was way too epic to not walk across. So, we started the hike up the terrace, which took Janek and I 35 and 40 minutes, respectively. Then we ascended the 700 foot static lines, which took another 45 minutes. Then we arrived at the anchor...
The next step was to tension the line, which was quite easy as we used Spider Silk MKII for both main and backup lines. We put about 1,000 lbs of tension on the line and it felt quite nice. We, as a team, all decided that Janek should get the first attempt. He put the most work in to the project so he deserved the first ascent attempt. He scooted across to the higher spire and began trying the line. He gave his best attempts, but this line proved to be much more difficult than he originally thought. The side he was starting on has a vertically oriented anchor, which makes the line behave strangely as it can more easily move side-to-side rather than up and down. Plus, there was a strong and consistent updraft that was causing the line to arc to one side. This made staying on top of the line much harder.
After 10 or so attempts, with his best being about 75 - 80 feet (25m) out, he rolled back to the tensioning side of the line for a rest. Now it was my turn to try! I started to get anxious, excited, and freakin scared! This line was absolutely terrifying. I had never in my life been so unsure of myself. Sure, I had been on many lines that were quite a bit longer than this one, but never something that was so out there in space. This line was the absolute epitome of a highline: between two spires, more than twice as high than it is long, and nothing close to it in any direction. This line was scary!!
With all that being said, as soon as I tied in and sat on the line, I felt right at home. I was now in my comfort zone again...on a slackline. At that moment, I knew that this line would be walked. So, I stood up and then fell immediately. This happened a few times, as it normally does on big lines for me. After a few attempts, I stopped for a few minutes to remember all that I have learned from other big lines. Calm breathe, get that first step out of the way, loose hands, tight core, loose arms, head above the line, eyes focused and relaxed, and back straight. With these things in my brain, I started to walk across that line. After about 50 feet of walking, the wind started to pick up. The line was arcing at least 4 feet (1.2m) to the left, which made it extremely difficult for me to maintain focus. To counteract this, I started to walk looking down and around, just like I would on a longline. This was the solution I was looking for! Now I could see my feet and focus much more on the moment rather than getting across, which is extremely important for big lines like this. When you think about sending the line, you start to get anxious. Thinking about the moment instead is a better way to ensure that you are 100% focused on every step. There is no better way for me to do this than to look down while on a highline. So, this is how I started walking after the 50 foot mark.
The end was a SUPER fight. When I was 3/4 of the way across, there was such gnarly winds, I couldn't believe it. It got so bad that I fell at the 90% mark! I was so mad at this. I couldn't believe that I had made it as far as I did and I fell just 10m from the end!! Oh man...so frustrating. It's like the 500m all over again. NO! This was NOT going to happen! I knew that I could send it. So, I got right back on and tried the other direction. I made it across with a few falls, then had a rest. After Janek tried a few more times with a few excellent attempts ending at the 25m - 30m mark, I decided to try again. This time I had some time to think about the walk, about the line, and how I would feel out there when walking. I tied in, scooted out, stood up, and walked it. I was so focussed on this walk, like no other highline I'd ever walked before. I can't even remember this walk, which shows just how concentrated and in-the-moment I was. Once I touched that far anchor, holy crap...the best feeling. This feeling at the end of a line like this...indescribable! That moment of clarity, sense of accomplishment, feeling of pureness, it's what makes these massive projects all worth it.
I tried walking the other direction, but fell in the middle once. I didn't even care at this point, I was so happy to have walked the line in one direction, it was amazing. After that, I had to rappel down and drive back to Davis. The line stayed up for another 3 days and no one else got across it. There were several great attempts by Janek, Faith, Jordan, and Andy, I wish I could have been there to witness them.
This legendary highline has been named Hubris, which is a Greek word which means "Excessive pride or self-confidence". The reason for this name is because of the grandeur of this project. It took us 4 long days to rig it, and to have been the only one to cross it, I take a large amount of pride in this line.
Here are a few more pictures from Jordan Tybon:
|Length||350 feet (107 meters)|
|Sag||12 feet (3.7 meters)|
|Height||820 feet (250 meters)|
|Exposure||2,500 feet (760 meters)|
|Mainline Webbing||Spider Silk MKII|
|Mainline Tension||1,000 lbf (450 kgf)|
|Backup Material||Spider Silk MKII|
|Backup tenson||150 lbf (70 kgf)|