Brian Mosbaugh says that walking a thin rope hundreds of feet above the ground provides no adrenaline rush.
In fact, quite the opposite.
Mosbaugh, the leader of a growing group of rock climbers at Smith Rock State Park near Redmond, Ore., that is pushing the limits in the new sport of highlining, says it is actually “very calming” if performed correctly and with the proper training.
“There’s a meditation aspect to it that’s very appealing,” says Mosbaugh, 27, who lives in Terrebonne. “It’s also just incredibly beautiful. The place you get to occupy in space is very rarely seen or experienced.”
Highlining is an offshoot of slacklining, a pursuit rock climbers invented to work on their balance usually only a foot or two off the ground on a line strung between two stationary fixtures such as trees.
In slacklining and highlining, the nylon webbing is stretched tight between two anchor points via a pulley system. The line’s tension can be adjusted to suit the user. The line itself is flat, which helps with footing. A highliner wears a harness tethered to the line in case he falls.
Highlining is basically slacklining at considerable distances — often hundreds of feet — above the ground or water. When highliners fall, they typically try to grab the line with their hands. If they do not grab the line, they will fall the length of the leash that runs from their harness to the line, usually about five feet.
Slacklining originated in California’s Yosemite National Park in the 1970’s as rock climbers looked to stay occupied during campground down time. About eight years ago, the sport became more mainstream when slackliners started posting online videos showing their high-above-the-ground feats.
Mosbaugh over the past couple years has helped develop highlining at Smith Rock, establishing 19 highlines throughout the 650-acre park. Some are more than 200 feet above the ground and others measure longer than 300 feet across a void.
Mosbaugh organized the inaugural Smith Rock Highline Festival in early September, which drew some 60 highliners to the park.
“It’s kind of a rest-day activity,” Mosbaugh said of highlining. “I got injured climbing, so I had to take some time off. Slacklining became more of an interest at that point, and that evolved into highlining. We’ve put in a lot of time the last couple years in developing a lot of highlines here (at Smith Rock).”
Mosbaugh says he has walked several highlines without being tethered to the line — meaning if he falls and doesn’t catch himself, he would die.
“If you do something long enough, it becomes natural and becomes like walking on the ground at a certain point … as long as you’re able to maintain your focus,” he says.
Mosbaugh explains that the risk of death is “very much acknowledged” when he walks a highline without a tether.
“I don’t think you can do it safely without acknowledging that fact,” Mosbaugh says. “There’s a lot of risks you take in life. I don’t see it as any different as being on the highway, and potentially some drunk person hitting you with their car.”
Earlier this month Mosbaugh walked the “King Line,” the longest highline in the park. Mike Volk, who runs the website smithrock.com, was there to film the walk.
Volk, 59, lives across the street from Smith Rock State Park and has climbed there since 1972. He says he would slackline a few feet off the ground with some of the other pioneering Smith Rock climbers in the mid-1980s. But highlining was unimaginable back then.
Now, several climbers at Smith Rock spend more time walking on absurdly high ropes than using them to climb. The first known highline at Smith Rock was established between the Monkey Face spire and the “diving board” area atop Misery Ridge in 2004, according to Volk.
“It’s become huge,” Volk says of highlining. “People were continuing to walk Monkey Face, but nothing else was going in. Two years ago, they started putting in other lines. Then with this festival, they had enough lines of varying difficulty that people were raving about it and saying that this is really a great place.”