Highlining: Slacklining 2.0? Extreme sport takes hold

(CBS News) Walking on a tightrope with just a pole for balance is hard enough -- yet some folks want even more of a challenge. So they put some slack in the rope and balance with just their hands. That's called slacklining.

When you raise that slackline hundreds of feet in the air, it's called highlining. And some highliners have taken the sport to new heights.

Unlike a tightrope, which is usually a steel cable pulled taut and comes with a long balance pole, highlining uses a slack piece of nylon webbing, popular with rock climbers, which can sway back and forth by several feet in either direction. The walker uses only his or her arms, body, and nerve to balance and keep from falling.

Mike Payton and Scott Rogers met in college and bonded over the highs of this extreme sport. One of their favorite spots to practice is in the canyons outside of Moab, Utah. They make it look effortless as they withstand wind gusts from the canyon floor, some 400 feet below.

"There's just this massive amount of exposure and intense fear and you have to overcome," Rogers said. "All those feelings -- in order to calm yourself down enough -- just to do the simple act of walking."

Setting up the lines is a meticulous process that can take hours. Steel bolts anchor the lines in to the rock and they do wear a harness in case they fall.

"I wanna make sure that everything is phenomenal and safe before I even think about walking on this thing," Payton said.

Even on a very low line, it is a serious challenge to your balance. The low line is where the sport started -- back in the 1970s. Rock climbers used it to practice their balance. And then, the slackliners became trickliners, jumping, bouncing and twisting around while staying on the line.

Payton says it requires a different kind of concentration than the highline but adds that there's nothing like a few hundred feet below you to get your pulse racing.

"Every highline is still a little bit scary, but that's the whole point about it. In this sport, it's all about embracing your fear. It's about diving so deep into your fear that you come out peaceful, you come out with understanding."

To watch Ben Tracy's full report, click on the video above.

  • Ben Tracy

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