Daredevil ready to cross Grand Canyon tightrope


Mon, Jun 24, 2013 - Page 7

Record-breaking US daredevil Nik Wallenda hoped to make history again yesterday by walking across the Grand Canyon on a tightrope, 457m above ground over the world-renowned landmark.

Wallenda, who was the first person to walk across Niagara Falls last year, will be rigged up with multiple cameras and microphones broadcasting the death-defying feat live around the world.

Unlike the Niagara Falls walk, the 34-year-old will wear no safety harness for the stunt, likely to take him 25 minutes in searing temperatures over the famous tourist attraction.

At Niagara, Wallenda — who first walked the wire aged two — braved strong winds and heavy spray to walk on a cable suspended around 60m above North America’s biggest waterfall, on the US-Canada border.

Yesterday he was to step out into the void more than six times higher — a height greater than that of the Empire State Building — with nothing but a 5cm thick steel wire between him and the rocky canyon bottom.

The walk was set to begin from 6pm yesterday, an hour or two before sunset over the Grand Canyon and will be broadcast live in 219 countries by the Discovery Channel, whose coverage was set to begin at 5pm.

On Saturday, organizers described conditions at the walk site, in a remote area at the eastern end of the Canyon, as “very windy.”

Wallenda has been planning the walk for about four years, homing in on a remote location at the eastern end of the mighty geological chasm, on land operated by the Navajo Nation Parks and Recreation. He began final training in Florida weeks ago, boosting his stamina by walking repeatedly along a 305m-long rope and using wind machines to simulate gusts of up to 80kph.

The Grand Canyon walk across 365.5m of rope could potentially be delayed in the unlikely event of winds of above 72kph, or if there was a risk of lightning. A new attempt could then be made the following day.

There will be a seven to 10 second delay on the live broadcast.

Wallenda, a seventh generation member of the Flying Wallendas circus family, said that as he steps out he will be thinking of his great-grandfather Karl Wallenda, who died in 1978 after falling from a tightrope.

He has trained for the worst and said that — unlike his great-grandfather, who had an injured collarbone and double hernia, and grabbed vainly for the wire before falling to his death — he would be able to hold on if necessary.

“It’s not like I just grab with my hands like people visualize. I wrap my legs round it, my hands round it, I hug that wire like a bear hug until help comes. I’ve got rescue teams that would be with me within a minute,” he said.

That help would be in the form of rescue trolleys, which hang underneath the cable and could be rolled out in seconds on a winch system to Wallenda, clinging on for his life.

The Florida-based adventurer, who traveled to the Grand Canyon on Thursday for final preparations for the walk, said his Christian faith is important.

“What I get from my Christian faith is that I know where I’m going to go when I die and that affects my business, because what I do is risky and if I die, I have peace,” he said. “I’m not scared of dying.”