Slackliners Reinhard Kleindl (AUT) and Lukas Irmler (GER) send highline at Victoria Falls
Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe (sgh) – Almost exactly 159 years after Scottish missionary and explorer David Livingstone was the first European to view the world-famous Victoria Falls, two slackline pros from Europe have managed to cross the 100-meter deep gorge of the largest waterfall on earth on a highline.
Slacklining is a practice in balance similar to tightrope walking, using dynamic nylon webbing tensioned between two anchor points.
For two years, 26-year old economic science student Lukas Irmler from Freising, Germany and 34-year old science journalist and crime author Reinhard Kleindl, from Graz, Austria, worked towards the realisation of their extraordinary dream: balancing on a one-inch wide webbing in a height of 100 metres, right in front of the unique setting of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
„We are always looking for great new locations where we can set up our highlines”, says Reinhard Kleindl. „About two years ago Lukas and I did some research and came across a picture of the grand Victoria Falls. We were instantly hooked, but we thought this is out of our range. Nevertheless, we pursued the idea.”
First research revealed that the gorge is approximately 100 meters wide. “Two years ago, a 100-meter long highline was just under world record”, Lukas Irmler remembers. “Even for us it was a length that we couldn’t master safely, so it was a huge challenge. We had to enhance our athletic skills.”
However, planning the venture turned out to be an even bigger challenge. It took the slackliners several months to convince the local authorities of the project and get all the necessary permits. Right timing depended on the water level of the Zambezi River. “If the water level is too high, the spray rises up to 300 metres and you can’t do anything”, Kleindl explains. “Since water levels vary every year, it was difficult to determine the right point in time that allows us to rig a highline. The small islets on the waterfall side are only accessible by boat for a few weeks each year.”
Kleindl and Irmler didn’t know how to fix their line on the other side of the gorge until they actually got there. “Fortunately we found a tree within a distance of 91 meters, which enabled us to do a clean highline set-up. We did get permission to put in some temporary bolts, but in our sport – as in other mountain sports – we want to leave no traces behind. Especially since the Zimbabwe Parks und Wildlife Management Authority trusted in us.”
There was still one obstacle to overcome: bridging the 100-meter deep and 1.7-kilometer wide ravine. Kleindl and Irmler first planned to use drone to transport a fishing line across the gorge to connect both sides, but when they heard how many film productions had already lost a drone in the waterfall they went for plan b: using a slingshot to catapult a small lead weight across that’s connected to a fishing line. It worked on third attempt.
After having put in so much effort, the two friends left it to a coin flip to decide who would be the first to test the extreme highline conditions in front of the thundering waterfall. Reini Kleindl was the lucky one. “I’m used to wind, rain and snow when highlining in the mountains, but this intense spray that comes from below and from the side, that soaks your line, makes it heavy and impairs your vision is quite a challenge”, he says.
A highline is officially considered as sent, if you cross it without a fall. Both, Lukas Irmler and Reinhard Kleindl managed to send the 91-meter long highline on the first day, after only few attempts. “You often underestimate how much pressure you put on yourself to send a line, especially when it’s so long and the conditions are so unpredictable and ever-changing. It wasn’t easy for us to approach this highline with self-confidence, although we had three days time”, Irmler says. “All the more surprising and great for us that we could both free the line on the first day. That way we had time to play with the line and to hang loose in a height of 100 meters.”
The two slackliners not only enjoyed a million dollar view on the majestic waterfalls, but also the unique sight of a circular rainbow in the spray smother underneath their highline.
“We’ve waited for over two years to come here. That is a long time, during which we’ve realized how great this project actually is. If it wasn’t the very best, we wouldn’t have waited for two years to experience this moment and get this incredible chance. We will never forget our time here in Zimbabwe and our African highline, which we named “Nyami Nyami” after the Zambezi River God.”
Credit foto Jacques Marais