Freddy Nock isn’t your standard middle-of-the-line balance act. The high wire artist from Switzerland was born into a circus family, and has been walking on the wire since the ripe age of four years old. But a lifetime of looking up at the mountains of his native Switzerland left him dreaming of taking his show out of the circus tent, and into the sky.
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This past March, he realised those dreams with a 347m traverse, at over 3,500m of altitude – with no protection other than his balance pole.
See Freddy training in front of his house
“I’ve never felt my heart beating so fast.” While Freddy's first forays into unconventional balance acts began with walking up the cables of mountain gondolas, such as on the Zugspitze in Germany, this walk above St Moritz was an entirely different beast. High-alpine, high-pressure, and high consequence, this walk wasn’t for the faint of heart. Like Freddy says: “If a high wire guy is afraid of falling… don’t be a high-wire guy!”
The walk – which took him across the vast chasm between two mountain peaks, gaining 50m of altitude in between – scored him a world record: the highest ground supported tightrope walk, besting a 30-year-old world record. The start point of the walk – accessible only by helicopter – was on Biancograt at 3,532m, and the finish was on Piz Prievlus, at 3,582. The previous highest walk? A mere 411m, made during a tightrope walk of the World Trade Center towers in New York City in 1974.
What makes Freddy’s walk different than a slackline? The length – 347m – and the diameter of the line under his foot, just 18mm wide, made of steel cable, not nylon webbing. Even more impressive was Freddy’s complete lack of protection. No harness, no rope, no ankle strap – just his 26kg balancing pole, which he had to carry for 39 minutes (a feat almost as impressive as the walk itself.)
All of this was executed with a gaping chasm of air under his feet – in the middle of the wire, it was a 1,000m straight drop to the ground.
1,000m of freefall
The biggest challenge for Freddy? A less-than-perfect set-up for the highline, with the ‘skylines’ (cables supporting the main walking wire) at odd angles, meaning the wire moved in an unpredictable fashion – diagonally up and down instead of straight up and down. Other factors – such as the wind – weren’t a problem for Nock, who is comfortable on the wire in breezes up 60kph.
What’s up next for the fifty-year-old daredevil? The same thing – but this time, blindfolded. “In the perfect conditions, I can do this walk blind,” says Freddy. If he goes for it, he might not be able to see, but we will definitely be watching.