Freddy Nock isn’t your standard balance act. The high-wire artist from Switzerland was born into a circus family and has been walking on the wire since he was 4 years old. And 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.
In March, he realized those dreams with a 1,138-foot traverse at nearly 11,500 feet of altitude. Monumentally impressive, and even more so when you realize he did it with no protection — no rope, no harness — other than his balance pole.
Watch his record-setting traverse below:
“I’ve never felt my heart beating so fast,” Nock said. We can only imagine.
While Nock'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 Nock 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 about 164 feet of altitude in the process — scored him a world record: the highest ground-supported tightrope walk, besting the previous record that stood for 30 years.
The start point of the walk, accessible only by helicopter, was on Biancograt at 11,588 feet, and the finish was on Piz Prievlus, at 11,752 feet. The previous highest walk? A mere 1,348 feet, made during a tightrope walk of the World Trade Center towers in New York City in 1974.
What makes Nock's walk different than a slackline? The length — 1,138 feet (two downs short of four football fields) — and the diameter of the line under his foot, just 18 millimeters (less than 3/4 inch) wide, made of steel cable, not nylon webbing. Even more impressive was Nock's complete lack of protection. No harness, no rope, no ankle strap — just his 57-pound balancing pole, which he had to carry for 39 minutes (no small feat in itself).
All of this was executed with a gaping chasm of air under his feet — in the middle of the wire, it was a 3,280-foot drop straight to the ground.
The biggest challenge for Nock? A less-than-perfect setup 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 37 mph.
What’s up next for the 50-year-old daredevil? The same thing — but this time, blindfolded. “In the perfect conditions, I can do this walk blind,” he says. If he goes for it, he might not be able to see, but we will definitely be watching.
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