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6 of the Most Dangerous Tightrope Walks in the World

Tightrope walking is an extreme sport that attracts daredevils, circus artists, and thrill seekers. Also known as funambulism, a funambulist is a type of acrobat or athlete who has the skill and performance of walking along a thin wire or rope. The sport is generally divided, as some people use safety precautions while doing their walks while others do not.

Tightrope walking may not look that hard to some, but imagine keeping steady on a stationary plank or beam, then add a moving rope under your feet that destabilizes you. A tightrope walker uses a pole to keep balanced on the wire and resist rotating and falling. Tightrope walkers wear slippers with thin, rubber soles, cotton socks, or bare feet as they walk. As the rope sways, the person walking must constantly balance and change position to stay on the rope.

Slacklines, although similar, differ slightly from tightwires, as wires tend to be metal while slacklines are fabric, and they are tensioned differently as slacklines have more stretch and bounce. The result is an awe-inspiring spectacle, and performers take their sport to some of the most extreme locations on Earth.  

From dizzying heights atop skyscrapers to gaping canyons and turbulent waterfalls, these are some of the more daring places to defy gravity and test the limits of human ability on a tightrope.

Grand Canyon, USA

If you get dizzy staring down into the Grand Canyon, imagine walking across it. American daredevil Nik Wallenda was the first person to high-wire walk across the Grand Canyon, completing his latest record-breaking feat in under 23 minutes in 2013.

Nik Wallenda is the grandson of the famous Karl Wallenda, one of the best-known tightrope walkers there ever was. Nik Wallenda was born into a long lineage of circus performers and acrobats. Nik Wallenda is a seventh-generation member of The Flying Wallendas family, and he participated in various circus acts as a child. His own famous walks include not only the Grand Canyon but also Niagara Falls, New York City’s Times Square, and one more radical walk that you’ll discover as you keep reading this list.

Milan, Italy

This dazzling and death-defying stunt was performed by 48-year-old tightrope walker Andrea Loreni high above the Italian city of Milan. Loreni, who claims to be one of the only Italian tightrope walkers, broke the record for the country’s highest tightrope walk ever with this stunt, traversing 670 feet of rope at a height of 450 feet. Loreni accomplished this feat to open Milan’s Bam Circus cultural festival and to raise awareness for climate change. Loreni has walked miles on a tightrope in the skies of many Italian cities, including Turin, Bologna, Rome, Venice, Florence, Genoa, Brescia, and Trieste. 

Yosemite, USA

A famous location for daredevils of all sorts, Yosemite National Park has seen some of the most dangerous tightrope stunts, many of which have been done without safety.

Dean Potter’s solo walk at Taft Point in Yosemite is one of the oldest and most historical highlines in the world, and it has been walked by legends of the sport like Andy Lewis and Scott Balcom. 

In 2011, 23-year-old daredevil Mich Kemeter walked along 25 meters of rope less than an inch thick as part of a terrifying trend known as high-lining—tightrope walking at frightening locations around the world rigged 3,000 feet above the ground, without a safety harness. Many choose Yosemite to rig a tightrope or slackline due to the glorious views.

Condado Plaza Hotel, San Juan, Puerto Rico

One of the most difficult walks ever attempted was by Karl Wallenda, the great-grandfather of Nik Wallenda in 1978. At age 73, Wallenda attempted a walk between the two towers of the 10-story Condado Plaza Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico, on a wire stretched 121 feet above the pavement. As a result of high winds and an improperly secured wire, he lost his balance and fell during the attempt and did not survive. An absolute expert in the sport, Karl had walked across Tallulah Gorge in front of a crowd of nearly 30,000 and broke a world skywalk distance record of 1,800 feet at Kings Island, a record his grandson later broke.

Shan Mountain, Hunan, China

Swiss tightrope artist Freddy Nock attempted to cross the cable in Tianmen Mountain National Park in Zhangjiajie City, central China’s Hunan Province, twice—once in 2010 and again in 2014. The 743-meter-long cableway is the most dangerous of its kind in the region and possibly in all of Asia. Nock did not use safety for his walk, and in 2014, he got about 500 meters out and was able to stop and turn back via the assistance of a cable car.

Masaya Volcano, Nicaragua  

In 2020, Nik Wallenda attempted and succeeded at walking across the active Masaya Volcano in Nicaragua. Fighting toxic gas and winds affecting his aerodynamics and visibility, Wallenda, in an attempt to continue to challenge himself, completed his task. He traversed an 1,800-foot wire across the crater, the hot lava bubbling beneath reaching up to 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit. Due to the hazardous fumes, Wallenda had to wear a gas mask and oxygen tank during his stunt. Wallaenda spent many months training and preparing for this feat, and who knows what he will come up with next.

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