Monday, July 27, 2009

Trip Report: In Recovery - Back to the North Gully Highline

So here I am hiking up the Stawamus Chief in Squamish, British Columbia.

We're hauling up massive amounts of gear -- All for highlining.

The idea is simple and has been practiced for generations: string up a length of cable/wire/webbing across a span, then walk across it to the other side. It takes a lot of balance and concentration to accomplish this task.

Thanks to Slackers Slacklining for sponsoring me, we had ordered a length of 3/4 inch amsteel blue, rated to around 80 thousand pounds. We had to have the amsteel rush ordered -- too many people were involved and some serious problems arose. We requested each end be spliced. It turns out each end was spliced, but that ended up reducing the overall length of the line by about 14 feet. Too short! Even though we clearly requested a finished length, too many cooks ruined the recipe. The only thing left to do was deal with it. We extended the haul system by about 10 feet.

Once we got the line rigged, walking it proved extremely difficult. It wasn't that the amsteel was impossible to walk, all we needed was some practice. Something none of us had. This was the first time any of us has even tried walking on amsteel. The HUGE shackle in the system created some wild oscillations that were near impossible to correct for. At the end of the day, we rigged two guy-wires to stabilize the shackle. By this time I was exhausted from all the hauling, rigging, and walking. It was time to call it quits for the day and come back tomorrow...sounds good right? what about that evil looking thunder storm rolling in from the north?

Thunder and lightening starts, hail starts, flash flooding starts. The plan was to bivy up top of the chief. The camera crew planned on staying and toughing out the storm. I decided to head down. I leave as Matt is talking to his wife on the phone. The conversation went something like this: "yeah, I'm standing at the top of the Chief in a lightening storm. I'm going to stay up here....yeah...all I have is a cotton t-shirt and a sleeping bag....yeah...I'll be fine, you stay safe though" Turns out he found a cave and actually stayed dry!

I intended to head down the third summit trail which is less technical. There are no steep slabs and chains to navigate your way through. After starting down the trail, my headlamp stops working from all the moisture inside. That leaves me alone and with no headlamp....crap! About the time my headlamp dies, I promptly loose the trail. I find myself walking across slippery moss covered death slabs. This is not the fun type of moshreading. I can't see where any of the slabs lead to, for all I know they could end in a massive cliff. I carefully start down a slab and loose my footing and slide about 30 meters into a small slot canyon. The jungles of Squamish closed in around me and I found myself stuck covered in shrubs and trees unable to move forward or backwards. All the while I'm being eaten alive by spiders and mosquitos. I couldn't move, the only left to do was go up. I slowly palmed my way back up the mossy slab, taking two steps up and sliding one down. After about half an hour I'm back on top of the slab and start down again. This same situation happened two more times. The second time I jump out of the way just as a dead tree comes at me with sharp menacing impale-your-sleen-looking-death-branches.... at this point I decided there were three things that could probably happen:

A) I'm struck my lightening and I die
B) I slip on the slab and slide over a cliff or get impaled by a branch (or both) and I die
C) I descend too far into the wrong valley and die of hypothermia

I realized I was too far down and I would never find the trail. I didn't want C to happen. The only solution was to go back up. So I sprawl all 4 limbs on the death-moss-slab like a star fish and slowly inch my way up, even using my chin for extra grip. I finally make it up. After about 15 minutes of searching I found the chains on trail two -- my savior. at least i knew where I was now. I booked it down the trail slipping every which way and found my two friends Eric and Page near the bottom. They let me crash at their house and they saved me from a night of shivering. as my down sleeping bag was completely soaked. Thank you Eric and Page! You saved my ass!

After some much needed food and water I crash out and that concludes day one.

Day two: In the early morning, I hike back up the chief, but this time with a lighter pack. I find the camera crew already up there. They told me they had decided to descend after finding their gear literally floating away down the trail in a flash flood. They came down after me, and came back up before me. Wow! They had an epic too...lucky them ( note the sarcasm?)

Day two went pretty smooth, I finally sent the line. The amsteel was a beast to walk and like nothing I've ever tried before. We got some amazing panning footage of my send on Matt's cable cam. Look for it on The National Geographic Adventure channel around January; now I just have to find a TV and someone who actually has cable.

All in all, it was an epic weekend and as I write this my whole body is immensely sore. It's funny that the highline wasn't the thing that tried to kill me, it was the exposure and the angry mountains. Woohoo! We didn't die!

Thanks for Bryan Smith ( for directing the production, Matt Maddaloni for the cable cam, and Slackers Slacklining ( for sponsoring me.


  1. and many thanks to Robin for not telling me about any of this until he was flat-footed on the ground and back safe and sound in his apartment.

    His Mother

  2. Congrats Robin! Pretty incredible achievments. Found the link to your blog from Bryan Smith's Reelwater Productions Site. Have spent the summer paddling, but back at the coop in late Aug. Maybe I'll see you around.


    Sean Mahar