Friday, January 17, 2014

Spencer Seabrooke - take on free soloing

A while ago I started a series on my blog dedicated to the topic of free-solo highlining. I already featured athletes like Jordan Tybon, Andy Lewis and also presented my view on that topic. All three of these posts got published in large article inside GÓRY climbing magazine (of course in Polish though). Picture of Faith Dickey sending "Erotic Narcotic" Highline in a swami-belt with a beautiful background of Fisher Towers was chosen for a cover. That's the second slackline cover in a history of this great magazine.

Faith on the cover (photo by Jordan Tybon)

This time I am adding next profile to the free-solo series and there will be more to come. For today I have an athlete which caused a bit of controversy with his bold full-on free-solos. And I am talking HIGH, BIG and EXPOSED. The person I'm describing is Canadian representative Spencer Seabrooke. His leashless sends on the North Gully at the Stawamus Chief left me speechless. Spencer is quite a special case in the highline free-solo world. Even though he doesn't have that many years of experience as other highliners he's doing amazing projects and is presents mature style of free-soloing. Here is a piece by this amazing slackliner which will give you a bit more insides on 'what, how and why':

"My name is Spencer Seabrooke, and I have been slacklining since May 2012. This is the story of my journey to walking free-solo.

After watching "Sketchy Andy" video on the Reel Rock tour, without having ever even walked a slackline I dreamed of walking a highline. As soon as I had the money, I went to the local climbing shop and picked up a gibbon classic. I immediately started slacking. The weather is sometimes an issue in the spring in Vancouver so we would setup the line in parking garages or under any other covered area with two solid anchors.

As soon as was able to walk the line I had already set my eye on my first highline - The Camel. I was obsessed. With my climbing experience and some research on safe rigging, I hiked up to the location twice, both times with plans to drill and prepare for the highline, but the weather and mountain conditions made it unsafe.

Me drilling my first bolt on the 'Camel' Highline

After 3 months of slacklining, having walked the slackline high in the trees, we set out one weekend to rig my first true highline. The weather did not go as planned, but with a clear break on Sunday, we managed to drill and bolt the new line. After a few shaky steps, I was able to do the first FA of the Camel.

My first highline

Walking the highline sparked something in me. The feeling euphoria I got form walking in the clouds. I was hooked. On the hike down, we started talking and thinking about locations that we could highline. We started setting up new lines over the canyons on the north shores where for many days I trained with the exposure and thoughts of going bigger, higher and longer.

Having walked my longest highline at 50', 90' in the air, I decided I was ready to try the 100', 900' high line across the north gully of the chief.

In Dec 2012, I went out and bough a 60m piece of climbing spec tubular webbing the day before we found ourselves rigging a 100' primitive setup. We knew it was a little bit sketchy, but still completely safe using bomber climbing rope back up. I knew I was safe. Doing this like this has truly helped me feel comfortable with my rigging and learning to trust our rigging and the systems, which we have in place. It’s the key to getting beyond what you are doing and just focus on walking the line.

Taking countless whippers, almost decking out, loosing my shoes to the gully and only making it 20 feet, I felt defeated. I knew I had to start training on longer lines on the ground before I could just rig one and start walking high in the air.

Checkout the VIDEO

The next day in the pouring rain I rigged a line approximately the same length between two trees and walked it back and forth. I couldn't understand what held me back the day before.

At this point I needed gear. Gathering all the money I had, I started my slack rack with the few climbing pulleys I already had and some static rope, I managed to tension up to a 200' line. After walking 200' I knew I was ready to go back to the North Gully and get a real taste of exposure.

In January 2013, with some friends to help rig, I returned to the North Gully. Shoveled 4' of snow to find the anchors, we managed to get the line setup on some much improved rigging - no more primitive setup. Still backed up with a climbing rope, I crossed the line taping it and I knew I was ready but the line was still very lose. Giving the line a few more pulls - BAM. The 1" tubular webbing snapped. I was choked. The wind had caused the line to rub on the snow and wear a weak point where it eventually snapped.

The next weekend with my new weblock and new flat nylon webbing I picked up from a local rescue store. I hiked up with the one friend who was available. After a long battle, I was able to send the line half man. The thought of walking something like this free-solo was so far out of my mind. Even the thought of walking with a lease was still crazy

Over the winter, the slack rack continued to grow with the addition of some Slackline Brothers pulleys and a ton of steel. Starting to work with Absolute Slacklines, a local slackline company, I now had enough gear to rig multiple highlines.

In march 2013, we started setting up new highlines at Cypress Falls canyon in West Vancouver. I began to experiment with swami, shackles and ball and chain. I felt I started to understand the thought of walking free-solo. After walking back and forth on a the "Back Seat Driver" (70' long, 60' high) with swami belt, I dropped the harness and stepped on to my first free-solo of a 50', 45' high "Fourst Timer". It felt so good, and I knew I could take it a lot further. Read more HERE.

Continuing to rig new lines I started to feel more comfortable on the line. Having walked and attempted many highlines, some outside my ability, I never once took any leash falls. Being able to walk the line with less and less protection is as much about being confident in knowing you will catch as it is important to know you walk the line.

After soloing a few of the lines I had rigged in the canyons in the spring of 2013, I decided I needed to solo something that was truly exposed. I set the goal of returning to my first highline "The Camel", with 1000' exposure. Walking several times with harness then swami, dropped the harness and walked it free-solo full man. At that point I truly felt in control of my fears and emotions.

Arrival of the Swiss crew, with some new longer pieces of webbing, I returned to the North Gully and without any trouble, walked the line back and forth. The thought of soloing the North gully started be something in the back of my mind. At this point my friend Brent Plumely and I started a group SlackLife BC. Through our social media, we were able to get out 7 highliners and rigged 2 100' lines across the North Gully. Walking both lines back and forth for a whole day, experimenting with swami and thoughts of soloing - Still scared the shit out of me.

Waking up Sunday morning, I felt bored of walking back and forth tied in safely. I knew I was walking these lines solid enough to solo them I just needed to get past my fears. I tied in with on shackles and truly felt free on the line. I knew I was ready, I have never felt more in the zone. I stepped over to the highline and waited for Joseph to step off. The anticipation killed me. The energy I was getting from the people around me was amazing, they knew what I was about to do. The line was free, I tied the leash back, I stepped on free-solo.

The first 10' there is a small ledge underneath and feel relatively secure. The second I felt the exposure, and dropped to my butt. I slid back to the begging of the line. I let out a scream - my built up nerves, and stepped back on the line. I was completely in the zone and every step felt solid. This is where all my training and mental preparation had led me to. I cruised across the line, and exploded on the other side. It took weeks for the high of walking the line to go down. To truly overcome your fears and being in complete control is the most amazing feeling someone could feel.

I went back and soloed all the lines less than 100' that I had previously rigged. Setting up long lines and constantly training I had to return to the North Gully for the free-solo of "Dean's Line". It is relatively the same as the line I had soloed previously, but its much more exposed and you walk onto a spire. I was always inspired to free-solo this line because it was Dean's video that first sparked my interest in the North Gully.

I went up, walked the line many times with swami and shackles not taking a fall all day. Having just finished walking the line full man with shackles, I knew I was ready to solo the line. There was a slight hesitation on my mind so I stood on the end of the line still above the ledge and thought about the solo. After taking two steps forward, I felt a slight shake and felt it was not the right moment and jumped off safely to the ledge still below. After a few grunts and shaking out my nerves, I immediately stepped back on the line. I felt solid step after step until suddenly I found myself in the middle 900' in the air with my legs shaking. After one sketchy step, and seeing the line shake in front of me I knew I had to catch and grab the line. Still in control I dropped and caught the line. On the way back the ledge I was thinking about how much easier it would have been to walk to the other side than shimmy back and start again. Having fallen and caught in the middle free solo, I had faced my biggest fear. Now it was all about walking to the other side. I stepped back on the line and felt like I was only a few feet off the ground walking in the park. I no longer felt the exposure.

People always ask me why I free-solo. It’s fun. It’s the ultimate test of my skills. It’s being able to over come my fears and execute on something I know I can do and have practiced 100 time before. It’s about being in control. I don't want to die, or have a death wish. I want to continue to slackline and highline for a long time to come. If I ever thought I was not completely safe and in control, I would never step on the line. It’s that simple. I am going to continue to train, push myself and the sport with longer and higher free-solos.

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I am hoping you enjoyed that read as much as I did. Next time I will be presenting thoughts of the amazing and versatile athlete, amazing woman and a great friend Faith Dickey. Stay tuned!

Peace & SlackOn!