World record on Kilimanjaro: Stephan Siegrist walks the world’s highest highline
The chance of success under these conditions was limited to a small time window - an afternoon under the African sun, during which everything worked.´
Sunday afternoon on Kilimanjaro: step by step someone walks - seemingly without effort - across the African sky on an exposed thin strip. The view of the steep rock and scree slopes and the swelling cloud layers far below does not quite fit a walk and yet the scene resonates with ease when Stephan Siegrist crosses a highline. The Swiss professional mountaineer has already crossed highlines on Alpine mountains such as the Matterhorn and Dufourspitze, adding to the amazing natural landscapes the surprising element of an almost playful balancing act. The highline, which is a good 20-m long and stretches between two rock towers on Kilimanjaro, is where Siegrist achieved a new record at 5,700 m above sea level: no-one has ever walked a highline at such a height. The previous world record was set in 2015 by Bence Kerekes of Hungary with a highline at 5,322 m above sea level in Ladakh, India. Siegrist has exceeded this by several hundred meters.
The idea of a highline comes from slacklining, balancing on narrow webbing fixed between two anchor points. In contrast to the highwire, which is made from wire and is so taut that it can barely move, a slackline stretches and requires constant balancing. The difference between highlining and slacklining (which takes place close to ground level) is that it is not only the ability to balance that plays a role, but there is also the psychological component of balancing over an abyss, secured only by a thin sling. As an experienced alpinist, Siegrist is familiar with the challenges of height, but he could not predict how difficult it would be to keep his balance at 5,700 m above sea level. “Despite acclimatization, it was difficult to find my balance,” he says.
At this altitude, everything is slower - and that goes for balance too.
The low oxygen content of the air not only makes breathing difficult, but it also means that you feel dizzy more quickly. Placing one foot on the highline to begin the crossing was particularly difficult. “It was interesting to see how the highline responded to the slightest tension,” says Siegrist. “When I wasn’t completely relaxed, the webbing immediately trembled a bit.”
Stephan Siegrist made the crossing on Kilimanjaro with a very small team, which included only the photographer and filmmaker Thomas Senf, who had discovered the opportunity for a highline between the rock towers on Kilimanjaro on a previous expedition, and a few local porters. Securely anchoring the highline in the volcanic rock of Kilimanjaro was a real challenge. It required a sure eye for stable rock formations and the right preparation. A single missing securing element at this remote location would have spelled the end of the expedition. The pressure was also increased by the weather and a tight schedule. The strong gusts of wind were to be expected, but the news that it would snow on Kilimanjaro was a surprise.