Highlining in South Africa at Mayhem Mountain Festival

Highlining in South Africa at Mayhem Mountain Festival

Leading up to the 2022 Mayhem Mountain Festival, I visited the previous years posts in anticipation. If the past year’s event is anything to go by, the highline event on the 14th to the 18th of April is going to be mind blowing. Below is a glimpse of what went down this year!

Where: Waterval Boven (Emgwenya, Mpumalanga).
When: Easter Weekend in April.
Who: Mayhem Mountain Adventures and Friends & Allies climbing gym.
How to get there? A 3-hour drive from Johannesburg. Contact the organizers to find/share a lift.

My Experience of the Mayhem Mountain Festival

I arrive from Cape Town to a misty morning in Jozi with a few bumps and protocols to follow. My stoke grows as the news of 200 meters of ultra-light webbing has arrived in South Africa, making its way from Cape Town with our favourite freestyle highliner, Leighton. I arrived 5 days before the festival to lend a hand, starting with loading Swart’s bakkie before we set off to Mayhem!

aerial view of Mayhem Mountain Adventures Festival

Meeting Gustav and the Mgwenya Climbing Members

Awande, Natsi, and Thuto from the Mgwenya climbing club arrive with Gustav from Boven. They begin with taping before helping to rig the 50 meter line. Swart, Gustav, Wes, Mike and I head off towards the crag to drill and glue the bolts for the 400m line. I first hear the waterfall before the mountain opens up infront and beneath me. The valley consists of thick forest and is dotted with tall aloes.

We move along the shelf to a position that stands to attention with a sheer drop of 20 meters below, the depth of the valley itself is hard to comprehend. Looking across towards the far side anchor the proposed line comes to life. Stirring a slight uneasyness in my stomach.

Bolting Both of the Anchors

With a short instruction, Gustav gives the petrol drill a sharp pull into life. The drill bit fits into place as snuggly as the 10 mm diameter 130mm length threaded rod. The three bolts take minutes to drill, the small motor cutting smoothly into the quartz rock. A meter backward and two backup bolts were drilled to recieve 90 mm long by 10 mm wide Fisher expansion anchors.

The same orientation was repeated on the opposite side, with both anchors prepared to receive dynema rope. The rope is threaded through all the screw gate quicklinks to create three independent anchors captured in a ‘Big F****ing Knot’. The BFK is attached with a soft shackle to a slow release, and the tail is tied off.

Walking the first lines before the festival

I watch Cary move into the valley on the 50 meter line. He walks comfortably, before dropping into a shoulder stand. From shoulder stand he uses the remaining momentum to roll over the line, almost landing back to shoulder before catching his foot on the line and resting in chest.

Putting on my harness I feel relaxed, and my mind at ease. I tell Cary, ‘I want to send it!’. After a buddy check I move out past the no fall zone and mount the line. Standing and taking my first steps, the line feels comfortable and soft. The bounce is responsive at the short length and creates a side to side wobble when the input is uncontrolled. Stepping into the last meters of the line, I begin to feel an excitement as I realise my goal. Yew! Turning to attempt the full-man, I take a step and fall.

The week of the festival arrives and the rain continues to fall. The farm owner, Reuben, and his wife, Camilla, come to visit the old animal shed that has been our refuge from the rain. We start the day with a goal to clear the store room behind our home. Clearing out the wood, spiders, and buckets full of rubble, we begin to see the room’s future. Two solar panels are installed on the tin roof with the promise of a power source and running fridge for the festival.

We Spend a Night in Waterval Boven

As the light begins to dissipate we can feel the rainfall approaching. It starts with a drizzle, begins to bucket, and took us all by surprise with a sustained soaking. We wait an hour before making our way down to Mgwenya to spend the night in town at the Roc n Rope lodge. Meeting Gustav at reception, we are led by Swart to our accommodation for the evening. A hot shower and a homely curry have us feeling clean and comfortable.

On the journey back to Mayhem we stopped at Tegwaan where rock climbers stay to access the Restaurant and other main crags in Boven. We passed the Tranquilitas turn off, and finally approached the dam and homely pig den at Mayhem. Tim found a sign at the bottom of the dam when he first visited that titled the farm Kaalbooi’s (translated into english as naked boys).

Walking highlines with confidence

Wednesday morning I watched Swart cruise across the 30 meter line, walking off the anchor before walking back. He then proceeded to send the 50 meter and 65 meter line. While rigging the 180 meter line, Cary, Leighton, and I derigged the 90 meter line, letting a new webbing and a tag line cross the valley. We then carried the tagline across to the anchor of the 180 meter line before hauling the webbing across.

With the great white webbing rigged again across the 90 meter line, Swart leashed up to walk it with one fall in the last section. I approached the line and fell in the first 30 meters, continuing on, I managed to cross with only the one fall.

The Festival Begins!

Thursday brought with it the arrival of some frothing folks. I walked across the 180 meter line with a handful of falls before making it across with a steady pace during the last third of the line. Still up for a challenge, I climbed on the 65 meter line and walked across with one fall. Reaching the end I began an arduous walk backwards all the way to the no fall zone on the other side. The evening had its fair share of drama, with Jess Leah getting towed out of a 4×4 route in her low profile audi.

South Africa’s Highline Record Attempt

Friday morning brought with it a sense of arriving energy. Jess led us through a beautiful yoga on the ‘grow and flow’ space to awaken the spine and bring balance into our movements. The safety meeting conducted on the stoep brought us all together as a morning introduction. A policy of ‘no walk offs’, and buddy checks before walking lines were key points.

After a quick meal, I set off to help with the tagging of the longest highline rigged in South Africa. Our largest challenge took the form of crossing a smaller valley of trees on the tensioning side. We bridged the gap in the valley by casting a weight on a fishing line into the middle before throwing a rope with a caribiner from the other side. Two eager oaks made their way into the valley to connect the two points. Andy appeared at the top of a tree with the line in hand and swiftly connected the two ends.

Pulling tension on the rope, we were able to lift it above all the trees to connect the tag from the tensioning anchor, to a point on the same side of the valley. The middle of the tagline lay in the hands of Allister and was secure on the tensioning anchor and the anchor for the 180 meter line on the far side. The line was then released into the more than 100 meter deep mayhem crag.

Walking the highlines with friends

An audience appeared on the mountainside to watch the incredible feat of athletes walking through the air. An aerobatic performance was arranged, with a long leash attached to a buggy in the line. The performer on the silks continued to fall into the valley with grace and flow.

Swart walked across the 120 meter long line onsight. He was the first to achieve this incredible feat on the new line. While he walked we noticed the newly rigged 400 meter line moving in the distance.

A 400 Meter Long Highline

Unbeknown to anyone else, Cary and Andy were busy tensioning the line. It lifted slightly as Cary mounted and began to walk the longest line ever rigged in South Africa.  The spectators errupted with a cheer as Swart reached the end of the 120 meter line, pumping his fists into the air.

Cary navigated challenging sections including connections with dyneema extensions and slings before reaching a difficult point in the middle of the line which caused him to fall. He appeared as a small figure on the horizon. Taking quick steps, he moved in a constant momentum across the valley, falling again, he received a huge cheer from the crowd. Upon Cary’s successful crossing of the line I let out a huge cheer. Awoooh, yeah!

Achieving a Personal Best Walk

On the opposite side of the valley, I stepped up to the 120 meter line as the light was starting to fade.  I tied in before asking two passing climbers for a buddy check. Moving out a meter from the anchor, I stood up in chongo position and immediately sat down, falling over the line.

Moving another meter out from the anchor I tried again, feeling very off balance after a quick two steps. I found my rhythm and upon reaching the half way mark, felt a burning desire to send the line. Sitting down at the no fall zone, I rolled over the line and let out a big cheer!

A Well Deserved Meal

The evening fires grew with the consumption of cold beers and braai food. We refueled with a curry consisting of a variety of vegetables, cooked in a team effort. A meal was set aside for a climber who would return from the hospital after breaking his leg when a boulder came loose and fell across his path.

The incident caused a great deal of concern as a rock fall was heard before two loud crashes. It sounded large enough for it be have been an anchor from one of the highlines.

Setting Intentions to Grow and Flow

Awaking on the Saturday morning to the sound of rain on my tent and a violent animalistic sound of the waterline flapping in the wind. I am ready for the day, and find friendly faces inside the shelter brewing morning cups of coffee and positive thoughts. We gesture towards the clouds to leave us be, and welcome the sunshine with bizarre ideas.

Karine offers for everyone to join her for a movement session, saying we could take part with or without yoga matts. Midway through writing my morning pages, I grab a bottle of water and my yoga matt before setting off to the flow and grow space. We start by acknowledging our surroundings. Taking into consideration our position on the highveld, with the valley ahead of us cutting its way into the lowveld and the ocean beyond.

Setting an intention for an easy flowing breath and softness in my muscles, we begin to move. Starting with our breathing, the intenal furnace begins to heat up. Moving into positions of balance, it begins to feel like I am walking on the line that moves ahead of us in the wind.

Juggling at the highline festival

Saturday Afternoon Activities

Beneath the afternoon sunshine, I see Anje juggling and notice her eye contact before one of the ball falls to the ground. Talking to her later, I learn that she recently joined Friends and Allies’ slackline sessions in Johannesburg and has plans to highline at a high level. She mentions Ian Iesenberg’s freestyle highlining as an inspiration to perservere.

While the rain softly taps on my tent, Tim lets me know he is heading down to the lines. I walk to the anchor of the 400 meter line with a Rolex, rainjacket, and an intention to cross the longest highline ever rigged in South Africa. 

Two People Walking on a Highline

Sitting at the anchor, I watch Cary and Leighton walk tandem. The line reacts to their movements like a see-saw. As Cary drops into a seated position Leighton is pushed high into the air. He manages to maintain his walk, while more than two hundred meters away Cary moves into a shoulder stand. My cheeks full up with cheer and I smile at the sight of these two highliners on such a dramatic line. Cary moves down from shoulder stand and impressively, Leighton manages to stay standing.

As Cary walks back to the anchor, the drizzle turns to large rain drops and begins to move diagonally with the wind. Sitting together for a moment beneath the cliff face to escape the rain, we share a naartjie.

An Unfortunate Contact with a Tree

Allister hikes up towards us and winces as he tells us about his unfortunate contact with a tree during a rope swing from the 30 meter highline only a few moments ago. Allister’s back had a large branch sized wound swelling with a 5 cm section of it lightly bleeding.

After witnessing Cary and Leighton walk tandem on the 400 meter line, I felt ready to cross the highline. Tying myself into the super lightweight leash felt unfamiliar. It’s narrow profile added to the uneasyness I experienced. With rain continuing to pour down, I put on my gloves before performing a buddy check with Cary.

Crossing the Valley in the Rain

Moving over the edge by five meters, the trees below fell into the deep valley. Indigenous forest broke into grassy areas dotted with tall aloes. The river dividing the valley cascaded in a series of waterfalls. Looking towards the other lines, I felt oddly separated from the festival. A cold air poured down the valley, moving me side to side. My focus returned to the line.

I felt my center sway, yet kept my arms high above my head and my hips positioned over my feet. The wind had a light play on the line, but overall the sensation was one of calm and ecstatic steps. Each foot placed lightly on the line before weighting into the new positon. Advancing towards the first segment I feel a sharp wobble, and fall onto the line. Looking back towards the anchor before stading up, I feel a sense of urgency to walk on.

Passing the second segment, I feel an odd stillness in the line. The harmony of each step leaves the line still and straight along the section of dyneemyte webbing. The backup connection to the length of webbing had too short an extension, leaving both the main and the backup under tension. This proved to be a bizarre experience to walk across. Inbetween the taped sections, the two webbings would tension into a side by side position when underfoot.

longest highline in South Africa

My intention to walk the full distance of the line is front of mind. I feel the need to walk smoothly and calmly to complete the longest distance I have attempted to walk on a highline. Reaching the end of the dyneemyte section with no falls I feel confident that my body will endure the last 100 meters of the line. Cary’s advice to cross the tight extention on the far side came to mind and I sat down to pass over the section of dynema rope.

The last 50 meters of the line felt slippery and difficult underfoot. The slack nature of the long line meant that the last two meters were incredibly challenging. I sat down at the no fall zone and let out a triumphant roar! Upon reaching firm ground, ecstacy flooded my body and my mind elated in relief. The huge highline had proved to be a worthy challenge, and I felt light in my steps while walking in the rain back towards the camp.

Euphoric

On my way back, I bump into Tim who is wearing a large grin and approaches with open arms. My personal achievement felt celebrated, and increased my internal joy. Despite having tired shoulders, I excitedly tied into the 65 meter freestyle line, walked to the middle, and began to bounce. Feeling confident, I bounced, turned into exposure, sat down into sofa, and after a bounce stood back into exposure. Dropping back into sofa, I hucked my body backwards to complete a roll. Waiting for the next bounce, I stood up into exposure.

Reaching the camp, I could see humans huddled tighltly along the two tables. Card games involving betting and drinking were well underway. Three Shy Brewery kegs arrive and ten cups are filled in quick succession before the portable gas cartridge needs to be replaced. A refill is provided and the beer contributes to the party spirit.

Celebrating in Style

Moving the portable speakers, kegs, and party into the woods proved to be a magical experience. Surrounded by tree’s, the sky above us became the focus. Clouds swept overhead and pockets of rain fell upon our moving shoulders. Shaking our hips, the party spirit emenated a heat outwards into the darkness.

After the last beer was poured, honorable runners sent for more supplies. The fairy lights and warmth of the crowd created the perfect setting for an experience of love. Love for our fellow human, love for our bodies ability to dance, and a love for nature.

Will Sunday Bring Sunshine?

Waking from the night of movement and elation, I could hear the pitter patter of rain. Staying in bed this morning appeared to be the best option. My body endured many stressors over the previous 7 days, and it felt right to rest.

easter morning at Mayhem Festival

The festival energy continued beautifully, with smells of stong coffee, a celebration of chocolate eggs, and creative games. A group of eight of us drew titles, mine being ‘riding the highline’. The next artist interprets the words into a small drawing. The results were commical, with ‘highlining is better than mountainbiking’ being the next interpretation.

7 Highlines – 7 Highliners

Monday arrives with a new mission, to session early before derigging. We orchestrate a photo with Chris where each line will be occupied. Hannes on the 20 meter, myself on the 50 meter, Leighton on the 65 meter, Wesley on the 90 meter, Cary on the 120 meter, Tim on the 180 meter and Swart on the 400 meter line.

We reach the middle of our lines and stand in exposure waiting for Swart to walk into the frame.

Derigging the 400 meter line goes smoothly. Leighton and myself release the webbing onto a 200 meter long static rope attached to two additional 100 meter ropes. The passing of each knot through the Grigri required an ascender to hold the rope.

Releasing the rope into the valley, we were filled with a deflating feeling. The longest line in South Africa was rigged, and proved too challenging to cross in one attempt without falling. The record remains Andy Court’s send of the 340 meter line in Rocklands.

Last Thoughts On Mayhem Mountain Festival

Tuesday morning marks the last of our time in Mayhem. We derig the 65 and the 50 meter lines before completing the last of the cleaning. Setting off on our three and a half hour journey back to Johannesburg we say a heartfelt goodbye to Reuben and Camilla who hosted us for the past ten days.

I have created the video below to share a glimpse into the Mayhem Mountain Adventures Festival in 2022. Show your support, share, or simply send us an encouraging message!

A special thanks to Chris Doman, and Quintin Mallac for contributing photos.

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