On a cold morning on the side of a mountain at Purgatory Resort, a small group of young adults began their day suspended in midair, participating in what is commonly known as highlining at the Paradise Highline Gathering from Oct.18-20.
Highline is a progression of slackline with the same concept of walking across a sturdy strap between two objects, however hughlines span across a greater distance with a more extreme height between the line and the ground.
Most highliners begin with slacklining, such as Marshall Thompson, a Fort Lewis alumni who organized the event.
“I used to live on campus and people would always have different slacklines up in the common area,” Thompson said. “It was a great way to meet people.”
At the highline gathering, a bunch of slackliners from different areas that are near the Colorado front range, Moab and some from the Albuquerque area, Thompson said.
Connecting with others is one of the main reasons why people start participating in slackline, and eventually move on to highline, such is the case for Sierra Dawn Gutierrez, a highline participant.
Feeling directionless in life, Guiterrez began slacklining everyday at the University of New Mexico, eventually buying her own slackline, she said.
Although the slackline and highline community in general is relatively small, its community is extremely connected through means of social media networks such as Facebook, Guiterrez said.
“We're just a single family,” she said. “Everyone really loves and supports each other, literally all over the world.”
Slacklining can build connections between individuals due to their physical and emotional vulnerability to the elements, Shane Mulligan, a highline participant, said.
“When you sit on there, all these things come to the surface: your stress, how tense your body is, how confident you feel, how the line feels, what the conditions are like,” he said. “You immediately are sharing vulnerability with others.”
For participants such as Guiterrez, slackline and highline offer a sense of calm and direction.
“Highlining and slacklining has brought this meditative peace into my life,” Guiterrez said. “It's a flow space where you can silence yourself and feel one with everything that's going around you. With the people at the edge, with the mountains and the trees holding you up, with the scenery, with the sky, with the wind.”
For others such as Mulligan, highlining offers a way to heal internally from past experiences.
“I've always considered highlining as a spiritual pursuit,” Mulligan said. “I can breathe and explore my body and put everything else on a shelf for a little while. Personally, I've been away from highlining for 10 months while working in high stress, high trauma environment. Coming back to it now has been really special and it has definitely helped me heal.”
Slacklining and highlining can offer individuals a space to become more grounded and find a further direction in their lives, Guiterrez said.
“Slacklining saved me in a really cool way,” Guiterrez said. “It really changed the trajectory of my life in a positive way. These spaces and the people that you find can save you and put you on a good path.”
Overall, slacklining and highlining involves an open and secure community who supports one another as they find peace and healing with their pursuit surrounded by nature.
“I feel supported by everything around me,” Guiterrez said. “I feel comfortable and safe, and I feel like I belong.”