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Seeking Exposure, 600 Feet Up

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Sean Englund, a student at Fort Lewis College, crosses a highline during the eclipse in Casper, WY. Highliners are tethered to the line they cross with a harness, in case of a fall. photo by Terrance Siemon/Adventure Pro, courtesy Sean Englund.

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Highlining is a high-adrenaline extension of slacklining, during which you typically cross webbing that's only a matter of feet above the ground. Once they've mastered the technique, some slackliners take their talent to great heights. photo by Cole Davis

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Cliff Mosser makes his way across a first ascent of "My Huckleberry" near Telluride. Highlining is fundamentally the same as slacklining, applied at sweat-inducing heights. photo by Cole Davis

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Similar to rock climbing routes, highlining routes typically have clever names that help distinguish them. "My Huckleberry" is located along the Via Ferrata in Telluride. photo by Cole Davis

Sean Englund used to dream most nights about the liberating feeling of being in the air. The feeling of flying like a bird, essentially. It was fueled by his hobby for slacklining, most times about 5 feet in the air. Tied up between two trees, the one-inch line of webbing held his weight while he traversed back and forth.

He never imagined he’d be traversing that one-inch line of webbing 600 feet in the air though, especially at the Fruit Bowl, near Moab, Utah.  

“I did not even get on the line for almost two days. I was beyond terrified about what could happen to me while on the line,” Englund said about his first time highlining.  

It was the first of many highlining experiences for Englund. After that, you could even say he was hooked.

“It was something that I had not experienced before. I was eager to push myself for longer lengths that, in return, would allow me to embody that feeling for longer,” Englund said.

This is Englund’s favorite pass-time when he’s not hiking around national forests and parks. Highlining has gained some serious popularity here in the Durango area, but there’s still only a handful of folks brave enough to endure the heights.

As a Washington State native, he spent most of his young life in Europe but ended up at Fort Lewis College for his bachelor’s degree, where he discovered highlining his freshman year. For him, it’s a path to new perspectives, a passion and a lifestyle. A lifestyle that much of Durango already shares with him, especially when it comes to the highlining culture.

“[Highlining culture] is specific to Durango because the individuals in Durango like to push themselves to the point of break every day. Whether that’s rafting, climbing, downhill mountain biking or even paragliding,” Englund said.  

For those of you that are admittedly adrenaline junkies, highlining is probably right up your alley. But for those of us that prefer our feet on solid ground, it is truly a brave endeavor that can still be a spine-chilling experience, even for guys like Englund.

“It’s scary, terrifying and fun, all at the same time,” Englund said.

Highlining, unfamiliar to most people, is much more than just crossing the gap.There are tricks and moves, highlining slang and an entire culture surrounding the activity. For example, when a highliner executes an “exposure turn,” the individual turns their body to face the view, situating their feet perpendicular to the line.

“You simply just look out into the abyss of the land without having any sense of a line in front of you,” Englund said.

Other instances are not so deliberate, like a “chicken wing,” referring to when a highliner catches the line last minute with only their armpit and their safety leash to break the fall.

So, when it comes down to it, Durango offers some spectacular sites for highlining like Baker’s Bridge, Cascade Falls, Horse Gulch and Adrenaline Falls (Englund’s personal favorite) to name just a few.

But Englund argues that it’s more about the people here.

“Durango understands that every day is a gift and that we only have one,” Englund said. “So, why not live it?”

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