Don’t look down

Jono Armstrong


Humans, by nature—and young men especially—love taking risks. But the desire to get the adrenaline pumping and conquer fearful situations is stronger for some than others. Jono Armstrong, a Chico State senior who is majoring in parks and outdoor-resource management, recently walked a slack-line—a one-inch-thick piece of nylon material—strung 100 feet above the ground across Upper Bidwell Park’s canyon. He knew he wanted to walk across the canyon the first time he saw it 3 1/2 years ago, but now that he’s conquered it, he’s got his eyes on other landmarks, including Yosemite Falls, a stunt that would put him more than 3,000 feet above the ground.

What’s the hardest part about slack-lining?

Finding the ability to relax. A lot of people instinctually look down, but it’s kind of like when you’re standing on one leg stretching and you pick something on the ground to look at. Also, breathing steadily is difficult. And there are obviously micro-balance muscles—those little tiny muscles that you don’t use for anything but slack-lining—but those develop pretty quick.

How did you prepare for the stunt?

I’ve walked like 15 of these things elsewhere. I walked one in Yosemite that was just under 3,000 feet high. It was shorter than the one in Upper Park. And as they get longer, they get a lot more difficult.

What kind of safety precautions do you take?

Everything is redundant in the system by at least two things; you’re never just trusting one piece of gear. Essentially, there’s a piece of one-inch-wide nylon webbing, and that’s under tension and underneath it there’s a climbing-certified rope that would still save you if the slack-line were to fail.

Did you ever feel like you might fall?

Oh yeah, I fell all of the times except for one, and I tried about 15 or 20 times. I was wearing a climbing harness with a 10- or 15-foot rope that’s attached to the slack-line and the rope underneath—that’s what we call the leash. Often I would make it halfway and lose concentration and fall. I made it all the way across once and then the rangers made us take it down.

Why do you do this?

It’s just, I guess, confidence. I didn’t have video games and much TV growing up. I always spent time outside. I’ve done all these other hobbies like snowboarding and stuff, but this is such a perfect balance of mental and physical use. The human body is amazing, and it has an immense capacity to do things.