Sometimes, scenic and exotic outdoor adventure doesn’t have to be far away. If you do highlining, you pretty much bring your adventures with you wherever you go. When you combine this extreme sport with the natural wonders of America’s national parks, you just can’t go wrong. In this film, follow Ryan Robinson as he sets up on gigantic natural rock formations in Utah’s starkly beautiful Canyon Rims Recreational Area.
Looking Glass Arch is a huge sandstone formation that rises abruptly from the arid desert floor, almost begging to be explored. The arch itself is high and massive, carved from the native Utah rock by millions of years of constant erosion. It is off the beaten path, but not by much. As a climbing location, it is hard to beat, but even merely as a photography target, it holds its own. There is something about the quietness of a vast desert that almost demands a gigantic towering presence to cast its enormous shadow over all that’s near, giving that which is boundless some sort of scale.
Climbing this arch is an adventure for the skilled, and you need a certain amount of experience to even get to the high places Ryan needs for anchoring his line. While climbing itself is difficult and demanding, highlining is a truly extreme sport, involving setting up a long one-inch flat rope between two points, whether they be trees, cliffs, peaks, or even buildings. When both ends have been safely secured, highliners become like tight-rope acrobats making their way carefully across the line.
Ryan Robinson describes himself as a professional highliner, photographer, and adventure athlete. And the word athlete may be an understatement since he’s an Ironman triathlete in addition to a four-time American Ninja Warrior fighter. Ryan’s been in love with highlining for over five years and works alongside some of the biggest names in nature photography, including National Geographic and Outside Magazine. He specializes in very long lines and holds several world records in the sport.
His destination in this ROAM Media video presented by GORV is Moab, Utah, which he believes to be “one of the most incredible locations for adventure sports anywhere in the world.” The town of Moab is all of 5,000 people, nearly all of whom are there to support the tourists and visitors to the nearby Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park. Adventure seekers in this part of Utah have ample access to biking, whitewater rafting, jeeping, climbing, hiking… you name it.
Ryan takes his trusty RV to Looking Glass Arch where he will tether his highline equipment. The arch is simply staggering in size and beauty, and the video makes ample use of smooth airborne drone footage to give a sense of the breathtaking majesty of the Looking Glass Arch. A stand-alone desert feature, you see it on the horizon for a long time before you actually come close to it. Like its surroundings, it’s made from reddish sandstone, huge and monolithic yet mostly hollow inside, with a giant window on one side that gives a strong impression of a looking glass. Surrounded between the beautiful desert below and the endless sky above, Looking Glass Arch is a natural destination worth visiting no matter what you might choose to do when you arrive.
Ryan’s RV is the perfect vehicle for this kind of excursion because it provides the experience of camping, yet still has all the comforts of home. As Ryan puts it, “with an RV, no matter where you are, you’re always at home.” Years back, when he made the decision to become a professional highliner, he realized there were some sacrifices he would have to make in his day-to-day life. The requirement of needing to be pretty much anywhere – at any time! – meant he couldn’t put down roots in any one area. The solution, of course, is a decked-out RV as a home, complete with impressive-looking coffee makers and even double-skewered forks for roasting marshmallows over a campfire. This provides the flexibility of a home-cooked meal after a long day or heading on to the next adventure.
His highlining route over the Looking Glass Arch is a pretty straight-forward route, albeit an extra-scenic one. Near the top of the formation are two peaks separated by the vast hollow that makes up the interior of the arch. He works methodically yet quickly to secure his line at both ends, and it seems like in literally no time, he is ready to position his foot onto the beginning of the highline.
Highlining is what Ryan lives for. He says, “Y’know when you’re a kid, and you’re about to go on an adventure the next day, and you can’t sleep, you’re so excited? That’s how highlining is!” But incredibly, he is actually afraid of heights. He says it is his fear of heights that makes him addicted to highlining because that’s what makes it such a challenge for him – it never gets easy, and it never gets old. He lives with his fear and, most importantly, faces his fear. The vast open spaces of the Utah desert seem like a perfect backdrop for such a difficult, personal confrontation with one’s inner self.
It is an extremely vulnerable experience, being utterly alone so high up on a slender line, completely surrounded by Earth’s natural elements. One has to acknowledge those fears, not reject them, and purposefully get into a vulnerable state to accept the anxiety and difficulty. Only after this can the highliner truly be a master of the experience. Ryan seems so natural and calm up on the line, he even lays down on it for a while, just to soak it all in before continuing his traversal.
One really gets a strong sense of his regret that this particular adventure is over. He made it to the Arch and had a nice overnight camp in the RV, spent the day climbing the Looking Glass Arch and making his careful way over the abyss on the highline, feeling that life just then was very, very good. But the sadness of it being over can’t last very long, as the film closes with footage of Ryan’s RV speeding away back up the road, excited for the new upcoming adventure.