Daredevil Wallenda to take on Grand Canyon – without a safety net

Daredevil aerialist Nik Wallenda is poised to take on his greatest challenge Sunday: Walking 1,500 feet above a gorge in the Grand Canyon. His last feat was wire-walking over Niagara Falls.

Chris O'Meara/AP
High wire performer Nik Wallenda answers questions during a news conference Tuesday, June 18, 2013 in Sarasota, Fla. Wallenda, a seventh generation high-wire walker, will attempt to walk across the Grand Canyon on Sunday, June 23, 2013.

Daredevil aerialist Nik Wallenda is poised to take on his greatest challenge Sunday: Walking 1,500 feet above a gorge in the Grand Canyon.

The high-wire walk will be the highest for Mr. Wallenda, who last June became the only person to walk a wire over Niagara Falls.

That feat brought 13 million viewers to ABC, which broadcast the walk live, lifting the network to a first-place finish that week and precipitating a bidding war in advance of his next high-wire spectacle.

The rights ultimately went to the Discovery Channel, which will televise the event Sunday at 8 p.m. EST. Online viewers will also have access to a live stream via SkywireLive.com. The walk is expected to take 30 minutes. The only element that may cancel the walk is if lightning is detected within 15 miles of the wire.

The Grand Canyon event is billed as far more dangerous than the Niagara Falls walk, which suspended Wallenda 220 feet off the ground and required him to walk 1,800 feet over a two-inch cable.

On Sunday, he’ll walk a shorter distance – about 1,400 feet – but at 1,500 feet above the ground, he will be seven times higher in the air than he was above the Falls and at a height exceeding that of the Empire State Building.

Adding to the nail-biting: He will not wear a safety harness as he did last June, nor will there be a safety net suspended below.

Curiosity seekers have been given a chance to watch Wallenda practice over the last two weeks in Sarasota, Fla., his hometown. Besides crossing and re-crossing a wire suspended across a local river, he has been practicing walking through 45-to-55 mile per hour wind gusts, created via wind machines. He has also practiced a simulated fall, which involves him hanging on the wire for 20 minutes, the length of time it would take for a rescue.

“It’s very important that I train on a cable that simulates the weight, the feeling, the movement of the cable, the way it will move under my feet,” he told the Associated Press.

Wallenda’s walk will take place outside the boundaries of Grand Canyon National Park and above the Little Colorado River Gorge, a site that is located about 40 miles east of the tourist facilities of the canyon’s southern rim.

The location is owned and operated by the Navajo Nation, which says the attention will help bring attention to its facilities. The Navajo Parks and Recreation is inviting onlookers to a viewing site inside Little Colorado River Navajo Tribal Park. The first 600 people who arrive will be shuttled to a nearby viewing point, where they can watch on a Jumbotron video screen.

“We are honored to be a part of this historic event and showcase the beauty that exists on Navajo country,” Geri Hongeva-Camarillo, media representative of the Navajo Parks and Recreation said in a prepared statement. “The Navajo Nation is home to more than a dozen national monuments, tribal parks, and ancestral sites. Many visitors make Navajo Nation one of the top destinations for their travel plans.”

According to USA Today, the Discovery Channel is not paying the Navajo Nation for use of its land, but it paved a parking lot and a road into the park to prepare for the onslaught of visitors and media.

Navajo Tribal President Ben Shelly told the newspaper that it was grateful for the publicity.

“It’s exposing what a beautiful land we have. Another nation exists, and it's the Navajo Nation. Visit our stores and people. We'll do our best to accommodate people coming in,” Mr. Shelly said.

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