Daredevil prepares for tightrope walk over the Falls

The frenzy surrounding Nik Wallenda’s upcoming walk across Niagara Falls on a tightrope has led to a predicted 120,000 people heading to Niagara this Friday to witness the stunt.

The city is bracing for the record crowd as much as possible, and hotel rooms in the tourist destination are almost sold out. In anticipation of the rush, the GO train is even running a special train to and from Toronto for the day.

The Niagara Parks Commission had at first rejected Wallenda’s request to perform the stunt – the commission accepts one such request every 20 years to pay tribute to the stunting that originally made Niagara Falls a tourist destination  – but quickly reconsidered, recognizing the tourism it would bring to the city. Many are estimating it will bring as much as $120 million dollars to the area, a considerable profit to the $7 million it will cost to put on.

The city has a legendary history of stunts involving the Falls.

In 1901, 63-year-old school teacher Annie Taylor took a trip over the falls in a barrel along with her cat, seeking fame and fortune. Seventeen minutes after the barrel was plunged into the falls she came close enough to shore to be pulled in, emerging quite dazed from the bumpy ride but feeling triumphant.

Jean Francois Gravelet, professionally known as The Great Blondin, was the first of many tight rope walkers to walk over the Falls, at the age of 31 in 1859. He not only walked over them, but continued to raise the stakes each time, performing somersaults, crossing on a bicycle, walking blindfolded, pushing a wheelbarrow, cooking an omelet, and even crossing the gorge carrying his manager.

In 1867, 23-year-old Maria Spelterina was the only women ever to cross the gorge on a tightrope. She walked backwards with a bag on her head and even wore peach baskets on her feet for dramatic effect.

The last person to walk over the Falls on a tightrope was 21-year-old James Hardy in 1886, after which the practice was banned with a maximum fine of $10,000 put in place.

For this latest stunt, a custom made 2-inch wire will be placed 60 to 70 feet above the 160-foot gorge, and it should take Wallenda between 30 and 40 minutes to complete the 1800-foot walk.

Wallenda is a seventh generation daredevil – the great grandson of Karl Wallenda – the daredevil who performed with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, and founded The Flying Wallendas. He performed tightrope walks until 1978 where he fell to his death in Peurto Rico at the age of 73.

The 33-year-old husband and father of three currently holds the Guinness World Record for the longest and highest tightrope crossing by bicycle, and will likely receive another after he crosses the gorge. With his wife, he owns and operates Wallendas Inc. where together they develop productions for amusement parks and venues all over the world, performing on sway poles, highwires, the wheel of death, incline motorcycles, silks, lyras and more.

The walk will air on a three hour televised special on ABC. Wallendas will be required by the network to wear a harness for the walk – something his has never done despite his grandfather’s death – in order to keep the show appropriate for children to watch. He is not happy with the request, but without ABC’s financial backing, the stunt would not be possible.

Watch his practice run below:


Photo ©iStockphoto.com/Elena Elisseeva

Spectacle at the Falls