“So how high are we?” “You see those mountain peaks? They are 11,000 feet.” “That’s sea level right? How high are we above the ground?” “3,800 feet” I leaned out of the basket with camera in hand. “Hey Zane, we just topped 3,800 feet. How are you feeling?” “Amazing!!!!!!” Personally I wish it was me hanging below the basket, but being asked to pierce and rig this suspension was still a pretty amazing experience.
Click more to see the video and read the whole story.
This adventure actually began a couple of years ago when filming for “Feet Off the Ground” first began. At the time, only one suspension featuring Zane Whitmore was planned to be filmed. However, the crew of Precarious Egg soon became fascinated with the world of suspension. It wasn’t long before they had captured and edited numberous beautiful suspensions and the project began to grow with a life all it’s own.
As the project evolved and the crew began traveling and meeting suspension practitioners from all over the world, the idea of hanging from a hot air balloon quickly evolved from pipe dream to a glorious reality. So how do I fit into all of this? Well, I was fortunate enough to have worked with both Zane and the crew during the filming of the 2010 Dallas Suscon. So, when the planning of this stunt finally came to fruition, I was on the short list. My good friend Håvve Fjell was at one time planned to take the reigns on this project, but do to distance and timing, I was lucky enough to get the job.
…but I digress from the pre-balloon details, and give you the story from behind the hooks…
My journey to Mammoth Lakes, California was a long and stressful one. With my constantly changing schedule and limited flights, I was starting to think I was never going to make it. But, once I stepped off that tiny little plane, took a deep breath of the cool mountain air, I suddenly felt relaxed and totally at peace. It didn’t take long before I realized that the surroundings were a perfect fit for such an extraordinary event.
The first evening, although relaxing and filled with good company, was focused on work. Zane had packed all the equipment. So, of course I was eager to run through the checklist and make sure that we had everything that was needed. The stunt coordinator, Kai Shelton, also needed to rig the basket and go over safety measures to determine worst case scenarios.
As we walked through each step of the suspension, discussing how and where things could go wrong, our one variable that kept popping up was weather. With a call time of 4:00am it was obvious that cold and shock could endanger our poor little hook monkey. Although waiting for a warmer afternoon flight seemed like a good idea, the lift and calm of the cold morning air was ideal for a successful flight.
It wasn’t long before our few precious hours of sleep had passed and the crew had all arrived at the Whitmore Hot Springs. (Whitmore? Coincidence?) Dawn had begun to break as we all began pulling camera gear and going through the rigging safety checklists. Right on cue, Mammoth Balloon Adventures arrived and like a finely tuned machine they inflated all 3 balloons we would be using to perform and capture this stunt.
Although the temperature seemed to hover just above the freezing mark, Zane was quite the trooper. His face held a constant smile that made both his wife and I relaxed and optimistic. As the sun peaked over the mountains, it became apparent that the warm air was on the way, which made my old Texas skin happy, but also meant that we needed to speed up production if we were going to get off the ground during the pristine conditions.
As you can see from the photos below, Zane hung from 2, 5 gauge Gilson hooks. Why only 2? Well, the suspension was planned and rigged for 4 points. However, after feeling the skin separation, it became clear that 2 points would work perfectly and ultimately be more comfortable. Plus, with the reduction of 2 hooks, allowed for double static lines to each hook. Not that I was worried about my knots, or the tech 12 line, but redundancy is always a plus when it comes to extraordinarily high suspensions.
…and height we got. At one point Zane was drug through the sage brush (above image) and at others he reached heights that were most assuredly record breaking. Dave, our balloon captain, joked that we got both the “barn stormer” and the “high flyer” of the group. Throughout the trip we kept asking Zane, “How you feeling?” I think the best way to some up his enthusiasm, is what he yelled as we left the ground, “I LOVE MY JOB!”
From takeoff to landing, the suspension went perfectly. Even the tedious job of lifting Zane into the basket went smoother than our practice run. Approximately 75 minutes into the flight, Kai winched him up. Just one grab of my hand and Zane’s smiling little face appeared over the rim of the basket. Just a simple lift of the leg and there he was standing next to us. A quick inspection of the hooks showed almost no blood and not the slightest tear. I can’t say I was ever worried, but with him safely inside my stress level decreased dramatically.
The journey down was just as smooth as the trip up. Dave seemed to have six sense about the wind patterns and got us in within about 100 feet of our final resting spot. It took some muscle from the ground crew to pull us to our landing site. With a couple of light hops in the sage brush, there we were safely standing on terra firma again.
Again I would like to thank Precarious Egg, Mammoth Balloon Adventures, Kai Shelton and of course Zane for allowing me to be a part of this beautiful, amazing and ground breaking suspension. Thank you all for allowing me to help on this project.