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Nik Wallenda continues his family’s risky tradition by preparing to cross the world-famous waterfall between Canada and the U.S. Author Dave Gerow guides us through this once-a-century feat.
Text and Photo : Dave Gerow

n February 2012, Nik Wallenda received the green light to realize a lifelong dream of walking across Niagara Falls . Later this year, at the age of 33, this funambulist, or tightrope walker, will cross the most powerful waterfall in North America. He will cross the Niagara Falls on a tightrope just two inches thick.

Nik is following in cautious footsteps of six generations of Wallendas, who are known professionally as the “Flying Wallendas”. His German-born grandfather, Karl, patriarch of the Flying Wallendas empire inspired Nik. Unfortunately Karl fell to his death during a performance in Puerto Rico in 1978. Last June Nik successfully accomplished the very same feat that his grandfather did not. Tightrope-walking is in Nik Wallenda’s blood, and what better place to perform than at Niagara Falls, a world-famous tourist attraction whose history is replete with tales of risk-takers and daredevils.

Niagara Falls is located on the U.S.-Canadian border, separating the state of New York from the Canadian province of Ontario. It’s loud and is massive: more than 3,000 tons of water flow over the Falls every second. In 1885, Niagara Falls became the first attraction in the United States designated as a state park. It has a reputation of being both a honeymoon hotspot and a mecca for risk-takers.

When Nik Wallenda crosses the Falls later this summer, he’ll take his place among the long list of daredevils who have inched their way into the history books at Niagara.

The first man to perform the feat remains the most famous: Jean François Gravelet of France, better known as the Great Blondin. On June 30, 1859, Blondin crossed the Niagara on a 1,100-foot-long wire that was only three inches thick. while the trip only took twenty minutes and made him a legend.

But the Great Blondin didn’t stop there. He completed the crossing another sixteen times that year, each time adding some additional element of danger to each crossing. He pushed a wheelbarrow along the tightrope, he walked across blindfolded. He crossed on stilts and on one crossing, he actually carried someone across on his back. Most remarkable of all his antics was the time Blondin carried a small stove with him where he successfully cooked and ate an omelet. Ironically after all those death-defying antics, Blondin eventually met his end two days before his seventy-third birthday due to complications of diabetes.

The Great Blondin was the first of many funambulists to traverse the Falls. In 1860, The Great Farini, an American showman inspired by Blondin, carried a wash basin to the middle of his wire, lowered it into the water below, and hauled it back up to wash handkerchiefs given to him by some of his admirers. On another occasion, he actually lowered himself onto the Maid of the Mist, a boat that takes tourists as close to the waterfall as any sensible person would wish to go, where he drank a glass of wine before climbing back up to his rope and completing his walk. Sadly, his final stunt ended in disappointment when one of his stilts got caught in his tightrope, and he had to be rescued.

To be sure, that last voyage was a disappointment for The Great Farini, but at least it wasn’t a tragedy. Niagara has seen its share of stunts take tragic turns. Stephen Peer, who grew up on the Canadian side of the Falls, successfully crossed the river on a tightrope several times. His final recorded attempt was on June 22, 1887, and it was a success. Three days later, however, Peer’s body was found smashed below his wire; it’s generally assumed that he made an unscheduled attempt while drunk on the night of his final crossing.

Nik Wallenda’s crossing in 2012 is special as it will be the first time anyone has walked directly over the Falls. In the past, funambulists have strung their ropes downstream, which is a shorter distance. Wallenda plans to walk 1,800 meters, straight through the dangerously heavy mist that shrouds the Falls.

Wallenda will become the first funambulist to take a crack at Niagara in more than a century. The last person to attempt the feat was James Hardy, who successfully crossed the Gorge in 1896. Since then, authorities on the Canadian side have refused to allow anyone to perform stunts for fear of Niagara Falls becoming associated with a carnival atmosphere. The Niagara Parks Commission prefers that Niagara Falls, which attracts about 10 million tourists per year, be known as a natural wonder rather than a venue for stunts.

As for now Wallenda was able to obtain special permission from both the Canadian and American authorities to performe the walk. The New York side agreed, however the Canadian side was more reluctant. When the Niagara Parks Commission in Ontario finally gave consent in February, they made it clear that this would be a “once in a generation” event. While a generation may be a long time, Nik Wallenda has opened the door for future daredevils to attempt conquering Niagara Falls.


Niagara`s daredevils

In February of 2012, Nik Wallenda can finally realize a life long dream of his. He plans to cross Niagara Falls on a 2-inch thick tightrope! Nik comes from 6 generations of famous tightrope walkers- known as “The Flying Wallendas”. This summer he will continue in his family’s tradition.
Niagara Falls separates Canada and the U.S state of New York. It is North America’s most powerful waterfall as well as a famous tourist attraction for families, honeymooners and risk-takers.

Many people have crossed Niagara Falls on a tightrope. To make the walk more interesting some people have done unimaginable things. For example, one man called, “The Great Bondin”, carried his manager on his back successfully to the other side. Another time, he brought a small stove with him- cooking and eating an omelet as he carefully walked across the falls!

So what makes Nik’s dream special? Well, he will attempt to cross 1800 meters across the waterfall, while others in the past have crossed a different section of the falls measuring 1,100 meters. More importantly, the last person to cross did this in 1896 and since then it has been illegal in both Canada and in the United States. Therefore, Nik will be the first person to attempt this stunt in over 100 years! The authorities say that they will allow this only every 20 years. It seems as though Nik has opened some doors for future tightrope walkers!



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Step by step, tightrope walker revives Niagra Falls tradition

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