In the semi-darkness of a mountain path lit by the stars of the southern hemisphere, three small loupiotes slowly hoist themselves onto the roof of the Indian Ocean.
Immersed in the humid coolness of this austral winter night, we are three companions, Max, Clem and Nico, each disappearing under a monstrous rucksack, climbing the 1700 meters of drop linking the Cirque de Cilaos and the summit of Piton des Neiges. The project: stay three days up there to connect the aesthetic rocky peak of the Dyke Rouge and the ridge of the Grand Dyke with a polyester strap, then become tightrope walkers in the sky and attempt the dizzying crossing in balance.
On the top of this dormant volcano, no vegetation or water. We are perhaps closer to Mars than to the earth and we need to mount the supplies as well as the technical equipment dedicated to the realization of our installation: straps, semi-static ropes, slings, buffer, anchor points, connectors steels, etc. The long list was meticulously prepared the previous days, the locations having been carried out for many months. In the space of two years, this is the eighth time that Max has climbed up there.
Our panting breath creates clouds of humidity that turn into ephemeral spirits guiding our steps under the light of our headlamp. The abused quadriceps and the sheared shoulders endure the effort as best they can. Once arrived at the summit pass, the difficulties are not over yet since we still have to descend a very steep scree, pass a rocky bar while abseiling 10 meters to reach our bivouac space. Destabilized by the bags, the scree hardened by the nocturnal frost is the cause of beautiful skids and avalanches of well-inspired curses.
Once the tent is installed, wrapped in the warmth of dry clothes, we realize that we are perched at an altitude of 3000 meters, between the mythical cirques of Cilaos and Salazie. Huddled against the rocks to protect us from the wind, the vial of rum passes from hand to hand, the jokes fly, the pangs of the climb are already forgotten and in our eyes shines the happiness of being among friends.
If the Piton des Neiges is in a way the Mountain-Mother of Réunion, at the origin of the appearance of the island above the waves, its dykes are the guardians of its imposing integrity. They are composed of a particularly compact form of rock which corresponds to the last magmatic upwellings before the extinction of the volcano. And it is this specific type of rock that will allow us to carry out our project.
The next day, we get up under a clear sky, ideal to set up the line. While Clem and Max take care of drilling two points on the big Dyke, Nico takes care of taping the strap to a semi-static rope which will serve as a back-up. Then, he has to throw everything into the scree 100 meters below in order to create, on foot, the connection with the base of the
Red dike. The drilling of two 10 millimeter points takes us almost an hour and a half as the rock is so hard!
Then, Clem joins Nico below the Red dyke. We have to climb three small lengths of climbing, in a modest difficulty, but committed, in order to reach the summit. At each relay, the strap and the back-up is hoisted towards the climbers. Slowly the line takes shape and a fine textile binding shaken by the winds appears. 100 meters above us, morning hikers heading to the summit of Piton des Neiges can see us and wonder what we are doing… Much lower down, the sunlight begins to enter the circus of Cilaos, first illuminating the majestic rampart of Grand Bénard, then the lentil plots of Ilet-á-Corde and finally the town of Cilaos itself, which is spread out over a natural plateau, a sort of island of horizontality in a fantastic chaos of ravines, peaks, canyons and forests.
Arrived at the top of the Dyke Rouge, Nico and Clem surround the rocky peak, set up a large sling there, well protected against friction, which will serve as an anchor point. They attach the main strap and the back-up to it, then abseil down into the rock. Meanwhile, Max takes care of the anchorage on the Grand Dyke side: he fixes his side of the strap on the points just drilled with the buffer and begins to put tension in the system using pulleys. In highline, the constant tensions are seldom as important as on the ground. Thus, even for a line of this length, estimated at 80 meters, a single person helped by a simple reference to the pulley can generate enough force to allow someone to walk on it without the slope of the line being too important.
The installation is now stretched, perfectly straight, all the checks are done and we are stamping with impatience. The moment of consecration is not long in coming. It is first a question of advancing seated on the line, quietly, and of taming this decor from this unique angle. Just below the line, the steep scree seems to fall like a stone waterfall 2000 meters below into the Cirque de Cilaos.
The pulse quickens and some catastrophic images cross the mind of the being who risks himself on the line. A good technique is to close your eyes and take in the environment through visualization techniques. Concentrating, breathing, and glancing again at his strong tie-in knot helps to regain his composure. Once the body and mind are perfectly relaxed, the tightrope walker straightens up, standing on the highline. In his mind, everything explodes and shrinks at the same time. The line becomes a mad horse rearing up violently. It is urgent to breathe, to find support in the air, the best ally of the highliner. The wind infiltrates his body, pushing away any idea of death. A few steps, and the body begins to understand the line, the bust stabilizes and the legs get used to tension and elasticity. In the head, it is the search for a meditative state that predominates: concentration on the present moment and moving away from parasitic thoughts. But the technical difficulties of such a line, in such a striking setting, make it difficult to maintain that level of concentration for the many minutes it takes to cross the line in its entirety. And inevitably comes the fall! Exhilarating sensation, and often punctuated by cheers from friends and observers, falling 3 or 4 meters into your leash, doing a pirouette and bouncing a few times is definitely part of the discipline. Accepting it allows you to surpass yourself.
Each in turn, we are going to defy gravity, already proud to have opened this line, sports performance does not matter. At the end of the day, a sea of clouds completely covers the island, leaving only the peaks above 2700 meters above. The show is breathtaking, we are completely cut off from the rest of the Island. We dance above a white ocean that glows under the last rays of the sun.
In the evening, friends join us and we are a dozen or so stardust feasting isolated in the hollow of the dykes. When we exchange a glance, we can see the mutual satisfaction of a beautiful project carried out, of an installation smoothly carried out thanks to an ideal team spirit which worked well. This bodes well for the new adventures that we will begin in a few months while creating a solid foundation of mutual trust in order to be serenely tied together for the project. Bat'karé in Wheel and Rope.