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All in Good Funambulism

In terms of inspiring sustained gut-churning in an audience, no one can touch the high-wire artist. When 34-year-old Nik Wallenda of the Flying Wallendas daredevil dynasty attempts to traverse the Grand Canyon on June 23, he’ll be shuffling across a void deep enough to fit the Empire State Building with little more than his own sense of invincibility to get him to the other side. But then, that’s always been enough for Wallenda’s ilk—a.k.a. funambulists—to pull off their remarkable feats.

Illustration Nearchos Ntaskas


1. Savviest shortcut:
In 2011, a 46-year-old Swiss stuntman named Freddy Nock reaches the summit of Bavaria’s Zugspitze mountain via a 3,300-foot cable-car wire.

2. Most broken eggs:
In 1859, Charles Blondin hauls a stove onto a high wire over the Niagara Gorge, cooks up an omelet and lowers the breakfast to passengers on the deck of the Maid of the Mist.

3. Wobbliest walk:
In 2010, circus star Bello Nock sets the world record for longest unsupported tightrope walk by crossing a 429-foot wire strung between two poles on a Royal Caribbean cruise ship while at sea.

4. Biggest power play:
In 2012, China’s Adili Wuxor steps his way across a wire stretching nearly a mile long and set a quarter of a mile high—and does it while walking over his assistant.

5. Riskiest fashion statement:
In 1876, a 23-year-old Italian tight-rope artist named Maria Spelterini traverses the Niagara Gorge wearing peach baskets on her feet.

6. Biggest stadium draw:
In 2013, professional “skywalker” Jay Cochrane, whose résumé includes crossing more than a dozen U.S. sports arenas (including Busch Stadium eight times), is still hitting the heights at age 69.

7. Most leisurely walk:
In 1993, circus pro Jorge Ojeda-Guzman spends 206 days on a wire above an Orlando shopping center, amusing himself by chatting on the phone and videotaping launches at nearby Cape Canaveral.

8. Speediest walk:
In 2012, Texas daredevil Faith Dickey teeters across a rope strung between two big-rig trucks barreling down a Croatian highway at 80 miles an hour.

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