Q&A: Steve Griggs

I knew Steve Griggs was ripe for adventure when I met him onsite at Lightning in a Bottle 2018. It was my first time working a music festival of that size and it was our job to herd 10,000 cats (people) into their camping spots for the weekend. Mini-bikes are the cavalry and scouts in such an environment and Griggs was always brapping around on his personal electric steed to different hot spots … and for 15-minute mini-party meet-ups with crew. One of the last times I saw him was that Saturday night, we had on our little party as I rode his handlebars for a couple miles back to camp at 4 A.M. after our ops team’s night out.

Then I saw him a couple weeks ago strutting across Yosemite Valley like a bird on power line. Turns out Griggs and his roommates, brothers Daniel Monterrubio and Moises Monterrubio, were some of the lead planners and developers in a dedicated group of friends and highline comrades (many came from Facebook group SF Slackers) who strung a 2,800-foot line, 1,500-feet in the air across the hallowed valley and set a Yosemite record for longest highline walk in the national park, three times the previous record.

Photo Credit: Cameron Baghai

The highline to the record books started only a couple years ago for Griggs. He entered this burgeoning community of daredevils after using a slackline he got for a roommate way more often than the roommate did. Like 99% of the people out there, highlining was something only to be experienced through a phone screen, vicariously living through unknown athletes at height posting incredible footage on YouTube.

That changed in 2018 when he attended a gathering on the Cosumnes River outside of Sacramento, CA. He was blown away by the surreal scene of lines criss-crossing the river like a neon spiderweb, fascinated watching these death-defying walks in realtime. He’s progressed to walking 200-300 meter lines with the pandemic only accelerating his skills, awareness and motivation to go for bigger challenges for himself and his friends. Hence the Yosemite project. In a lot of ways, this record-breaking highline experience fits exactly with who I know Griggs to be. He’s a problem solver whose game to try anything to make a lighting rig work on a video set or figure out the best way to manage the traffic flow out in the parking lot boonies of a festival. He camped out for six days in Yosemite working 12+ hour days with a hive of like-minded characters and personalities to get this highline ready to rock like it was a set-up for LIB. The whole ordeal felt like it might have been a bigger chunk of adventure than they could all collectively chew, right up until the last day when the tag line sprung up from the valley floor. The cherry on top was completing the line and watching Daniel and Moises tip-toe across the valley into the record books.

“I can’t even say I did a quarter of the work. It was strictly a team effort. There were even some people who didn’t put in too much work but were able to come out when the line was up, we were stoked for them too. At the end of the day we are a community and we want you to be there and get on it and be stoked. That’s a beautiful thing to share this with people,” said Griggs.

With good problem-solving, luck and a knack for embracing the suck of it all for the fun of it all, this crew did what few thought was attainable. Their success only underscores the tightness of this community of adventurers, with Griggs happily in pursuit of the next adventure, trying to get as high as possible. Yosemite is only the first step onto that line.

Photo Credit: Cameron Baghai

The following is a conversation with Steve Griggs. It has been edited for length and clarity. 

What’s some of the first steps you took to set up this project? 

My roommates and I highline and they moved in earlier this year. We had a whiteboard and were constantly putting up goals and places we wanted to try and highline or different records to break. It put a lot of pep in our step living together. 

One of the many things was this crazy line that would go from Taft Point all the way across the side of Yosemite valley to this point that doesn’t have a name, but in the highline community we call it Your Mom (laughs). On Your Mom’s side is a giant gulley with another highline that was rigged there many years ago. This line was going to be what we had scouted, it was over 900 meters. We knew a line like that would take a lot of time to do and we didn’t anticipate it happening this quickly. 

We had a friend Eugen who was living here and we did a lot of projects together. He moved to France and his hope before he left was to do a really epic project and this is what we landed on after a couple failed attempts at other things. 

Photo Credit: Cameron Baghai

How’d you get it started with boots on the ground?

We knew this employee at the park who was also a slackliner and he got all the other rangers involved to approve what we were doing and get the air traffic clear and allow us to set up a line of this size. We are not breaking any rules but it’s easier for access and them not giving us a hard time. 

We had people up at all hours trying to get this tag line across, it was the hardest part. You need to get a smaller rope across the gap so that you can pull line across and exchange it. With a gap that is over half a mile long and there not being a direct and clear line to clear that gap, you need a lot more rope. We used probably over a mile of rope to zig zag through the canyon and create different points where we had clearings in these different gulch and canyons that are down at the bottom, 1,500 feet below the anchors we had set up. I know Daniel spent 36 hours out there alone and other people did too. 

What was it like working at that scale of a problem?

Everything we’d done hadn’t been done before. Things like this you’d do with a drone and fishing line. We couldn’t do that because it was Yosemite and it was such a high profile project, there was no way we were going to use a drone. So we had to do everything the old-fashioned way, but no one ever does that with lines that big. We were in new territory having to figure out on the fly how to connect these ropes at different sections. We thought it was going to take two days and it took five (laughs). 

What we landed on was having the rope zig-zag through the clearest spots through this whole canyon and we’d anchor that off with a thinner piece of rope. Then we’d pull the whole system as tight as we could and basically cut those thinner ropes to release them up in the air to clear all the rocks and trees. We did that in four different sections and it was one of the most exciting things to do because you are hoping to God this thing doesn’t hit anything. It got caught a few times.

Daniel Monterrubio, Photo Credit: Cameron Baghai

We connected when it was at the last hour with the sun down and four or five people still down in the gulley. We needed them to come up because they had no more food or water and if this thing didn’t clear that was the end of it (laughs). Thank God, they cut that rope and then we had a huge rope from Point A to Point B without it touching anything else. It was pretty amazing. 

So we left the tag line up for a couple days of bad weather and people had to go back to work for a little bit. We waited it out until Thursday and we got a team of 15 people to pull the webbing across, which took us all day. By the end of the day we had enough light left that my roommate Daniel made the first steps from the static side. Pretty amazing. 

What’s your role in this whole thing? 

Just like when I’m at a festival or on a set, I’m problem solving. Rigging is a lot of my forte and it was really cool to get into this because it’s all problem solving and rigging. We didn’t use bolts so everything was wrapped around a rock or a tree. You have easily 1,000 pounds of force on these systems, plus the person standing on it so you really need to be on your nose and figuring out how to rig these within your safety ratios. 

Steve Griggs, Photo Credit: Cameron Baghai

What was the highlight of your contributions? 

The big thing is that so many people were involved, I can’t take credit for most things. A good success on my wide was dealing with how we released all the webbing once we got that rope up. You have to release all this webbing but you don’t want people holding onto it because that’s 800 pounds of weight that’s potentially on the line while you release it. Where they are pulling from it’s easier because they are using a system where you pull one way and then it doesn’t go back out. They can have 10 people pulling on this line in shifts. 

Photo Credit: Cameron Baghai

When we release it’s a little different because you wouldn’t want to be holding onto it, it’d pull you off the cliff. So the system that my friend Mario created that we adapted and used is called a Leap Frog system. You hold the ropes to hold onto the webbing and you release them in 50 to 75-foot sections. We had an anchor built 100 feet away from the actual anchor we’d use and clip it to a rope with a device that releases rope on a break. We could release it and only one person had to do it. We’d release it, reset it and do that about 100 times (laughs). It worked and it was safe. It allowed you to manage the whole system safely without there being any intense moments. I was stoked when that worked. 

Did you get on? 

I did but I’m still pretty new, I’m now only crossing 200 to 300 meter lines. The exposure there is real (laughs). It’s higher than any line I’ve ever been on. Directly underneath you it’s probably 1,500 feet at all times. But then when you look a couple degrees to your right a little further and it’s the valley floor, which is 3,000 feet. You feel all 3,000 feet of that exposure, (laughs). It’s intense and on a line that big the winds are gonna move you around possibly 50 to 100 feet to the left or right.

How’d you get it down? 

I think it was down my Monday afternoon. I was disappointed that I couldn’t be there for the de-rig but they used an idea I had been holding onto for a while. To de-rig a line over sketchy terrain you could use balloons to return the line across. If you get enough helium and a light enough rope you could attach a balloon and it go up in the air, you don’t have to drop the rope into the valley. You just pull the rope from the sky. They got four tanks of helium and ordered some weather balloons and it worked unbelievably. I was blown away (chuckles). 

Photo Credit: Chris Hutchinson

What’s the next project? 

It was a Yosemite record which was a big deal for us because that’s where highline started. It was by no means a world record. Right now we got a project in Mexico, we can’t say too much about it (laughs). There’s a few lines in California and our friend wants to do a 4 kilometer line that we’ll help out with. I’m also excited to get back out to some festival and film work. Everything is opening up and it’s been exciting. 

Photo Credit: Cameron Baghai

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