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Nik Wallenda completes historic tightrope walk over Niagara Falls

June 15, 2012|By Tina Susman
  • The Maid of the Mist nears the danger zone before Nik Wallenda's attempt to walk a 1,800-foot-long tightrope over the brink of the Niagara Falls.
The Maid of the Mist nears the danger zone before Nik Wallenda's attempt… (Nathan Denette / Canadian…)

NIAGARA FALLS, CANADA -- High-wire artist Nik Wallenda fulfilled his dream of walking across Niagara Falls on a tightrope Friday, navigating through thick spray, strong winds and some close encounters with birds to become the first to complete the walk -- albeit wearing a safety harness -- in more than 100 years.

Wallenda began his walk from Terrapin Point on the U.S. side of the falls and emerged 34 minutes later through a cloud of mist on the Canadian side, to howls and cheers from hundreds of people who had lined the streets for hours.

Near the end, he knelt on one knee and waved and blew a kiss to the crowds. "Let's go, Nik!" they shouted.

Hundreds of tiny flashes from cameras on the U.S. side began blinking as Wallenda stepped onto the cable and began making his way gingerly across. As he approached the midway point, Wallenda's balancing pole rocked side to side, a sign of the strong winds created by the falls' power.

Wallenda pumped his fist in the air as he reached the platform on the other side.

Wallenda, 33, was the first person to make the walk since 1896, when 21-year-old James Hardy successfully completed it. But Hardy and others who crossed the falls never attempted to do so in the same spot as Wallenda: at the widest part of the gorge and close enough to the tumbling water to be coated in icy spray and buffeted by fierce winds.

Wallenda’s walk took him along a 2-inch-wide cable from Terrapin Point on the U.S. side of Niagara Falls to Table Rock on the Canadian side, a distance of about 1,800 feet at a height of about 180 feet. He said it had been his dream to walk over the falls since he first saw them as a young boy. 

“It’s Niagara Falls. It’s one of the most beautiful natural wonders in the world. Who wouldn’t want to walk across it?” Wallenda said at a news conference Wednesday.

In recent days, Wallenda had spent hours practicing for the event, which included preparing for the possibility of wind gusts up to 50 mph, blinding spray from the falls, and even the possibility of attack by peregrine falcons who nest in the area.

ABC news, which broadcast the event, had demanded he wear a safety harness, something Wallenda opposed even though his great grandfather, Karl Wallenda, fell to his death in 1978 during a widely watched high-wire performance in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

The Niagara Falls walk took more than a year to organize and required approval from officials on both sides of the border, who frown on so-called stunters chasing fame by performing feats -- many of which have ended in death -- at the falls.

But New York lawmakers lifted the ban on stunts to allow Wallenda’s performance, and Canadian officials eventually agreed to the event, which was expected to bring millions of dollars in revenue to both sides of the border.

Meanwhile, Wallenda says he already is envisioning his next feat: a walk over the Grand Canyon.

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tina.susman@latimes.com

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