By Nelson Groom
Backpacking Europe is a rite of passage for young people, but this daredevil took the holiday to a new level by slacklining over its stunning destinations – despite being scared of heights.
Photographer Aidan Williams, from the Blue Mountains, New South Wales, Australia, put his own spin on the classic journey by joining forces with champion slackliners and taking to the skies.
The extreme sport involves walking across a nylon slackline slung between two fixed and lofty points – with nothing else between the thrill-seeker and the abyss below.
From the frosty French Alps to the sun-bleached ruins of a shipwreck in the Greek Islands, the daring travellers had no trouble drawing spectator’s eyes away from their jaw-dropping surroundings.
And while Aidan, 21, has spent much of the trip behind the camera, he hasn’t shied away from laying it all on the line himself– despite suffering from vertigo.
Aidan, who booked a one-way ticket to Europe just two weeks before leaving Australia in August, said: “I decided to go spontaneously without really knowing what would come of it.
“I knew I would learn most from going out of my comfort zone and overcoming my fear of heights. It’s been non-stop, I haven’t had single day off, but I wouldn’t change it for anything.
“Some of the locations like Les Cosmiques took years of planning. It’s 3,800m above sea level, so it takes a lot of groundwork. That was a ﬁfteen-hour day.”
For most of the trip Aidan has been at the mercy of the elements, including a fierce snowstorm in the misty mountains of Moleson, Switzerland.
He has photographed some of the sport’s rising stars, and a number of world records were broken on the trip, including the longest blind highline by Samuel Volery, from Switzerland, who walked a 570 metre line blindfolded and without falling in 45 minutes.
Also among the group was fellow Australian Maximilien Penel, who highlined 3840m above sea-level at Les Cosmiques, France.
The striking location – Aidan’s favourite so far – involved slinging the line between rocky, glacial-covered peaks and walking across.
The project, which was years in the making, involved acclimatizing to the low oxygen environment and waiting for the right weather conditions to pull off the once in a lifetime feat.
But Aidan said it was the 200m high line at Zakynthos, which was fixed between cliffs over the turquoise waters of the Greek Island, that was the most dangerous.
Nonetheless, Aidan disputes the claims slacklining is literally walking the thin line between bravery and stupidity – and he believes it’s actually one of the world’s safest sports.
Aidan added: “The snowstorm at Moleson was spectacle, we were in the middle of 360-degree panoramic views onto of a 2000m mountain. I’ll never forget it.
“I can’t go past Les Cosmiques though, the day was incredibly special. Many of the athletes had been planning it for years. At those altitudes, it’s impossible not to get excited.
“But Zakyntos was the most dangerous for photographing. I needed a harness to be tied in to an anchor point so I could go over the edge. Sorry mum!
“It wasn’t easy overcoming a fear of heights, but being around such an amazing community really helps to push you out of your comfort zone.
“It’s one of the safest sports with the correct rigging and amongst experienced personnel definitely helped to ease doubts.”
While he admits he’s had little in the way of downtime, Aidan said he prefers to be looking down at the picturesque locations than trudging around them with a backpack.
And he believes that as the sport continues to blossom across the world, his style of above-the-beaten-track travelling will continue to rise to prominence.
Aidan said: “I do sometimes envy backpackers enjoying a holiday. I’m still waiting for a day to relax on the beach! But I wouldn’t change this and everything I have overcome for the world though.
“This is deﬁnitely a growing sport. Every year it continues to attract more and more people every year.”