On this day in 2013, 34-year-old aerialist Nik Wallenda becomes the first person to walk a high wire across the Little Colorado River Gorge near Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona. Wallenda wasn’t wearing a safety harness as he made the quarter-mile traverse on a 2-inch-thick steel cable some 1,500 feet above the gorge. In June of the previous year, Wallenda, a member of the famous Flying Wallendas family of circus performers, became the first person to walk a tightrope over Niagara Falls.
Nik Wallenda learned to walk on a wire as a young boy, and made his professional debut as an aerialist at age 13. He went on to set a number of Guinness World Records, including the longest tightrope crossing on a bicycle and the highest eight-person tightrope pyramid. In 2011, Wallenda hung from a high-flying helicopter above Branson, Missouri, by his teeth. That same year, he and his mother successfully completed the high-wire walk in Puerto Rico that had killed Karl Wallenda.
On June 15, 2012, Nik Wallenda became the first person to walk directly over Niagara Falls on a high wire. He crossed an 1,800-foot-long, 7-ton wire from the U.S. side of the falls to the Canadian side at a height of around 200 feet in about 25 minutes. Because the event was televised around the world, broadcast officials required the famous funambulist to wear a safety tether in case he fell.
The following June, Wallenda made his Grand Canyon traverse. Wearing jeans and a T-shirt and holding a 43-pound balancing pole, he prayed out loud as he walked untethered across a 1,400-foot-long, 8.5-ton cable suspended 1,500 feet above the Little Colorado River. It was the highest walk of his career, and he completed it in just less than 23 minutes.