LITTLE COLORADO RIVER, Arizona (Reuters) - Daredevil Nik Wallenda, confident but with his heart pounding, will take a step onto a high wire stretched taut over the yawning chasm of the Grand Canyon on Sunday in a death-defying crossing that will be broadcast live around the world.
“Sunday is go time, and that’s when the adrenaline kicks in and ... before you know it, it’s all over,” Wallenda, smiling and looking relaxed in jeans and a T-shirt, told reporters at a news conference before the challenge.
The self-described “King of the High Wire,” Wallenda plans to walk a 2-inch diameter steel cable rigged across a remote section of the crimson-hued Grand Canyon with nothing but the Little Colorado River more than a quarter mile below.
The 1,400-foot (426.7 meter) walk will be the highest tightrope attempt ever for the 34-year-old, at a height greater than the Empire State Building. The walk will be carried live on the Discovery Channel starting at 5 p.m. PT (midnight GMT), with a 10-second time delay.
After checking out the newly rigged wire on Friday, Wallenda said: “I’m ready ... I know that I’m mentally prepared, I know that I’m physically prepared, and now I can see that wire in place and visualize where I’m going to walk and how I’m going to walk and what I’m going to see.”
A seventh-generation member of the “Flying Wallendas” family of acrobats, Wallenda made history last year by becoming the only person to walk a high wire over the brink of Niagara Falls. He will be using the same cable on Sunday.
He first dreamed of the challenge during a visit to the Grand Canyon with his parents as a teenager.
There was no immediate word on whether Wallenda will gain anything financially, but he is listed by the Discovery Channel as one of the executive producers of the live broadcast of his high-wire crossing. A Discovery Channel spokesman could not be reached for comment on that issue.
Viewers watching live in 217 countries will share Wallenda’s dizzying point of view from the cable during the 25- to 30-minute crossing, through cameras rigged to his body, he said.
There will be no special ritual before he steps over the void, just a kiss, a hug and a prayer with his wife, Erendira, and their three children, then the words, “See you in a little bit.”
“I am a man that believes that words are strong and that’s why I say ‘See you in a little bit’ and not ‘Goodbye,’” he said.
During the crossing, Wallenda will wear moccasins his mother made with an elk-skin sole, which allow him to feel the wire and have an all-weather grip. He will hold a 43-pound (20-kg) balancing pole.
The danger of the attempt without tether or safety net is ever present. Clan patriarch Karl Wallenda, Nik’s great-grandfather, slipped and fell to his death from a high wire in Puerto Rico in 1978.
Wallenda said his greatest concern was the unpredictable wind gusts that are prone to buffet the site in a remote section of the Grand Canyon’s watershed on the Navajo Nation. These gusts were recorded at nearly 40 miles per hour before the weekend.
Wallenda trained in his Florida hometown of Sarasota as Tropical Storm Andrea barreled ashore and used air boats to blast him with side and updrafts of 55 miles per hour.
A safety team, led by his father, will be on hand to pluck him off the cable within 60 seconds should he face a life-threatening situation.
While his strong Christian faith, which he talks about in his new book “Balance,” plays little role in the training, it is clearly a comfort to Wallenda as he contemplates danger.
“That’s really where I get my peace,” he said. “I have confidence that if something were to happen to me, I know where I’m going.”
Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Christopher Wilson