Florida daredevil ready for volcano wirewalk
SARASOTA — Nik Wallenda’s designs on walking a steel cable over a Nicaraguan volcano Wednesday night would give Sarasota’s shining star an Earth, wind and fire combo that future circus entertainers will find difficult to reprise in their own greatest hits.
To match it, they might also have to make room for their spouses to grab some of the action above that cauldron of bubbling lava. Which is what Erendira Wallenda plans to do for openers during the nationally televised “Volcano Live!” two-hour spectacle on for ABC, beginning at 8 p.m.
On Friday, just days before the couple left for Masaya Volcano National Park, Erendira announced on Instagram the event would include “The Biggest Stunt That Nikolas And I Have Ever Done Together.” A seventh-generation aerialist who frequently performs with her husband of 21 years, exactly what Erendira has in mind is under wraps for now.
“You’ll just have to tune in and watch,” Nik Wallenda said.
“She came up to me within the last month and asked about doing something. So she’s doing her own thing and I’m doing my own thing.”
After having skywalked above the booming cascades of Niagara Falls and a bone-dry riverbed in the wind-swept Grand Canyon, Wallenda would complete his sweep of challenging the three basic states of matter if he succeeds in traversing Masaya’s active lake of fire.
In preparation for the noxious gases belching from Masaya’s caldera some 1,800 feet below, the 41-year-old funambulist has been training with both a filter mask and an oxygen mask, the latter requiring an additional 13 pounds of compressed air on his shoulders.
“It’s a big deal because it adds more bulk,” says Wallenda, whose balancing pole weighs 40 pounds. “Actually, my back has been in more pain than it’s ever been before, because it’s pulling me back. So I’ve added more stress and more bulk, meaning that if there are any winds, I’m less aerodynamic.”
Exactly which mask he straps on will depend on the gasses, which are highly variable. His most unwelcome hookup will be a safety harness, which is anathema to the longstanding Wallenda family tradition of wirewalking without a net.
“That’s for ABC. It is what it is,” he says. “It’ll be the same as Times Square.”
In an ABC production last June, Wallenda and sister Lijana wore tethers as they started on opposite platforms and crossed each other some 25 stories above New York City. ABC also required him to wear a harness during his 2012 wirewalk above Niagara Falls.
But he was under no such obligations during his assaults on the Grand Canyon in 2013 and the Chicago skyline in 2014, which were televised by different networks.
Given the sulfurous volcanic mists that often swirl in dense clouds, Wallenda will also wear a pair of goggles to protect his eyes. In fact, Masaya’s exhaust has already taken its toll on some of the equipment.
“We’ve had issues with some chemical that was appearing on the wire that appeared to be greasy or oily,” Wallenda says. “My dad called me the day he got there and said the rigging team put a metal clip out over the middle of the volcano with a rope, and when they pulled it in it had some sort of strange substance on it, it’s slick.”
Wallenda said he slathered gobs of Vaseline onto a length of practice cable strung across his own back yard in order to test his footing.
“It was uneasy, but I could do it,” he says. “I thought, well, if I could walk on Vaseline I’m sure I can walk on what I’m gonna face there.”
Wallenda will wear the trademark leather moccasins and employ a 1 1/8-inch thick steel cable to cover the 1,800 foot span across Masaya, which would be his longest-ever wirewalk. The duration of the event depends on the volcano’s behavior.
Erendira Wallenda will go first with her mystery stunt. In 2017, five years to the day after Nik crossed Niagara Falls, she returned to the scene, rode a helicopter that parked 300 feet in mid-air above the cataracts, and hung by her teeth from an aerial hoop.
This story originally published to heraldtribune.com, and was shared to other Florida newspapers in the new Gannett Media network.