NEW YORK -- Intense heat, poisonous gasses, molten lava — the conditions for Nik Wallenda’s latest tightrope walk are downright hellish, and that’s just the way he wants it.
Wallenda will traverse the Masaya Volcano in Nicaragua on Wednesday in a stunt that he says will go on, no matter the conditions.
“I'm walking over an active volcano, facing every challenge that Mother Nature can throw at me from the high winds in the area to the heavy gases to, of course, the heat from that volcano, as well as the fact that it is the longest and the highest walk that I've ever attempted,” he said.
“Volcano Live with Nik Wallenda” will air as a live two-hour special on ABC beginning at 8 p.m. Eastern.
Wallenda, whose most recent tightrope walk involved crossing Times Square on a 1,300-foot (396-meter) cable, has long dreamed of crossing an active volcano. Masaya, a caldera with an active lava lake 1,800 feet (548 meters) below where Wallenda will cross, met all his criteria.
During an interview in January, Wallenda described the challenges -- or perks -- of crossing Masaya.
“Best is not what one would think. One would think best for a wire walker has to do with no winds, has to do with no gasses. For me, that all adds drama and excitement,” Wallenda said. “I'm looking for that, but also the right distance. Again, this is the longest and highest I've ever done. That's one of the reasons why I really liked this particular volcano, as well as the fact that it has an active lava lake down below.”
The conditions make it impossible to erect the tightrope in advance.
“The cables can’t go up early because the sulfuric gasses in the air will actually eat through the cable to the point where it will actually crumble,” Wallenda said. “We can't put it up in advance. It's got to be put up very short window prior to the actual walk.”
That begs the question of how Wallenda practices for a stunt with every challenge that Mother Nature can send his way without seeing the rope in advance?
Blindfolded, of course. In between trips to the actual site, Wallenda has been preparing at his home in Florida.
"I will be practicing in a smoky room, but it's training believe it or not, with my eyes closed. It's training with a gas mask on. It's training with goggles on. It's training with wind machines. It's kind of throwing every element that I'll be facing,” Wallenda said.
Wallenda is a seventh-generation acrobat and comes from a family of star tightrope-walkers.
For his last major stunt, his walk on live television over New York’s Times Square, Wallenda was tethered in case of a fall. But that was more about a New York City ordinance than caring for his own safety. This time, Wallenda hopes there are not any safety protocols, other than his safety team.
“If something happens, I've trained my entire life to go down and hold that wire and wait for help,” Wallenda said.
Depending on the conditions, Wallenda anticipates the one-third of a mile walk will take 30 to 35 minutes.
“It really comes down to that volcano and the way it wants to act for that day. I've been there where it's clear and I've been there where you can't see 5 feet in front of you,” Wallenda said. “It doesn’t matter what the weather is like, (when) it is go time, it's go time.”