The Grand Canyon Skywalk: Rigging an Engineering Marvel
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What does it take to prepare for a Skywalk cleaning?
Early on a Sunday morning, members of an Abseilon USA team are finalizing their roles for the Skywalk cleaning project. Their nerves are beginning to set in as rope, harnesses and equipment are strategically laid out like a puzzle waiting to be assembled. This weeklong planning process will culminate in three fully loaded trucks making the 5-hour trek from Phoenix to the Grand Canyon Skywalk located on the Haulapai Indian Reservation in northern Arizona.
Abseilon Rope Access Technicians will arrive on site Sunday evening to begin final preparations for what’s to come at sunrise the next day: majestic views of the Grand Canyon, one of the seven natural wonders of the world, and The Skywalk, a transparent horseshoe-shaped cantilever bridge walkway that projects well over the side of the canyon wall. The team of five technicians will mobilize equipment and gear, and set up safety rigging to prepare two highly-trained technicians to ‘aid’ out on the underside of the Skywalk, suspended some 4,000 feet above the canyon floor, as thousands of tourists visiting from all over the world peer down at them as they work. Many of the tourists view their work as daring, even an added bonus to the Skywalk tour itself, asking many questions of the technicians while they perform the rigging and cleaning work. For many of the Skywalk visitors, the walk (with hands tightly clinched around the hand rails) over the glass bridge itself is a life-daring accomplishment.
What does it take for Abseilon USA to safely rig the Skywalk?
According to company Vice-President Kenneth Piposar, “selecting the right gear and equipment can make the difference between a great day or a difficult experience on a high-profile project such as The Skywalk. There is no room for error in this environment. Knowing that the world will be watching, we want our technicians partnered with the most trusted name in rope access equipment. We use CMC Rescue equipment for nearly every component on our rope access projects.”
Abseilon USA originally contacted CMC Rescue based on the discomfort they experienced when using other harnesses while rigging the Skywalk on previous occasions. The Abseilon Technicians recognized the need for a specially designed rope access harness. Shortly after that call, CMC Rescue and Abseilon USA joined forces to design a customized Rope Access Harness tailored for Abseilon’s needs and the Rope Access Industry.
For the Skywalk cleaning project alone, Abseilon Technicians rig over 4,000 feet of CMC Static-Pro 11mm Lifeline. A total of 160 CMC ProTech aluminum carabiners along with 12 CMC Rescue swivel pulleys make up the foundation of the rigging process. Additionally, the Rope Access Team utilizes two CMC MPDs (Multi-Purpose Devices) along with sections of the Arizona Vortex (an artificial high directional, or AHD), referred to as a ‘Gin Pole’, coupled with the CMC AZORP (Arizona Omni Rigging Pod) to create a unique anchor system that allows the Technicians to access either side of the Skywalk for backup and rescue purposes. AZTEK ProSeries Systems, rigging plates, edge pads, guards and protectors, rope bags, haul packs, sewn prusiks, webbing, and anchor straps are also included in their CMC equipment cache. CMC’s KASK Super Plasma safety helmets are also the team choice on all of their rope access projects and SPRAT training classes that Abseilon USA offers.
As innovators, Abseilon employs the CMC Enforcer Load Cell to monitor static forces within their rigging systems and employs VIDCIE Live Video Assist solutions to stream, record and document their projects throughout.
Once safely rigging the Skywalk is complete, the team is ready to commence the cleaning process on day two, then reverse the rigging order and demobilize the ropes and equipment. This marks another successful completion of a Skywalk project. The gear is loaded back on the trucks and all of the equipment is routed to the Abseilon USA headquarters and training center in Phoenix where it will be inspected and documented for the next big project.