Last February, 29-year-old filmmaker Devin Graham recruited 12 friends and headed to the 105-foot Corona Arch outside Moab, Utah. They tied a length of prestretched climbing rope to the sandstone feature and began swinging through the opening as Graham filmed. The resulting footage, “The World’s Largest Rope Swing,” has garnered 20 million views on YouTube in the past year and drew legions more swingers to the location. Visitation numbers aren’t available, but according to Kim Christy, deputy director of the Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration, which oversees Corona Arch, there’s “no question” that the video enhanced the popularity of swinging from Corona. Then, this March, 22-year-old Kyle Lee Stocking died while using a rope that was too long.
This isn’t the first time rope sports have had a moment. In the mid-nineties, Dan Osman helped pioneer a version of rope swinging called rope jumping, in which a person experiences true free fall—just like a BASE jumper does—thanks to a unique rope-rigging setup. Osman died in 1998 when his cord snapped during a 1,000-foot jump in Yosemite National Park in California. Recently, however, rope sports have reemerged for YouTube consumption. In the past two years, a handful of crews in Russia and the Ukraine have even offered commercial jumps. In July 2011, a jumper at Oregon’s Smith Rocks swung into a rappel rope, causing two climbers to tumble 85 feet, critically injuring one of them. Despite these incidents, it’s unlikely that state or federal land managers will institute a ban. “There is no practical way you can turn away the general public from huge tracts of land,” says Christy, “and there’s no way to enforce a ban.” There’s also no reason to expect the inherent dangers to stem the tide. After Stocking’s death, it took only 24 hours for “The World’s Largest Rope Swing” to rack up another two million views.