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Aerialist Wallenda to cross gorge near Grand Canyon

Posted: June 23, 2013 at 2:30 p.m.

LITTLE COLORADO RIVER GORGE, Ariz. — Daredevil Nik Wallenda is using the Navajo Nation as a backdrop to one of his most ambitious feats yet — crossing a tightrope 1,500 feet above the Little Colorado River Gorge near the Grand Canyon.

The 34-year-old Sarasota, Fla., resident will set out Sunday on a quarter-mile cable stretched over the gorge that was eyed by another high-wire performer decades ago. The stunt comes a year after he traversed Niagara Falls earning a seventh Guinness world record. He'll be using the same 2-inch-thick cable he used to cross the falls, only this time he won't be wearing a safety harness.

After saying a prayer, "I give my wife and kids a hug and a kiss and tell them I'll see them in a bit," he told reporters Friday in Flagstaff.

Wallenda is a seventh-generation high-wire artist and is part of the famous "Flying Wallendas" circus family — a clan that is no stranger to death-defying feats and great tragedy.

His great-grandfather, Karl Wallenda, fell during a performance in Puerto Rico and died at the age of 73. Several other family members, including a cousin and an uncle, have perished while performing wire walking stunts.

Nik Wallenda, who was born a year after his great-grandfather died, began wire walking at the age of 2, on a 2-foot high stretched rope. He grew up performing with his family and has dreamed of crossing the Grand Canyon since he was a teenager.

French high-wire walker Philippe Petit had that same desire and set up a cable above the Little Colorado River, but Navajo officials said he never went through with the stunt and left his equipment there only to be taken down recently by Wallenda's crew.

"I don't understand why he didn't," Wallenda said. "It's a site that works, makes sense. He clearly failed at it, so I want to do it successfully."

Petit didn't return messages left by The Associated Press.

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