Sunday, August 12, 2012

Ziplining Thrills

Zipping through the air with the greatest of ease 
my heart was racing as I slipped through the trees.

My little rhyme hardly begins to describe my 3.5 hour exhilarating experience of the Rainforst Canopy Zipline  in Ketchikan, Alaska. 

My zipline adventure started with a ride in this 4 x 4 Unimog. It took us up a steep hillside to the outfitting chalet. In the chalet we were fitted with an adjustable seat harness, a chest harness, a helmet, industrial gloves for braking ourselves on the cable, pulleys, carabineers and  a safety lanyard. Our cameras were tied to our chest harness so we wouldn't lose them on the rainforest floor as we traversed the tree tops. Below you can see my daughter, Beth Blair, dressed in her safety equipment and ready to go. 

There are some restrictions for ziplining that people need to be aware of. Each company has it's own regulations but mostly they are close or the same. Weight limitations are 90 to 250 pounds. Minimum height is 60 inches, although there are family friendly ziplines available if you have adventurous children. Pregnant women and people with certain disorders are not allowed.  One company I found, in Colorado, goes so far as to state that "the absolute maximum allowable circumference, measured around the belly button area is 44 inches and the absolute maximum circumference at the top of the thigh is 24 inches". This is to assure safety and comfort in the fitting of the harness. So, if you are thinking of taking this flying leap, check on the limitations for the zipline company you plan to use.  

Above is the view from the first platform in Ketchican, Alaska. Since ziplining is not for everyone, an orientation is given here where a person can easily change their mind about going any further. In my small group, no one chickened out. The first cable run was considered a practice run of only 100 feet long. I hear in some places people are pushed off the platform for their first run but that was not my experience. I made the decision all by myself to step off the safety of the platform and go flying. It was scary I will say.

The guides give individual attention to each person as they send and receive them between platforms.  Here you can see the guide  giving me the signal to start stopping. To do this I used my gloved hand to reach above my head to grab the cable and start applying pressure. This has to be done correctly. If you stop yourself too soon you won't reach the platform and you'll slide back to the middle of the cable. If that happens you'll be swinging in the middle and will have to pull yourself to the platform. I was grateful that didn't happen to me. The only terrifying moment I had was when the guide failed to give me the "start stopping" hand signal and I was coming in at an alarming rate. The trees have padding around them and now I understand why. As I barreled towards the platform, I saw everyone moving out of the way. Luckily I realized I wasn't going to get a stop signal and was able to quickly bring myself to a safe, successful stop. 

As we landed on each of the 10 platforms, we didn't have much room to move around so we stayed in a circle around the tree for our next run. We were connected with lanyards to safety cables at all times. While standing on the small platforms between the runs it was  reassuring to know if we fell off, we would  only dangle in mid air and not splat on the rainforest floor. After a few daring looks over the edge we mostly avoided getting too close to the edge of the platforms and kept our backs against the tree trunks. The guides even teased a few people in our group about being real tree huggers.  

Another part of this adventure was crossing three suspension bridges between platforms. These sky bridges provided another whole dimension of an aerial experience.  This is not the kind of fun anyone with a fear of heights would want to try. The bridges were shaky but you can see the yellow lanyard that had each of us connected to a safety cable. 

Up close the first step onto the suspension bridge looks daring. Even hanging on to the side cables was a shaky deal. From this viewpoint, the bridge doesn't look very wide, and it isn't. 

There is a lot of diversity in ziplining opportunities. We were in a rainforest so long pants and layered clothing was recommended. We wore our rain jackets as well. Closed-toe shoes are always required. The longest ride was the 850 foot run called "Ben's Revenge".  The speeds were up to 35 mph. Since the zipline is in a wildlife habitat with a large concentration of bald eagles and black bears our group was told not to scream as we zipped along because it would disturb the animals in the reserve. We  practiced our quiet screams during orientation. 

If my 35 mph  sounds tame to you, there are other ziplines in the world that are longer, faster and higher. The fastest zipline is reportedly in Sun City, South Africa. It reaches 100 mph. 

Even at 35 mph, I hung on tight and had to steer myself to stay straight. Letting go with one hand to brake was at first unnerving but I got used to it. However, on one of our last runs, we were told we could reach out and touch the tree if we wanted to. Beth rose to the challenge but I was more comfortable continuing to hold on for dear life. I found ziplining to be an adrenaline rush like I had never felt before. Each line became more fun as I learned to steer, brake and freely fly. By my last run, I was truly disappointed that I had reached the end but I was joyful that this grandma had ziplined in Alaska .

The eighth and final zip landed me on a 55 foot viewing tower with steps leading to the base camp.  After leaving the safety equipment with our guides each participant was awarded a medal on a red ribbon in recognition of our ziplining achievement. This ceremony was followed with a complimentary snack and hot beverage.  Our emotional descent was cushioned by a visit to the gift shop, a perfect ending to this extraordinary Alaska experience.

My zipline experience was in Alaska but you don't have to travel that far for such fun. This popular adventure is offered in many places. Most likely there is one close to where you live.  Colorado has a new one you can see along I-70. It crosses Clear Creek in Idaho Springs. In Colorado alone I counted at least 12 zipline companies offering a variety of experiences. 

Catalina Island, California, has a zipline that beckons me. It's an entirely different style from the one I was on. The braking for landing on platforms appears to be very different. The climate is warm so no need of layered clothing and raincoats. Best yet, screaming is allowed. While on the island we could hear the zipliner's screams as they sailed across the desert island. 

If this post has pushed your  adventure button, consider unzipping a new experience that promises a wonderful adrenaline rush. I think you'll love the thrill. 


  1. Awesome photos, I love it. Thanks for sharing!

    Kanab Zipline

    1. Thanks for stopping by my blog. Ziplining is a great thrill for sure. I visited your web site and I love your early and late night hours. Enjoy the fun!