Wednesday, July 07, 2010
ziptrek (the big one)
Back in February, during the Olympics, Andy and I waited five and a half hours in line one drizzly morning to ride the zipline across Robson Square in downtown Vancouver. It was one of the most frightening things I have ever done. It was also a ton of fun. It was also much too short.
When it came time to plan a family vacation this summer, we decided to stay in Whistler for a few days, and to splurge on a proper ziptrek for the whole family. We booked the Eagle tour with Ziptrek Ecotours.
We arrived at base of Whistler, paid for our tour, and signed the waivers. Then we went outside to meet our guides. We had two guides, Drew from Prince George BC, and Jan from the Czech Republic. Both were friendly, helpful and well-prepared to take us on our adventure. At the base of the mountain, they helped us put on our harnesses and helmets so they were comfortable and safely adjusted. After that, we took a short van ride up the gully between Whistler and Blackcomb Mountains, stopping near the top of the Whistler Sliding Centre (where they held the bobsled, luge and skeleton competitions during the Olympics). From there we took a short walk along a trail to the first zip platform.
At this and at each of the subsequent 4 zip lines, one guide went ahead of the rest of the group to prepare the landing platform. The two guides communicated with radios to coordinate the zipping of guests along the cables. It works like this. When it's your turn, you step from the main platform out to a smaller launching area. Your guide temporarily tethers you securely to the platform while he attaches your pulley to the cable, and double-checks the adjustments on your harness. Then it's your turn. You take a few steps down on a stairway to nowhere, and step gently off into the air. Of course, your pulley is hooked up to the cable, so you slide along its incline, accelerating most of the way across the span. Near the end, your pulley connects with a brake mechanism that the second guide has advanced out along the cable, using a rope. When your pulley contacts the brake, it attaches to the brake. The second guide pulls you up to the platform, where you scramble back onto your feet and step back to earth (or in some cases, to a platform a hundred or so feet up a trees, connected to a wooden suspension bridge, connected to another platform). Then the two guides check and re-set things, and send the next ziptrekker across.
The ride along the cable is marvelous. The friction on the cable produces a whining sound that gets higher as you speed up, and lower as you slow down. The view is incredible. You are up as high as the top of the tree canopy, and you see down through the trees to the forest floor and to a rushing river that you traverse with each zip. At the highest, you are several hundred feet in the air. Each zip takes anywhere from half a minutes to a couple of minutes on the longest one. It is beautiful. Although I had a moment of fear over lunch before we set out, I didn't really feel seriously afraid at any time on the tour. It was just too much fun!
Along the way, the guides told us about the forest habitat, and about their company's efforts to help preserve this environment, and to practice and promote sustainable business practices. It was interesting to know about this. Nothing they could tell us, however, matched the impact of seeing these great big trees the way the birds and squirrels see them.
At the end, we shed our harnesses and helmets, thanked our guides and congratulated each other. The tour took about two and a half hours from beginning to end. I would do it again in a heartbeat.
question: have you zipped?
mompoet - flying through the sky, looking treetops in the eye