Now I know what a fedora-wearing Indiana Jones must have felt like crossing that gorge in “The Temple of Doom.”
I’m standing on a solid platform a good 15 feet above the ground. Ahead of me stretches a twisted, swinging bridge cobbled from skinny wooden planks. A pair of thin, waist-high cables offers the only handhold.
Clutching them in a two-fisted death grip, I cautiously step onto the first teetering plank. It wobbles like Jell-O in an earthquake. A second step gingerly follows, and slower than a truant marching to the principal’s office, I sway my way across the void to the next solid perch dozens of feet away.
I’ve just begun negotiating a beginner’s run at Captain Zipline’s Canyon Aerial Course. Modeled after parks popular in Europe, this Swiss-built challenge consists of 41 towering telephone poles and 27,500 feet of cable strung through a canyon bottom, five miles down Highway 50 from Salida.
Tiny platforms cling to the poles at heights varying from 10 to 50+ feet off the ground. Connecting the lofty stations are a series of cabled “features,” which range from swinging logs and bridges to cargo nets, cable walks, trapeze bars and a flying snowboard. Traversing pole to pole is a rewarding test of balance, agility, trust and nerve.
“It’s like Indiana Jones meets Spiderman,” claims owner Monty Holmes.
Unlike those movie characters, we Canyon Aerial Course participants wear full body harnesses. Clipped to each is a “Smart Safe Belay” device that consists of two industrial-strength straps capped with locking carabineers (snap links). Their ingenious design ensures that one of the two remains securely clipped to safety cables at all times. Missteps may be embarrassing, but never deadly.
The course is self-guided with staff members offering advice and encouragement. Participants start out on one of three yellow (beginner) courses whose easier features dangle a mere story-and-a-half above the ground. Master those and there are green (easy), blue (intermediate) and black-diamond (advanced) routes to try, each progressively harder and higher above the ground. The ultimate challenge is the top-of-the-poles, double-black course that would truly test the grit of Seal Team Six.
Each route, it seems, holds at least one personal mettle-tester. Mine involved a high-wire cable with a three-foot, pulley-mounted crossbar above. The objective was to walk the wire like a Flying Wallenda, using the sliding crossbar for balance.
I clipped my carabineers into the belay loop, wrapped my arms over the crossbar and took a cautious half-step out onto the wire. Like an acrophobiac clinging to cliff’s edge, my pulse began pounding and my legs started to quiver.
“You don’t have to walk the cable,” Myrisa, the adventure course staffer, suggested. “If you want, you can swing across on the bar. Just give yourself a strong push or you won’t have enough momentum to make it.”
Opting for the bailout, I sat atop the bar and pushed off, zinging zipline-style across the void. Nearing the opposite pole, I reached out with my foot to snag the platform. Unfortunately, forward momentum ceased before my soles touched. I began sliding backwards, desperately clinging to the crossbar. In the spirit of a typical Indiana Jones misadventure, I would have to face fear and tightrope walk back to the safety of the platform.
Where’s my fedora?
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Contact Captain Zipline for information and reservations. Canyon-crossing zipline tours and a cliff-hugging via ferrata course are also available at the site.