Stepping off into Space: Zip-Trekking

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Whistler, British Columbia, Canada
By Cat Rambo

We crawled up the side of Blackcomb Mountain in an ancient orange Snowcat like something out of an X-Files episode. All around us were ancient cedars lit by early afternoon sunlight, and islands of snow surrounded by late winter mud. I stared out the dirty window, feeling more than a touch of anxiety.

Training for the Zip Trek
Training for the Zip Trek
I was the person who had found the ZipTrek brochure, which promised that we’d see the world in a whole new way, suspended among the trees. While it wasn’t a great description, I was able to supplement it from my imagination, spurred by the magic phrase “Eco-tourism.” We would levitate gracefully among pine trees on the lines the brochure described, seeing specimens of wildlife in the greenery on every side. At some point we would descend and perhaps have tea. It would be sedate and civilized, but I still managed to sell the idea to my husband and his friend Mike, who caught the words “100 feet above ground” more readily than I had.

As we reached our destination, I realized my notions might be mistaken. We started with the training lodge and the practice ZipTrek, which was five or ten feet above ground. Strapped into a harness, we whizzed merrily along the 50 foot line. There isn’t much skill to ZipTrekking – strapped in and launched, you feel much like a parcel being shipped between one destination and another. The two guides, Pascal and Loren, moved us through the training with practiced ease. The day was clear and cold as we marched up through snow banks to the first platform. It seemed we were the only human beings in miles.

I’m not a thrill-seeker by nature. But, truth be told, I’m more afraid of chickening out than anything else. Accordingly, I worried all the way up – what if I panicked and froze? How would they get me down out of the tree? Would a helicopter be involved?

My worries weren’t soothed by the first sight of the platform. It was high. High up and attached to a line that ran straight out over a rocky crevasse to the next tree. Loren went first, in order to catch people. I offered to go second because I thought that if I took too long contemplating the passage I might change my mind. Pascal strapped me in securely, patted my arm, and launched me across the line towards the waiting Loren as I stopped worrying about freezing up.

Launched from the First Platform
Launched from the First Platform
It’s exhilarating to let go. The step outward into empty space is difficult, but then suddenly you’re plunging along, seeing the details of the world in fast motion. You want to shout, and the what the hell spirit that has taken possession of you encourages the noise, which is halfway between Whee! and Argh! Loren caught me, detached me from the line, and I stood there on the platform, watching each of my fellows cross.

That was the first of five separate passages all together. The gorge deep below was full of water and snow and sun-touched rock. At times we were 80 feet up in the air, in platforms atop tall cedars as we criss-crossed back and forth over the gorge and river dividing Whistler and Blackcomb, slowly making our way down the side of the mountain as we moved from one launching platform to the next.

As we made our way down the mountain, we became better acquainted with the British family who made up the other half of the group: a father who used to be a steward aboard a cruise ship, the mother, and three children, an elder teen, and two 10 or 11 year old boys. The children shrieked with delight with each long swoop of travel, and even the mother managed a scream on the last Zip.

The speed of the longest ride (1100 feet) reached 70 kpm, the guides advised us, and they directed us to contract our limbs to our sides in order to go quickly, or to spread out our limbs to slow our passage down. The children with us were told to tuck and roll, and launched quickly into the passage, but one still ended up caught half-way, sitting there watching the sunlight on the water far below.

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Zipping Across the Gorge
The best episode of our trip involved my husband sailing in serenely, just as the catching device failed to engage. On the videotape, you can hear the guide saying “Oh, that’s not good,” and then see Wayne start going backwards to glide, still imperturbable, end up in the middle of the span of rope. Pascal shimmied out hand over hand to fetch him; by the end of the trek, both of them were tired, and confided that on some treks, they may go out a dozen times to fetch stuck Zippers.

It took some getting used to, stepping off into space from a hundred feet up, and then swooshing along through the air, each time to be amazed at landing. Ferns grew atop the cedars, shaggy beards of mosses, and the smell of pine was everywhere. By the time of the last crossing, many of us felt comfortable to uncurl a little, and a few emulated Loren, who showed us how to zip across while upside down.

The guides took the group of us back into Whistler. Mike took a picture of Wayne and me, our arms wrapped affectionately around each other beneath the full moon and its light on the mountains, there beneath the glow of the parking lot lights on solid ground.


Zip-Trekking costs $98 per participant at the time we went, with a discount for seniors and those under 15. Readers interested in learning more about Zip-Trekking can find the information at http://www.ziptrek.com/.





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