Thursday, December 2, 2010

Whistler Blackcomb: Ziplining

Today we went up to Whistler to go ziplining. To go ziplining is to climb up into the tree canopy, strap yourself into a harness and clip a pulley onto a steel cable, then go screaming through the air at a thousand miles per hour hundreds of feet above the ground, with the cable singing high-tension notes at you hurtle along.
It's brilliant.
We did it through Ziptrek, a local eco-friendly tourism company, who reckon that gliding through the tree canopy along discreet and unobtrusive cables beats deforesting the mountain so you can glide down it on skis.

Down in Whistler Village, we were put into a little bus and driven up the mountain along the route of the Olympic luge and bobsled track. Our team leader proudly announced that this track had set records as the world's fastest, and we averted our eyes. I think that that was proved pretty conclusively, don't you? Mr Kumaritashvili certainly won't be arguing the point with anyone.

The Whistler-Blackcomb ski resort is made up of two mountains - Whistler and Blackcomb, and in between them is a steep-walled and narrow mountain valley with a fast-moving alpine creek at the bottom of it. The Fitzsimmons Creek formed the base of our zip-lining course - we swung back and forth across it as we followed it back down to the floor of the valley. 

Half-way up the mountain, we were pushed out of the bus and straight off the side of the Whistler valley into the tree canopy. And out there, on a small platform half way up an ancient Douglas fir, we were clipped onto the wire and sent spinning out over open sky.
Both Dan and I have done it before, in an old growth forest in the South of Chile, but this was the first time for Mr Tabubil.  We noticed that he was repeatedly cutting to the BACK of the queue.  We  picked him up by his elbows, launched him to the front of the queue and had him hooked up and over the edge of the launching platform before he knew what had hit him.
Several hundred feet of empty space - that what. His arms and legs uncurled and he flung them out into the open air -he was flying.

I'm paralytically terrified of heights, but harness me to a cable and I'm flying free, happy as a bird. Just don't ask me to let go of the tether and we’re golden.
We ran a hell of a course. We started 250 feet above the river, and the runs got progressively longer and higher as we travelled down the valley. The longest cable plummeted 20 stories and ran for 2200 feet - I dropped so fast my glasses were pulled off my face and I was actually forced to let go of the tether with one hand and catch them. It felt pretty good flying like that, one handed.

The course was part flying and part canopy walk across a network of catwalks and suspension bridges three hundred feet up trees whose roots began two hundred feet up the sheer wall of a mountain valley. The view down was impossible, but the air up there was amazing. At the bottom of the course, the last few runs were connected by trails across the forest floor. We walked single file through the forest, our harnesses clanking against our legs, and the sound was absurdly loud in the silence. I've read about the silence of pine forests, but the absorbing quality of the pine needles under our feet was almost eerie - our footsteps rang with thick white anti-noise, as if the whole forest was swallowed up by the silent impact of our feet on the forest floor.

I would love to come back and do it again in winter - hear the wires sing across the silence of a frozen forest as I went sailing above it. Or at night - ride the course with a miners light on my helmet, swooping through a canopy, and pretending, for an hour or so, to own the night.

The last run of the afternoon was a short cable through the forest to the valley floor.
"This time" our guide told us "you're all relaxing, okay? You're gonna let LOOSE! We let you have your inhibitions up there on the mountain. Now you're going to try flying upside down!"
"Hah." I thought. I'd spent the whole afternoon trying to let go of the cable strap and ride hands-free in the harness. I figured that letting go would be a big enough move for me. Let this terribly sad agoraphobic have her baby steps, eh?

But to go upside down, you have to go off the platform backwards. And when you're pushed off backward and told, in the same breath, to tuck your legs and throw yourself into a back flip, there's no time for scared - I threw myself over backwards and ran that line upside down with my legs in the splits and my arms spread wide, grabbing for sky and hollering in animal triumph.

There's a spectacular moon-shot of me going over, but no other tangible memories of that run. I want to go back and do it again. Hands free and upside down whenever possible. At night. In the snow. Any time they'll have me.

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