WVU is the first university to offer a zipline tour—it is an operated by the Adventure West Virginia program, which conducts various adventure-based and experiential education programming. This organization has a “challenge course” with various ropes and climbing apparatus to test your skills. They also are known for their special orientation programs, which expose students to the great outdoors in our state, taking them to such locations as Blackwater Falls and Seneca Rocks. The addition of a zipline canopy tour within the WVU Research Forest goes right along with their mission.
Because it is meant as an introduction and as an educational program, experienced zipliners may be disappointed to find out that there are only four ziplines on this canopy tour. However, the idea is to expose students, as well as the general public, to the fun of flying through the trees, while teaching them about forestry practices and other topics.
There is a strong emphasis on safety here. The safety harness and other equipment are all brand new, including a nice helmet designed for this activity. The guides do a good job getting everyone set up with their gear, and there is something reassuring about the sound of carabineers clicking, and the feel of the harness being snugly tightened.
The course itself is a double zipline (two parallel cables approximately 8 inches apart) using vinyl covered steel cables. At each landing platform, there are “boat bumpers” on the wooden platform and padding covering the anchoring tree, as well as a manual braking system controlled by one of the guides. The trolley that you hang from is a new design with handlebars to better control your body while rolling along the cable.
The four zips are successively longer, with the last two being approximately 600 and 800 feet long. Between the landing platform for the second zipline and the starting platform for the third zipline, one must cross a short rope bridge built with logs instead of planks. You are always connected by two safety cables, so the chance of something going wrong is nil. The key with such challenges (as I learned on the Nelson Rocks “Via Ferrata”—see http://inquisineer.blogspot.com/2012/09/i-came-i-climbed-i-conquered_24.html) is to focus your vision about five or six feet away, so that you are only concentrating on placing your foot on the next board, and not looking at the ground below.
After arriving at the final platform, you get to repel down about 35 feet to the ground. Again, the guides do a great job of explaining this maneuver to a novice. All you really need to do is trust your gear, lean back and sit in the air, while keeping your feet against the edge of the platform. What you don’t want to do is take your feet off the platform too early and swing into the platform with your face!
This course is perfect for someone to try ziplining for the first time. During the month of May, the cost for the general public is only $30—beginning in June the price will increase to $50. I’d recommend getting up on top of Chestnut Ridge and give this a try soon! There is nothing comparable to flying through the trees!
WVU Mountaineer Jonathan Kimble (a great guy whom I have had the pleasure of talking with several times) participated in the "Grand Opening" for the new zipline on May 1.