Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Grand Vue, Indeed!

I recently added another ziplining experience to my list. I’ve had the good fortune and fun to have flown through the air a dozen different times at half a dozen locations in West Virginia, as well as a couple of more in Ohio. I’ve before at Hocking Hills (twice), the Treetops Canopy Tour at the New River Gorge (twice), the WVU zipline near Coopers Rocks (twice), the Wild Safari zipline above "The Wilds" in eastern Ohio, the long double zipline at Burning Rock, the Gravity zipline in Fayette County (twice), and the canopy tour at Nelson Rocks.

My latest attempt at flying through the air on a wire was in Moundsville, WV. Marshall County established a recreational park in 1974 on top of a hill, with scenic views overlooking the town of Moundsville as well as the Ohio River. Although it was indeed a “grand view,” they apparently found out that there is already a “Grandview Park” in West Virginia (formerly a state park, it became part of the New River Gorge National River under the auspices of the National Park Service in 1990). Grandview Park overlooks the New River Gorge near Beckley and has long served as home for the “Honey in the Rock” and “The Hatfields and McCoys” outdoor dramas. So with some creative spelling, I assume those in Marshall County who were in charge at the time came up with the name “Grand Vue Park.” None of the workers I met that day could verify this chain of events, but I’m willing to speculate that is how the park’s unusual name occurred.

[I want to make a couple of quick points if you drive there to go ziplining. Just because there are signs within the park directing you up the hill to the “Zipline Basecamp,” be aware that they want you to park your car at the golf course club house parking area (it is mentioned on the website and in your reservation notice). After signing paperwork there, they bus you up to the basecamp. You finish the course near where you parked. Also, be aware that Google Maps on my phone did not seem to have a clear idea where Grand Vue Park is really located, based on the inaccurate driving advice the voice on the phone was trying to give to me when I reached Moundsville. Luckily, I had a good idea of where it was plus they are some signs directing you there.]

This is the main tower from which three of the zips start.

About three years ago, Grand Vue Park added a ziplining course. It includes a seven zip canopy tour, with three swinging bridges, and a long, grand finale zip (that can also be done as a single zip ride). The entire tour of eight zips takes about three hours usually, but our trip took three and a half hours—you’ll see why later in this story.

The Grand Vue Zipline turned out to be different than any of the other ziplining courses I have tried. This was apparent when we gathered to get our gear before starting. For the first time ever, they brought out a scale and required everyone to step on it individually to ensure we were below the 270 pound weight limit. [The guides were able to make some jokes about some participants who had been “overly optimistic” when estimating their weight on the forms we filled out prior to starting.]

But that was just the first difference—I immediately noticed that the “trolley” which runs on the wire had metal plates on both sides covering the wheels. I supposed this was a safety consideration, but noticed that it made it heavier and a bit more cumbersome to carry around—not a major problem, but different than my previous experiences. They claim that all the gear weighs about ten pounds.

The harness that we wore was also different than I had used before. Rather than belts at various points of your body, it was more of a sling. This made it a bit heavier as well, but it did make it easier to lay flat when flying through the air. Another difference I noticed was that there were no gloves to wear.

Finally, the apparatus hanging from the trolley was different. It was a bit similar to a circus trapeze, providing a bar for you to grasp with your hands. However, when lying flat, you couldn’t reach the bar, and instead were instructed to grasp the belts (not the carabineers!) below it. Thus, simply getting “geared up” showed me that this was not the same as my other ziplining experiences.

After a quick “ground school” on a short zipline, we climbed the main tower for the first run. This wooden tower would be scaled three times during the day, plus there was another tower on the course with a spiral staircase. When you add in the uphill hiking we did a few times, this was the most physically demanding zipline course I’ve ever tried. Although I enjoyed getting a little workout while ziplining, I’m sure there are some folks who might be surprised at the amount of physical exertion required here compared to other courses. This isn’t an activity for those who are out of shape—there are no elevators or escalators, so uphill walking and stair climbing are necessary.

I love flying through the air! Notice the "trapeze bar" and how the sling lets you lay flat if you want.

It became apparent at the ground school that there was no need to worry about putting your hand up on the wire for braking purposes. The trapeze bar resulted in the rider hanging too far down to reach the wire (which was probably a good thing, since we didn’t have any gloves). All the braking would be done automatically by a stopper block and cable as we approached the end of the line (similar to what is used at Burning Rock and on the Gravity ziplines). During the ground school, they also stressed aerodynamic braking by sitting upright and putting out your arms and legs out to catch as much air as possible—this maneuver was called the “starfish.” The guides would signal you if they thought you were coming in so fast that you needed to “starfish.”

The guides had also pointed out that on a few of the zips, there was the possibility that you might not have enough momentum to make it all the way to the platform (especially those who weighed less). In order to avoid requiring a rescue, they encouraged folks on some of the runs to lay back and stretch out to make their bodies as aerodynamic as possible. This was called the “torpedo” and was the opposite of the “starfish.”

As our group began ziplining, everything went well, despite the fact that none of the other eight customers that day had ever ziplined before. We started from the tower and went for about four zips before finding ourselves back on the main hill. We hiked to the top of the hill and took a short break at the basecamp (a covered picnic area with open walls on three sides) where we had started. Then we climbed the main tower for the second time to continue the course.

This first zip of the second segment was one where the lightweights ran the risk of not making it to the platform. Thus the guides had the heavier men go first, so that there would be some assistance at the far platform if needed. Obviously, I didn’t have any problem torpedoing to the other end of the zip. However, one of the women didn’t make it to the platform, and was unable to catch the throw-bag with the rope that could have pulled her in. With no ability to reach the wire to brake herself, she rolled back to a point of equilibrium and had to be rescued by the guide. This caused a substantial delay, but she was soon back on the platform and the remainder of the group began zipping down the wire again.

However, another woman just missed making it to the platform. This time, she was able to grab the rope as the throw-bag went by her. As the guide began pulling her in, she lost her grip on the rope—but she didn’t want to let go entirely. So she tried to grasp the rope that was sliding through her hands as the guide pulled, not realizing that she was getting a rope burn. By the time she made it to the platform, both of her hands were injured. They were able to bandage her up and she completed the rest of the course, but it was the first time in all my zipling that I’ve ever seen someone get hurt in any fashion. It was a very unfortunate incident, that somewhat ruined what otherwise would have been a fun day for her, her boyfriend, and even the rest of the group.

In hindsight, perhaps the guides could have given better rescue instructions, or perhaps ensured the rope was secured to her body or the sling so that her hands could have been better protected. Of course, on every other ziplining course, she would have been wearing gloves, and this would not have happened. Personally, I wish they would go ahead and provide gloves to everyone on this course. It felt weird to me to be ziplining without them. Even if you aren’t using your hands to brake on the wire, there are still a lot of advantages to wearing gloves, whether to protect from potential rope burn during a rescue or perhaps merely to protect from potential splinters on the wooden bannisters.

After the rescue incident, we did one more zip that dropped us to ground level partway down a hillside. Then we hiked up and over to another tower—this one with a narrow spiral stairway of about 70-some steps. Once at the top, there was a long zip back to the bottom of the hill where the basecamp is located. On most of their zips, there are two separate lines, so potential you could “drag race” your friends from platform to platform. However, the guides had only used one line on each run until we reached this one. Those who wanted to were now able to pair up and fly parallel to each other.

Upon reaching the opposite slope, there was a steep hike up the hill to the picnic shelter/basecamp, where we took another short break. Then we climbed the 90-some steps of the main tower for the third time for the final and longest zip—a 2100 foot dual line providing a nice view of the town below. Apparently, customers can also choose to only zip on this line, rather than pay to do the entire canopy tour. As with the previous zip, couples were able to race each other on this last opportunity of the day. I definitely got some speed up by torpedoing down this zip—it was a nice way to end a pretty good day.

I’m glad I went to Grand Vue Park to zipline. It was nice to get a bit of a workout while ziplining, so all the hiking and stairclimbing didn’t bother me—but I would want folks to be aware of it. However, I will be bringing my own gloves with me the next time I zip there, and would encourage others to do the same. I also want to mention that I appreciate the photo package they offer here. For just $7, all the pictures the guides take can be sent to you via email. Usually, I consider the optional photo packages to be overpriced, especially with the ease of today’s digital cameras. However, the $7 price seemed reasonable, and they sent the pictures a few hours after our trip had been completed. Finally, although I didn’t take advantage of it, I understand they sometimes offer two-for-one deals on Groupon and Living Social, plus they have an All-Day package deal if you want to do other activities at the park.

All in all, I’d recommend the Grand Vue zipline tour, and I hope to try it again someday.

I'm "torpedoing" down the final zip, with the town of Moundsville visible in the valley below. I inserted an arrow to show where this zipline ends on the opposite hillside.

No comments:

Post a Comment