Yesterday we moved from Tobermory to
, and set up camp at the county park in town. It’s right on the water, and has a great day use area for families with a playground, picnic tables, swimming area, and a snack bar. Also free Wi-Fi at your site. Meaford, Ontario
Today is the climax of our trip: a treetop walk and ziplining tour. Our tour starts at 11:00 AM in nearby Collingwood at Scenic Caves Nature Tours, but we need to be there a half hour early for orientation and paperwork.
The waiver warns us of the dangerous nature of the activity we are about to undertake, including, but not limited to: sprains and strains, slips and falls, cuts and bruises, running into or falling onto rocks, trees, or other members of our party, or being impaled on tree limbs and/or plunging screaming to our deaths should we decide to jump from the suspension bridge or treetop walkways. It further warns us that tours are not cancelled due to inclement weather, with the exception of lightning, and we acknowledge that we might get rained on, or the view might be obscured by fog, or we might get sunburned, and we further acknowledge that we have come equipped with appropriate clothing and footwear, and acknowledge that we will not be allowed to hike wearing flip-flops or swim fins or spike heels or snowshoes. Small cameras and packs are acceptable, but large backpacks or bulky items or babes in arms are not permitted, and if in doubt ask your guide whose decision is final so there. We will not be permitted to take the treetop walk using a walker or crutches or if we are blind or carrying oxygen tanks or only have one leg or must be carried by another person. We must be able to understand English and pay attention to the guides at all times and will be instructed in the correct and safe usage of all that clanking junk we have hanging off us. Further, we will be expected to demonstrate our understanding of and ability to use said junk before being allowed to participate in the tour. Also, we agree to release and hold harmless all people involved in the tour in the event of injury due to acts of God, equipment failure, short attention span, or our own stupidity. If you understand and agree to all items in this document and your eyes have not glazed over yet, sign here and initial here, here, and here. Have fun!
Okay, I embellished a bit for (hopefully) comedic effect, but the waiver was quite long and pretty comprehensive. Seriously, they’re serious here. They check all the equipment for damage and/or defects every day, and the guides at each end of the ziplines constantly communicate with each other to avoid an accident. If they’re not within hearing range of each other, they use their radios to make sure everyone’s clear on what’s going on and they don’t send people zipping to their death. They can contact the base by radio if needed, and they have all the equipment to handle emergency situations, such as lowering someone to safety should they become unconscious. So I’m really not worried.
Once we arrive we’re herded together with the rest of our group, 14 total, and fitted with chest and waist harnesses, helmets, carabiners, pulleys, trolleys, and lanyards. On top of all that, some of us have small camera bags and fanny packs. After gearing up we waddled over to the scales so our weights could be recorded. There’s a 250 pound limit.
The first part of the tour is the suspension bridge. While we take in a panoramic view of
Georgian Bay, our guides point out significant features and give us a brief history of the area. All the while, the wind whips in from the bay and the bridge sways. We are assured that the bridge is grossly over-engineered and completely safe. It’s around 1000’ above ground and stretches almost 500 feet over a protected forest. Since they were not allowed to use any heavy equipment in the forest during the construction of the bridge, an archer was hired to shoot a line across the gorge. Using this thin tracer, they attached and pulled across successively heavier cables until they were able to begin construction. Pretty sneaky, I’d say.
Next is the treetop walk. This is a series of 10 inch wide spans that vary from 20 to 60 feet above ground, allowing you to look down at the forest canopy below while you walk. There are 14 spans in all, totaling about 1000 feet in length. They’re suspended from thin cables and attached to the trees at each end by wide straps wrapped around the trunks. Nothing is attached permanently to the trees, and we’re asked to limit the number of people on each span to 3 at any one time to minimize trauma to the trees. Also, to help reduce trauma to the tress, not to mention each other, don’t be an ass and bounce up and down on the walkway spans. Thank you.
But before we begin, we must go through “ground school”, where we’re given instructions on the proper use of our safety gear. Each of us has two lanyards, attached to our chest harnesses at one end and fitted with carabiners at the other end. There’s 4 “spans” mocked up at ground level with trees between each span, just like the real walkway overhead. There are two safety cables overhead running along the walkway, and our mission is to demonstrate that we understand the proper way to clip and unclip from them whenever we come to a tree. The critical point here is that you must always have one lanyard connected at all times as you go by each tree, so you must press the safety release on one of the carabiners, remove it from the overhead cable, reach around the tree, and attach it to the cable on the other side. Then, and only then, do you remove the second carabiner attached to the other lanyard, and attach it to the other safety cable on the other side of the tree. Plus we’re encouraged to use the buddy system to keep an eye on each other as we make our way around the walkway. The lanyards are short enough so that even if you were to slip and fall completely off the overhead walkway, you’d only fall about a foot or so before you came to an abrupt and bone jarring stop.
Once we’ve all demonstrated our competency, we head up the curiously designed steps to the beginning of the treetop walk. I say curiously designed because the handrail only comes up above the steps about a foot or so. Perfect if your inseam measures 16 inches, but for all others pretty useless.
Once we get up into the walkway you begin to hear a lot of stuff like “holy crap” and “nyaaahh” and “oops” and lots of giggling. Most of us, but unfortunately not all of us, quickly catch on to the fact that you can’t walk in sync with the others that occupy your particular span. If you do, the walkway will begin to bounce, and as mentioned earlier, that makes you an ass.
At the end of the walk we get back to ground level via our first short zipline, around 300’ in length. This part of the tour is meant to weed out the meek before the grand finale, so if you’ve recently discovered that perhaps this whole treetop zipline thing isn’t your cup of tea, there’s an escape ladder to take you back to ground level, or winches and cables to lower you down if you’ve lost consciousness and a tractor and wagon to take you back to base.
If you’re still a “go” at this point, the guides give you some brief instructions, hook your lanyards and pulleys to the zipline, and if you’re still hesitant, they put their foot in the middle of your back and push you off into space. No, not really. They’re very good at telling you what to expect, giving you tips on how to enjoy the ride down, and assuring you that it’s really safe. There are several strapping fellows at the bottom to help catch you and get you unhooked. So really what they do is loop a short line around your lanyards while you step off into space and take a few seconds to get used to hanging there. They ask you if you’re still OK, and if so, they count to three and then release you. The zipline is a catenary, low in the middle and high on the ends, so you actually zip past the point where you’ll eventually get off and start to go uphill, slowing down and then slowly coming back to the center, where the strapping lads politely grab your legs to bring you to a stop. Then they use a winch to pull the line down to ground level, unhook you, and get ready for the next victim. As people continue to zip down from the overhead walkway, the guides give instructions on how to do stuff like hang upside down or do the “Nestea Plunge (copyright)”, or stick your arms and legs out and spin, or you can just hang on for the love of God and scream like a maniac. It’s all good.
Once we’re all back to ground level, it’s on to the cave tours, where we hike down into the rock formations and learn a bit about the geology of the area and how the caves and crevices were formed. We also learn about the history of the area, for example, how it was used as a strategic choke point for various Indian tribes in the past to slaughter their enemies. At one point we’re given the opportunity to attempt “fat man’s misery,” a crevice only 14” wide at the far end, which I do not attempt – but not because I’m fat. Then up to a precipice for another panoramic view of the
Georgian Bay and to the final zipline of our tour.
|See ya at the bottom!|
This is a 1000 foot line from the top of the Niagara Escarpment back to the base, and quite a lot more complicated than the first zipline. Remember how we all got weighed back at base? Well, this is where it comes into play. This line is so long and steep that if you were to freewheel down like we did earlier, presumably before you got to the bottom you’d reach terminal velocity and risk bursting into flame. So the pulley used here has a built in braking system that’s adjusted according to your weight, limiting you to around 35 MPH, keeping you un-combusted and giving you time to enjoy the spectacular view. Once you’re hooked up, there are three steps that stick out into space, so you just walk right off the end, which tends to go against every instinct in your body. Also, the other end is raised to working height and lowered to allow you to unhook via a hydraulic system, and there’s also a spring loaded brake system to slow you down at the far end.
Again, I stress how safety oriented they are here. Before casting you off into the abyss, the guides contact the base on their radios to see “how the line is running.” Apparently there’s some additional brake compensation that sometimes needs to be dialed in depending on temperature, whether the line is wet or dry, and whether you’ve shown yourself to be a screamer or not previously. They also check to make sure the other end of the line is raised up to the correct height so you don’t inconveniently smack the platform when you arrive, to make sure there’s nobody lounging down there unauthorized on the platform, and to make sure all employees have set down their can of Jeremiah Weed (copyright) and/or Jimmy John’s Sub (copyright) and are ready for you to descend. I’m kidding about the employees. They’re all focused, professional, and polite. Fear not.
Once I was hooked up and perched out on the edge of the steps of death, the guides told me there was nothing left for me to do but jump. The guides dared me to jump off backwards, so what could I do? The view was spectacular, as promised. I wonder how often they comb through the brush underneath the zipline and collect all the wallets, keys, glasses, cameras, change, etc., that must get dropped.
Beth took video with her pocket camera on the way down while attempting to keep herself in a somewhat upright position too. Press the arrow above to play.