I took my first canopy tour last weekend with Wildwater outfitters in Long Creek. Well known for its whitewater rafting trips on the Chattooga River, the company recently began offering Chattooga Ridge Canopy Tours, a zip line excursion through nine acres of forest in South Carolina's upstate.
During the three-hour tour, you glide along 10 zip lines - four of them over a lake - and cross four shaky sky bridges. Although you can pick up some serious speed on a few of the zip lines sections, the course is not meant to scare the bejeebers out of you. It's easy to slow down and a ranger is always standing by ready to stop you from hitting a tree.
Outfitted with helmets, a full-body harness, gloves and tether lines, you begin the tour with a practice run on a short zip line not more than 15 feet off the ground. Two canopy rangers show you how to slow yourself down and pull yourself to the treetop platform if you don't make it all the way across. That was never an issue with our fearless group of flyers. They were all about experiencing the rush of a fast run.
The first test of courage comes when you are hoisted up on a winch to the 28-foot high Triceratops platform. Your inaugural ride takes you 200 feet through the air to the lower deck of a two-level platform. A climb up "Wacky Jack's Ladder" with its off-set wooden steps elevates you another 10 feet.
From there, it's one fast glide after another. With each zip, the lines get longer and the elevation higher. The tallest platform is 60 feet above the ground; the longest zip line is 480 feet.
Some of the platforms - most of them built around white oaks - are rather cozy, requiring flyers to scrunch up around the tree. Canopy ranger Deek Biemann described one particularly small deck as the "Al Gore" platform because everyone becomes a tree hugger.
The sky bridges offer another element of adventure. I was a bit apprehensive about crossing the "recession bridge," which seemed to be missing planks. One gap was about two-feet long.
"We ran out of money," ranger Margaret Bauman joked. "That's why we call it the recession bridge."
One of the fastest zip lines, a 420-foot long span called "Speedy Gonzalez,"
droops just enough to give gravity the chance to accelerate you to a heart-racing velocity.
But it's the last four zips stretching across Academy Lake that get the biggest raves. On the final run, two flyers zip down side by side over the water. If you're gliding on the right line, you have the option of dipping your feet in the drink just before reaching landfall.
To participate in this high-flying adventure, you must be at least 10 years old and weigh between 70 and 250 pounds. Cost to take the tour is $69. Want to learn more about the Chattooga Ridge Canopy Tours? Visitwww.wildwaterrafting.com or call (866) 319-8870.