Written by Tara Leonard
FELTON, CA (August 2009) - If you’ve ever walked through a redwood forest, tilted your head back, and wondered what it would be like to soar among those majestic branches, I’ve got an adventure for you. You just have to fling your body off a 150-foot high platform while attached to a cable strung between two trees. Don’t worry. After the first time, once your heart stops jack-hammering and you realize that you really aren’t going to die, it gets easier. Then it turns into one of the most exhilarating experiences of your life. At least that was my family’s experience during a recent Mount Hermon Redwood Canopy Tour in Felton. And if my 70-year-old mother can do it, you can too.
The Mount Hermon course is made up of six ziplines, 110 to 440 feet long, strung between seven platforms and two sky bridges. It’s all very Swiss Family Robinson, unobtrusively nestled into the redwoods above Bean Creek Canyon like a sophisticated tree house. It wasn’t until I was perched on the first platform, palms sweating, that I realized this was no Disney ride.
By then, my husband and I, our two kids, and my remarkably game parents had already been outfitted with helmets, gloves and harnesses. We’d nervously joked our way through ground training, during which we’d learned about the dual-cable safety system used on the course and how to enter and exit each zipline. (Lindsy, the “thrower”, would prepare us for departure, while Steve,“the catcher”, would await our arrival, signaling just when to brake to ensure a smooth landing.) I knew we’d be attached to something at all times – a platform, cable or bridge. I also knew that my 13-year-old son, already waiting on the other side of the abyss, would never let me forget it if I backed out. So I took a deep breath and stepped into thin air.
That first line, I was so worried about crashing into the landing platform that I didn’t even look around. But each zipline is carefully calibrated so that you increase speed during the first half and then head slightly uphill, gradually slowing before you land. Piece of cake. Giddy with relief, I turned to cheer on my daughter as she came hurtling into view through the foliage.
Our calm, friendly guides quickly instilled a sense of confidence, so everyone connected with their inner Tarzan in no time. Flying through the dappled greenery with the wind in your face is a definite adrenaline rush. By the third line, my kids were practicing aerodynamic positions for increasing their speed and my 72-year-old father was hooting and hollering like a rodeo clown.
We really want people to have an opportunity to see the beauty of the redwood forest from a different perspective,” said Jessica Rencher, one of 17 zipline guides trained to work the course. “It’s a wonderful adventure to be up there, enjoy the beauty, and learn about the unique characteristics of the redwoods.”
Sadly adventure doesn’t come cheap. We paid $80 per person for our 2-hour tour, a rare splurge. But we felt as if we were worlds away from our ordinary lives, sharing a once-in-a-lifetime adventure in a spectacular natural setting.
“Our designs are very organic,” said Thaddeus Shrader, Chief Operating Officer at Bonsai Design, which worked with Mount Hermon last spring to build the course with as little impact on the forest as possible. “When you go into the forest, it starts to tell you how the course wants to integrate into the existing growth. We remove as little biomass as possible. We’d rather not cut off a gnarly branch, but go six feet below and let everybody look at it.
“The guides are there for safety, but also to provide background in ecology and nature,” Shrader continued. “People will leave with a newfound respect and connection to the natural world.”
The beauty of the canyon was truly inspiring, with ravine walls steeply plunging to the babbling brook below. And it’s true that on each platform our guides said a few words about the surrounding flora and fauna. Perhaps targeted to out-of-town visitors, their information was pretty basic for anyone who lives in the Santa Cruz area. (Redwoods are fire resistant. Redwood roots are shallow and wide, rather than deep. Redwoods grow from seeds, or by sprouting from an existing limb, root or stump.) As for those seeking quiet contemplation of the natural world, I suggest a solitary walk through nearby Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park as our exuberant cries seemed to scare off any wildlife in the near vicinity!
All good things must come to an end, as this zipliner heads for the course exit.