Roger Cox: Zip-wires are fantastic, so long as they have the requisite amount of zip
A FEW years ago I found myself in a deserted car park on the outskirts of Vancouver, sitting in a black SUV, being asked politely but firmly not to write about the events I’d just witnessed.
Shooting? Kidnapping? Corruption in high places? Nope: prototype zip-line fail.
I was in Canada to write about the preparations for the 2010 Winter Olympics, and invited to try out a new zip-line slung between two mountains to the north of the city, Grouse and Dam. It was an incredible set-up, sending people careering across a huge, yawning canyon at speeds of up to 80kph. Earlier that day, however, something had gone wrong. Not seriously wrong, but wrong enough that a PR guy was now taking the trouble to ask me, ever-so-nicely, if I could please keep my mouth shut about it when I came to write my feature. I liked the PR guy, so I did as he asked and didn’t mention what had happened. That said, I didn’t promise him I wouldn’t let the cat out of the bag at some point in the future, so I don’t feel as if I’m going back on my word now. Plus, a lot of water has passed under the bridge since then, and the zip-line in question seems to have been working fine ever since. Anyway, here’s what happened...
When I arrived at the top of the Grouse Mountain gondola, I was introduced to a group of Australian journalists who would also be trying out the brand new, not-open-to-the-public-yet zip-line experience. As we approached the launch platform there was much banter about expendable foreign hacks being used as guinea pigs, but the jokes soon dried up as we caught sight of the gap we were about to cross. The platform on the other side of the ravine was a mere speck in the distance, and the drop from the mid-point of the wire to the valley floor was the best part of a kilometre. Not even Wile E Coyote would have survived a fall like that.
As the first guide launched himself out into space there was much cheering and hooting from the hacks and then, as he started to slow down, an uneasy silence. The guide eventually came to a stop about 20 metres short of the far platform, then arm-over-armed the rest of the way to safety and waved for us to follow him. There was some nervous murmuring in the group. If the guide could only make it most of the way across, where were we novices going to end up? The second guide patiently explained that the tension on the wire wasn’t quite right today because the air temperature was warmer than average for the time of year, making things little saggier than usual. If we made sure we kept our bodies nice and rigid we’d all make it most of the way across, he said. Then all we’d have to do was arm-over-arm the rest of the way like guide number one. Simple. Aye, right.
There were two zip-lines running parallel to each other across the gap, so we were launched in pairs. The first duo did OK, getting three-quarters of the way across, then one of the Aussies and I did slightly less well, perhaps coming to a halt about two-thirds of the way over. We gritted our teeth, made like monkeys and eventually joined the others. One of the last Aussies to go wasn’t quite so fortunate, however, coming to a dead stop more-or-less in the middle of the wire. Rather than start moving under his own steam, he just hung there, swaying slightly. “Are you OK?” shouted one of the guides. “I’m stuck,” came the reply. “You’re gonna have to come rescue me.” There then followed a somewhat strained conversation, echoing around the canyon, in which the guides tried to persuade the hack to start moving and the hack repeatedly and enthusiastically refused. In the end, one of the guides had to rope up, arm-over-arm all the way out to the stranded Aussie, clip him onto his harness and then arm-over-arm all the way back. When he finally touched down on the platform, the hack was paler than anyone I have ever seen.
All of which brings us to Laggan Outdoor, the activity centre near Castle Douglas which last week became home to the longest zip-line in the UK, at 820m. Manager Duncan McConchie describes the view from the wire as the best in the world. “On a clear day, you can see England, Ireland and the Isle of Man,” he says. You’ll be reassured to hear that McConchie and his team had ironed out all their tension-related gremlins long before opening day. I’ll be down there as soon as I get a chance, hoping to put my zip-line demons to rest.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Monday 20 May 2013
Temperature: 8 C to 21 C
Wind Speed: 9 mph
Wind direction: South
Temperature: 6 C to 16 C
Wind Speed: 13 mph
Wind direction: North west