Mountain adventures

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Photo by Bob Nesoff
Photo by Bob Nesoff

A 13-year-old daredevil sitting relaxed and his zip line flies down the mountain with the beautiful valley vista below.

Two young Army paratrooper candidates were lined up about to board the airplane that would take them to 10,000 feet for their fist venture in floating to earth. One looked at the other and said: “Why would you want to jump out of a perfectly good airplane?”

That memory came back to mind sitting atop Camelback Mountain, strapped into a harness and waiting for a trap door to open so that we could literally fly down the mountain on a thin wire stretched more than 4,000 feet from summit to base.

Why would you want to jump off a perfectly good mountain?

Camelback only has a vertical of about 800 feet, somewhat small for a ski mountain, but that has not eroded its wintertime popularity.

That being said, a zip line is a far cry from a pair of skis or snowboard to make the transition from top to bottom. There is a platform adjacent to the zip line popular with visitors who have their picture taken with the valley below and showing just how high up 800 feet truly is.

The ride to the top by shuttle bus and ski lift provoked some nervous laughter and silly jokes from passengers headed to the kick-off point of the zip line. No one would give in and ask the question going through everyone’s mind: “What the heck am I doing here?”

Camelback is one of the more convenient mountain year-round resorts to New York City and North Jersey. Over the George Washington Bridge and onto Rt. 80, it is a straight run to Pennsylvania and the Tannersville exit. Many people are familiar with this location because of the Crossings Outlet Shopping Center yards from the exit. The road to Camelback passes Crossings and is only about five minutes further on.

The zip is one of two major additions to Camelback’s offerings and can run through the entire year.  The second is the wild ride called the Mountain Coaster. Many people are familiar with the old Alpine Slide in which a rider takes a special sled flying down a concrete trough.  The Mountain Coaster puts the Slide to shame.

Perhaps a majority of Camelback visitors opt to try out the Coaster first. This ride is a sled with dual handles for brakes giving the rider total control over speed of the coaster. Most use it to hold on for dear life.

The sled ascends the mountain much in the same manner as a roller coaster at an amusement park. Once it tips over the peak all similarities disappear. The sled barrels down a track that keeps it on course and prevents it from becoming an unguided missile. The twists, turns, more twists and turns propel the rider down at an amazing rate of speed. Most of the younger riders take it at full tilt while older and wiser participants use the speed controls.

After being slammed into the side of the sled and reaching the bottom safely and alive there are few who wouldn’t opt for a second ride.  But for now it was on to the zip line.

We boarded a slow moving ski lift and then transferred to the shuttle.  Everyone debarking the bus walked slowly, apprehensively. Even the young daredevils seem to be having second thoughts.

The “Jumpmasters” at the top of the zip line beckoned riders with a crooked finger. To back out now would be an act of abject cowardice. But it might be better than suffering a heart attack.  One look at the accompanying 13-year-old grandson eager to try the zip was enough of an impetus to drive out the devils…maybe.

There are two parallel lines. The inside line was assigned to…guess who? No way out now. The exit was blocked by the 13-year-old.  Riders climb up three steps, much as those Frenchmen ascending the platform for the guillotine. A flat seat and straps hold the rider in. The “jumpmaster” does an excellent job of fastening straps across your chest, firmly holding your legs in place and around the waist. If you are going to crash down, the entire contraption is coming along with you.

Once strapped firmly in place with no opportunity to run, you are told to place your feet up against a vertical trap door in front of you. This is by far the most agonizing few seconds of the entire experience.  It’s like the aforementioned Frenchman waiting for the blade to drop.

Breathing has become difficult, your heart is racing as though you are taking a stress test and you nod weakly when the attendant asks if you are ready. There really is no other way down; especially not with your grandson sitting in the adjacent zip line.

Darn sick kid. He doesn’t even look a bit nervous.

You don’t see the release switch being pulled but, if your eyes are open, you see the door fall away and you begin to slowly, ever so slowly, roll toward the abyss. Now there is nothing beneath you but more than 800 feet of air…straight down to the base of the mountain.

Within a second or two the zip has picked up speed, accelerating like a jet fighter screaming for takeoff.  The sound of your seat running along the wire produces an ever increasing whine as you approach speeds that would warrant a traffic ticket on most roadways.  Where are the cops when you really need them?

It only takes a few seconds before your mind transitions from the terror to take in the sheer beauty of the valley below.  Terror has been replaced by the joy of almost flying and the speed is almost undetectable.

The stop at the bottom is a bit of a jolt, but nothing terrible.  As you approach the end of the line you first realize just how fast you are going as the ground literally zooms by.

At the base the straps come off, you step down from the little platform and experience little more than total exhilaration. The more than half mile ride down the mountain was a gas and you are ready to have another go at it.

All you can think is: “What a ride.”