Sue Bryant plucks up her courage for an exhilarating zip-line experience above the canopy in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest
I’m dangling from a wire, 80ft above the floor of Tongass National Forest, whizzing through the tops of pine trees with the wind whistling in my ears. I’m going so fast I can barely breathe. A harness and a few metal clips are all that keep me from plummeting down through the canopy. It’s exhilarating and — for someone like me who’s afraid of heights — terrifying.
Between each zip is a wooden platform, wrapped around a tree, where you clip your harness off the zip-line, onto a wire attached to the tree and shuffle round the platform. When it’s your turn to continue down the mountain onto the next wire, a rugged but reassuring lumberjack guide counts you down before you’re off again, screaming through the canopy, legs out in front, ready to catch the next platform.
The journey from summit to base camp isn’t just zip-lining. At one point, we cross a wire bridge, spanning a canyon. My kids skip on ahead, bouncing the bridge, while I close my eyes and gingerly put my best foot forward.
Zip-lining is a rite of passage when you take kids to Alaska. Never mind the bears, the whales and the glorious scenery — the zip-line excursion was all they talked about as we planned our adventure. Looking back, I confess to loving every second — the scent of pine, the breeze singing in the treetops, the sheer remoteness of the scenery once we’d left the bustle of the dock at Ketchikan.
It’s possible to spend a fortune on activities like sightseeing flights and powerboat tours on an Alaska cruise, but zip-lining was our only extravagance, among simpler adventures. In Juneau, we took a local bus to the Mendenhall Glacier, a great wall of ice slowly retreating from an icy lake, fed by cascading waterfalls. We trekked around the lake, skimmed stones over the water, and scooped out chunks of ice.
We only saw one bear — nestled high in a tree. Ironically, this was because there were too many (most forest trails were closed in August due to ‘bear activity’). The bears get greedy in salmon spawning season (peaking from mid-May to mid-July); venturing down to the shorelines to feast on thousands of fish making their way upriver.
In Sitka, we finally find one open trail and set off into the forest, the kids enthralled by the vast landscape of soaring trees and streams full of writhing salmon. Back on a stony beach, we watch, mesmerized, as a pair of sea otters splash around in the water.
I’m sure my kids absorbed some of the state’s raw beauty but I’m sorry to say their only desire now is to go back and visit Icy Strait Point, featuring the world’s longest zip-line: a 1,300ft drop at 60mph. I’m already bracing myself. www.alaskacanopy.com
PUBLISHED IN THE SUMMER 2013 ISSUE OF ASTAnetwork