Ziplining provides stunning views in all seasons. (Photo: The Gorge Zipline)
Ziplining provides stunning views in all seasons. (Photo: The Gorge Zipline)

Zipping over the treetops

Gravity enables a phenomenal sport that can give you a bird's-eye view of nature. 

In any season, few Appalachian vistas can rival the views from the mile-high Blue Ridge Parkway, which connects Virginia’s Shenandoah highlands with North Carolina’s Great Smokies. When I visited, the freshly unfurled leaves of oaks and maples were green. The flowering tulip poplars appeared yellowish-green. Pollen fluff floated on air through the slanting sun. In the distance, bluish layers of the mountainsides were festooned with flowering white dogwood and blooming pink redbud. 

Now a phenomenal and fast-growing sport called “zip-lining” allows the adventurous among us to experience this sort of splendor from the treetops. You can sail across mountain valleys and down into rocky river gorges. Then, if you’d like, you can jump in a raft and sail down awhitewater river. 

Ziplining is essentially a gravity-propelled activity. Participants typically arrive, often by off-road vehicle, at a high-elevation outpost. There, you don a safety helmet and thick leather gloves and, in a full-body harness, are attached to a freely moving pulley on a stainless-steel cable mounted on an incline. When all is secure you launch yourself by “zipping” off the deck of the outpost. Gravity does the rest. A combination of the natural sag in the cable and a braking system allows you to slow and stop along the zipline course.

“We employ a hands-free braking system,” says Sara Bell, who operates the steepest and fastest canopy tour in America on North Carolina’sGreen River Gorge. “It’s absolutely safe and allows our guests to enjoy the spectacular views without fear or anxiety.” The “flight,” as it is called, starts on the rim of the gorge. From there by means of 11 cables you zip from platform to platform through primeval deciduous woods with the highest floral and faunal biodiversity in the eastern U.S. Along the way you also experience three free-fall rappels and cross asky bridge. The thrilling three-hour descent is 1,100 feet—so steep a drop that at the right time of year the vegetation is still in spring greenery at the top and full summer growth at the bottom. Watch below for white-tailed deer and black bears.

At peak season the Gorge Zipline Canopy Adventure employs 45 rangers who train, assist and accompany guests. When the operation started in 2013, approximately 6,000 individuals enjoyed the flight; last year 14,000 made the launch. Though the common notion is that ziplining is for the young, Sara Bell says that she is seeing more and more folks in their 50s and 60s adding the adventure to their bucket lists. 

Another reliable zipline operator started in 1971 with the first guided whitewater rafting trips in the Southeast. Called Adventure America Zipline Tours, it now offers combination zipline canopy/whitewater adventures on and around several of the South’s most beautiful mountain watersheds: North Carolina’s Nantahala River, Tennessee’s Pigeon and Ocoee rivers, and South Carolina’s Chattooga River. More than 20,000 guests signed on with this outfit last year.

“We want to introduce as many people as possible to what we love in nature while keeping responsible environmental standards,” says Adventure America’s Trey Barnett.

Back in 1971, when the outfitter pumped up its first raft, poet James Dickey was autographing copies of his new novel. It was titled Deliverance. A year later, filming began on the Chattooga River as a stand-in for the fictitious Cahulawassee. Now you can raft the rushing river of movie fame and zipline its piney ridge on the same day.


IF YOU WANT TO GO

The Gorge Zipline and Canopy Adventure charges $95 per person for a half-day experience at North Carolina’s Green River Gorge. The company also offers springtime rafting trips on the Green River. Info: thegorgezipline.com, reservations@thegorgezipline.com, (855) 749-2500. 

To arrange a trip with Adventure America Zipline Tours, contact South Carolina’s Wildwater Adventures Center. The price is $130 per person for a combination Chattooga Ridge canopy tour and Chattooga River whitewater raft trip; kayaking instruction and rentals are also available, as is overnight lodging in deluxe cottages and yurts. Info: wildwaterrafting.com, (866) 319-8870.

Business jet travelers can fly into Asheville [North Carolina] Regional Airport, which has an 8,000-foot runway.


Thomas R. Pero is publisher of Wild River Press and the author of two books about fly fishing. 

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