There is some high flying going on in Warrenton on the 30-acre, sustainably logged property of David and Lancey Larson. As zip-line guide Dale Larson often says, “There is going to be some involuntary cursing today. I can guarantee that.”
And he was right. Stepping off the two-story tower, 75 feet in the air, I discovered in those fractional seconds of freefall that it was me spouting unprintable words. Then the cable trolley caught my harness, and I zipped over tree tops and the seven-acre lake whooping it up, while my scrawny shadow zig-zagged below.
This was the climax to a well-orchestrated sequence of rides. The beauty of the design of the eight ziplines at Larson’s High Life Adventures in Warrenton, nearly one mile of cable, is that they start out slow and build gradually, preparing you for bigger thrills. So let’s start at the beginning.
There were five in our party of zippers on the misty Friday when we chose to ride. (“We go rain or shine – only high wind or lightening would stop the zipping,” says public relations manager Mandy Flaitz.) We completed the course in a little over an hour; a larger group might take a couple hours.
The first stop was signing “hold harmless” paperwork in the office and certifying that all riders are hale and hardy. Adults under 300 pounds can ride ($99) and youth over 60 pounds with a parent or guardian ($69). The cables are half-inch galvanized steel rated at 26,000 pounds of static load. “We’re allowed to load them at 1/5 breaking strength,” said David, “which means we could have a rider and two rescuers on the line if needed.” (No “rescues” have ever been needed, and High Life lines are built to specs established by the Association for Challenge Course Technology.)
Next was the equipment station: We chose safety helmets with a wacky range of names like Lady Gaga, Gummi Bear, Oprah, Michelangelo and Donkey Kong. We were fitted with harnesses that slip over your legs and shoulders, buckling at the waist and chest. When our group was buckled in good and tight, we were led to the first line – Alder – a low-slung and slower zip line. It’s a good starting point because you get a feel for the harness and the ride. Every party has two guides: one goes ahead to stop each successive rider; and one stays behind to attach harnesses to the cable and get you going with encouraging words.
At the end of each zip line is a short walk to the beginning of the next cable; and each cable is a little higher, longer or faster. So the sequence built gradually as our group worked its way around the property.
Hatching the Idea
Late in 2010, the Larsons vacationed in Hawaii. “We did a zip line tour on the Big Island,” said Lancey, “and I knew immediately that we had a perfect property for zip lines. I was adamant about having eight ziplines. David wanted five, but I wanted eight. I wanted to have as many as we went on in Hawaii – I thought that less than that wouldn’t be enough.”
When the Larsons got home, Lancey started her research. “We were told that there was a conference in Boston, and we both flew over and studied challenge course technology. We took several classes, hired out a consulting firm and an engineer, and went to work.”
David’s excavation and construction business, Larson Construction Co, Inc., had slowed during the economic downturn, so diving into the zipline project was right up his alley.
“I laid out the course,” he said. “Fortunately, I have some road building experience, and I’ve worked in engineering. I had a knowledge of grades, and we got some instruments to get started. We were told that it worked better to hang lines from static points rather than trees. So we hung lines temporarily and had Shane Dean test pilot our lines. You have to test different variables – the wind, the grade – because you’ve got to be able to get across the line, but you don’t want to go too fast.”
The magic number for the grade was a pitch of three percent. This allows most riders to zip between 25 and 34 mph depending on size and how they are suspended on the line. Hanging with arms and legs out catches more drag. To get the fastest ride, a total body tuck is best.
Family Fun and Future Plans
As it turned out, Lancey was right on both counts – the property is perfect for a zipline course. The cables wander back and forth over the lake, central to the property, offering spectacular views and a variety of experiences. Want a dip in the lake? – hang low on the Maple run for a hand- or foot-drag. (You can even “waterski” if your feet are placed right.) Want a thriller? Do a cannon-ball tuck off the tower and rampage down the Hemlock zip line. Want to race a buddy? Get a timed start on the side-by-side lines of Spruce and Willow lines.
And the fact that there are eight zip lines makes the course competitive with other newer courses. The popularity of zip lines is growing in leaps and bounds, surpassing the once popular paint-ball playgrounds and skateboard parks. Courses in the United States have grown from 10 in 2001 to more than 200, according to the Los Angeles Times.
But the Larsons aren’t stopping with eight zip lines. Lancey says, “We’ve hired a team building coach with 9 1/2 years experience. And we’re getting some county permits so we can offer kayaking and standup paddle boarding. We’ll also be renting out a picnic area with a big rope swing and slide to have class and family reunions, wedding receptions or company picnics.”
David adds, “And we’re going to build a second level on the tower and raise the lines ten feet. We’re working on it this winter – it’s
already been approved. And we may put in a few specialty lines that dip in the lake.” This is from a guy who admits he made his own zip line at age 12. “We put a cable across the canyon at our house in Astoria and hooked a chair to it – no harnesses or anything – and ran it for awhile until one of the neighbors complained and the city made us take it down.”
This was a great beginning for a builder who now knows that safety is the top priority. “Our lines are connected to steel poles and back pilings 12 feet in the ground. Plus, the harness, lanyard and trolley specs all exceed 5,000 pounds.”
When asked how they feel about turning a property they’ve lived on and tended for over 30 years into a family-friendly adventure park, the Larsons are all smiles. “We love that people have fun here,” said Lancey. “When people come, they get so excited going across the lines whooping and hollering. Our kids are grown out of the nest and gone. We love watching people having a good time.”
Our group certainly fit that picture. After some initial breaking-in jitters, we whooped, hollered, shrieked and laughed our way along every mile of those cables.