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Aerialist

Started: 2021-08-03 22:49:47

Submitted: 2021-08-04 01:24:05

Visibility: World-readable

In which the intrepid narrator rides a ski resort tram and visits an aerial park

We awoke at our campsite at Hampshire Rocks to fluff from cottonwood trees blowing through our campsite like snow. I caught one of the tiny balls of fluff and showed the tiny seed pod attached to it to Julian in an attempt to explain the tree's mechanism for dispersing its seeds.

Cottonwood fluff falling over campsite
Cottonwood fluff falling over campsite

Our first adventure of the day was to ride the tram at Squaw Valley, a half-hour's drive away past Truckee along the way to Tahoe City. We arrived in time to catch the first tram heading up the mountain at 11:00, whisking us up the side of the mountain past grass-covered ski slopes, over alpine meadows and trees clinging to the side of the mountain, climbing straight over the weathered granite summit visible prominently from the parking lot.

Summer parking lot at Squaw Valley
Summer parking lot at Squaw Valley

The resort made sure to point out that masks were still required inside the tram, ten days after California officially reopened, and that eating and drinking was not allowed inside the tram, so there was no need to remove one's mask, even briefly. Inside the tram the other passengers wore their masks; outside the tram there was a mixture of masked and unmasked people both inside and outside.

Kiesa, Julian, and Calvin ride the tram at Squaw Valley
Kiesa, Julian, and Calvin ride the tram at Squaw Valley

At the top we stepped out of the tram into the crisp mountain air under the bright morning sun. From the observation deck we watched the tram descend back down the mountain; I could see which of the cables that supported the tram were fixed (running under wheels at the top of the tram) and which cables were the drive cables, running under variable tension to pull the twin tram cars up and down the mountain together.

Tram descends at Squaw Valley
Tram descends at Squaw Valley

In the distance I could just make out Lake Tahoe near the horizon, surrounded by mountains. I could see Nevada on the far side of the water. It was the first time I'd even seen another state since last summer.

Kiesa, Calvin, and Julian watch the tram descend from Squaw Valley
Kiesa, Calvin, and Julian watch the tram descend from Squaw Valley

We found the museum celebrating Squaw Valley hosting the 1960 Winter Olympics and looked through it, looking at the small selection of artifacts and equipment on display from the games 60 years ago. I couldn't imagine using the clunky skis and boots, let alone racing in the old equipment. I much prefer my modern skis and boots and bindings.

Top of Squaw Valley in the summer
Top of Squaw Valley in the summer

We walked around outside and I enjoyed the seeing the ski lifts looking very much out of place over the grassy fields. I've skied at Squaw Valley once before, after Christmas in 2001 when it rained. I much preferred the weather on this visit, with only puffy clouds in the background (though in both cases the skiing would be marginal).

Chairlift at Squaw Valley in the summer
Chairlift at Squaw Valley in the summer

We ate lunch at the top of the mountain, on a picnic table on the deck in the sun, and then caught the tram back down to the base. We had plenty of time to get to our next adventure, the aerial park at Granlibakken at Tahoe City.

The aerial park was a dozen different routes built through the forest canopy, suspended between trees on steel cables. This park used a continuous belay, which meant that we were attached to one continuous length of steel cable via a pulley that attached to our harness with a strap of webbing. (Calvin is holding the pulley in his hand in the picture below to keep it from dragging on the ground and getting dirt or wood chips trapped in it.)

Calvin and Julian suited up for the aerial park
Calvin and Julian suited up for the aerial park

We arrived early enough that we had to wait around for our scheduled time to start. (During this time I discovered that my GoPro had run out of battery; I had brought it intending to photograph our adventure, relying on its wrist strap to secure it to my person rather than falling to the forest floor below. I fell back to my phone, stuffing it in my pocket when I was crossing any of the bridges or zip lines. This worked well enough, but I wasn't brave (or foolhardy) enough to pull it out while actually crossing a bridge or riding a zip line.) Then, at length, we got fitted with harnesses and helmets and learned how to use the continuous belay system. (Calvin brought the googles with him and used them as sunglasses. I think we bought the goggles for him at a Worldcon dealer's room from a dealer's table full of steampunky accessories, though I don't remember which convention it was. He received multiple compliments on the goggles each day we were out and about.)

Julian crosses an aerial park bridge
Julian crosses an aerial park bridge

After our brief orientation we were set loose on the park. We started on an easy route and Calvin went first and finished first, then Julian went charging ahead of me, scampering across the ramps and bridges and lightweight obstacles to the platform on the opposite tree, barely waiting before charging onto the next bridge leading to the next platform surrounding the next tree.

Calvin stops on a platform
Calvin stops on a platform

The first course was fantastically successful so we embarked on a second, slightly-harder course. Julian was in front of me, and Kiesa was behind me. This proved especially problematic when we reached the first zip line, where we were supposed to jump off the platform into thin air, relying on the steel cable above our heads and pulley and webbing and harness to keep us from plummeting to the forest floor far below. (It wasn't really all that far; most of the easier bridges were between ten and twenty feet above the ground.)

Kiesa crosses an aerial park bridge
Kiesa crosses an aerial park bridge

On the bridges we'd crossed before, the belay system was just a backup so that we wouldn't fall very far if we slipped on the awkward obstacles; but on the zip line we were supposed to trust the backup safety equipment as our primary and only means of survival. Julian freaked out when he got to the zip line and completely refused to go any further. (I was a bit scared by the jump myself but I was willing to give it a shot.) Because we were using a continuous belay system, we were locked into order the moment we stepped onto the course, so there was no way that I could go ahead of Julian to assure him that it was in fact safe and that I'd catch him at the other end. (I have no idea that this would have worked anyway, but it would have been worth a shot.)

Aerial park escape route
Aerial park escape route

The particular platform we were stuck on had a ladder as a built-in escape route, presumably because the park had been built assuming that people would run into this very problem. No amount of encouragement would get Julian to ride the zip line, so we got the attention of the park staff, who climbed the ladder with a rescue kit so they could detach Julian from the continuous belay and lower him with the aid of a descent rope. Even this proved problematic, because Julian did not want to let go of the ladder; eventually we pried his hands off the top of the ladder and lowered him through thin air to the safety of the ground.

(While wandering around the park prior to our scheduled start time, I had noticed this particular escape route and contemplated the sequence of events that would lead to using it. This was very literal foreshadowing that I did not expect to happen in real life.)

I was next in line for the zip line, and I was not entirely confident about jumping into thin air with only a tiny steel cable to protect me from falling to the forest floor below; but it was the only way off the course, so I took a leap of faith (with both hands grabbing the webbing holding my harness to the belay pulley above me) and rode to the end of the zip line and grabbed the webbing net on the receiving platform on the next tree; and all was well.

Kiesa completed the course behind me and bailed to sit with Julian, while Calvin and I continued on the course for our allotted two-and-a-half hours. Calvin had no discernible fear on the courses and charged ahead without me. I approached the courses with somewhat more caution, slightly worried about running into my acrophobia; but all of the courses at the aerial park (even those marked with the most exposure) topped out around 40 to 50 feet, within the range where I normally feel fine, especially when I'm wearing a harness and clearly tied into the support of something bigger and more solid than me.

Jaeger on the aerial park
Jaeger on the aerial park

But every time I stood on the platform at the threshold of a zip line I grabbed the webbing holding my harness to the belay pulley, unwilling to totally trust it; but once I was flying through the air I let go and waved my arms around like I was on a roller coaster.

Calvin about to jump on the zipline
Calvin about to jump on the zipline

The aerial park was divided into two sections: a lower section, where we started, with a couple of generally easier courses; and an upper section, with mostly more difficult courses with more exposure. After I'd exhausted the lower section I headed to the upper section and worked my way through the courses there, each named by some dominant feature on the course. The first course I navigated in the upper section was called "Twins", since it featured a bridge leading directly between two redwood trees without actually touching either tree.

Aerial park bridge
Aerial park bridge "Twins"

Every once and a while I'd look up and see Calvin on some other course, charging ahead and jumping onto the ziplines with reckless abandon.

Calvin on the zipline
Calvin on the zipline

Eventually I caught up with Calvin and went through the remaining courses with him. Most of the courses had a crux pitch; one course was named "Rings" after the rings hanging from ropes that we were supposed to navigate, awkwardly, one at a time.

Calvin prepares to navigate the rings
Calvin prepares to navigate the rings

I laboriously stepped through each ring, relying mostly on the rings to support me rather than the belay pulley; but Calvin had other ideas and crashed through the rings.

Calvin fails to navigate
Calvin fails to navigate "Rings"

Another course was called "Chimes" after the logs hanging from ropes.

Calvin crosses
Calvin crosses "Chimes"

When viewed from the side, the logs looked kind of like wind chimes (look behind the bridge Calvin is crossing in the picture below). As the logs grew shorter as one crossed the bridge they became less stable and (as a result) harder to cross.

Calvin crosses an aerial park bridge
Calvin crosses an aerial park bridge

As our time on the course grew short we hurried back to "Rainbow", the most difficult course in the lower section, which featured a bridge in the colors of the rainbow and a large, exposed zip line to finish the course.

Calvin on
Calvin on "Rainbow"

Calvin and I turned in our safety equipment and found Kiesa and Julian waiting in the car.

Calvin at the end of the zipline
Calvin at the end of the zipline

We drove back to our campsite for the evening, lighting another fire to warm ourselves as we ate supper, before eventually retiring to the tent for the night.

The point is that one should never assume that sucky, disgusting software
is written by first year comp sci majors. There are enough professional
programmers out there to cause a far bigger disaster.
- Randseed (132501) on Slashdot, 08 June 2003