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High ropes course: a whole new experience

USF’s Riverfront Park on Fletcher Avenue held its first Ropes Course Open House of the semester Saturday morning, offering its high ropes course to the public. As a first-time climber, it was difficult to imagine what to expect or how to approach something most people – including me – have never done.

It wasn’t nervousness – just mixed thoughts. Here is an account of the day:

After signing a waiver a few minutes before 9 a.m., I was ready. Above towered an odd-looking wooden structure made of telephone poles connected to a plethora of rope nets and thin silver metal cables. Meanwhile, I kept pondering challenges I would encounter for the next three hours on the course’s three levels of obstacles.

With a crowd of about 25 others, I got my gear: a safety harness with leg loops and a waist band, thick ropes for around our waist and thick orange helmets that we tested by shaking our heads rapidly.

A staff member dangling 10 feet off the ground from a metal cable welcomed us to “ground school,” the last preparation before indulging in the course.

We were shown a number of safety techniques.

The self-rescue, a technique used to regain footing if balance is lost, was demonstrated as the instructor placed his feet on a lower cable, bending his knees and lifting himself straight up by pulling on the rope around his waist.

Pairing off, we took the next two hours to ensure the gear worked. Then we hit the course.

All 25 of us went for it at the same time. There was no order in which to complete it, leaving infinite ways to venture while completing as many obstacles as possible. There were two entrances and two heart-pounding exits: the zip line or the giant swing.

I made it my goal to complete every obstacle on the course, though the difficulty of the course could be felt in my arms and legs.

At one point, I hit a major traffic jam. Six of us were standing on a platform about the width of my foot – all trying to go in different directions. We were forced to use our communication skills and teamwork to figure out the most effective way to continue to the next destination.

After about 10 minutes of deliberating, shimmying, shifting and leaning over the edge of the platform on the tip of my toes, I squeezed and wiggled my way to the next obstacle.

Three levels later I was at the “crow’s nest.” At 55 feet, it is the highest point of the course. My arms were exhausted.

I rang the bell at the top as beads of sweat trickled down my face and arms. Looking over my shoulder, there was a clear view of the Sun Dome high above the treelines. I was finished.

After the session was over, everyone in the group agreed how nerve wracking and challenging the experience was. Three hours slipped away so fast. I think we all wished we had more time.

It was a fast-paced race to finish every obstacle before time ran out. For others, taking a slower pace was desirable. But no matter what the pace or goals, the course was a fun-filled adrenaline rush.

The high ropes course is available as a workshop to groups and organizations, and individuals can attend a Ropes Course Open House to experience the same thrills. The next open house is scheduled for Feb. 20 at 9 a.m. or 1 p.m. and costs $10 for students. Appointments for workshops on the ropes course can be made by calling USF Campus Recreation at (813) 974-8964.