#VailBen Dispatch 9: Learning About The Mountain—and Myself—at Adventure Ridge

Jul. 15, 2014

Benjamin (left) at the top of the China Bowl.

Benjamin (left) at the top of the China Bowl.

Adventure Ridge isn’t kids stuff.

I learned this the hard way last Saturday when I made my way up to Eagle’s Nest for a day of activities at the top of the mountain. I had walked by the ropes course, ridden my mountain bike under the zip line, and hiked past the Adventure Ridge Mountain Tour bus several times so I thought I knew what to expect. I’d taken some fun photos and make some cute videos and then reward my open mindedness with a few margaritas at Bistro Fourteen. Easy peasy.

After grabbing our passes from the friendly ladies at the ticket desk, we got suited up for the Ropes Course. As I put on my harness, the instructors took bets on whether I would be able to finish. This should have been the first sign that this collection of logs and cables might not be a walk in the park.

Vail employee Jeff instructs Benjamin on the Ropes Course.

Vail employee Jeff instructs Benjamin on the Ropes Course.

Outside we learned how to operate our carabiners. (It cleverly locks while you transfer obstacles, making it next to impossible to fall from the three story tower.) They explained how the course was set up in stages; the lowest level would be the easiest to cross while the top would be the hardest. Then they pointed to a series of hanging loops and giggled. “That’s the hardest one,” our college-aged instructor Jeff explained.

Now I’m not an avid climber. In fact, I’m a pretty terrible rock climber. I hadn’t been on a ropes course since I was in high school. Still, I was confident I could conquer this tower.

And then I stepped on the first log.

The obstacles swayed 10 feet off the ground and I struggled to stay upright without holding onto my hardness. (The instructors considered that “cheating.”) By the end of the first level I found myself out of breath. Maybe I shouldn’t have done that boot camp this morning, I thought.

Benjamin on level one of the Ropes Course.

Benjamin on level one of the Ropes Course.

Sure enough, each level got harder and harder. But I summoned my courage—and what little strength I had. I even impressed myself when it came to trusting the automatic belay that lowered me from the structure to the ground. (It was one of the scariest parts of the whole course.) Behind me a kid no older than eight-years-old raced across each challenge, taunting me with his confidence and boldness.

Benjamin makes it to Level Three.

Benjamin makes it to Level Three.

Suddenly we were at the top. All that stood between me and the end of the course were those hanging loops. With my forearms burning, I went for it. The loops twisted as I used every muscle in my body to stay upright. I traversed each one like a grape vine—the trick the instructors had taught me—and tried to stay calm. I could do this. My friends rooted me on from thirty feet below.

Benjamin tackling the dreaded "hanging loops"

Benjamin tackling the dreaded “hanging loops”

Needless to say, I made it across. My body ached and I took several minutes to catch my breath before the last belay. I had done it. On top of the world I felt like a king.

I high-fived my pre-teen companion and thanked him for motivating me to finish. Filled with new respect for Adventure Ridge, we headed over to the zip line for a celebratory ride. The 1,200-foot trip from tower to tower was a breeze after those loops.

Our final Adventure Ridge activity was the Mountain Tour. We climbed into the back of a souped-up Jeep and our driver took us deep into the Back Bowls of Vail. Though an adventurous hiker or mountain biker could journey out there on foot, the truck got us there in less than 20 minutes. At the top of China Bowl, just after Two Elk Lodge, we stopped to admire the view. And it was magnificent. The soft lighting made the open fields appear soft and velvety. A family of marmots played under the ghostly Orient Express lift nearby.

The Adventure Ridge Mountain Tour bus at the top of China Bowl.

The Adventure Ridge Mountain Tour bus at the top of China Bowl.

I had seen this view in the winter, but it was nothing like the view in the summer. The sheer size of Vail became clear without skiers. In fact, we were likely the only souls for at least two miles. This wilderness was all ours.

View of the Back Bowls on the Adventure Ridge Mountain Tour.

View of the Back Bowls on the Adventure Ridge Mountain Tour.

When we got back to Eagle’s Nest the sun was beginning to set. Our day at Adventure Ridge had come to a close and I was much sorer and more enthusiastic than I had been going into it. Every time I think I am getting to know this mountain it shows me a part of itself I didn’t know existed. In fact, on its best days, it shows me a part of myself I didn’t know existed.

 

Vail America's Best Summer Job BenBenjamin Solomon is the winner of America’s Best Summer Job, a 10-week, all-expenses paid summer job exploring what summer in the Vail Valley has to offer. A freelance writer based in New York, Benjamin has contributed to publications such as Vanity Fair, New York, Travel + Leisure and is the former editor of Next Magazine. Follow his journey on Blog.Vail.com as well as on Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #VailBen.