March 7, 2006

25 Years of Ropes Course History

FRONT: M.McFarlin, J.Berish, S.Moran, Skidder, D.Gustafson. SECOND ROW: F.Sarget, P.Farey, M.Fricke, P.Stone, C.Willingham. THIRD ROW: B.Finn, B.Tuxbury, H.Thompson. FOURTH ROW: R.Schwager, T.Eberhard, M.Cooper, D.McMillan.

Bill was here today from Alpine Towers inspecting our course and the climbing wall as well. The annual inspection is critical to keep us up to date, safe and connected to the larger Alpine Tower community. It's only the second time it's been inspected - so that's kind of an anniversary right?

I thought it might be an interesting occasion to post some photos that Katie and Nicoya found searching through old year books.

The oldest reference to outdoor activities we could find was from 1969. This unidentified hard man might be on a ropes course on Burleigh or climbing some stout winter crag.

I'll give you a dollar if you can tell me what knot that is.

Later on though we have clear evidence of the old ropes course on Burleigh, check out these pictures!

Awesome shots of climbers challenging themselves. I love the look of focus on their faces.

The picture at the top of this article and these ropes course shots are from the 1980 Belfry. The group was called "Outing Club" and had this to say about their activities:

"The outing program is an alternative to competitive sports. By no means is this activity a way out of sports, but it is a way that we can compete with ourselves rather than our peers. The challenge isn't to win or loose but to push ourselves farther than we've gone before. Wether the obstacle is a long hike, shooting a set of rapids in an open canoe, or scaling a 400 foot cliff we always win. Even if we don't make it, we grow from the experience and afterwards we know ourselves better. What we find is often surprising."

This reflection on the nature of outdoor activities is a timeless statement of purpose for those of us who love the freedom, adventure and challenge of what we do. Even the implied justification compared to mainstream sports is still as relevant today as it was 25 years ago.

Sometimes I wonder if the commercialization of rock climbing, hiking and other 'adventure,' 'extreme,' 'adrenaline' sports hasn't moved us away from our roots. I didn't learn climbing from a guide, a class or a program. I learned the basics from my Dad and then went to the local granite quarry with my friend Randy and messed around until we thought we knew what we were doing. Later in college I learned from more experienced climbers. We didn't hurt ourselves, I think, because we were forced to take it slow and figure it out for ourselves. We were so excited to be out there and doing it - I can remember being out of breath not from exertion but from the sheer joy of what were doing. This is the kind of experience I hope to provide to our students, even though we are doing it within the context of a class or an activity.

In 1980 at NHS Hugh Thompson was in charge of things. Here's his picture, I'm guessing that's his dog, Skidder, in the photo at the top of the article?

The course they had on Burleigh was pretty extensive. In 2002, the first fall I was working for NHS, we rediscovered it. I was standing in the woods working with a group of freshmen students. Typically distractabe and excitable as they are they didn't need much to get them gleefully off track. I had them circled up and I was deep in imparting my "wisdom" to them when Skylar looked up and exclaimed, "There is a rope hanging from that tree!" I was about to earnestly deny the claim and get us back to the matter at hand when I noticed, sure enough, off in the woods was a bright yellow rope hanging from the tree! The circle was over and we excitedly searched from tree to tree until we had discovered the whole course. Here is a sketch I made of it a litte while after the discovery.

A: Zip line and rope brake. B: Huge birch tree and start of zip. C: Postman's walk? D: Climbing wall and practice area. E: Course barely visible from logging road / snowmobile trail in the fall. F: No Trespassing sign found.

The zip must have been pretty exciting. Adam and I hiked around it again later that fall and found an old webbing harness and soaked up the atmosphere. What an amazing course for the time - I wonder how many other ones like it were operating in New Hampshire at the time. I'll bet not many.

That's all for now. Looking back a litte bit on a day when we're looking forward to an exciting spring and summer of Burleigh Mountain programs. What will the next 25 years of adventure on Burleigh bring?

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