Zip Soaring the Animas River

High speed adventure through the trees

Trip Report:  20070924

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The Trip

Kathleen had found this thing called "zip soaring" while reading the web site for the D&SNGRR. Basically, they string cables between old growth trees and then hook pulleys to the cables and send folks from tree to tree. It sounded interesting, so we signed up. The resort that hosts this is a five-star place called "Tall Timber" and is only accessible via the D&SNGRR or helicopter. Since we spent 8 hours on the train the previous day, we elected for the helicopter. As it turns out, most folks take the train so we had the chopper to ourselves. It was a bit pricey, but the view was awesome and totally made up for the bad weather we endured the previous day.

The photos below are what we saw.

Our ride. This is a generic Bell Jet Ranger that we took from the Animas Air Park to Tall Timber. The pilot was Dustin and was very skilled despite his young age. Realize that most folks look young to me.

One of the uplift structures just to the south of Durango. Mine tailings are visible on the right side of the photo with the Animas river in the foreground.

A view of the Animas river valley. The river grade gets flat just north of town and this has resulted in a set of ox bows visible in the foreground of the photo.

We overtook the train on our helicopter ride. Since this train was carrying extra cars, it had twin steam engines.

Dustin took us over the narrow part of the Animas River canyon. The river was still very high from the previous day's rain, so it was pumping hard. The currents through the narrow part of the canyon are intense and are not runnable via raft or kayak. There are a set of logs that have jammed against the walls of the canyon and that forces the river to go UNDER the logs, thereby making the river un-runnable.

This is the Tacoma power plant. The plan is powered by a stream that comes from the mesa to the left and falls many hundreds of feet. The plant is one of the oldest in the area.

As it turn out, we overtook both steam trains that were heading up to Silverton. This is a different train from the one in the previous photo and is carrying other members of our soaring party.

On final approach to the helipad at Tall Timber. The pad is at the far end of the meadow.

We landed ahead of the train with enough time to set up for a photo of the run-by. The train stopped and dropped off members of our soaring party.

One of the staff was kind enough to take a shot of us in our soaring harnesses.

Kathleen on one of the early runs. The first runs are short and not very high in the trees. Later runs were long, some in excess of 500 feet with substantial drops between stations resulting in high speeds.

On some of the platforms, you had to climb from level to level. At one station, we were hoisted 80 feet vertically to the launch point.

She is having fun.

Here is the hoist line to the upper level. This lift was scary and reminded me of my days in mountain rescue.

Kathleen approaches the upper level via hoist. I had to do some tricks to get the camera to focus through the grating on the floor but they worked adequately well.

You get going pretty fast between the higher stations.

A shot of the Animas River through the trees. The river was still way high from the rains on the previous day. In fact, it was flooding part of the meadow close to the river.

We switched and Kathleen took the big camera. Here, I go for a run down one of the longer lines called "Aspen Alley" for obvious reasons.

One of the other guests was a photographer, so I asked him to take this shot when we were on break.

While we were snacking at break time, we had a visitor who had clearly figured out the routine and was adept at begging.

One of the other guests. She was a horse person and she and her husband Kevin ran a boarding stable in upstate New York. I believe her name is Marsha.

The husband, Kevin, takes a fast run.

On some of the runs, you come into the landing zone pretty fast. Here I was using Kathleen's G7 camera and shooting some video.

The soaring was fun, but it was breezy in the trees and therefore a bit cold.

This is one of the lower stations. We were lowered to the ground via a dynamic breaking system. Frankly, I would have preferred rappelling since I would have been in control. Stepping into open space takes a lot of confidence in the other folks that control your fate.

Once on the ground, we headed for lunch. Here the Aspens look quite nice against the blue sky.

The Tall Timber lodge is visible on the left with the D&SNGRR tracks visible in the foreground.

After a tasty lunch on an elevated terrace, we were back at it again. Here Kathleen crosses the Animas River.

Kathleen prepares to cross the river again. There was sufficient wind that we had to be careful about gaining too much speed. If you come into the landing "too hot", you crash into the tree and that will not be nice.

I did not try an inversion, but Kathleen did. One of the fellows inverted on an earlier run and dumped his camera 80 feet to the rocks below. Needless to say, the camera did not survive.

I took this shot as I crossed the Animas River. Note the other line in the distance. The river was still high from the rains on the day before and while the color was much more subdued, it was still colored yellow from the high silt load due to the runoff.

Another shot I took while crossing the river. The scenery was awesome and the runs were thrilling.

Done for the day, we boarded the chopper and headed back to Durango. Here the staff and other guests wave goodbye. They waited for the train to get back into town.

The flight back to Durango was very nice with tons of great vistas. Here you can see the aspens as they turn color.

This is Missionary Ridge just north east of Durango. There was a large fire here in 2002 that threatened the city. Here, you can see the burnt trees. But despite the fire, the land is growing back nicely. The helicopter pilot stated that the Fish&Game folks measured over a 1000 "extra" elk in the region due to the additional grasses as a result of the additional sunlight. The object in the bottom right of the frame is in the cabin of the helicopter.

Just on the near side of the mountains on the far horizon is Pagosa Springs. This will be our destination in about 3 days. All the mountains in the Durango area show evidence of stark bedding of the sedimentary rocks due to uplifting.

We had an awesome time. The zip soaring was great fun and very, very exhilarating. If you are in the area, you should check it out.

Coal Bank Pass, Silverton and Ouray.

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