A light rain was falling. “Most people that do zip-lining are trying to get over their fear of heights” Tamie of Zip Yosemite explained, “so you four are awesome.” The four of us paraplegics looked at each other and smiled. Bill Harrison, Charlene Vine, Steven Sanchez and I were all ecstatic to be the first wheelchair users to zip thru the trees in the Sierra Mountains on the boarder of Yosemite National Park with Zip Yosemite. Neither I nor the others had ever done zip-lining but when asked we all replied yes without hesitation. We are the outdoorsy type, ready for adventure and not afraid to get a little dirty. No one knew how it was going to work exactly but the four of us and everyone at Zip Yosemite all had a go-with-flow, we’ll figure it out attitude. I was prepared to do a belly flop onto each podium between zips but luckily it didn’t come to that. In fact, I was very impressed with the planning and improvisation of the Zip Yosemite team. At first they were prepared to handle only two paraplegics but bravely took on all four of us.
Zip-lining four paraplegics across eight trees is not an easy feat but if there is a will there is a way. It began with a small hike after parking as close to the trail as possible. The trail was not long but was at an incline and because of the continuous light rain that was falling, it was a bit muddy. A little ways up we headed left onto a small trail just barely not wide enough for a wheelchair so we rode the edge carefully. The Zip Yosemite team was there for every push assisting us where needed. At the base of the first zip we were told that we could reach the zipping platform in one of two ways. One was a pulley system that would raise us out of our chairs and then be assisted onto the platform by a member of Zip Yosemite. The other was to be carried up the stairs to the platform by a member of the team, which was the easier option of the two according to them and since the four of us did not mind, we agreed to be carried. At each zip platform was a wooden box for us to sit on in between zips but since the group size doubled, two people sat or laid on the wooden platform. Harness belts were put on right before the short the hike and only needed to be adjusted slightly once up in the trees. When we were all on the first platform our wheelchairs were removed from the base and placed in our vehicle that was then driven to our final zip. There was no use for wheelchairs now.
The Zip Yosemite team went right into preparing our first zip. One team member always went first in order to receive us. After one of us was properly secured to a line a Zip Yosemite team member would shout “Ready zip?” to the receiving platform and if ready we would hear “Ready zip!” Gripping tightly to the ropes of the zip we would be sent off in one big swoooosh! Only one person zipped at a time. As we flew across our legs and seat cushion dangled along with the motion. It was important for us to bring the seat cushions with us because a wooden platform is not a suitable surface for paraplegics to be sitting on and sometimes the wait would be up to a half hour in between zips. Charlene Vine recalls that “zip-lining was still a real freeing experience to be able to travel and explore a good portion of the forest I otherwise wouldn’t be able to roll thru. The perspective, smells and sounds of the forest were fresh and invigorating.” To reach faster speeds we were told to keep our body facing towards the platform as opposed to moving. I would start in this manner but then wanting to look around I usually ended up circling to some degree. I even got stuck once towards the end and was too far for them to throw me a rope to catch and be towed in so one of the team members had to come out and get me. It was no big deal. I did not mind hanging there. It was actually pretty cool.
Getting to the second zip was quite challenging. It required crossing a one foot wide, hundred foot long bridge. Our legs were held by at first one person but then figured it was easier if two assisted in this process. At the end of the bridge we were hoisted up onto the platform, in which two people again worked much better than one. I was the second para to cross the bridge and adjustments in this process were still being worked out. Needless to say, I ended up losing a shoe but it was immediately retrieved by one of the team members on the ground. They used a pulley to get it to the platform but I actually decided to take off my shoes for the rest of the zips because I concluded that my thin, low-top tennis shoes just didn’t cut it for this kind of activity. So there I was, a shoeless and paralyzed girl sitting way up in the tree tops. Who could have imagined.
About a hundred feet up in the trees, the platform swayed with the branches as the rain thickened. As a child I absolutely loved to climb trees and it had been over a decade since I had felt being up in a tree. The feeling to be in a tree again was indescribable. “When you’re up sixty feet in a tree, swaying back and forth, looking over the tree-tops down to the central valley, you know you’re somewhere special” (Bill Harrison). The rain did not bother any of us and at one point it even began to hail which made us erupt into laughter. It was wild; all a part of the adventure. “The storm added an extra element of excitement with the trees swaying slightly back and forth,” describes Charlene.
Afterwards all our eyes sparkled like kids on Christmas morning. It was childlike magic. We were also so amazed with how Zip Yosemite made it all possible. “I was really grateful that Zip Yosemite was open to giving us the opportunity to go zip-lining on broad lines like that. Most lines are just one small straight shot but this was a true tour thru the tree tops. It took a bit of work to maneuver all of us around but the whole staff made me feel secure and confident every step of the way. All my needs were taken care of even in the bad weather conditions. Their smiles and positive attitudes definitely helped keep the group’s energy up and added to the experience. The Zip-Yosemite experience is one I’ll never forget. The amazing staff at Zip-Yosemite were super helpful, and not only showed us what to do, but were willing to learn from us as well” says Charlene Vine. Bill Harrison also had the same reaction, “The Zip-Yosemite experience is one I’ll never forget. The amazing staff at Zip-Yosemite were super helpful, and not only showed us what to do, but were willing to learn from us as well. Flying through the canopy, tree to tree is an amazing feeling I can’t wait to have again!”
To get to the Zip Yosemite office follow the direction that you are given; do not follow any form of GPS. The Zip Yosemite office itself is not wheelchair accessible for the time being but adaptions have been made. There is an office across right from the Zip Yosemite where two handicapped parking spots are located, meet there. Inside this building is also an accessible restroom, which is ok to use.
WATCH VIDEO: 4 Paras Zip-Lining thru the Trees Wheelchair-Free
What an amazing adventure! Kudos to the Yosemite Team for their creativity in adapting to paras and making this adventure such fun. And kudos for the fearless and adventurous people in chairs!