Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The Scary Story about Catamount Adventure Park, NY

I am still stressed about this, so that's another reason I haven't written it all down yet. And then, I wrote this whole thing down, but wondered if James would mind that I posted it. So I checked with him first, and he said go ahead. So here ya go. The scary story.

(With all this build up, y'all will probably think it isn't scary at all. But it's scary to me, and to James too. In fact, my heart still pounds thinking about it.)


When you do high adventure kinds of activities, there is always an element of risk. In fact, the FEELING of riskiness has been around ever since the kids were little and I took them camping and stressed out over whether they would attract wildlife with food in their tent or overheat because they didn't drink enough water. And yet, as they are getting older, and the activities are getting more risky.... my stress over possible problems is getting less pronounced. I take a lot more in stride now than I did when they were little.

Planning a zip line trip, I felt comfortable with the activity. I looked at the info from the place, and they said that they were certified and safety inspected; they usually operate as a ski resort. It isn't a "fly by night" organization. We had liability waivers to sign. We've signed similar waivers for things like skiing, or horseback riding. There is a risk, but how bad of a risk? We trust the people who are running this organization to create a safe environment, in spite of the fact that we are signing an acknowledgement that "accidents happen."

We had a group of teenagers to be responsible for. Their parents had either signed the waiver before we left, or they had come with us. But the parents have faith in US, that we feel it's a safe activity. They sign, but I'm sure they feel that "if it was dangerous, you wouldn't do it."

And yeah.... of the group of 13 or 14 people we were with who went on the zip lines, we had 12 or 13 who were completely fine, had a great time, challenged themselves, managed their fears, learned something about themselves and their abilities. And even James, who had the "problem," kept going afterwards; he didn't quit, he did a few more courses, and he said it was still a worthwhile activity and he was glad he was there. He had fun, he said. (Was he just saying that to make me feel better?)

So. The "scare". In brief.

James is a big guy. The regular harness didn't fit correctly. The staff acknowledged this, and said that he should wear the "other" safety harness. It was a bigger harness, a more safe harness, not just around his hips but also around his upper body. But they were joking around as they helped him put it on that they really didn't use it often. I definitely got the feeling that they didn't know how it worked, especially in retrospect.

James "zipped" through the adventure park obstacle course for a while with no issues.

But then he got to the trapeze section.

Two safety lines get attached to a carabiner at each point, one at a time, at each element of the course. Safety is certainly an issue, but it's up to you to be sure that you clip yourself in like you are supposed to. That seems like the most dangerous issue. And there is no one watching to make sure that you clip yourself in. But that wasn't even the problem.

So if you slip off the trapeze, which James did, your safety lines catch you. And James' safety lines did catch him. So that part was OK.

He slid, on his safety lines, to the end of the "trapeze" line, where he would get on to the platform, except he couldn't get up on it. He was too low. And I don't know exactly what happened. But they started to tow him back to the starting platform. I was snapping pictures from the ground, with his dad, not thinking anything of it. In fact, I didn't even realize he'd slipped off the trapeze until later, when I looked back at the photos.

(my heart is pounding again, just writing this and thinking about it.)

And I heard James say, "Hey, my leg strap just snapped."

I thought to myself, "Well, this is a good time to go get someone from the Staff. Probably no big deal, I'm probably over reacting like usual. He'll get here and James will be on the platform already, and everyone will laugh at me. But that's fine." And I started yelling, "EXCUSE ME! STAFF! WE NEED HELP OVER HERE!" But no one was listening, and I wasn't running or really freaking out, because like I said, I thought I was over-reacting.

I finally get someone to pay attention to me, and the guy walked over with a drill. I guess they get a lot of people freaking out when the tree platforms loosen up. And at some point, I hear someone say, "The other leg strap snapped."

I yell at staff guy -- "It isn't the platform, it's his harness!!!" And at the same time, I see the staff guy register what happened in his mind.

We look at James, and he's holding on to the platform, hanging on by his hands, and attached by shoulder buckles to the safety lines. But the shoulder harness is NOT the harness that is supposed to be holding you up there; the leg parts are. And both sections of harness around his legs have come undone and are dangling.

Meanwhile, my brother-in-law Steve is trying to help James get up onto the platform, but is having no luck at all.

The employee dropped the drill he had grabbed and ran to the end of a zip line, took a little motor out of his pack. He zipped up the line in a flash. At that point, I think my eyes glazed over, because I don't even know what they did, but they finally got him up on the platform and hooked his harness back up -- the way it was supposed to be -- and let him sit and get his breath back.

Me, too. I had to sit and get my breath back.

I was so glad to get that kid down from the tree in one piece!

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And yes, after he got down, and the employee (and his dad) checked out his safety harness, he got back up there and zipped around a little while longer. It seemed that what must have happened was that the buckles must have been threaded wrong, which allowed them to come undone. They have to be done a certain way.

James was most certainly the bravest kid up there this weekend. Because after all, the other kids didn't even see what happened. They felt brave just being up there in the trees and on the tightropes. James, though, actually FELL. And his equipment malfunctioned. And he obviously didn't get hurt -- and he also didn't give up.

I confronted my own fear, as you see, because my own fear is being responsible for these kids while they are being kids. I do believe they need to take risks, and grow, and be brave. I even believe that they need to get hurt once in a while -- hopefully only scrapes and bruises, though! C'mon!

I was less than thrilled with the safety of the Catamount Adventure Park. And they didn't make any effort to make me feel better about it. After the whole James incident, James' Dad and I stood around and watched while kids forgot to hook themselves in, and while little kids were doing courses all by themselves with no adult supervision.

So, yeah. It was a lot of fun. It was almost really bad, but everything worked out OK.

But for the future, remember this:

When someone asks you to sign a safety liability waiver,

Assume that it's because there IS DANGER.

(James, I'm glad you are OK.)


Anonymous said...

Proud of James for going on!
Glad I wasn't there, the paramedics would have been taking me out with a heart attack! I am not just afraid of heights, but can't even look at other people that are at great heights.

Seraphine said...

that was even scary to read! having zip-lined, i have some appreciation of the danger.
the advice about wavers is right on. When you sign one, you have to take the activity seriously. but that doesn't absolve the company providing the experience from the responsibility of doing it safely.
i'm appalled that they didn't have trained staff at each platform to make sure everyone was attached to the zip correctly. so much can go wrong- just look at all the zip-line accident youtube videos.
yay for james. it sounds like he (and the other kids) had an otherwise great time.
hugs to you for all the worry.

Beth said...

I can just hear Jimmy now....aaaah, he's ok....nothing to it... and James the ever trooper...