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Return to the Trees

The woods of the Spring Mountain Ski Area hide one of the region's best outdoor recreational attractions.

Paleontologists tell us that the forerunners of mankind came down from the trees and began living on the ground several million years ago.

Anyone who believes this was a grave mistake should consider a visit to Spring Mount, just a few minutes outside the western Montgomery County borough of Schwenksville.

There, hidden between the snowless slopes of the Spring Mountain Ski Area, they will find a labyrinthine network of platforms, rope ladders and steel cables that are all but guaranteed to put visitors in touch with their inner monkey.

Of course, our arboreal ancestors didn't need to wear a helmet and nylon harness. For most people, though, that's an easy concession to make in exchange for the opportunity to careen through the leaves at 50 miles per hour while suspended three stories over the forest floor.

These are the Canopy Zip Line Tours operated by Spring Mountain Adventures, and they comprise one of the most thrilling outdoor experiences to be had within an hour's drive of the Delaware Valley.

The zip lines are Spring Mountain's premiere attraction during the skiing offseason. They typically operate from April through October, but guide Casey Hughes said the tours can sometimes continue into November, provided the weather is warm enough.

"As long as it's at least 38 degrees, we can zip," Hughes said.

Colder temperatures can lead to ice forming on the zip lines, affecting their safety.

Ice was not a concern on the day Patch visited the mountain, as temperatures were in the low 90s with humidity that had everyone sweating profusely underneath their helmets. The woods somehow made the air feel even thicker, as though it had been sealed in by the leafy ceiling overhead.

Michelle Doelp, of Coopersburg, had brought her family to the slopes for an afternoon of adventure, but was having second thoughts by the time she stood at the edge of the grated metal platform that marked the beginning of the course.

Bolted halfway up the trunk of a massive oak tree, the platform gave the nine-person tour group a spectacular view of the surrounding treescape, pierced by a single metal cable that seemed to descend into nowhere.

"I'm terrified of heights," Doelp said, admitting that perhaps she hadn't fully thought the matter through when she proposed the outing to her husband and children.

The distant voice of guide Alex Lauderback echoed up from the trees below. "Clear!"

Prompted by Hughes, Doelp responded. "Ready to zip!"

"Zip away!" shouted Lauderback.

Doelp gingerly let go and began to slide down the cable. Slowly, for a second or two, but then gravity took over as the wheels of the zip harness picked up speed and emitted a coarse, high-pitched whine.

Doelp vanished into the leaves. A few seconds later, Lauderback called up again. "Clear!"

One by one, each member of the group hurtled through the trees, wind rushing past their heads as the forest spun around them. Lauderback, grinning broadly, waited at the far end of the cable to assist each of them onto the next platform.

The excited whoops and shouts of other zippers could be heard elsewhere in the forest. Perhaps inspired by them, Doelp's daughter Liz soon found a comfort zone in the treetops. By the time she reached the third zip line, Liz was happily cruising down the cable upside-down and backwards.

She appeared to take after her father, Glen.

"That was awesome," Glen Doelp said.

The Doelps had signed up for the abbreviated "Easy Rider" tour, which takes about an hour. The longer "Full Monty" tour takes about three hours and includes a number of obstacle course "challenges" that look as though they are on loan from the U.S. Marine Corps training facility.

Even the "Easy Rider" required participants to return to terra firma by way of a low-tension bridge consisting of ropes and a series of metal plates about the width of a skateboard. Once the Doelp family traversed this, they rappeled down another huge tree trunk to the earth below.

"I think you've earned yourself some ice cream," Glen Doelp said to his wife, whose hands were visibly trembling.

"I've earned more than ice cream," Michelle Doelp said.

Attraction: Canopy Tours at Spring Mountain Adventures
Address: 757 Spring Mount Road - Spring Mount
Website: www.springmountainadventures.com/canopytours.php
  
Admission Fee: $25-150 per person, depending on peak/off-peak pricing, selected program, and number of people in party

  • Monday through Wednesday, 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.
  • Thursday and Friday, 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
  • Saturday, 8:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.
  • Sunday, 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m
  • Individual tours for each program run at specific times during these hours of operation. Visit the website for details.

Spring Mountain requests that participants weigh between 70 and 250 pounds and be in "good to moderate health." Children under 10 are not permitted; children from 10 to 17 must be accompanied by an adult. A liability waiver is required to enter any of the courses. A 10 to 20 percent tip for the guides is expected at the conclusion of each tour.

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