Waiting in line to jump from the 50-foot apex of Climb UPton, Northern Virginia’s new ropes course, and trying desperately not to look down, I overhear three 10-year-old girls in front of me. “Are you scared?” one asks.
“No,” another replies, “I’m a Gryffindor.”
Just my luck. I’m a Ravenclaw.
When it’s my turn and I inch my toes out from the edge, the maxim holds true: It always seems taller from the top than from the bottom. Sure, I’d visited the massively higher 1,353-feet observation deck of Chicago’s Willis Tower just earlier that month, but there was a key distinction: Nobody asked me to jump off it. Securing my double bolt harness, I took a deep breath and leapt from the top of Climb UPton.
The $1.3 million ropes course opened last summer in Upton Hill Regional Park and is run by NOVA Parks. I recently attempted it on a sunny spring Saturday.
Actually, I was supposed to attempt it on the previous Saturday. With only a few hours to go, they shut for the day due to icy conditions. Even in clear conditions like the kind in which I actually participated, though, I had to fill out a waiver promising not to sue if I suffered disfigurement, paralysis, or death. Using the same care and attention with which I agreed to the iTunes terms and conditions, I signed, and off we went.
Donning my helmet, I watched the requisite safety video and got to work. I was clipped into the magnetized safety system, with at least one of my two harnesses secured at all times. Even a single harness can supposedly hold up an entire car, so I felt completely safe even with just one of the two clipped in.
Ninety different interconnected “elements,” as Climb UPton calls them, provide physical challenges to climb, trespass, or maneuver around, featuring increasing complexity and difficulty the higher up you go. The top height level probably borders on impossible for children under a certain age. You can attempt as many or as few elements as you choose, and in any order.
Notable elements include wooden planks spaced a challenging distance apart, tires, monkey bars, swinging wooden steps, zip lines, tunnels, a rock wall complete with handholds and footholds, and rings. Having last attempted monkey bars in any form just shy of two decades ago, I can now attest that it’s not as easy as my elementary school memories would have me believe.
My personal favorite element proved to be the full-sized picnic table just suspended from the ropes in midair. As I sat down and mimed eating lunch way up there, my feet dangling dozens of feet above the ground, it occurred to me that I could bring a few friends next time and eat lunch up there for real.
Scaling the three height levels and tackling the various physical challenges, I felt like Spider-Man. Specifically, the Tobey Maguire version who also works for a media publication.
Almost anyone could do this course, though there’s a weight limit of 265 pounds. But with notable exceptions-like those monkey bars-about 80 percent of the obstacles have more to do with balance than physical stamina. You can still reach the top of the three levels without doing any of the strength-related challenges.
For $50 per adult, $40 per child age 8 to 15, or $20 per child age 5 to 7 (kids under 5 aren’t allowed), each customer is allowed an hour and a half on the ropes course, which can accommodate dozens of people simultaneously. Don’t limit yourself to those 90 minutes, though: you and your family or friends can make a whole day out of the park, given the miniature golf course, the batting cages which pitch up to 60 miles per hour, the hiking trails, and the waterpark Ocean Dunes.
“I’m not afraid of heights,” quipped standup comedian Steven Wright, “I’m afraid of widths.” No matter which dimension scares you, try out Climb UPton. Tell them I roped you into it. 6060 Wilson Blvd., Arlington; open for the season through November 27.