Alaska without the Cruise Ship Part 4: Rope Courses and Zip Lines in Ketchikan

Alaska without the Cruise Ship is a 17-part series exploring the ease and advantages of touring Alaska on your own steam and at your own speed.

On our third day in Ketchikan, Alaska my friends and I decided to opt for one of the many “soft adventure” excursions so very popular at cruise ship ports along the coast.

Although we were not traveling by cruise ship, independent travelers can easily take advantage of all the wonderful adventure companies which have sprung up to cater to the cruise industry. Most companies set up kiosks or representatives at the dock to great departing passengers and whisk them away to fjords, rivers, forest canopies, or wherever else their adventure may lie.

The best thing about organizing such trips yourself is that the prices are often lower than those paid in advance on the cruise ship. In addition, one can call ahead and take advantage of the lull times when the ships are not in dock and the excursion might just be you and your buddies.

This was the case when we went kayaking with Southeast Sea Kayaks the day before. Things were a little different on our second adventure, however, as a bus full of cruise ship passengers arrived at Southeast Exposure Outdoor Adventure Center the same time as we did.

The center is located in a heavily wooded area just north of Ketchikan near Knudson Cove Marina. Although the majority of tourists come here for the fine kayaking, we had made the 20-minute journey to play around on the “Rainforest Ropes and Zip Challenge.”

The course was a series of ropes and bridges and zip lines built directly into forest canopy. This might sound scary but the challenges ranged from eight feet off the ground to about twenty. And, we were given helmets, harnesses, and a lengthy safety briefing before venturing treewards. It would actually be rather difficult to find a way to kill or even hurt yourself on this course. And yet, there were still a few people who chickened out.

For the most part, the course was a lesson in balance. Personally, the most challenging part for me was the very first obstacle (above) which featured a log suspended by two ropes. The log swung widely with each step-unless you took it very slow and zen-like. A safety line above provided most people the stability required to make it across; but this was cheating in my opinion.

The remainder of the course consisted of various rope contraptions that required various degrees of balance and stamina to navigate across. The true challenge was doing so without grasping onto the metal cable which always tethered your safety harness to some type of safety line.

The reward for making it across each challenge was a zip line. The zips were a little too short to really be considered scary but they were fun nonetheless. Squeals of delight echoed throughout the forest every time someone launched their way down one of them.

Oh, and I should point out that a crew member was present at the start and finish of each zip line to ensure no one slammed into a tree or failed to hook in properly. As it turned out, we had only one accident. One of my friends managed to drop her camera from one of the highest points of the course. The ground where it landed was so cushioned with brush and pine needles and heavy growth, however, that the camera was not damaged at all.

We finished our day at the Adventure Center with a few summits of their climbing wall. Helmets and safety harnesses were slapped back on and each of us worked our way up the wall using a variety of handholds and routes.

Climbers can pick the degree of difficulty by climbing different parts of the wall or only using specifically colored handholds. You can rest assured that your fearless Gadling writer (below) chose the most dangerous, never-before-conquered route, setting a new standard that all future climbers can only aspire towards. Or not.

Yesterday: Things to do on the Water in Ketchikan
Tomorrow: The Eagles and Salmon of Ketchikan