New Highs

I’VE SCUBA-DIVED WITH HAMMERHEADS in the South Pacific, rafted a tumultuous river in British Columbia, biked straight down a volcano in Hawaii, and been chased by wart hogs on a walking safari in South Africa. But I never thought I’d find myself standing atop the tall maples and firs of the southern Berkshires, flying through the air on a tree rope à la Tarzan and shrieking with delight.

As a travel writer with a fear of heights, I have always turned down assignments having to do with harnesses, carabiners, cables — essentially anything that involves dangling high in the sky. Now, for the first time in 46 years, I had allowed a harness to be fitted to my body, hooking a carabiner (that metal coupling used by rock climbers) to cables attached to the trees atop the Catamount Adventure Park.

After the briefest of introductions to using the equipment, a guide handed me a pair of gloves and sent me off alone to a treetop obstacle course. The object there was to simply reach the next platform — which is not always so simple when your palms are sweaty and your mind is consumed with the possibility of free falling. But I took a deep breath and attached that first carabiner to the cable, then walked across a suspension bridge.

What I found was no summer-camp ropes course. Opened two years ago, Catamount’s playground in the trees is the largest aerial adventure park in New England, with a mind-boggling 150 platforms, some of them 60 terrifying (for an acrophobe like me, at least) feet above ground. During the course of the afternoon, I ziplined down a long cable, grabbed a trapeze swing and glided across a bridge while standing on an ersatz snowboard, and placed my feet in horse stirrups that dangled precariously from ropes, the only way to continue onward. Soon I was so immersed in the adventure at hand, overcoming obstacle after obstacle, that I actually forgot I was hanging from treetops six stories high.

By the time I arrived at the final rope swing, I was hooked. I grabbed the line, jumped off the platform, and let out an exhilarated yelp before being flung headlong into a weblike mesh. That fear of heights? Ancient history.

The best adventures take you away from your mundane worries, dropping you deep in the woods or out on the ocean, where the only thing on your mind is how to get back intact — preferably having had the most fun possible. For decades in New England, the goal for lovers of the outdoors might have been bagging a Presidential peak in the Whites, biking on the rolling backcountry roads of Vermont, or paddling the sinuous rivers of northern Maine. Then the new millennium arrived, and with it came a new wave of activities, taking old sports like surfing and transforming them into something both more accessible and more intense. Now aerial adventures, standup paddleboarding, geocaching, and backcountry snowboarding are all just beginning to enter the mainstream.