Cape Fearless Extreme Opens in Riegelwood
Cape Fearless Extreme in Riegelwood offers a radical tree-top adventure.
I’m a child of the ’90s, when everything was extreme. Extreme juice boxes and candy. Extreme nachos and Big Gulps. Extreme sports. Wasn’t there even a band called Extreme?
While the ’90s were full of risk for a lot of kids, my most extreme activity was downing a bag of Triple Xtreme Doritos after school. Let us just say I have never been an athletic or particularly risky person.
But at the age of 41 I was willing to take a stab at extreme physical activity for the first time at Cape Fearless Extreme in Riegelwood.
The tree-top aerial adventure course is set on a beautiful 25-acre forested property that’s about 30 minutes west of Wilmington. It officially opened in April but I got to experience two levels of the course early, on a sunny day in March, with the guidance of the business’s managing partners, Chris Sherry and Ron England, and their team of guides.
The course requires hands-on interaction, but the level of preparation is minimal: wear closed-toe shoes, tie back long hair, don’t wear jewelry, avoid flowy, over-sized clothing and use the bathroom before strapping into the complicated harness.
I met those initial requirements and was eager to get through the demo training. Sherry helped fit me into my harness and showed me how to attach myself to the safety cables and ziplines. Once I could demonstrate that I could handle the equipment, he said I was ready. He assured me that along the way, he and the guides would observe and lead me in the proper use of equipment. And as we reached different patrol points along the course, I would know exactly where the next level begins and ends so I could pull the cord, so to speak, and exit if I had enough.
But first I had so many questions. Is it safe? Will I fall? How do I do this? Sherry and England reassured me of their team’s experience and know-how.
“We managed a course up in Pennsylvania for years,” England said. “And our builders are from Outplay. They travel around the world building parks like this.”
Outplay Adventures is accredited by the Association for Challenge Course Technology (ACCT), which is the world’s foremost supporter, educator and standards developer in the tree-top adventure industry. “So you know Chris and I aren’t out there building it ourselves,” England said. “We’re not just two guys saying hey let’s build a zipline park and move down south and you know, start hanging things from trees.”
In fact, he said, the production and design team is one of the best in the world. They are based in France and have built parks in Dubai, all through Europe, in Canada and in the United States. They look for trees that are strong, healthy and durable.
“Everything we’ve done is to make the forest healthier,” Sherry said. “A nationally certified arborist checked every tree for health. The trees actually become stronger once they are cabled and guided out.”
Running, maintaining and owning the only tree-top adventure park in the area also involves keeping an eye on the weather. The guides have the ability to lower guests down no matter where they are on the course. “We watch the radar and we know when those thunderstorms are coming,” England said. “Our guys can do [an evacuation] pretty quick. We evacuated 100 guests up in Pennsylvania in 10 minutes.”
And the gear? They said it’s the best in the business. “It’s a state-of-the-art safety system called CLiC-iT. By using a system that prevents double-unclicking, the guides can concentrate more on the good guest experience,” England said. CLiC-iT minimizes the risks of accidental unhooking between ladder and turbine. The systems ensure everything locks in place, from the carabiner to the climbing rope.
Fully prepped and satisfied with the answers to my questions, I set out to master the Green level – the bunny slope so to speak. I clicked onto the rope line and climbed the ladder to the first platform. I stepped out, walked across the tightrope and made it to the next tree. It’s where I got comfortable with the equipment and the rhythm of moving through each element.
“Hey, that wasn’t so bad!” I shouted to Sherry. “You just walk across!” He and England traded a glance. Little did I know, the Blue course was waiting for me.
It’s an understatement to say that strategy, not strength, must be utilized when crossing the wobbly bridges and swinging pieces of wood on the Blue course. I clung to the cable line overhead and awkwardly placed a foot onto a pendulous plank – and proceeded to form a goofy half-split.
I prayed. I took another step and did another weird split/walk onto the next plank. And another. And another. And I made it across, heart rate slightly elevated.
“You were supposed to grab onto the ropes,” England said when I made it to the platform. I looked back and realized I had clung to the wire overhead instead of the easily accessible ropes. Had I just become a FAIL video? I looked behind as Sherry demonstrated the right way to meet the adventure, sort of like a swinging gibbon monkey.
Okay. So I was learning, and with each stage completed, I found a natural rhythm and forgot I was dozens of feet in the air. I noticed the fresh pine fragrance, the sweet bird songs. As I climbed even farther into the tree canopy, I felt like I could touch the sky. I wasn’t afraid to fall.
“It doesn’t matter if you are one or fifty feet up, because even if you slip with your harness, the lifeline is overhead, hanging the same way,” England said. “You can’t go anywhere.”
He said they have a lot of guests who say they’re afraid of heights. “But after they try the course they say, ‘I didn’t even realize it – I was concentrating so much on what I was doing, I really wasn’t paying much attention to how high off the ground I was!’”
While it normally takes three to four hours to get all the way through a course, on this occasion our tour ended after an hour, near the Red and Black courses, which were still under construction during my visit.
Ron surveyed the clearing, the giant hardwood tree they named Bob and the busy consort of French and Canadian workers. “Here we’ll have water spread throughout the course, a 650-foot zip at the end, action elements, a rope. We’ll have a surfboard to stand on and go zooming through the course.” He looked around proudly, and I was impressed. Not many locals would guess such a magical forest and tree-top adventure is hidden away on the backroads of Riegelwood.
I left feeling grateful for my first extreme experience and touched by the spirit of camaraderie I enjoyed with the team. This is a tree-top adventure worth sharing with friends, co-workers, family and kids – whether 7 or 97, fit or not-so-fit.
I’ll be returning with my family this summer. (And maybe pop an aspirin or two after the course. Oh, my aching hamstrings!)