It was while I was taking my first step across a tightrope almost 100 feet high that I realized I wasn’t afraid of heights — but that I was terrified of falling from high places. I was strapped into a harness with a tether, which was clipped to my waist and attached to a steel track overhead — but still my heart was racing. I’d already committed to crossing the rope, so I wrapped my hands tightly around my umbilical harness and took another step across the world’s highest indoor ropes course.
Palisades Climb, located inside the Palisades Center Mall, has been making palms sweat since December 2012. Just gazing at the tower of steel tracks, rope bridges, balance beams, and slacklines can be intimidating, but manager and head trainer Thomas Smith insists that safety is of utmost importance — especially since the top level of the course reaches five stories, rising above the mall’s fourth and final floor. “What makes this course unique in safety is that you’re never unattached. In other places you can unhook yourself, but here you are double-locked into your harness and attached to the course through all five levels,” he says. Each level is staffed by an orange-clad employee, trained to jump in should any sort of distress occur. “I call them Sky Lifeguards,” says Smith.
It should be noted that “safe” doesn’t mean “dull.” The structure was designed so that its 75 challenges provide about 45 minutes of excitement, no matter what your level of skill might be. “The course helps with agility, focus, balance, and stamina — which is effective for everyone from children to experienced climbers,” Smith says. For the youngest set (children under 48 inches), there’s a Sky Tykes mommy-and-me program on a separate playground. Sky Tykes passes are $8.99, regular course admission is $16.99.
Thrill maze: A view of the Palisades Climb from above
Group Sales Manager Kevin Kessler says he attempts the course often and has seen a noticeable weight loss because of it. “One day we wore calorie counters to see how much we’d burn from start to end. I burned 500,” he says, as other staffers chime in that Kessler’s gone down one harness size.
Kessler’s job is to set up group visits, including corporate team building, special-needs field trips, scout troop outings, and birthday parties. “Whether you come with a group, solo, or with a friend, you can still have a great time. Recently a father-and-son duo went through the course pretending to be Batman and Robin,” he laughs. “I tell people — especially kids — to have fun and be imaginative. It especially works if you’re nervous — be a pirate, a superhero, anything.”
I’ll admit that I stored that tip in the back of my mind while I was getting ready to attempt the course. Although I’m an avid adventurist, there were a couple of ropes challenges I wasn’t ready to try, and some I attempted only after watching a Sky Lifeguard coax a young girl half my height across. But after I finished the course — thanks to encouragement from Kessler, Smith, and the staff — I realized that — despite the rewards of plowing through fear and getting a good workout — the best part was remembering how to let go and just have fun.