In 2010, an ancient apple orchard was placed on the market for the first time in decades. Known throughout Central Washington State as the “Knapps Coulee Orchard”, it consisted of more than 100 fertile acres on a spectacular plateau overlooking the Columbia River. Upon seeing the incredible views of the River and the nearby mountains, Richard Kelley literally raced to the real estate office in nearby Lake Chelan in order to be the first in line with earnest money in hand. His initial concept was to convert the orchard lands to vineyards, and thereby spend a happy retirement as a gentleman vintner.
It was nearly a week later before Kelley’s attention left the green orchards to focus on the sheer volcanic cliffs that rose sharply from every corner of the property. Concerned that some future developer might impact his proposed vineyards, Kelley and a friend returned to the real estate office and procured a map of the land he was purchasing. An hour and a half later, the pair stood atop a granite promontory, taking in a breathtaking view, astonished that all that lay before them was in fact part of the land he was buying!
The pair spent the day hiking from cliff to cliff, marveling at the incredible views that seemed to get more spectacular with each summit. It wasn’t until late afternoon, when exhaustion set in, and the two sat gazing at the final promontory in the distance, and more critically, at the daunting canyon that separated them from it. It was at that moment that the idea of Tunnel Zip Lines sprang to life: “Wouldn’t it be cool if we could just zip from one cliff to the other?”
That was June of 2010. In the two years since that epiphany, an eight-station zip tour was formulated and presented to the County Planning Department for approval. A lengthy process ensued, until, in May of 2012, a “Conditional Use Permit” was issued, allowing “Castle Vineyards” to lease a slice of its volcanic cliffs to Tunnel Zip Lines where one of the fastest lines in North America now awaits the daring.
The County’s permit directed that the tour be divided into two phases. Hence, a four-zip tour has been constructed as Phase One which will be the final four stages of next year’s complete eight-zip tour.
The Tour, Phase I
Participants are driven to the base of the cliffs where a trail takes them to the Phase One stations. From there, they zip across two canyons, arriving at “The Gallows”, an 880-foot sheer drop from one of the cliffs down to the highway. Until the spring of 2012, the Gallows laid claim to the fastest zip line in North America, a claim that languished in obscurity pending the formal permits needed to open the tour to the public. In the interim, as zip lines appeared across the continent, that title has been snatched by a Tennessee tour which was completed late this spring (2012). Regrettably, the Gallows must now resign itself to the title “One of the Fastest in North America”, never receiving the recognition it held in silence for over a year.
But the Gallows retains a unique distinction: plans are under way for the construction of a true gallows trap door. The willing participants need not fear that they will step to the edge of the zipping platform and freeze (as several have done). That decision will be placed in the hands of their black-hooded tour guide, whose steady hand will rest upon the handle of the platform release bar. At the moment of his choosing, the handle will be pulled and the platform will collapse beneath the hapless victim who will determine for himself just how fast the Gallows Zip Line truly is. Dropping down the face of the cliff, he will be transported over the roof of “The Teacher’s Cabin” (a 1908 homesteader shack) and from there across the corner of the newly-installed cherry orchard and vineyard. Crossing the first half of the 880-foot cable in a little over 4 seconds, the participant will make contact with a bungee restraint system that will retard his speed and eventually bring him to a stop. But it is not over: the bungee, which has been extended to its full length, will act as a slingshot, propelling the participant back across the vineyard, the orchard and The Teacher’s Cabin, and partially up the cliff. From there, he will return back down the cable, ultimately ending at the lowest point in the system, where a scissor lift will rise to enable him to be returned to terra firma.