The tower was a medieval-looking structure – a tripod constructed of massive timbers which looked like over-sized telephone poles. Wrapped with ropes the thickness of my upper arm, the structure rose into the grey afternoon sky. There were climbing holds stapled along the legs at various points, and climbing ropes draped from its height. There was a platform on top where one could stand and look out over the Connecticut countryside. My first impression was that it looked like a siege weapon from a Lord of the Rings movie, only missing a few attendant orcs. It was at once challenging and forbidding. And the closer I walked toward it the more uncomfortable I felt.
It was the afternoon break during a conference. Participants could snooze, chat, read, play ball or –as was my case — check out the “ropes course.” But this was unlike any challenge course I had seen. Instead of cables strung between treetops there was this lone structure in a field, tended by a staff of three whose task it was to ensure the safety of climbers who would ascend belayed in harnesses.
I was the first to arrive, and wandered below the three-legged device. I looked up and felt slightly dizzy. No one had come to climb the tower yet, and I had no intention of trying to climb it. My plan was to hang out and watch more valiant souls do it.
Being curious, I peppered the climbing safety team with questions, such as who made the tower, how it was used, and how safe it was. Admittedly, deep down, I had always wanted to address my own long-standing fear of heights. Sure, I’d had limited encounters with vertical space, such as clambering up the Forehead of Mount Mansfield in Vermont and scaling Katahdin in Maine. But those, while risky, never involved as much anxiety as the notion of climbing this tower seemed to.
After a few questions, one team members offered a candid comment. “Even kids love climbing this thing,” she said. OK, I could understand how fearless children, restrained with rope and safety harness, would not hesitate to tackle this over-sized Tinker Toy. But then came the clincher.
“They even climb it blindfolded!”