Zipline over the world’s most active lava lake

It isn’t every day that a Brazilian celebrity calls you to see if you’ll zipline her over Erta Ale volcano in Ethiopia. But if you know Frederick Schuett, this is the type of requests that fulfills his need for extreme adventure and exploration. Karina Oliani chose Schuett because she had seen his previous expedition to Turkmenistan to zipline across and into the crater of fire with National Geographic and George Kourounis.

After agreeing to the expedition, Schuett wanted the heat suits to look different from the last expedition. Instead of putting Oliani in a bulky suit designed for men working with molten metal, he wanted to design a bespoke suit. He consulted with Nikki Quilley, ex-collections Director to John Galliano on the Paris runway and brainstormed options. He wanted an attractive suit that was still fully functional.

Custom sewn locally, he decided on the third version and the two new suits had a more superhero feel and added shape to the wearer. Sponsors such as Carbon X came on board and donated fire proof fabric, Bollard donated fire rescue helmets, Mechanix Gloves donated fire resistant gloves and DEUS Rescue donated technora heat resistant ropes.

The expedition itself was seven-days, in and out of the Afar depression (the hottest and driest place in the world). The team hiked four hours from basecamp through inhospitable terrain and camels were used to carry the equipment. The team slept in primitive rock huts at the edge of the crater. The team worked in above 40 degree temperatures and were escorted by the Ethiopian military, with machine guns to keep the team safe because of the threat of terrorism.

The zipline was difficult to set up even with previous consultation with an ex-military colleague. It was challenging to make solid anchors on loose, crumbling, abrasive lava rock. Even with gas masks on, the acidic air burned their eyes and lungs if the wind blew toward them. Schuett single-handedly rigged the zipline across the crater through the night so it would be ready as the sun was cresting the horizon. Oliani became the first woman to cross the lava lake on the zipline, with Schuett minutes later as the first man to cross. The full documentary will be released in Brazil this year.

April 2018

What happened to Zipline Extreme?

Ziplines. Everyone seems to have done one before somewhere. It’s either on your bucket list or you crossed that one off ages ago. They even have mini ones at the playground and they are getting installed in backyards for kids.

Eighteen years ago, when we developed the Zipline Extreme program to be part of our courses, we were offering something totally different. Ziplines were not ubiquitous. We were probably one of the first companies in Ontario to offer ziplining for recreation (technically a tyrolean traverse which is used in rescue scenarios).

Even today, our Zipline Extreme program is different from others. It isn’t the tree-to-tree type you get in Costa Rica nor is it the steel cable sort that goes so fast you can’t breathe. We pride ourselves in teaching people a skill that they can use. Our instructors teach you step by step how to rappel down the cliff independently. And you have to spend the morning becoming confident in rappelling before we let you jump off the cliff on a zipline and rappel yourself down 80ft into the water.

This new generation wants fast fun. They just want to jump, and post it on social media in real time or even post it live as they are jumping (I am like that too!). It’s harder for them to wait. To savour. To enjoy the day outdoors, learning something, meeting new people, listening to the expedition stories of the instructors. Zipline extreme is more slow paced. More like the fine dining of outdoor adventure.

If you want the fast food version, we certainly have our Elora SkyRider Zipline which is a great first zipline that allows a three-year old to either autonomously ride by themselves or choose to tandem ride with a parent. We should probably thank countless cartoons who have made that zipline mainstream. And it isn’t just for small children. The majority who ride are adults with our wisest rider at age 93.

We’ve decided to rename Zipline Extreme. It seems more accurate to call it Extreme Rappelling with Zipline. All along, we probably should have called it extreme rappelling; because that is what is. So, if you are worried that we chucked the Zipline Extreme program, please don’t worry. It’s just under a new name. Because a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.

March 2018

Are you ready for Ice Climbing right here in Ontario?

There are amazing destinations in the world to ice climb. In 2007, we were asked to join an expedition to Antarctica to run ice climbing tours for intrepid travellers. That was the same year we had our first child so that didn’t materialize. Although it may have been fun to have a baby while navigating the most treacherous water crossing in the world through a hurricane (will have to tell that story another time).Let’s just say the Drake’s passage crossing has made me decide never to take a cruise again. Ever.

Back to ice climbing. There are some great places to climb in Ontario such as Thunder Bay, Lake Superior, Muskoka, Huntsville but usually the drive makes it less desirable as a day trip. Most people have no idea that they can ice climb less than one hour from Toronto! One of the main locations, Tiffany Falls in Hamilton, has a spectacular horseshoe shaped waterfall where the ice is thick and peaks at 80-ft high. This is a great destination for large groups and the Alpine Club climbs there on Sundays while ONE AXE Pursuits has exclusive rights on Saturdays. At this time, general public is not allowed to climb without us but we are all working on changing that so that the public can have access too. At this point, you have to be with us or with the ACC to climb there. Unfortunately, for the last couple years, Tiffany Falls hasn’t formed well due to the warm temperatures.

Enter new favourite location: Elora (1.5 hours from Toronto). The ice climbs in Elora usually form later in the season and for those who have climbed Scary Pillar, you know that the natural forming climbs are not really beginner routes and can easily pump you out because they are so steep. After a year of Tiffany Falls having insufficient ice and a lot of disappointed clients, we decided to take matters into our own hands. With permission from the township, we procured the equipment to pump the river water up to the top of a section of cliff. This allows us to create our own ice climbs so that we can offer courses earlier in the season.

Ice farming has made me appreciate all the farmers who are slaves to the weather. During ice climbing season, I think I check the weather five times per day on average. We scour weather apps for predictions for nights with ideal ice building conditions. We stay up all night and watch the ice drip, redirecting the water constantly to create the best ice. This is serious business. After about 40 hours of building ice in ideal temperatures we will have four ice climbs ready. Ice climbers are welcome top rope climb (with their own equipment) on our ice when we are not using it to run courses or running water to build or repair the ice. Climbers are welcome to contact us to find out more about this option. Looking forward to this 2018 season.