Nestled in the trees of Fort Tuthill Recreation Area sits the Flagstaff Extreme Ropes Course, a hidden gem of an obstacle course and zipline adventure. At $40/person, the course is reasonably priced compared to similar activities in other places and the obstacles themselves are a fun twist on a classic course.
Flagstaff Extreme offers a mostly self-guided experience. Each visitor gets a harness that they wear throughout, with carabiners that clip in to the red safety lines on the obstacles and during transitions. The harness also, naturally, holds a zipline attachment. After a 30-minute training session on clipping in, keeping the carabiners facing opposite directions and the best way to climb ladders, guests are set free to explore the course at their own pace.
The obstacles must be completed in order, but visitors clip themselves in and out of the red safety lines above each obstacle, with guides below watching to ensure everyone is following procedure. Many guests hold on to the red safety line in front of their harness, others complete each route with their balance alone. Some walk slowly, others dash through, or even wrestle their friends on select obstacles. It's up to each person's fitness and comfort levels. Guides never touch the harnesses, and the company prides itself on its literal and figurative hands-off approach.
The ropes course looks small at first glance, but rest assured, it has plenty to offer. The obstacles nest in on each other, sometimes even passing over one another. Harder courses lie above the easier courses in clever switchbacks that make the most of the forest space.
Obstacles are creative, and sure to get any heart pumping, and maybe even racing, as each circuit climbs higher into the trees. Highlights include an aerial 'surfboard,' a Tarzan-like swing into a cargo net, a small, suspended rock wall, and of course plenty of ziplines. Circuits are separated into categories, from blue to black, with a zipline reward at the end of each set. Visitors can also climb down in between obstacle sets for a rest, or when they are done for the day.
Categories ramp up in difficulty from green to black, starting with simple rocking bridges and finishing up at black with a ropes-and-rings obstacle worthy of a gymnastics team. Complete all five sets, and buy the t-shirt. (No, it's not free, but no one can buy it without completing the black course).
There's also a short yellow course for kids under the height limit (7 years and up), making the ropes course fun for the whole family. Adults who aren't interested in climbing can take fantastic photos of the young ones at play. The guides in this area watch more closely, to make sure children are acting safely and don't get stuck, and the whole course is only a few feet off the ground for additional safety.
Rachel Buzzard, speaking for the ropes course, says that very fit, active guests will want to get there in the early morning, especially during the monsoon season. “Everyone goes at their own pace, and it can get crowded,” she says. Crowds can cause some waiting on the more difficult or nerve-wracking obstacles. It is possible to carefully pass a slower guest on the platforms between obstacles, but it's impossible to pass on the obstacles themselves – there's only one safety line.
Good news for eco-tourists and tree-huggers – the ropes course doesn't drill holes or otherwise damage the environment. Buzzard explains: “It's a European-style course, which means it's all tension. We have an arborist come out once a year to check on the trees' health. Without the trees, we don't have a course.”
That's good news for the fairgrounds. Long after the ropes course has packed up each year, the forest is healthy and whole.
Some parting advice? “Eat breakfast,” Buzzard says. “People think it's just a zipline course, but it's really a three-to-four-hour intense workout.”