I’m sitting in a harness strapped to a zip wire with my feet resting on a vertical trap door. Way down below, I can see the Celebrity Infinity (our cruise ship) docked at Icy Strait Point. One of the staff is putting a pair of goggles on me; “This’ll help you keep your eyes open against the wind” he says. I smile and thank him, but internally thinking that I will be keeping my eyes tight shut. I’m about to descend on the World’s Largest Zip Rider and it’s too late to back out now!
Icy Strait Point is one of the stopping points on our Alaskan cruise and home to the World’s Largest Zip Rider. Icy Strait Point is located just outside the small village of Hoonah, on the pan handle of Alaska. It was specifically developed as a tourist destination, by the Huna Totem Corporation, which is owned by more than 1400 shareholders who have ties to the village of Hoonah. It’s home to a museum, shops, restaurants and a number of excursions (whale watching, fishing, kayaking, bear watching etc.).
Among the many excursions at Icy Strait Point the most adrenaline inducing has to be the Zip Rider. At 1300 feet high (higher than the Empire State Building) and 5330 feet long, it claims to be the world’s largest Zip Rider. This is on the basis that it allows upto six people to descend each time. It is also the tallest Zip Rider in North America. Starting at the top of a mountain, it’s a thrilling ride to the shoreline, where you reach up to dizzying speeds of 60mph.
Our adventure starts at the Icy Strait Point visitor centre. You are not allowed to take bags on the ZipRider and anything that doesn’t fit into your pockets has to be checked-in. You also have to sign a disclaimer, essentially signing away your right to sue if things go wrong.
Next, we are on a bus for our ride to the top. Our guide is a local, who greets us in local Tinglit language. During the 45 minute ride up, he tells us about local customs, culture and wildlife.
We pass through the village of Hoonah, which is a fairly small settlement. Fishing is the main industry here, followed by tourism. Lot of people work for the armed forces.
There is also an airport, for small twin engine planes from Juneau.
As we get to the top of the mountain, we get to see some great scenery.
After the bus brings us to the top of the mountain, we make our way to the Zip Rider tower. Here, we are divided into groups of six. There are 4 groups that go before ours, so plenty of time to watch what happens, hear the screams and get nervous. By the time it is our turn, one gentlemen in our group wants to go back the down the long way. But the staff are very friendly and re-assuring and convince him to take the zip ride down. For one thing, it is a 90 minute wait for the bus to take you down (45 minutes for the bus to come up and 45 to go back down) vs. a 90 second ride on the Zip line.
While we wait, we also get to enjoy the view. The Celebrity Infinity, docked down below at the shore looks like a bath toy.
Soon, it is our turn. We are all strapped into the harnesses, goggles on and the green light comes on – all the trap doors open at once and we are off! The first bit is a near vertical drop, so I close my eyes and scream as the bottom falls out of my stomach. But after the first 5-10 seconds, I dare to open my eyes and wonderful thing happens – the ride slows down and it feels like I’m flying. The descent is slow, giving me the chance to have a bird’s eye view of the valley below. As I am the smallest in group, my descent is the slowest. I’m a good 20 to 30 seconds behind everyone else in the group. But I’m not complaining, as gives me the chance to enjoy the view. I fling my arms out horizontally, and this slows me down even further. All of a sudden I’m worried – what if I get stuck like Boris Johnson at the 2012 Olympics? So I put my feet and arms together streamline myself, and I shoot forward like an arrow. Another 30 seconds and the brake catches and I come to a stop. One of the staff at the bottom help me out of the harness. The adrenaline rush is palpable; I’m practically skipping and have a huge grin on my face.
As much as I want to catch the bus back to the top and repeat the experience, we decide to spend the rest of our time here visiting the museum and the shops, but not before having a celebratory drink.
Things to know:
Where is it? Icy Strait Point is located near the fishing village of Hoonah in the panhandle of Alaska. It is located on Chicagof Island, which has the highest population of bears per square mile of anywhere on Earth.
How do I get there? There are no roads access from the mainland, so you have to get here either by sea or by air. The nearby village of Hoonah can be reached from Juneau in 20 minutes by air or 3.5 hours by ferry, and it is a popular stop for many Alaska cruises. More details here. It is a short walk from Hoonah to Icy Strait Point.
How much does it cost? The ZipRider adventure costs $139, which includes the bus ride to the top. So it is pricey, but you can’t put a price on the experience.