Posted by: Emily Schmutz Garcia | August 24, 2011

Zip Lining and Waterfall Repeling

“Honey, would you like to add waterfall rappelling on?” My husband of nine days asked me, after I had already been strapped into a harness for zip lining. Oh sure, since I’ll probably die before I make it to the second of ten zip lines, why not add waterfall rappelling?

Nine days earlier my sweetheart, David, and I had been sealed in the San Antonio Temple. For our honeymoon, we went to Costa Rica. We had spent the first week of our honeymoon in a place called Manuel Antonio, in a gorgeous hotel with a three-window-walled view of a tropical paradise. For our second week, we headed inland to the Arenal Volcano area.

I had really wanted to go white water rafting, which we did in Manuel Antonio. David really wanted to go zip lining. We made friends with our taxi driver the first night in Arenal, and he ended up being our tour guide for our second week. We asked him about zip lining and he directed us to a tour company that took you zip lining and waterfall rappelling in the same morning.

I was very scared of the zip lining, but David had gone white water rafting with me, so I figured I really ought to go zip lining with him. I had never been rappelling or zip lining. Waterfall rappelling sounded terrifying to me. In zip lining, there is a horizontal rope—you are harnessed to one end and you slide along the rope to the other end very rapidly. You have to hold yourself in a ball-like position to keep going straight down the line. It happens very quickly and you are hundreds of feet above the ground. I imagined waterfall rappelling was similar to zip lining, but rather than a horizontal line, it was more of a free fall harnessed to a vertical line. The waterfall rappelling was 80 meters. I really didn’t know the meters to feet ratio but I knew that this was a long rappel. I was relatively sure that I was going to die that day.

They took us to a practice zip line—I failed so miserably that they gave me a chest harness as well as the hip harness, to make the sliding easier. After practice, they piled us into a bus that had been pimped out with these massive tractor wheels. The bus was harnessed to an actual tractor, and the tractor and bus went blazing up the mountain.

My typical facial expression is a smile. When people look at me, I usually smile. It has become my natural reaction. I couldn’t smile at this point. I knew that I was going up the mountain in a very freaky bus-tractor-contraption to my death, and my brand new husband was leading me to it. I was scared and so not-well-pleased with my recent choice of eternal companion. Why in the world had I agreed to this?

We made it up to the start of the mountain and the bus dropped us off. At this point we started hiking. I like hiking, both feet are on the ground, and even though I am never in shape and am the slowest, I know that the farthest I can fall is about 3-4 feet to the ground. It works for me. The tour group took us to a look-out point. I had been scared before, now I was white as a ghost and speechless. There was the most beautiful death scene I had ever seen. A huge waterfall surrounded by a tropical jungle. Right next to the waterfall was a tiny metal ladder and between us and the waterfall were about ten zip lines hanging across the scenery. At least I was going to die in paradise.

We hiked up to the first zip line. David went first in an attempt to comfort me and let me know that I would probably not die. Well, that would have been fine, but the zip line disappeared into the jungle-how was I supposed to know how the zip line story ended? After David disappeared, they harnessed me up. Usually on scary roller coasters, I just close my eyes and wait until the end—not this time. The surroundings were way too beautiful to miss anything—blinking was criminal. So, wide-eyed and petrified, they sent me down the first zip line.

WEEEEEEEEEE! Wow! Zip lining was amazing! And not only that, but I was zip lining through a tropical jungle paradise. It was amazing and so much fun! I found my smile again. This was something worth doing. I couldn’t stop smiling—it was awesome. There were ten zip lines in all. The tour guides had mentioned earlier that after six zip lines, the waterfall rappelling group branches off and finishes the last four lines after the rappelling. For those first six zip lines, I choose to block out the waterfall rappelling, so as not to miss the fun. Tragically, after the sixth zip line, it was time to face the music. My smile disappeared again.

We hiked up a little bit and finally made it to the top of the waterfall. Apparently in regular rappelling, you usually start with the rappelling and then at the end, you get to drop for a little bit. As my luck would have it, with the waterfall rappelling, you start with a 30 meter drop, and then you rappel the rest of the 50 meters down. The platform we got on was just kind of hanging over nothing. After harnessing yourself to the rope, you have to jump off the platform into the 30 meter drop. One of the tour guides went first to show us what it looked like. I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted to see what death looked like, but I figured it might be a good idea anyway.

The guide went and it didn’t look like a free fall. He slide down the rope a bit, but it was much slower than the zip lining and he kept stopping occasionally and releasing more rope. David turned to me and said, “and you won’t go anywhere near that fast.”

Seriously? Wow. This would not be that bad. I might even live through it. David went first, and then I followed him. I jumped off the platform into nothingness and thanks to a general love of unhealthy food, I actually went down the rope at a good pace. To my right was a gorgeous tropical waterfall. Wow! Once again, I was blown away. Never would I ever have considered going waterfall rappelling or zip lining had it not been for the wonderful eternal companion I had chosen. Apparently I had made the right choice. I finally made it to the bottom—I struggled a bit with the actual rappelling part, but for the most part it was incredible.

There was one part of this whole experience that hadn’t crossed my mind and that was how we were going to be getting back up to the top of the waterfall. They showed us after we were at the bottom. To get back to the wall, we had to climb across this little metal ladder bridge, which reminded me of the bridges that Mt. Everest climbers climb across—tiny and petrifying. And here I thought I was home free after surviving the zip lining and waterfall rappelling. Not so much. As we got closer to the wall, the metal bridge started going up—reminding me strongly of the rope ladder that Indiana Jones had to climb up at the end of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. The tour guides never attempted to rip my heart out of my chest like Indiana’s did, but I am pretty sure they were just waiting for it to burst out of its own accord.

They actually had to harness us to the ladder, so in case we slipped, we wouldn’t fall quite so far. For once, I was really glad they let me go first. If I was going to fall, I wanted everyone going with me. Aside from worrying about slipping, I really didn’t think I had the upper-body strength to climb back up the 80-meter waterfall. Step by step I continued to climb up. The guys behind me were probably driven crazy by the slow pace, but I was just eternally grateful when I finally got to the top of the rope ladder and there were some stairs waiting for me. They still harnessed us to the stairs to make sure we didn’t fall down the mountain, but I had ground under me again. I knew we would be fine.

What a crazy adventure! The last four zip lines were delightful. Finally we made it back to our hotel. I survived the day and it had been amazing! What a great day! It was petrifying and exhilarating. I was scared to death, but I also ended up having the most fun. I picked the best husband ever!



  1. So cute! Loved the story!

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