100mph sky dive on 'washing line of terror' in UK

2013-04-08 09:12:19 GMT2013-04-08 17:12:19(Beijing Time)  SINA.com

According to its creator, this thing is the closest a human being can get to skydiving without actually leaping from a plane.

From where I’m dangling, I’d say it’s closer to being Superman - with a hefty dose of Eddie the Eagle.

It involves flying face-down, head-first, for a mile or so at up to 100mph down a mountain - eeek! - and then - yeeeurrrgh! - straight over a cliff, out across a lake and finally - thwack! - crashing into a powerful shock absorber a few feet above the ground.

To be honest, it requires zero talent; even a sack of potatoes could do it. But the exhilaration when I step back on terra firma is intoxicating.

This is the newest, fastest and, arguably, the most dramatic zip wire in the world. It’s also the longest in Europe.

And this carefully calibrated, 1,600 yards, washing line is not attached to an Alp or stretched across a fjord.

Zip World is strung out over a spectacular corner of North Wales within sight of Prince William’s RAF search and rescue base.

It happens to be in the record books already for being the world’s largest slate quarry and the site of the longest industrial dispute in British history.

Now a well-established part of the extreme sports repertoire, a zip wire involves hanging from a pulley that runs down a cable from A to B.

That, at least, is the idea. When Boris Johnson strapped himself on to an Olympic zip wire last summer, he famously ground to a halt halfway down, an unforgettable display of human bunting.

In recent years, zip wires have become increasingly ambitious, though they are restricted by a simple law of physics: there is only so far you can stretch any cable between two points before it snaps beneath its own weight.

The two longest in the world, around the 2,000-yard mark, are in Peru and South Africa. But now there is Zip World at Penrhyn Quarry on the edge of Snowdonia National Park.

It has clocked speeds in excess of 100mph and it’s in a breath-taking spot more than 1,000ft up with views across the Menai Straits and Anglesey.

Dreamed up by Sean Taylor, a former Royal Marine skydiver and jungle warfare instructor who grew up there, Zip World is so exposed that the authorities have designated it as an official flying hazard.

No sooner did it start operating just before Easter than it closed again due to the freak easterly winds created by our current alien weather pattern. The official grand opening is still on hold.

So when I get a teatime call from Sean predicting a break in the weather by morning, I jump on an evening train to Snowdonia. Mount Snowdon looks dazzling in the dawn sunshine as I head for the quarry outside the old mining town of Bethesda. All is set fair.

A dozen people - from a pensioner to a ten-year-old girl - are in the visitors’ centre, having booked online days ago.

Everyone is put on a set of scales and handed a Guantanamo Bay-style jumpsuit and complicated harness. The staff check every strap and buckle.

There is a training session down a shorter course and then it is time for the Big One. It is a 20-minute drive up a dirt track to the summit.

Along the way, Sean, 48, takes us through the history of the 200-year-old quarry. ‘That was the first hospital to use anaesthetic,’ he says, as we bump past some old ruins.

He then points out the distant Penrhyn Castle, built by the quarry’s Victorian owner.

‘They say that one man died for every brick in that castle,’ he says. Life was so grim that in 1900, 2,000 slate miners downed tools and began a record-breaking strike for the next three years.

As we near the start, the snow is too deep for Sean’s Land Rover and we have to walk the last quarter of a mile.

There’s a glacial breeze howling and the riders are advised to wait in a little shelter for their turn - but that is full of snow, too.

The wind is blowing straight in our faces, which means that lighter riders may not get to the end. The last third of the run is uphill to slow down participants and bring them over the finish line at 40 mph.

But if the wind is too strong, then people will stop short and slide back down the wire, grinding to a halt over the lake - rather like Boris Johnson.

‘We just lower down an instructor on a trolley and tow you back in,’ says Sean cheerfully.

In these wind conditions, every rider needs to be at least 12½ stone to get to the finish. So, lighter riders will need added weight.

When I tell the ‘loadmaster’ my weight, he gives me a knowing smile that says: ‘You’ve got quite enough ballast, mate.’

I nervously asked Sean if there was a maximum weight for riding the wire. ‘It’s got a breaking strength of 27 tons,’ he replied. ‘It won’t even feel you.’

We are so far from ground level that it’s impossible to make out the finish. I can see yellow dots moving around - enormous quarry lorries - but it’s much like being in a plane. And all of a sudden, I am the plane.

Swaying gently on the launch pad, body straight and arms locked firmly behind my back, I wait for the countdown above the crackle of the wind.

With all the radio traffic, it feels like a rocket launch. ‘Wrexham, we have a problem,’ I joke. No one’s laughing.

‘Base to top,’ comes a voice over the radio. ‘Yes. Yes. Good to go.’ The numbers are counted down, the last safety catch is yanked and, in no time, I am accelerating faster than any car I’ve owned.

The rocks seem to be getting closer and closer as they flash past under my nose. Suddenly, at 86.7mph (according to my on-board GPS chip), I hurtle over a cliff, the floor vanishes and the din of the wheels fades.

I’m out in the open with just an almighty void between me and the impossibly blue lake 500ft below. A sudden sidewind hits me and starts peeling off my goggles and glasses. I can’t see a thing.

When I bring one arm forward to grab the goggles, it throws the aerodynamics completely and I start to swing.

I get the goggles back on in time to see what looks like grass getting bigger and bigger. It turns out to be trees. The ground is rushing up towards me.

Thanks to my tangle with the goggles, though, I have slowed down so much I hit the huge, magnetic shock absorber at 29mph.

One of the crew grabs my hand and an elevating platform rises up to meet me. The whole thing has lasted around a minute. I feel elated.

Zip World shows what you can do with bold thinking, strong leadership and disused industrial space.

When the weather improves and the installation of the second main wire is complete, this operation will be handling 20 riders per hour at £50 a time (children are cheaper).

When he left the Royal Marines after 22 years, Sean followed many comrades into the lucrative but dangerous world of private security in places like Afghanistan.

‘In the end, I realised I was going to end up the richest man in the graveyard,’ he says.

So he came home to Wales and created a thriving adventure centre in 2007.

Prince William is among those spotted on his ‘high ropes’ course through Snowdonia trees, though Sean is too discreet to discuss it.

Then he had the brainwave of a zip wire over the quarry. With his own money, co-investors and a redevelopment grant, Zip World was born.

Sean regards the Armed Forces as his extended family — even if he can be rather rude about the Paras and RAF.

So he has already issued one edict to the ticket office: ‘This is one extreme sport where it makes no difference whether you’re able-bodied or disabled. So, any injured serviceman can ride for free.’

The Paras and RAF as well? ‘Of course. It’s not their fault they have to dress like bus conductors.’

His other unusual plan is for an ambitious race down the mountain. Marines vs Paras?

‘No - human versus hawk.’


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