Zip Lining My Way Through the Redwoods in the Santa Cruz Mountains

The fearless Dr. Amy zip lines first
There are seven of us on this tour through the redwood canopy by zipping along lines extended through the trees. Our group is led by Jacob, a very animated guide, and Jim, a quieter one, with a degree in "Outdoor Leadership." Jacob does all the talking (giving instructions), while Jim does the demonstration.  The tour is very organized. Our zip-lining gears – harnesses, helmets and gloves are all laid out so we can easily get into them. Our guides help and instruct us on how to wear our gears, and remind us of the most important rule: Not to touch anything shiny.

I decided to do the zip lining one morning high up in the Santa Cruz Mountains at a wedding and conference facility. I was sitting on the veranda of a rented house nestled in the Santa Cruz Mountains, eating leftover cupcakes from the wedding and sipping coffee when I heard the rustling of the majestic trees. Overlooking the veranda was a sweeping view of pine forest and majestic redwood trees. It was awe-inspiring. I felt as if the majestic trees were whispering to me and I was about to see God. Although I’ve lived near the area for more than two decades, I’d never really been to the Santa Cruz Mountains, nor explored its population of coastal redwoods. That was when I realized that everyone should have access to a place of such natural beauty, so I did an internet research to find National Parks and State Parks in the Santa Cruz area (see the list and links below). It was then that I became aware of Mount Hermon: an organization that offers camp and conference facilities and adventure eco-tours.

After a thorough demonstration on taking off, braking and landing from one platform to the next, we set off to cross the first sky bridge. The two-hour tour includes six zip lines and two sky bridges at heights of up to 150 feet. Securely fastened with extra harness (two-rope carabiners that can withstand 5,000 pound each); we cross the first sky bridge and reach the first platform around the large redwood tree. Before setting off for our first zip line, Jacob asks everyone how high we are above the ground. The answer varies between 40-50 feet. We are actually 35 feet above the ground. According to Jacob, he asks the question to find out if someone has a fear of heights. People with fear of heights usually give a ridiculous answer like 1000 feet.

Jacob zip-lines to the next platform first so he can catch us and control the zip line traffic. Jim stays behind to secure each person on the double top and bottom zip line pulleys, and push us off. Then off we go, legs extended forward and crossed between the ankles, both hands stacked on top of the other on the top pulley.

As soon as everyone reaches the platform, Jacob explains about the trees. Most of the redwood trees in the area are considerably young – less than 90 years old. The oldest one is 129 years old. Aptly named coastal redwood trees, they are native and grow on coastal regions of California and Oregon. The moderate temperature and abundant moisture of the coastal northern California and southern Oregon allow the redwood to flourish.

The second zip line is the highest; we are 150 feet above the ground. The platform is around the oldest and tallest tree in the area. Jacob explains that the coastal redwoods grow tall, but do not grow larger in diameter, compared to the sequoias. The tallest redwood tree, called Hyperion, is found in the Humboldt Redwoods State Park. It’s more than 370 feet. Coastal redwoods survive to be over 2000 years old, longer than sequoias.

With our guides helping one person at a time, we continue to zip from one tree to the next, and Jacob continues to explain about the trees as we reach the platform. Before I could voice out my concern about the impact of adventure tours like this, Jacob explains the tenacity of redwood trees. They survive for thousands of years. He says, “They’re called Sequoia sempervirent. Latin, meaning they don’t die. We cut them, and they grow back up.”

The tree surrounded by the fifth platform seems to be the biggest in diameter. "Do you see the groove on this tree?” Jacob asks, pointing above the tree around the platform. “Notice the bark.” The bark is deep red-brown in color. On mature trees, the bark may grow to two feet in thickness. Jacob tells us to look down and see the base of the tree, which has blackened. The thick bark protects the tree from fire damage. He continues to talk about the strength of the redwoods: why they survive for centuries. The roots go down to only 10 feet, but they spread out to the equivalent of their height, which could be 250 feet and grab/hold the roots from the other trees. “Jim may disagree with me on this,” says Jacob as he talks about the communal properties of organisms like the redwoods. Jim with a half-smile, responds, “Well, plants with communal property grow in a cluster, the redwoods don’t have that characteristic.” The information about the redwoods presented to us may not be 100% accurate, but being able to commune with the trees is a great learning experience in itself.

The tour is described as, “an exciting eco-adventure into the redwood canopy of the Santa Cruz Mountains and the coastal redwood forest from the unique perspective only a zip line canopy tour can offer,” and it is. I learn not only about nature, but also about physics. At the fourth zip line, we have a chance to do canon ball to go faster. I ball-up by bending my knees toward my body. This helps increase acceleration by reducing the center of gravity. Finally, Jacob announces that whoever made a perfect landing to the last platform will get a sticker. The last zip-line is not positioned to a lower angle, so there’s no need to brake as I’m not moving at an uncontrollable speed. And of course I have to make that claim of a perfect landing. A thrilling experience and a great learning experience about the redwood forest, indeed!

1) List of State Parks in the Santa Cruz Mountains:

2) The Santa Cruz Mountains encompass different towns like Felton, Scotts Valley, Los Gatos, Ben Lomond, etc. Most of these parks offer great hiking trails, which begin in redwood-covered mountains and end on the rugged beaches of the Pacific Coast.

3) Before the tour, we were given instructions on what to wear. Technically, it's autumn, but in Northern California, summer does not end until late October. It gets foggy in the morning, but the fog burns off by mid-day. So I’m dressed for summer with closed-toe-shoes.

4) All photos by the author


  1. Wow, great descriptions of the zip-lining experiences in the Santa Cruz Mountains. I didn't even realize that they did those kinds of activities there. Were you scared?! I think I would be terrified! - Rachelle


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