For rappelling, Palisade Head is topsSo which is more fun: Rappelling off Palisade Head or an office building in Duluth?
By: Robin Washington, Lake County News Chronicle
So which is more fun: Rappelling off Palisade Head or an office building in Duluth?
If you saw the Duluth News Tribune and other news reports last week, you’ll know a bunch of local celebs and volunteers got the opportunity to rope down from the Sellwood Building in downtown Duluth.
If you didn’t, the picture tells you everything – except how petrified I was a just before it was taken.
“Smile!” photographer Bob King yelled cheerily from the roof, after I made that first daunting step, and after I told the guy who hooked me to the line: “I can’t do this.”
To be sure, it was fun from that point on, but not the same as my first and only other rappel, off Palisade Head, in 1986. Though I didn’t know it then, it turned out to be one of the first items crossed off my bucket list; something I always intended to do again but never found the time.
And, with all due respect and thanks to Duluth’s Greater Downtown Council, sponsors of the Sellwood Building event, it was more memorable. I’ve only been thinking about it for 27 years.
“To be able to rappel on Lake Superior is pretty amazing. People come from all over the world to do it,” said Stephanie Love of Positive Energy Outdoors in Knife River, who’s led numerous groups rappelling off the cliff, as well as off Shovel Point at Tettegouche State Park, another world-class site.
“The thing about Palisade Head is you can look at the lake, maybe the peregrine falcons and just take it all in,” she continued. “It’s an incredible place to start.”
In other words, in the rappelling world, I started at the top. It’s like learning to drive in a Maserati.
Helping greatly back then was U.S. Army Capt. Jeff Johnson, who led the Bemidji State University ROTC group that invited me, according to the News-Chronicle archives. I remember him repeatedly reassuring me, “We’ve got you.”
That was different from last week, also run by professionals – from Over the Edge, a group that supervises hundreds of fundraising building rappels yearly – who focused on getting you to trust the equipment.
“You have a gold thing and a blue thing,” their staffers said, explaining the gold metal clip apparatus, attached to a separate line, would stop you if you went too fast.
Over the Edge has had zero incidents, which the army, or even ROTC groups, can’t claim. But somehow I feel better putting my trust in a human being, especially one in uniform, than a thing. Even a shiny gold one.
Something else Johnson said back then stayed with me, maybe saving me from serious injury or worse.
“Watch out. You’re getting too comfortable,” I recall him grabbing my arm and saying after my feet got used to the rocks at the top of the cliff and started bounding over them.
To this day I think of that when walking over Gooseberry Falls or the boulders on the shores of the lake.
All of which shows what a big impression it left on me. The building rappel was great, and another item crossed off the bucket list; a scene straight out of the “Blues Brothers” or anything with The Rock or Schwarzenegger in it.
But it can’t top Palisade Head.
Robin Washington is supervising editor of the News-Chronicle.