Challenge Tower, Part 1


It’s called The Challenge Tower. And for good reason.
I took youth from our church to church camp a couple weeks ago near Asheville, North Carolina. I’ve taken youth there for almost forty summers.

We have Bible Studies, sing a lot of great camp songs, do some swimming and crafts and hiking, have campfires and funny skits, and one activity is even an all-day whitewater rafting trip, which will need it’s own article at a later date.

But for today, I say again, “It’s called The Challenge Tower. And for good reason.”
Built with the largest and tallest “telephone poles” I’ve ever seen, The Challenge Tower rises to something over forty feet, with a variety of skills needed to make your way to the top. I believe it’s fair to say that what it takes to make it to the top is at least something like an “all-vertical American Ninja Warrior” course. Well, not quite that elaborate, but you get the idea.

Our day “on the tower” was a glorious summer mountain morning. I’ve participated in this particular activity for the last two years, so I knew “what to expect,” but it still seemed “formidable” when we came into the clearing and surveyed the difference between the ground and the top of the tower. A few of our youth had done this before, so they also knew “what to expect,” but they, along with the “rookies” all had a pretty deep sense of awe at the task, the challenge, ahead.

Our camp counselors were the specially trained “Outdoor Adventure Program” counselors, so they had also been trained and tested on leading groups through this experience. And were they good.
After laying out all the equipment – harnesses and helmets for all the climbers and the belay safety system – our counselors lead us in prayer, which seemed quite appropriate, and not just because we were at church camp, if you know what I mean.

As our young campers one-by-one received the courage and strength to traverse up the tower, their accomplishments drew great encouragement and affirmation from the rest of their peers. Their successes at reaching the top were not without some hesitations and missed steps, but they pushed through and their youthful bodies came through to make it a “life mark” experience for them all.
Then it came my turn. As I said, I had done this in the two summers previous, but I could still feel my heart racing at a pace quite above my sitting heart rate. And I need to add that for the kids and especially for the pastors this is totally a voluntary event, so I was well aware that I didn’t “have” to do this, but I had talked with our youth beforehand and had told them I was “going up,” so there was a promise to be kept.
I donned my harness and helmet. The “belayer,” the young man counselor on the ground controlling and keeping tight the rope belay that was looped above to keep us climbers from falling to the ground, clicked the carabiner into my harness.

I mentioned to him, “I like a tight belay,” and with a knowing smile he assured me he would oblige. Then I was on my way up.
Did I mention that they call this The Challenge Tower, and for good reason?

The first twelve feet on the left-side vertical pole is ascended by a regular ladder, brought to and taken away each time the tower is in official use, so that no one can just walk by and decide to climb the tower. But then the fun really starts.
The first major obstacle is to walk across a horizontal pole, again the size of a telephone pole, about twelve feet above ground, for about fifteen feet. Remember, this is without anything to hold on to except the belay line. The feeling is that it’s “high wire walking.”

I learned my first two times in years past that, for me, going quickly was better than agonizing over each step, so I made straight way and soon was hugging the vertical pole at the other end of the pole.
To get up the next twelve to fifteen feet, it’s using hands and feet to climb from small “u-shaped staples” placed strategically far apart to add to the challenge. I have thought before that this is the “impossible” part, but I reached and pulled and stepped high and strained, and was at the next stage to be conquered.

This is the horizontal pole back across the tower width, but this one is on what seems to be quite an impressive incline. So, now over thirty feet in the air, once more I took the “get across quick” approach and soon I was grabbing the rope ladder at the far side of the pole.
Safe so far, but then I did what I hadn’t wanted to do, and that is look down. Opps. Not a good thing for me, as I am quite afraid of and unstable in heights.

To be continued in my next article…
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