Run, zipline, signal fires mark J’eet’s Challenge

For the first time last month, Hoonah hosted an 8.3-mile footrace called J’eet’s Challenge. The course begins near sea level, runs through town and then up a mountain to the finish line.

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The view from the Icy Strait Point ZipRider. (Video still by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)

The race winners lit mountaintop signal fires, echoing events from a Tlingit story. From there, runners hopped into harnesses and ziplined back down to Icy Strait Point, which is Huna Totem Corp.’s salmon cannery turned tourist attraction.

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The winner’s of the 2015 J’eet’s Challenge race in Hoonah light signal fires near the finish line. (Photo courtesy Icy Strait Point)

The run and zipline ride were part of Icy Strait Point’s annual neighbor’s day event, a package daytrip out of Juneau that I took part in.

“One, two, three, enjoy the ride, bye-bye.”

That, followed by the clanging of mechanical metal gates swinging away where I just had my feet propped was the last thing I heard before the whoosh of speed and air drowned out most sound.

I was ziplining — and attempting to voice a story — on one of six parallel lines running down a mountain in Hoonah. They’re among the longest continuous spans of zipline in the world, taking riders 1,300 vertical feet down over about a mile of galvanized steel. Cruising down at about 60 mph, the ride back to sea level is over in about 90 seconds.

 

 

In 2014, about 13,000 people rode the Icy Strait Point ZipRider, generating an estimated $1.6 million in revenue. That’s according to Terra-Nova LLC of Utah, which built it in 2007.

Until 2014, it was the longest zipline in the world. That’s when another Terra-Nova-built zipline opened that’s a mile and half long in Mexico’s Copper Canyon.

Nowadays, there’s still some Icy Strait Point advertising and signage around calling it the “longest” zipline in the world, but it’s being phased out and replaced with the world’s “largest” zipline.

Tyler Hickman, vice president of operations at Icy Strait Point, explained the distinction.

“We have six cables that are side by side. And each cable is 5,330 feet, each. So each cable is over a mile long. … The one claim that is absolute is we have the most rideable cable in the world. Six miles of cable, nobody even comes close to that.”

Hickman was one of 89 runners to take J’eet’s Challenge. He says 187 people rode over from Juneau for neighbor’s day, their biggest turnout ever.

Hickman says he’s probably zipped down more than 100 times, and every time is still awesome.

At the end of my first ride, a series of springs on the line cushion the abrupt impact. Metal twangs, my harnessed legs swing up toward the sky for a moment, then gravity reclaims them.

As I hop out of my harness and put my feet back on terra firma, the other riders and I cheer in a flurry of satisfaction.

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The end of the line. (Video still by Jeremy Hsieh/KTOO)