Most students at the College are familiar with the natural treasure trove that is the Purple Valley. From hiking to skiing, canoeing, rock climbing and everything in between, the Berkshires offer a cornucopia of outdoors activities. When people think of the outdoors, however, rarely do the words “Aerial Adventure” come to mind. Ramblewild Adventure Park, situated in the gorgeous pine forests near Lanesborough, Mass., wants to change that. The largest park of its kind in North America, Ramblewild offers a plethora of opportunities for outdoor adventure, all high up in the canopy, resulting in a heady mix of engaging puzzles, physical challenge and adventure.
But what, exactly, is “Aerial Adventure?” Those familiar with ropes courses will see the clear parallels – over the ten-acre park, ropes, wires and wooden platforms pepper the trees above, where visitors climb, swing and zip-line through Ramblewild’s eight “courses” ranging in difficulty from beginner’s yellow to expert’s double black. Ramblewild is entirely self-guided: their innovative “smart belay” harness, with two separate clips, ensures that visitors are always secured to the safety wires (neither of the clips can open unless the other one is closed), while also giving them the mobility to explore the park’s huge web of elements all on their own. This freedom, when combined with the park’s innovative obstacles, results in a distinctive experience that is as deep as it is exciting.
One of the most delightful things about Ramblewild is the diversity of its courses. The beginner’s courses offer fun and interesting climbing for children as young as seven, while the more challenging courses provide a rigorous physical challenge for even the most intense athletes. Only one in 10 people who attempt Hemlock’s Revenge, the most difficult course in the park, manage to make it to the end – the rest have to be rescued by the park staff that wanders the forest floor shouting encouragement and sometimes offering aid to climbers. No two courses are the same, and visitors are bound to come across neat surprises – whether they’re scaling a rock wall suspended in mid-air, careening from a zip-line directly into a cargo net, gliding over a ravine standing in a kayak, or bungee jumping from a high platform straight down to the ground, Ramblewild ensures that even experienced climbers will rarely be bored.
Emily Elder ’20 got to experience the park firsthand with the Williams Outing Club’s (WOC) High Adventure physical education [PE] class. “I went because it sounded like a fun way to get outside, try something new and exciting off campus, pay respect to my primate ancestors and take a break from studying,” she said. After completing a brief “ground school” to learn the ropes and the harness system, the students were left to their own devices. “I liked that we had a lot of freedom in how we experienced the course, that we could choose our own path and make it as easy or as challenging as we wanted,” Elder said. “It was really fun hanging from the trees, the staff was super friendly and encouraging and there was a lot of creativity in the elements of the course, so it was cool to have to figure out the best strategy to get from one to another… Ten out of ten would recommend.”
David Ackerson, assistant director of WOC, only started taking PE classes to Ramblewild last year, but is eager to take more students. He first learned about it at a street fair in Adams where he met some Ramblewild representatives. After a visiting on a tour, he was hooked. “I’ve been doing ropes courses for 30 years now,” he said. “But primarily through institutions, which have a different focus … I’ve worked at Hartwick College, Cornell University, and their ropes courses are much more about team-building … whereas Ramblewild is about ‘yee-haw,’ it’s about the adventure, it’s about the fun.” Ackerson plans to continue taking his High Adventure class, which is taught first and fourth quarters, “for the foreseeable future.”
Tickets are $48 for a full day but can be less for larger groups or students visiting through the PE class. Only a 20-minute drive away, Ramblewild offers a unique weekend adventure for anyone willing to climb out of their comfort zone.