Rappelling the New River Gorge Bridge
As far as high adventure goes, leaping off the New River Gorge with a parachute attached to one's back (aka BASE jumping) is about as extreme as it gets. Over 400 individuals take the plunge each Bridge Day.
But there's another whole group of thrill seekers that use Bridge Day as a platform (no pun intended) to have their fun too. Rappelling on Bridge Day attracts almost as many participants as BASE jumping. You may have seen these rappellers raising and lowering flags on Bridge Day.
Here's the skinny on the rappelling on Bridge Day.
History of Rappelling on Bridge Day
Bridge Day rappelling has been organized the same way for 20 years. Benjy Simpson has been the rappel coordinator since 1992 and has seen this part of the festival grow in popularity over the years.
In Benjy's initial year of coordinating the event, there were 10 teams with 95 total rappellers. The event was opened to anyone who had rappelling experience and was a part of a team with the appropriate gear to participate.
Due to limited space the number of teams has remained capped at 25, but the number of people on each team has steadily risen. Most teams now have between 12 and 16 members. A blind draw of the eligible teams determines rope positions, as the first position gets the longest rappel and ends up closest to the river.
2011 By The Numbers
Bridge Day 2011 had a total of 23 teams with 311 rappellers. They completed 860 rappels. Only 2009, when there were 25 teams that performed a total of 895 rappels, was larger.
According to registration records, almost a third of the rappel participants each year are first-time Bridge Day rappellers. The youngest ever participant was 14 and the oldest was 81. These folks have come from approximately 35 different states and 6 different countries.
Benjy relies on a team of volunteers to assist him in putting this event together. Close to 60 people assist in everything, from being part of a safety team to taking registrations and making sure all participants are informed and taken care of while they rappel. Safety is a main priority, and there has only been one injury in 20 years (in 2002).
The rappel team keeps 2 ropes available just for people who desire to ascend back up from the bottom. These participants must also have their own approved gear; the average ascent takes around 45 minutes. Teams are welcome to ascend their own ropes, but due to time constraints most people use the designated ropes instead.
This feat isn't for everyone, and the numbers prove it. There were 74 ascents in 2008, 48 in 2010 and 30 on Bridge Day 2011.
Do you want to go 'on rope' next Bridge Day?