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High-Wire Acts at Carnegie Science Center

The North Shore landmark's new ropes course is a draw for adults and youths alike.

photo by connie george/carnegie science center

A repeated debate in “Toy Story,” Pixar’s classic freshman effort — which is now 22 years old, dear god, we’re all ancient, aren’t we — concerns whether or not Buzz Lightyear can fly. Is the plastic spaceman actually capable of flight, or is he, as Woody insists, “Falling with style?”

Riding a zipline is falling with style.

Obviously, you are never truly in flight, for you are a human — a creature notoriously beholden to gravity. Nor, as it appears, are you in any sort of controlled locomotion; there is no effort involved. You are merely surrendering to dropping like a stone, your full weight hurtling swiftly toward the Earth — only there’s a series of cables and contraptions converting that fall into a much more horizontal experience than usual.

For great lengths, you glide, you seem to soar, you pick up immense, thrilling speed. But in your gut, in your primal senses, you know for a fact that you are merely plummeting under bizarre circumstances.

In other words: You are falling with style.

I enjoy a good zipline, particularly when there’s a challenging ropes course to accompany it; I covered my first trip to Go Ape in North Park two years ago in this space and made a second journey to that challenging course just a few weeks ago. Now, the ever-changing, ever-expanding Carnegie Science Center has added a ropes course, with a short zipline, to its already impressive Highmark SportsWorks building.

I scaled the structure earlier this week (you can see me attempting to find my footing above). You couldn’t be more sure of your security on this course; like the SkyTrail at Pittsburgh Mills Mall, you are attached to a continuous overhead track, so there is simply nowhere for you to go as soon as you’re strapped in.

The course is more compact than its outdoor brethren, but a surprising number of crossings are included; guests are free to move back and forth in any pattern they desire (as long as only one climber is on a particular obstacle at a time). After the taxing challenges at Go Ape a few weeks ago, I didn’t think I’d find anything at SportsWorks that would give me trouble.

Then I got to the log.

There’s a log-shaped beam, and it spins. You know, like a rolling barrel. For hand holds, rubber balls at the end of a series ropes. Within seconds, I found myself contorting, flailing and shimmying to try to keep the log steady as I advanced, inch by inch.

That’s the trick of this course — sure, young’uns can handle it, as long as they’re 48 inches tall. (Those under the 4-foot mark can tangle with a SkyTykes course, much closer to ground level.) But that means that there are some obstacles for which kiddos are particularly well suited included in this path — requiring coordination, muscle memory and a certain innate agility that most of us grown-ups have long since forgotten.

To be clear, this is not the challenge that something like Go Ape is; it’s much shorter, and a majority of the crossings are easy to conquer. But combine this course with the adjacent Rock Wall and other exhibits inside SportsWorks, and you can get a nice physical challenge — even a tiny bit of a workout — with your admission to the Science Center.

If you’re a parent, or have a convenient niece, nephew or other such tyke you can utilize for these purposes, take them down to the Science Center and try it out for yourself. If not? Knock off work early on a Friday or head down on a Saturday evening, when crowds are lighter, to suit up and take to the skies yourself. There is absolutely no shame in a grown-up trip to the Science Center.

If you’d like a perfect excuse, the upcoming farewell marathon for the Omnimax Theater will be a fine time to try out the ropes course. But whenever you can fit it in, head down and try it out. There’s no bad time to fall with style.


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