NEW RIVER GORGE — Anyone who knows about the New River Gorge knows of its spectacular views.
The views the landlocked get from the rim of the gorge are nothing compared to those seen by those dangling from ropes, though.
That’s what Debra Parker says at least, and she should know.
A popular longtime area photographer and Airbnb host, Parker got her first, best view of the NRG about six years ago when she left the ranks of the landlocked and took to the rope.
Parker’s been a member of the rappelling ranks for six years now.
“Benjy (Simpson, the managing member of Bridge Walk LLC and nearly 30-year coordinator of the Bridge Day rappel) had been trying to get me to come out (on the catwalk) and take rappellers’ pictures and I was talking to a lady who was a rappeller and she said, ‘You need to do this,’” Parker recalled.
Parker decided she’d learn to rappel and the rest is history.
On Oct. 19, 2019, Parker will lead the first all-female rappel team in the history of the Bridge Day Rappel.
“It’s exciting to know that this is the first all-woman team and that the women are very, very interested in learning to rig good rope,” Parker said.
Chicks with Nice Racks, the pun-intended name of Parker’s team, is comprised of women from Oak Hill, Fayetteville, Ohio, Michigan, Georgia, Tennessee, Pennsylvania and North Carolina and they’ve been getting together in the gorge once a month to practice and learn more about rope rigging and rappelling in general in preparation for the big day.
“These girls are excited about learning. Everybody’s learning to rig the rope, tie the knots where normally, they’d sit out and let the guys do it, and they love it,” she said this summer.
Sharon Cruikshank, concluding a 22-year run as chair of the Bridge Day Commission with the 2019 event, is thrilled about the team.
“It’s awesome. I’ve known Deb for years and this is great news and she’ll be a great team leader,” Cruikshank said.
“It’s exciting to see that girls are moving into their own, not just for Bridge Day, but for Fayette County. I think it’ll be a huge success.
“Girl power,” she laughingly added.
The “girls” of Parker’s team are working hard in preparation for Bridge Day. Or maybe they’re just playing.
“We get together once a month and the rest of the time, hopefully they’re out there playing,” Parker said.
“Playing” is key to Parker’s involvement in rappelling, caving, kayaking and any of the other outdoor activities in which she participates. And that love and passion for the area and all it offers has led to the development of quite a number of new rappellers in her six years on the ropes.
“Give me a call” is her response to anyone wanting to learn more about rappelling. “We’ll get out there and do it. We’ll go out and play. You’ll either fall in love with it or you won’t, but the majority do.”
The team is learning, its members are playing and Parker’s prepped for the third Saturday in October.
“I’ve already got my rope all ready,” she said this summer. “One thousand-foot rope. Brand new. Never been used,” she said.
Chicks with Nice Racks (the rack is a piece of equipment used by rappellers) will rappel from the Number 1 position on Bridge Day.
“It’s closest to the arch of the bridge. That is the prime spot that everybody wants,” she said.
“That takes us to 10 feet from the riverbank. We’re excited. It’s going to be fun.”
And the view? Oh, the view!
“It’s a different view that no one else sees,” Parker said. “It’s the best view.”
For more about Bridge Day, visit officialbridgeday.com
For more on Bridge walk, visit bridgewalk.com
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Bridge Day rappel teams rappel distances ranging from 700 to 855 feet depending on their respective anchors on the bridge’s catwalk. Teams in Anchor spots 1 and 2 have the longest rappels, according to information supplied in a press release from www.bridgedayrappel.com.
For Bridge Day 2019, there will be four ascending ropes, offering more rappellers the chance to ascend (climb) the rope. Ascending ropes are supervised by Dr. Peter Hertl of Raleigh, North Carolina.
The Bridge Day Rappel safety officer is Glen Kuehner, of Florida. It’s his eighth year leading the safety team.
Benjy Simpson and his son, Benjy III, and their company, Passages to Adventure, are coordinating the rappel for the 29th year.
Aside from Chicks with Nice Racks, 26 other teams will rappel on Bridge Day, more than any other year. Over 300 rappellers will take part. Teams are listed below by anchor spot.
1) Chicks with Nice Racks (Debra Parker, leader)
2) Extreme Rappels 1 (Michael Phelps)
3) Canadian Fire (Tony MacDonald)
4) Berserkers (Talia Sepiol)
5) Spread ‘Em and Drop (Matthew S. Vickey)
6) Northern Y-Knots (Scott R. Young)
7) Born Rescue Riggers (Russ Born)
8) Monongahela Grotto (Brian Masney)
9) Chattanooga Grotto (Patrick Wilson)
10) Safety Team (Glen Kuehner)
11) The TAG Team (Darien Dopp)
12) Extreme Rappels 2 (John Cadle)
13) VBATS 2 (Harold Calvert)
14) Highline (Larry Smith)
15) S B Rescue Group (Jon Tobin)
16) Black Swamp Brigade (Ken Adams)
17) OHKY (Greg Matulionis)
18) High-Hangin’ Hoosiers (Dean Wiseman)
19) Ohio SRT (Carl Swanigan)
20) Team Poseidon (Victoria Airey)
21) UDK (David Obi)
22) A Frayed Knot (Don Straw)
23) Derby City Descenders (Davod Sjoeds)
24) Extreme Rappels 3 (Andrew Rentzel)
25) Vertically Inclined (Neil Gregory)
26) VBATS 1 (Mike Tiny Manke)
27) US Rope Access (John Haustein)
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Back for the 19th year is the Bridge Day High Line, coordinated by team leader Larry Smith. While rappelling and BASE jumping require special equipment, training and experience, no experience is needed for someone wanting to ride the high line from the catwalk to Fayette Station Road.
The age range for participants on the high line is 8 to 76 and there are limited spaces available. Cost of the high line is $164.30 per person, which includes tax. The price includes a shuttle ride back to the top of the bridge. Register online at www.bridgedayrappel.com.
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