Ropes Courses

What is a Ropes Challenge Course?

James Neill
Last updated:
10 May 2006

What is a Ropes Challenge Course?

Rope Challenge Courses (also called Ropes Courses and Challenge Courses) are "artificial mountains". 

Ropes courses are engineered structures which are purpose-built for humans to engage their climbing instincts.  Thus ropes courses can be considered within the broader category of climbing activities which includes rock climbing, mountain climbing, ice climbing, indoor climbing, etc. 

Ropes Challenge Courses are proving appealing in Western societies because they offer convenient access to adventure-type activities within urban environments. 

In an educational or psychological sense, a Ropes Challenge Course is nothing more than a prop, i.e., a bit of fancy equipment (a few trees or poles in the ground with a couple of wires and rope strung inbetween).

Ropes Challenge Course programs typically involve small groups of participants over an intense period of hours or days, or in sessions over weeks or a semester, in a series of activities which increase in difficulty and focus variously on participants' physical, emotional, social, and intellectual capabilities. 

The value of ropes course use is recognized in a broad range of activities, including education, recreation, therapy, and organizational development.  Ropes Challenge Courses are often used in conjunction with other forms of training or education, such as in physical education, in orientation programs, and for staff development.  Ropes Challenge Courses can be used with school students through to adults and are readily adaptable to a wide variety of cultures, settings, and people with different abilities.

What would Tarzan & Jane say about Ropes Challenge Courses?

Why would anyone want to play in an artificial zoo to recreate some sort of "Tarzan and Jane" experience?

There are two main reasons:

  1. Humans evolved from a climbing, tree-dwelling ancestry and have a vestigial proclivity for experiencing the potential psychosocial and physical rewards of being at height
  2. Due to massive urbanization and the removal of everyday life from direct engagement with nature, this vestigial urge to climb and explore is now being increasingly engaged through artificially constructed climbing experiences

It should be noted that the extent to which individuals are favourably disposed towards taking perceived physical risks at height varies greatly, both inherently and due to past experiences with taking physical and psychological risks at height.

It might also be noted that fear of height is one of only about a half a dozen core, inherent fears that humans seem to be born with (others include fear of drowning, fire, suffocation, etc.).  By directly engaging with a core fear such as height in supportive conditions, a well-run ropes course program can be a significant and even transformative experience giving rise to a greater capacity for handling fear-type reactions in other settings.

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