Matt Carpenter makes his way across one of the narrow "elements" at the Wind Walker ropes course at Cave of the Winds. Below right, Brandi Lock, Cave of the Winds staff member, hangs out on the cantilever section of the Wind Walker. Below left, Kyla Carpenter, 8, Matt Carpenter's daughter, showed her dad how it's done.
PHOTO GALLERY: Hanging out with Matt Carpenter on the Wind Walker
VIDEO: Cave of the Winds supervisor Don Weeks on the Wind Walker ropes course
VIDEO: How PikesPeakSports.us site manager Tim Bergsten's heartrate reache...
VIDEO: Matt Carpenter negotiates a tricky "element" on the Wind Walker
Matt Carpenter - the "Skyrunner" who became famous for charging to the top of 14,000-foot mountains - met a challenge that shook him to the core on Monday at the Cave of the Winds in Manitou Springs.
It helped him to repeat some affirmations.
"I can't fall, I can't fall, I can't fall," he said.
Carpenter, who has 17 combined wins in the Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon, was testing his nerve on a thrilling new ropes course - the Wind Walker - at Cave of the Winds.
It was a classic battle - the Skyrunner vs. the Wind Walker.
The Wind Walker may have gotten the upper hand, but Carpenter faced his fear and made some progress as he gingerly navigated some of the tougher "elements," 20-foot sections with tricky hand and foot holds.
"I'm going to keep coming back until I get it," Carpenter said. "I'm hooked on this thing."
The Wind Walker, which opened to the public last week, is a giant metal structure perched on the very edge of Williams Canyon. At its highest point, it stands about 40 feet above the Cave of the Winds parking lot.
But the real thrills come when climbers take on the Wind Walker's cantilever section, which hangs over the canyon. The canyon floor lies about 300 feet below your shoes. The spring wind roars up the canyon wall, reminding adventurers of their precarious whereabouts.
Carpenter freely admits he doesn't have the courage - yet - to go there. But he has a reason to make it happen. His 8-year-old daughter Kyla (below) has fearlessly scaled all parts of the Wind Walker.
"I couldn't believe it," Carpenter said. "I was scared to death. My daughter had more guts than me."
It is impossible to fall from the Wind Walker. Customers gear-up in a climbing harness. A safety tether with a metal hooking device is then attached to metal railing that slides along the rail and leads to all of the elements. The hook can only be attached and removed at ground level.
Cave of the Winds supervisor Don Weeks - who worked as a commercial tree trimmer for years - bounded around the ropes course with ease. Talk about a fun job.
Weeks said the key is to go at your own pace.
"You don't want to bend to peer pressure," he said. "But every time you go up there, you build momentum and you get a little farther."
Weeks also said that the staff has an emergency "takedown plan" in case somebody freezes up.
It costs $15 to climb on the Wind Walker, $10 if you also do a cave tour. Reservations are not needed. Weeks said that on slower days, climbers can spend as much time as they want on the Wind Walker. When the tourist season picks up, he said customers will be limited to about 20 minutes.
For more information, call 719-685-5444. The Cave of the Winds website contains tons of information about the cave, though it is yet to be updated with Wind Walker info. Or, track down Carpenter on one of the area trails ... he can't stop talking about it.
"This thing is cool," he said. "I'm going to be up here all summer.