Thrill-Seekers Rappel Down St. Paul Skyscraper for Boy Scouts Fundraiser
"That's a very tall building," said Eagle Scout Joe Alexander, peering upwards at the Ecolab Corporate Center in downtown St. Paul.
Tall indeed. It's 22 stories high, rising 300 feet off the ground. It has an amazing rooftop view--unless, of course, you're dangling from it by a rope.
"Why not, I mean how many people get to say they rappelled down a city skyscraper," Joe said.
If you're a brave thrill seeker like Joe, the idea of urban rappelling isn't a scary one at all. "You know, I've always been an optimist so I picture myself waving on the way down," said Alexander. "But I think you have to hold on to the rope most of the time."
Joe is one of nearly 100 people who plan to risk life and limb Friday by rappelling off Ecolab to raise money for the Northern Star Council; it represents 75,000 Boy Scouts in Minnesota and Wisconsin. To qualify, each participant has to have at least $1,000 in pledged monies. (They also have to be over 16 and weigh less than 300 pounds.) The event is called the DoubleDogDare Challenge.
"Most 68-year-olds would say you're crazy doing this," said 68-year-old Jim Bradshaw. "I was never a scout as a kid so I'm doing scouting as an adult." Bradshaw has so far raised more than $4,000 in pledges. "And I say that if I can do it, anybody can do it," he added.
As for John Marshall, who chairs the committee organizing the event, "I was a long-time scout--one rank away from an Eagle Scout. Maybe this will get me my badge!" Marshall admits to being "a little afraid of heights," but says "this will be a fun adventure, a unique experience. It's a 'bucket list' item."
Still, is it wise for the father of a 14-month-old to be this adventurous? "Well, I did check my insurance," Marshall said (jokingly). "The first step, without a doubt, is going to be the hardest. Stepping over that railing. I'll just have to plan to take a deep breath, cross my fingers, and trust in the harness system, that I'm locked in safe, and know we're doing something good for charity."
Jenny Hedal, the deputy director of Northern Star Council, says there's never been anything, ever before in Minnesota, quite like the DoubleDogDare Challenge. "part of scouting is all about the challenges, taking risks, and we thought this would be a great opportunity to challenge the community to support Scouts and so something a little outside the box. I think it definitely gives scouting a cool, hip edge."
Thursday afternoon St. Paul safety inspectors were finishing final inspections before ten "VIP" rappellers (including Ecolab CEO Doug Baker, Major General Richard Nash of the Minnesota National Guard, Northern Star Council CEO John Andrews, Minnesota Timberwolves mascot Crunch, and 5 Eyewitness News Reporter Mark Saxenmeyer) were the first to take (and preview) the downward trek. (By the way, there are no nets at the bottom.)
"Of course, we're not going to do anything that's not safe," said Ecolab Vice President of Community Relations, Kris Taylor. "We have a very aggressive risk management department here as you can imagine. They review everything." She added, "If something happens I'm probably out of a job!"
Glenn Segrest, the site safety supervisor for "Over The Edge," the rappelling company hired to oversee the event, said the four-year-old company has successfully conducted hundreds of similar rappelling adventures off building across the country. No one, he says, has ever died, and injuries have been few and far between. Pointing to the equipment, he explained, "This is an industrial strength rope, and we're using two of them." All of the company's equipment, practices and procedures are approved under federal and state OSHA regulations.
Hedal adds, "The worst that could happen is maybe you freeze up in the middle but we have rope technicians that will actively lower you to the ground."
The Friday event starts at 9 a.m. And runs until 5 p.m. in the Ecolab Plaza (370 Wabasha Street North in St. Paul). There are still openings for new applicants--no experience is necessary, but you must have a cool $1,000 to donate to the Scouts. Participants will also receive a small amount of training. Visit www.craziestfundraiserever.com for more information.
As for Joe Alexander, the Eagle Scout, he thinks rappelling down the building might be even scarier than the time he went sky diving. "We were jumping over fields and nice soft grass and there was someone else with a parachute strapped to me. So I was just in it for the ride. This might be a little more work," he said. But without missing a beat he added, "I think I'm going to have the time of my life."
Mark Saxenmeyer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also watch his rappelling adventure in the video above.