It looks like this is probably just for kids but I’m still a kid a heart so I’m at Fields of Fire Mystic ready for an evening climbing adventure. Two brave girlfriends join me. Acres of lights remind me of a Christmas display. The trees and stone walls are gorgeous and it’s hard to believe I’m only 5 minutes from downtown Mystic. As suggested on the website, all three of us read and signed our waivers online and arrive 20 minutes before our scheduled climbing time for training.
A platform less than two feet above ground is where we learn about the clips, belays and body harness we’re wearing. While climbing, we will be attached, at all times, by 1-3 heavy straps and metal carabiner clips which are each rated for weight in excess of 1000 pounds. Each of the two clips is unhooked, one at a time, and attached onto the next rope or metal wire by pulling down hard. The locked in “click” sound is reassuring. Will shows us how the second will not unhook if the first one is still unhooked. This “smart belay” system prevents the climber from being un-tethered either accidentally or intentionally. Since most climbers on these courses are inexperienced, this feature is critical to overall safety. The term “belay” refers to the action of securing a rope to something then keeping tension on the rope for safety.
Before climbing up to the first platform we clip onto a large blue loop on a vertical rope pulley. Below that is another clip connecting our waist to a smaller rope loop. One hand is used to climb the ladder while the other pulls on the rope pulley system to move upward. A little awkward at first, I’m pleased with a demonstration showing that small hook at my waist will stop the entire pulley system in mid-air if I fall off the rope ladder. I still haven’t left the ground but each bit of safety information is comforting.
At the top of the first platform, one heavy carabiner at a time is moved from the rope ladder to a rope secured around the tree at the center of the platform. Once both of those clips are on the platform, each is then clipped onto the main safety wire of the “element” which is the industry name for a designed obstacle. Each element requires some degree of arm strength, leg strength and balance. We’re starting on an easy course so walking across a rope bridge while holding onto vertical ropes is simple. The two safety clips attached to us slide along the heavy wire above our heads. Staff are within view at all times to assist, if necessary and seem to be watching carefully.
Five different elevated courses of varying difficulty comprise this park. Two yellow courses are the easiest. Green is a little bit more challenging. Blue is significantly more challenging (more on this later) and Black is three times harder than Blue. If you’re counting, the Black course is roughly 5-6 times more difficult than Yellow and is best tackled by athletic, experienced climbers. There are a total 70 platforms with heights ranging from 12-70 feet off the ground. The blue course is located directly above an easier course. Distance from the ground increases with the difficulty of the course.
Owners Thomas &; Enza Vignato opened in this location as a series of paintball fields after decades of hotel experience led them to believe more entertainment options were needed in the Mystic area. The ropes courses have become so popular that paintball is no longer offered. Climbers average 30 minutes per course but experience and other climbers affect overall times. Our group of three is followed by a group of 20 but we’re barely impacted due to staggered starting times. The nighttime climbing is well lit and well-staffed.
I lead through the first yellow course but Camile is more nimble and the obvious choice to lead Becky and me through the rest. Although some of the features challenge her, she manages to stay just far enough ahead of us to stop mid-element to swing back and forth in her harness. I wish I had a photo of her swinging but it was difficult to use my phone’s camera in the middle of each course. As elements became more difficult I was usually holding on with both hands. The park’s website says “falling is part of the fun” though I wasn’t willing to fall on purpose. Knowing we can only drop 14 inches before the harness catches us encourages Camile to play with abandon. Becky and I thoroughly enjoy ourselves but are more conservative. We three share smiles, laughter, and words of encouragement.
Each of the courses ends with a zip line where we hook onto the safety wire(s) and slide to a padded landing near ground level. The first zip line is a gradual slope so our descent is slow. Beginning with the second zip line which has a steeper angle, Camile launches herself to increase speed. She’s grinning from ear to ear after each exhilarating ride. Becky and I join in whooping like kids. We’re re-discovering the joy of playing. Near the end of the third course I’m unable to unhook the carabiner clip and believe my loss of hand strength is due to fatigue. It’s actually because the first hook I moved is not securely closed. Chalk one up to safety technology working properly.
The minimum age to climb is 7 but all climbers must be able to comfortably reach 62 inches overhead and weigh between 60 and 275 pounds. I’m almost 5’9” and some of the safety wires required me to stretch a bit to hook in. If you’re wondering if you can do this, Tom tells me his oldest climber was an 84 year-old woman with double hip replacements. She told him she felt a bit like Peter Pan high up in the trees. She and the Adventure Club from the Groton Senior Center have climbed several times. Tom also shares how 12-15 year old girls absolutely “crush even the hardest courses because their strength to weight ratio makes them natural Ninjas. Sometimes,” he says, “the weight lifting guys think it will be easy but they have a harder time with balance. Kids fly through the courses.” Maybe the kids do but Becky, Camile and I spent two solid hours making our way through two yellow courses and the green course. Becky and I have uncontrollably wobbly legs on one section while walking across a tightrope but we are successful and pleased with ourselves.
Exhausted and sore but not quite ready to quit, Camile and I climb up to the Blue course. She makes it across the first element but I end up stuck on a horizontal log freely swinging from a rope on each end. Twenty feet and two more swinging logs separate me from platforms on each side. Straddling the log I call out “I’m not kidding here. I’m not sure I can make it forward or back” causes both Becky and Camile to laugh. Yup, this is all part of the fun. With encouragement from staff I make my way back to the starting platform and down the ladder. I’m pretty grateful to be on solid ground but happy to have attempted something so hard. I’d like to tackle the Blue course again when I’m not already tired. My hands feel slightly cramped from the death grip I’ve used most of the night and I’m grateful for gloves that are part of my safety gear. Without them, my hands would probably be full of scrapes.
At the end of two solid hours of climbing, balancing, and sweating, we relax in comfortable Adirondack chairs around a campfire while sharing favorite moments. Becky says, “I thought it would be easier. The zip lines were my favorite part and I enjoyed the companionship and encouragement.” “Great date night idea”, Camile says. “I loved the zip lines and swinging between elements and that I burned a few extra calories so I can eat more Halloween candy.” We all look forward to returning and, I too, could stand to burn a few more calories.
Tom says, “Don’t miss out on something that could be great just because it could also be difficult.” Wise words from a man who has seen climbers of all ages overcome fear of heights then beam with pride after making it through multiple obstacles (elements). One man who planned to stay on the ground while the rest of his family climbed was encouraged to practice using the gear at ground level. That gave him enough confidence to join his family on the course and create wonderful memories.
“Famous people, all kinds of people have come”. Tom says. This year, corporate groups came with catered food to create fun team-building experiences but everyone is welcome to bring food and beverages to enjoy at the picnic tables. Evenings are BYOB around the campfires. Gatorade, water, chips and candy are available for sale at the equipment trailer. I can barely hold a water bottle but make a point of drinking all of it.
Tom and Enza have bigger and better plans for next year. The paintball fields will be developed into teambuilding obstacle courses similar to “Tough Mudder” and American Ninja. New obstacle courses will provide both individual and team-building opportunities perfect for corporate groups or youth groups. A new food truck will have delicious food options and a scary Halloween ropes course is planned. Outdoor concerts and food competitions will round out the expansion plans into more of the 50 rugged woodland acres. With an eye toward eco-tourism and respect for the environment, all expansions will include only tents, trailers and other temporary structures. The trees and stone walls add so much to the experience.
Like everyone else I’ve seen the course lit up at night and its huge sign beckons from I-95. “Everyone has driven by it, now it’s time to do it,” says Tom Vignato. I agree.
Pro Tip 1: Stash your phone in a jacket pocket because the safety harness will be in the way of pants’ pockets.
Pro Tip 2: Use the portable toilet before putting on your harness.
Pro Tip 3: Leave your water bottle in the car. You can get a drink between courses.
Adults 13+up $57
Kids 7-12 $49 Ages 7-9 must have an adult guardian climbing with them.
Up to 3 hours of climbing time plus 30 minutes of instruction.
Gift certificates make incredible, memorable gifts.
Portable toilets and a hand-washing station are adjacent to parking.
Open 10 am. 7 days a week through the end of the year. The last weekday reservation is at 2:00 p.m. (allowing for 6 p.m. weekday closing) and the last weekend reservation is 7:00 p.m. (allowing for 11 p.m. closing). At least two climber reservations are required in order for the park to open during the week and that reservation must be made 24 hours in advance. Open through the end of the year even in light rain or light snow conditions. Closed on Thanksgiving and Christmas.
715 Noank Ledyard Rd. Mystic, CT.