By Mary O’KEEFE and Michael ARVIZU
Really there is nothing to it. You simply slip into the harness, hook up the ropes, sit on the top of the bridge and go over. Yes, crawl over the top of the bridge and dangle from the end of one rope while you rappel down about 120 feet. Nothing to it.
“Some have a tough time letting go,” said Mike Leum, member of the Montrose Search and Rescue.
Leum was speaking about students from the Crescenta Valley High School Bridges Program who, on Saturday, participated in their annual rappelling day. Eight students were given the opportunity to rappel off one side of Devil’s Gate Dam in Pasadena overlooking the Arroyo Seco.
Their training came from members of the Montrose Search and Rescue team who know more than a little about rappelling from bridges, mountains and helicopters.
“We give [the kids] a lesson before they go over,” Leum said.
Many times a member of the team will rappel down in front or to the side of a student.
Each year the students have similar reactions to the experience. Some are ready to go, while others are more hesitant.
The MSR team has participated in this event for many years. Leum said the most difficult part of rappelling for many students is that first step.
“It’s the climb from one side of the bridge to the other,” he said.
Once over the edge, it is down the side and back up the stairs. Many who, Leum said, were at first hesitant wanted to go again – and again.
“It is a rewarding program for both [the kids] and [MSR],” he added. “This [event] builds confidence and team building. They cheer each other on as they [rappel].”
Los Angeles County Sheriff Deputy Scott Shinagawa, who is also the CVHS school resource officer, founded Bridges. It is a mentoring program that has gained popularity since its inception in 2009. In addition to the rappelling experience, throughout the year the kids visit or are visited by professionals in a variety of careers including the film industry, architecture and engineering. Members of the program get a chance to speak to professionals on a one-on-one basis.
But beyond researching different careers, the program at its foundation is a mentoring program. Members of Bridges look to Shinagawa as an example and come to trust him.
What is learned at the Devils Gate Dam Rappelling Day is something that will stay with students beyond the one-day event. Former Bridges member Brian Sterner had participated in the rappelling day in 2009.
“I did this [three] years ago,” Sterner said in a past interview with CVW. “Since then I have thought about it a lot. It is nice to know that not only can you depend on someone to have your back, but you can depend on yourself.”
For more information about the Bridges program, call Shinagawa at (818) 249-5871 or the Crescenta Valley Sheriff’s Station at (818) 248-3464.