Two long, tautly strung ropes which cross diagonally between four anchor points
In advance, assess your group’s physical abilities and spotting skills as required for this exercise.
Divide into teams of 3 people with one (traversing) participant and a minimum of 2 spotters taking turns.
Objective: Challenge each individual to traverse (from one end to the other) as far as possible using the two ropes for support.
A traversing participant must have at least two spotters, one on each side of the cable and positioned a half-step back from the side of the participant.
As in all traversing elements, spotters will move with the participant.
When a participant steps off or falls from the cable, invite them to have another attempt or swap with another person.
Allow as many attempts as possible within your allotted time frame.
Process your group’s experience at the conclusion of the task.
Inspect the area for unsafe ground cover and other obstructions.
Inspect and confirm the integrity of the two ropes and anchor points.
Plan an appropriate sequence of lead-up activities to prepare your group (physically, emotionally & mentally) for success.
Adjust the tightness of the ropes (using the prusik knot) to suit the abilities of your group.
Present the problem clearly, review spotting requirements and answer questions before the first individual makes their attempt.
Be an active spotter at all times.
Focus primarily on providing support for the participant’s head and upper torso.
Recognise that when a fall occurs, it usually happens quickly and often in the middle of the traverse.
When a falls occurs, the spotters agree to move in to support the participant and prevent them from landing on the ground.
If only two spotters (minimum,) they will move their position to keep pace with the traversing participant at all times.
Spotters will provide sufficient space between their spotting stance and the participant to allow room for movement of the participant and the ropes.
The traversing participant will only step onto the ropes after all safety and check-in protocols have been performed.
Practical Leadership Tips
The lower anchors for the ropes should be strung no higher than approx 450mm above the ground to make it easy to step up onto.
In case it’s not obvious, participants will start with their feet on the lower rope and hands on the upper rope. Naturally, as they traverse the activity, their connection to these two ropes switches which is why it’s so challenging.
While two spotters are required to keep this activity safe, owing to the inherent dynamic of the traverse, four spotters are preferred.
Urge your group to resist the temptation to offer or seek physical support from the spotters. When a fall occurs, simply encourage participants to make another attempt.
As with many spotting exercises, this activity perfectly reflects the continuum of empowerment. Spotters often feel compelled to offer a hand or a shoulder to prevent a fall from occurring (disempowering the participant.) Equally, the hand or shoulder of a spotter is a very attractive option for the traversing participant when they are feeling unsure. Ideally, the participant should feel empowered to engage in an attempt that would not be possible without the safety net of their spotters. To this end, spotters should never stand too far back from the participant to be ineffective. It’s a fine balance and the more practice one makes, the better judgements are exercised.
This element can be integrated into a section of the Mohawk Walk, but owing to its typical difficulty, it is best designed as an individual challenge.
You could integrate Hourglass as part of a well-designed SEL program to develop your group’s ability to manage their emotions, thoughts and behaviours effectively in different situations and to achieve goals.
Specifically, this activity offers opportunities to explore and practice the following social & interpersonal skills:
Anticipating & Evaluating the Consequences of One’s Actions
Promoting Personal & Collective Well-Being
You can learn more about SEL and how it can support character education here.
Health & Wellness Programming
This activity is tough to accomplish the first time, so it will be necessary to frame it accordingly. In advance, during and certainly at the conclusion of the challenge, you could explore a variety of strategies that build resilience to help individual group members be successful. The inclination to ‘give up’ is commonplace as much as the unwillingness to even make an attempt because it looks too hard. Connect these thoughts to other real-world examples to help your group understand that most challenges can be overcome with persistence, good strategies and a growth mindset.
Paired Hourglass Challenge: Invite two people starting from opposite ends to traverse the activity at the same time. Ideally, challenge the pair to pass each other in the middle of the ropes. In this case, you will need twice as many spotters.
Up the Challenge: Adjust the prusik knot to slacken one or both ropes to increase the level of difficulty. The tighter the ropes, the easier the activity will be to complete.
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Useful Framing Ideas
Any activity that offers the participant support in one form or another will often be more successful. Such is the truth for this next exercise where you will find support for both your feet and hands, but not in the way you might think…
Do you know what the term ‘crux’ means in the context of a challenge? [ allow time for responses… ] Yes, that’s right, it means the most difficult part of the exercise. So, when you look at the Hourglass activity, where do you think the crux of the challenge is…?
Like sands through an hourglass, such are the days of our lives… was the famous line of one of the longest-running TV series called the Days of Our Lives. Sometimes, when watching the series, it would seem that time would stand still because things moved so slowly. But that won’t be your problem in this next exercise when events often happen very quickly, without notice…
Reflection Tips & Strategies
Coupled with one or more reflection strategies, here are some sample questions you could use to process your group’s experience after leading this fun challenge course activity:
Once you stepped up onto the ropes, did it seem that challenge would be easier than it was? Why?
What did you tell yourself as you traversed?
What point in the activity would you describe as the most challenging?
Did the presence of your spotters make a difference to your efforts?
As spotters, did you observe anything interesting?
What difference do you think your role as spotter makes to the participant?
The inspiration for the Hourglass is generally unknown but was popularised during the development of Project Adventure‘s adventure-based curriculum in the 1990s.