Meet a mature adventurer, a man who shares the thrill of rock climbing with his younger mates. This particular trip may whet your own appetite for adventure – even if you’re not as young as you used to be.
God, every step out on our trip is downhill, which means when I return, the going will be uphill. This is what I’m thinking about a kilometre into the walk-in with my two somewhat younger abseiling mates. That, along with, “Geez, they’re pretty fast” and “what a great adventure we’ll have!”
Many very experienced climbers say of abseiling that it poses more risks than rock climbing, so you’d better know your stuff, like how to set up, check your equipment and how to react if a risk event happens (dialling Triple Zero is oft raised at this point). We three were looking forward to multi-pitch abseiling today in regions not known by many, if any, for this type of adventure.
We hike the few kilometres in on a well-travelled trail; then my mate points to the spot to go off-track (we’d scouted out this first part a fortnight earlier). We put on our gaiters (to protect against spiders, snakes and leeches), take off our jackets (it’s a pretty energetic walk) and we’re “bush bashing”. After a few hundred metres we get to the top of the crag. This is relatively easy – we’d done this bit before, so we gear up, harnesses, descenders, safety gear hanging from our harnesses. We find the same tree and rig our 30-metre abseiling rope. Trip leader Dan goes over first, then our guest Susan. I’m last (I’m seconding the trip which means I’m the last man down, supposedly tidying up in case someone earlier gets into trouble). We know we can pull the rope down for next abseil. And so we continue, two more abseils of around 15 metres each, on our merry way to the bottom.
Each abseil has an overhang, so skill – not strength or audacity – counts. Older is okay. Dan and Susan’s ages together add to just a bit over mine.
We scramble through the thick ferns to the bottom track and hike to the other side of the inlet, to find a way up to the very high crag on this “other side”. Dan had scouted this out weeks ago and we’d both looked at it from across the inlet on our exploratory trip. It promised a massive abseil. Going one way, then the other after some advice from locals, we scramble up, and more steeply upwards, some 150 metres. I like this part, as steep scrambling is like climbing, which is something I can sometimes do as well as – if not better than – my younger peers. It’s nice to be competitive, although it’s clear my mates are keeping an eye out for me. Sometimes I don’t know whether this pleases me or pisses me off, but of course, it’s my part to look out for them too. Age, gender, even fitness is now irrelevant; we’re together, that’s what counts.
We reach the top of this new crag and it’s fantastic, ours to do. Perhaps no one has ever been here; almost certainly no one has abseiled from here. They’d be nuts (many veterans hate the idea of bush bashing just for an abseil). It’s getting to here that I unknowingly picked up a couple of leeches. More about that below.
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It takes some time to find a suitable tree to rig our abseil rope from. It’s a good 45-metre drop! We set up, do our checks and over we go, but not without a bit of drama. Susan goes down first. We get her to try the rope pulldown but the rope’s not budging an inch. So we stuff around trying different tweaks. Time is passing, it’s getting late and we have an eye on last light to get back to the car. I figure if we move the rope up onto the smooth part of the trunk, then it’ll work; it does, so we’re back on our way. Perhaps I can credit myself: older and wiser for thinking up this simple solution.
We reach the bottom and now we’re racing to hike back before we run out of daylight, but we only make it two-thirds up before it’s dark. Thankfully Susan has her head torch (we all should have brought one). Again in this unwritten thoughtfulness, Susan gives me her headlight and takes my rope to lighten my load. Geez, am I old or something?
I constantly assess myself, as safety is a team consideration. Any one of us could twist an ankle or make a rigging mistake; we rely on each other. I try to manage my risk margins with generosity, balancing my need for adventure, for doing it myself and not being dragged along. I read and research a lot so have the gear and rigging options thought out. I also climb indoors usually at least twice a week. I have a couple of regular indoor partners, one younger, the other a similar vintage to me; both keep me on my toes, both wanting to stretch their limits.
Nonetheless, as we start out on any adventurous trip, I’m thinking, “What the f…! Don’t stuff up, or if I do, please let it be an ‘anybody could have stuffed up’, stuff up.” Or I could turn around and head home. I always ask myself this, but haven’t walked away yet.
Back to this particular day trip. We’re really moving quickly up a long, at times very steep, uneven trail. I probably lose about 10 metres for every 200 metres on my younger mates, but they keep me closely in sight. I think that’s not too bad.
We get to the car, grins all round, but shit, there’s a leech on the back of my hand. It won’t brush off. Susan rescues me and laughs at what a wimp I am. There’s plenty of jokes. Black humour helps.
As we head home, there’s lots of chatter about the next trip, like who’ll be chucked down the rope first next time etc. I brush my hair and – shit, there’s another leech on my hand. Mild panic, but I manage to dislodge it onto the car floor. Dan says we’re not going anywhere until we find that leech (it’s his car). Howls of laughter. The leech is eventually found and I’m given the honour of sending it on to its next life.
There’s life in this older devil yet!