I’m Oh hi again.
I’ve been somewhat of a writer MIA lately. It happens. I’ve been halted on writing about my latest 30:thirty feats, because I haven’t wanted to rush the one that I did a good, almost month ago.
So here she comes, out of the shadows of the festive season….
December was a bit “crazy town” for everyone, I was not immune to this. The month ran away in a blur of drinks and parties and ham and turkey and suddenly it was time to gear up for a whole new year. That week of complete nothingness and confusion between Christmas and New Years Eve just disappears, as December did.
Well, instead of sitting on my hands and wishing the year away, I bit the bullet and booked myself in for a chance to tick another bucket list bad girl right off.
The day rolled around and I didn’t really want to do it, after a heap of working I had not even prepared for it, and next thing you know I’m driving up to the hills to face a fear that I don’t even know how I got!
One of the ‘gifted’ items on the list, was to abseil. This was lovingly (lovingly? Not sure this is the right word when I could have plummeted to my death, but hey, ok, lovingly) put on my list to achieve by my dad, so it seemed completely appropriate when booking my adventure, that dad too would be coming along, and he too would be abseiling his way to certain death.
Many moons ago, I was drinking a barrel of bourbon after a few nightshifts, and came across a Scoopon for a twilight abseiling adventure. The liquid courage had my credit card out and entered before you could say “are you sure about that sir” and a text sent to my father dearest to keep said date free.
After that, it didn’t get a second thought until I was harnessed up and about to throw (that’s an exaggeration) myself off the side of a cliff.
A quarry, correction.
Throw myself off the side of an old quarry.
For anyone who hasn’t read my post about ticking the Freo Prison Tunnels tour off the list (you can find it here), wouldn’t understand what fear of heights I possess. To put it in to perspective, I will not relax myself on a chair lift over a theme park without the palms of my hands sweating. I descended a 20 metre, harnessed ladder, to the Fremantle tunnels, with much distress and real crying tears. It’s a real fear. Somehow, several heights related feats ended up on this 30:thirty list. Great.
I followed dad over to what appeared to be our abseiling group, and as dads do, watched as he preceded to embarrass his fear mongering daughter. With approximately 15 minutes between arriving and being completely harnessed up, we were trotted up to the starting descent. It was steep, and rugged, and I was not alone in my gasps for air at the top, and that was just the climb! We watched as a relatively small backpack exploded open with ropes and other such safety equipment. Gulp.
Dad was one of the first to volunteer, and I had decided internally that I was to follow him. He breezed through it, having done it before years ago, and I was built in to a real, proper, false sense of security. As I was called forward next, our guide asked how I was feeling. My lack of answer spelt it out directly. I was terrified. I was about to walk backwards over a perfectly good ledge, down a perfectly good wall, just to step on the same floor I’d already stepped on. As Sven, our guide, began to latch my harness on to the support rope, I could feel my hand shaking independently from my body. My throat began closing up and, microscopic tears began to fall from the corners of my eyes, thankfully my sunglasses protected me from anyone knowing the tears were there.
All my loved ones were at the bottom. I had a relative stranger about to hold my life at his hands, and I had only me to trust. He sensed my concerns. Sven began to tell me all about the safety in the harness, the ropes, the clips. When he asked if it was that that I didn’t trust, I admitted that it was in fact ME that I didn’t trust. I was shown that he had my safety at his hands, and as soon as I lost ‘trust’ in myself, or didn’t pull myself up, he could stop me in an instant. For what felt like a lifetime, he told me stories of others, himself, many people, who were faced with a feat such as this. His calming words, and understanding of my fears were enough to to not only begin the descent, backwards, on to the vertical cliff face below me, but to also convince me to let go of all ropes, and demonstrate that he can stop me no matter what. Or a chance for him to take photo. “Don’t forget to breathe Erin!” Ha. Ha! How could he tell.
With sweating palms, and much uncertainly, I crept my feet backwards and down the wall with what I can only call the perfect (it’s me talking here) squat position. I am trusting my weight against the harness and walking myself down the wall. Manoeuvring the random cracks and changes in the rock, and after a while allowing myself to attempt little jumps off the wall. I probably could’ve jumped more if I have allowed myself to let go of more rope, but hey, baby steps. Baby jumps.
At the bottom of the descent I am greeted by my dad, who had been holding my ropes and calling out exclaimactions of encouragement the whole time, my mum, and my boyfriend. As I detached myself from the rope, and tried to get my hands in to some kind of control, I was hugged, kissed, cheered and directed toward a place to sit and relax.
My other half caught the perfect photo of me after my first descent, and it sums up my feelings to a tee. I was shit hot terrified, but so fucking proud of myself all at once. Sometimes a face gives away all meaning, and this is the perfect example of such a thing.
Another go at the 15m, and it’s time to climb the quarry again. This time, we tackle the 60 metre. 60 fucking metres. We climb and puff and climb and admire the view. We reach the point of descent and begin the safety talk. I can’t get my head past the things he is saying. Soft sand. Overhangs to tackle. Correct placement on the rocks. Rope needs to be on this side. It’s a challenging face. Bonus? It’s an easy start. Our support points are higher than us so less pressure on the body getting over the edge. Brilliant.
This time, there were a few people who wanted to go first, plus a longer descent, so I had plenty of time to psych myself out of it all. Eventually, dad had his go, and I ‘shot gunned’ my turn after him.
I am thankful to have taken the pressure off my lower back on the initial ‘landing’, but all I keep thinking is “sandy spot, big ledges, correct rope direction, big overhang”. Another photo opportunity and I am on my way. Sven manages to talk us through the first 10 or so metres, but then the quarry swallows all the noise off the wall and reliability is on the guys at the bottom to communicate with me. Thanks dad. The first 1/3 of the wall is tough. I get past the sand without difficulty, and am starting to watch for ledges and cracks and making sure my rope ends up to the left of the little jutted out rock. There is a fine art to trying to see where you’re going without allowing yourself to see the floor… No way, no way, no way am I looking down now.
At one of the ledges I confuse my footing and slip, unable to balance with the one foot I hang and sway independent from the wall. My legs kick and kick around (there’s video footage, there’s always video footage) and finally I grip my feet back on the wall and restart me descent.
The bottom half of the 60m face is fairly simple, and I start imagining that surely I’m almost at the bottom now. Someone read my mind and yells up to me “You’re doing great! You’re almost half way!” What the fuck!!?? I thought I’d be pretty close now. I’m tiring, my heart and guts is still 30 metres above me and I have a ways to go. Thankfully the most challenging part is over!
If I thought I was shaky by the end of the 15m face, I didn’t know what shaky was. My whole body is shaking and now that I am free of the wall I feel the sweats, and butterflies that I had so desperately tried to ignore. Many hugs come my way and I sit and try to regain some sort of composure. I’m just as proud for conquering this one, but I have a fair bit of fear anxiety to shake before I can truly appreciate that I enjoyed what I just did!
There’s a stop for dinner and a rest before we tackle the third and final abseil of the evening. As I mentioned earlier, this was a twilight abseiling adventure, and so we have spent the last 2 descents watching the sun set around us. As we approach this final feat, it is darkness. Besides a teeny tiny little lamp on our hard hats, the only light we see is the stars above and the illuminated smart phone screens of our loved ones below.
So how did I go tackling the night time wall?
Well, it was not so much of a wall, as a rock which we started the journey on that then disappeared from our wake. We were tackling the overhang abseil at night. Great.
Having rested for that little bit too long, I am completely psyched out, and watching the others go down before me, and seeing them so exposed up there on the rock made it harder. The rope supports set so low for this one and so feeling any support from them doesn’t come until you are practically 90 degrees to the rock face. Standing up there, clipped on, completely exposed, I pulled out. I stood up there and cried and asked to get down, and when those tried to console me, I insisted, and I sat back on my rock.
As the others in the group all went down around me, I sat and contemplated. I cried some more, I let the scenarios wallow around in my head and the fear was completely closing in on me.
I can’t do this.
I can’t get over that ledge.
What if this?
What if that?
What if somethingerother?
The time came where every other member of the group had descended and I had a decision to make. As I stood there, and people who were strangers 5 hours ago told me about how great it felt once it was done, and how fun it was to just hang there once the overhang had disappeared, I looked back in time to myself in similar situations…
8 years ago I was in a place called Hamner Springs in New Zealand’s South Island. After having gone speed boating down there with a friend, I marched on up to the bookings office and booked straight on to bungee off the bridge. A pretty awesome place to do it. River below you, snow capped mountains around you, the only thing holding you back from the reverse view was the first step off the bridge… I stood there for an eternity building up the courage to do it. Knowing inside me that I was terrified to take the leap, but too stubborn to be that girl that booked a bungee and walked away. At that thought I closed my eyes and fell forward off the bridge and screamed at the exhilleration of it. Once the rope had caught and you swung around and could really appreciate what you’d done and the beauty of where you’d done it, nothing could stop you from smiling and laughing and just feeling incredible.
It was then that I knew that I was doing this descent. 40 metres, about 10 of that rock, the rest you just hung there and let your rope out until you hit ground.
Now I take my hat off to Sven right now, because I took my absolute time taking off, and he was there every step of the way with the other rope to help me get over the challenging start. He was probably helping me out more than I even know.
As I reached a point where it appeared that the rock was receding in, I let my feet go and sat back in the harness ready to relax…. Pity I wasn’t quite ready for that yet, and I gently face planted in to the rock, but hey, another metre and I was ready to let my legs swing! As I finally let go of the fear that had almost taken over me, I revelled in the complete darkness and yelled…
“Oh, thank FUCK for this bit!!!”
The hang time was excellent and I am so thankful I had the guts up there to just effing do it.
I was rewarded yet again with hugs, and cheers and this time laughter at what I’d yelled on the way down. I was also rewarded with one very generously poured bourbon in a take away cup. Thanks mum.
I will never be able to describe in words how appreciative I was of my own little cheer squad. Obviously dad was there 100% to cheer me on from the top of the rocks, but down below, mum came along with camp chairs, packets of chips, shortbread (“Does anyone want any shortbread?”), and a bottle of bourbon. Sat next to her, sans bourbon, was my other half. Who now knows more about the twisted workings of what makes me a Barnes, and he hasn’t run, thanks mum.
I am also going to take this opportunity to shout out to Sven from Space Chameleon Adventure Co. Seriously you handled my terror so well and your calming and empathetic words really helped me out there. The tour was also super entertaining and informative and fun! For anyone who would like the twirling abseil, they’re the only guys that do it in Perth, but they do other stuff to! Check their website out right here!
I have a little ways to go with my Acrophobia, but I am getting there, and I am pretty man proud of myself for earning this tick. It’s adventures like these, and life changing moments like these that had me creating the 30:thirty list in the first place.