Well, all I can say is wow.
Wow because amazing.
Wow because terrifying.
Maybe terrifying is a slight over exaggeration, but incredibly effing scary, yes.
For those who read my blog religiously (legends) or whether you’ve stumbled across this post by Googling the wrong thing, let me give you a bit of background.
I am terrified of heights.
Getting on a chair lift at the local Royal Show? Reluctantly, if at all.
I am not so bad that I will refuse to do things, but it is something which makes my palms sweat and I will avoid as much as I can due to the anxiety it causes me.
When developing the bucket list for my 30th birthday, I asked some of my nearest and dearest to help out with some entries. A good mate added one of the items I was dreading the most.
Climb Gloucester Tree.
This is Gloucester Tree…
Gloucester tree is an old fire lookout about 4 hours south of Perth in a town called Pemberton. They don’t watch for fires there anymore, but they’ve opened the climb to the public. A series of approximately 150 rungs spiral their way up the tree to a podium 53 metres above ground.
Considering my 30th birthday is looming in only a few short months, I have been preparing and working on getting some of these ticks, well, ticked. Determined not to do the mad dash in July and keep the steady flow going. This in mind, when I work 2 out of 4 weekends it makes it hard to fit everything in and sometimes you just have to bite the bullet and fit it what you can. This happened with the tree. We have literally driven the 4 hours to Pemberton, leaving in the wee dark hours of the morning, to make it there for the climb at 9:30am. We are driving back after. It is the only way I can guarantee the ticks are all demolished by August!
The drive is good, I distract myself with conversation and napping and manage not to think too much about the upcoming feat. In fact, I am quietly confident. Incredibly over confident actually.
I’ve snuck away with my boyfriends GoPro in a hope that I can dummy up a DIY mount without him freaking out at my craftsmanship. Me and my mate shoe up, glove up (well I glove up for fear of my sweaty fear palms) and manage to use the back of my hat to weave the GoPro on.
Inventor of the future.
“I can’t do this”
At this stage the rungs appear blurry… however, they are not blurry. Mind games come in to play and to focus on the rungs is hard. They stick out about a metre from the tree and so there is natural movement with weight. They don’t appear to be moving, they are actually moving!
I turn back.
I psych myself out and take myself to ground level. At this stage I am pretty sure I won’t be climbing this tree this day. Just read the warnings!!!
After a short rest, up I go.
I know I need a little help to get me up. There’s the obvious ones, don’t look down, one step at a time, you can do it! No, but for me, running through my head were the 3 statements I vowed to be my mantra a year or so ago, they come to me in times of need.
I am strong.
I am confident.
I am fearless.
These 3 statements rolled around my head on repeat for all 150+ steps. I believed them, and because I believed them, I did it. I made it.
Slowly but surely, I made every step of the way to the top of Gloucester Tree. Past the branches that half replaced rungs and fully threw your balance out. Past platform 1 and it’s false sense of security. Platform two offered a second refuge until you realised that an actual ladder is what took you to the top and the lookout!
You’re rewarded with a rare view of the trees from above. Not often do you surpass the height of the trees, yet stay within such a proximity to them. Beyond the beauty of the view, was the exhilarating feeling of facing a fear and making it. That deep self pride of knowing how hard this was and what it meant to make it, and doing it. No view can match that.
Unfortunately, Newton’s law of physics is correct, what goes up, certainly does have to come down. Including me.
I had to descend the same steps.
Regardless of the people ascending, my fear, heat, worry, and the rest, I had to come down.
Getting down the ladder was fine. The spacing is consistent and although I am uncomfortable, I am comforted by this. By the point of the last platform, I am beside myself with fear, worry and a dreadful feeling of uncertainty. I knew that to not freak out was to not look down, but the feeling of not sensing or knowing where the next lower step would be was terrifying. I stood on the last platform and cried. Worried that I wouldn’t make it down. Thankfully, close friends know the way to get you going without going too ‘tough love’.
“Come on, don’t start up, you can do it”.
As I stood there on the platform and contemplated my options, I realised I had only one. Get down.
We waited for a young girl to get to the platform before we head down. She lets us know there’s another 2 people a little further down, and I don’t even know what we said next but she stood there and told me I had done so well getting up there because of my fears. That spike of pride in having achieved something completely terrifying to me was enough to step, step, grab, grab, my way down. No point waiting for the others.
We came to the boy and the mum, he was clearly scared and his mum was encouraging him up. I realised that the young boys fear superseded mine and so I took the outside of the rung to let him cling to the safety of the tree side. I told him he didn’t have long to go and he was doing great. Why not hey, I appreciated the motivation earlier.
There is an odd manoeuvre to get past with a branch in the way, meaning the rung is smaller, you either treat the branch as the rung or you adjust yourself in a way to get around the branch. It’s not comfortable, but knowing this is the last part which involves anything besides standard descent, I managed it without too much drama.
Before I knew it, my mate has yelled up to me that “we’re just past the branch where the boys turned around the first time!”
“What!? We’re already at the branch? The last branch near the bottom?”
Getting to the ground there were smiles and hugs. Gloves off, drop to the ground, holy shit I did it! As you watch the crowd and their apprehension at the climb, it doesn’t matter, because I did it, and I never thought I would actually make it. The relief of it being over is soon taken over by the intense sense of achievement.
If you’re considering the trip to make the climb, don’t do what I did and rush it in a day trip. Give yourself plenty of time to really explore the area, and hey, maybe if you’re keen you can climb the sister trees of the area, the Diamond tree (52 metres) and the Bicentennial tree (75 metres), I passed on these on this occasion. I’ve got it on the list of places to head back to this summer.
If like me, you’re in the business of facing your fear of heights, this is a good place to aim to get to. Probably not step 1, but definitely something that will test you in a great way!
From here, it was straight to the pub for opening hour and a glass of bubbles to a) celebrate and b) help bring my heart rate back down to earth!
Until next time xx