“The biggest abseil you could do on a school trip”
It’s like a guilty pleasure in times of global warming. Driving at night on the highway with the headlights leading the way and loud, loud music setting the groove. I delve way back to one of the biggest selling albums of all time, 2 years in the charts. The heartbeating start transports me back to 1973 where I lay on the floor in the dark between speakers on high volume, thinking in deep teenage about life. Some music dates but this is still rich and fresh and sumptuous. A brilliant full moon rises. Themes sing straight to my heart even from the little voices in between the main tracks “I am not afraid of dying, why should I be afraid?” – I’d been to the funeral of a relative’s best and beautiful friend a few days prior, “Time, ticking away the moments that make up a dull day” I’m trying to work out how to best spend my time in retirement, the guitar soars inside my speeding metal and glass cocoon, “money, its a hit, don’t give me that do goody good bullshit”, how much do we need to live a good life? “Us, us, us and them, them, them”, we’re still at war with each other.
I met up with the group from my old college from which I had recently finished work. It was late. Sleeping in the staff cabin was interspersed with snorers, Siri being bumped on and the wind. 5,30 am get up, quick cuppa and muesli then off in the bus by 6.00.
We set up the ropes on the top pitch of Malaita Wall. I had wanted to do this famous descent for years. Dan, the teacher in charge, abseiled down first as the sun rose between the Three Sisters, pink clouds in the south, dawn light shining on the sheer face. He’s a great operator – experienced guide, knowledgable teacher and very skilful people person.
Pitch 1 45 m vertical and spectacular, a little scary in strong wind, to the top of a pinnacle.
Pitch 2 30m down a steep groove to a large ledge. I supervise as a trainee guide anchors the students then sends them down on a safety rope belay. Scramble down a steep but safe track.
Pitch 3 35m between two trees with the southern Blue Mountains stretching off behind into the distance, range upon range. Down a steep slab, over the first exciting overhang to a wide ledge, scramble right on a safety line.
Pitch 4 25m almost vertical wall, everyone confident by now.
Pitch 5 and 6 45m We run them both together for the students then the last person descends in two sections to minimise rope drag on the pull down.
Dan “That’s got to be about the longest abseil done by a school group”. He’s right. We take two groups down in the day. Punters pay about $250 to be guided down this wall. I wonder if the students, who all took it in their stride, appreciate what they’ve done.
Reflected dawn light Malaita Wall – Dan descending first
Dark again on the long drive home. I sing out, alive and wide awake like I’m at some “great gig in the sky”.