Category Archives: Abseiling

Drawing the line

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Drawing the line

14/12/15

Bungonia – Cooee Point

Abseiling

 

IMG_0354An old cable linked rusted metal stakes drilled hard into limestone. The barrier to an old safety fence at a lookout now abandoned. Cooee Point. A mate had pushed one of the first climbing routes up the cliff below in the seventies. “Old and Grey”. It had a fearsome reputation for lack of protection and a crux through loose overhangs at the very top of the 300m wall. Times change. Now bolted sport routes at the current limits of human climbing capability lace up most of the rock. Bold and sustained. The preserve of those at the cutting edge of physicality and adventure spirit. This is one of the biggest cliffs in Australia.

IMG_0348I played mind games with the cable while I set anchors, rechecked knots and placed protective carpets over the sharp textured stone on the rounded edge. Caleb went fearlessly over the edge. Dan abseiled down further to the right. On a spare shorter rope I ducked the cable and lowered myself to the brink then locked off. The space sucked at my psyche and tried to pull me down. 300m of verticality below my feet. I’ve never been comfortable abseiling and this just didn’t feel right. The plan was to multi-pitch abseil all the way to the gorge floor. We hoped to link up anchor systems on existing climbs or find natural anchors when we needed them. A commercial company advertises a 300m abseil down this cliff. Maybe we could find a way down. The hoped for series of double ring bolt anchors were not in the area Caleb and Dan had gone down.

IMG_0364We moved further along and found evidence of climbers developing routes. Lots of shiny new bolts at the top and lines of rings plunging below. Glue containers, carpets and drink bottles were stashed in an alcove back from the edge. Caleb went over and found a ring bolt anchor 30m down and then spied more bolts further on. We may have found the top pitches of a super hard climb a couple of Dan’s friends had been working on. I tied on and photographed at the edge. Maybe it wouldn’t have been so bad if I had just got on the rope and gone down. Red flags marched into mind. The edge area was sloping and unstable here. Pulling down the rope would be tricky over edges. The climbing guidebook highlighted the loose nature of some of the rock. Caleb found a broom on a ledge. I started to feel like this was not the place for us – abseiling. Some times your gut takes over. Intuition? Instinct? Experience climbing big cliffs – Frenchmans, Bluff Mountain and Buffalo – from the ground up where you get used to the exposure as you ascend – made me feel we were somehow crossing a threshold in this place. We didn’t belong here, like this.

Abseil Guiding

35

Abseil Guiding

20/10/15

Jindabyne Rock

Abseiling

 

The girls piled off the coach, chatty and ready to go. Harnesses, biners and helmets were distributed and fitted and checked. There were two other young guides, internationals, climbers, adventurers and Lyndsay who took the lead. The atmosphere was vibrant and colourful as we snaked our way across the hillside in a long line to the crag. Jindabyne Rock sits high above the Snowy River opposite the dam where water release for the river fountained in a dull roar below. No clouds – a perfect day. It’s a great venue for an intro group with a good variety of abseiling and climbing possible with safe access routes up and down and a large view spot set back from the cliff edge at the top.

I set up the ropes for my abseil while Lyndsay did a safety talk and outlined the session for the group and their teachers. This was mainstream work for K7 Adventures who were providing the staff, equipment and the overall structure for adventurous activities this group were doing across the Snowy Mountains. They are the industry leaders in the region for roping and backcountry activities for schools, groups and individuals in summer and winter. Their activities range from guiding Mount Kosciuszko for “seven summits of the world” mountaineers to family bushwalks in the alpine areas. The company is run by Peter Cocker, a renowned climber who pioneered some of the Canberra region’s best rockclimbs (eg, Jetts Sett, Equilibrium, Integral Crack) in the earliest days of climbing locally. Together with his partner Acacia, they have built a network of very skilled and experienced guides. I was just helping out as backup while Peter and Acacia were tied up elsewhere. My introductory abseil went well. The girls psyched themselves up, pushed themselves to get over the edge and then felt the exhilaration of success as they descended.

After overseeing establishment of the other ropes Lyndsay worked the arête adjacent to my wall. He top belayed from a small ledge as his climbers worked their way up the most difficult climb. He supported, coached and challenged them then shared in their achievement while he anchored them to the belay. He then instructed them patiently as they abseiled off and down to their friends below. He’s a very capable and mature leader. As the morning progressed he kept a watchful eye on the other ropes and checked in on the abseiling groups higher up.

As we derigged and rolled ropes at the end of the day Lyndsay told me a little about his climbing in Yosemite, France, England and Wales and of his love of steep Spanish limestone. He articulated his dream to work towards his own absolute peak performance at the cutting edge of climbing. It struck me that he was at one extreme of roping and our school clients were at the other. And that Peter had provided the structure and mentoring within his business, tradition, history and experience to bring these together beautifully for the benefit of both.IMG_0709

Vertical Rescue

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29/10 – 1/11/15

White Rocks, Snake Rock, artificial environment, Legoland

Four days on the rock. Instructing vertical rescue. Outdoor education teachers and uni students in training to be teachers.

Day 1 was an intro – go back to first principals and basic skills – to make sure we were all on the same page and doing the basics in best practice – climbing, belaying, setting up ropes, cliff edge safety, top belaying, locking off, releasable systems.

Day 2 things got more serious as we reshuffled the progression to fit in with the weather forecast – top belay off the harness to “know” what is not ideal, more complex anchoring, assisted abseil with an injured client, retrievable abseil, assisted hoist, z drag on the cliff.

Day 3 up and down from the balcony, prussicing, getting past a knot, more assisted abseils, escaping the system from top and bottom belay, more z drags and then with a compound pulley system, self belays.

It was all highly structured. Very complex processes had been broken down into component parts and the training was sequenced carefully so each simple part built on the previous one until the whole is completed and the objective achieved. The team was a dream. Motivated. Skilled. Focussed. On rock you have a big bag of tricks (skills and knowledge) that can be pulled out and combined to address each emergency situation. Emergencies are usually obvious but can sometimes require complex solutions. 80% of what we do is learning how to manage situations to prevent the necessity for a rescue.

IMG_0079Day 4 was assessment day – abseil guiding setup with a client who had a hair jam, hauling up an injured person, cutaway when all else is not possible, group exercise rescuing an unconscious person, up and down, anchors and more. In the midst of the most intense action a squall hit the exposed outcrop we were working on. Rain and sleet lashed exposed skin. Wind blew up out of nowhere. We continued on. “This is when recues often happen in the field. When you’re tired and cold, at the end of the day, when the weather is at its worst.” After a while it cleared. The sun almost came out. The temperature went back up. Everyone passed.

If only it was as straightforward for us to rescue each other when things get extra tough, when we slip and fall in life and we feel like shit. If only we could just set up a safety for ourselves, put in place a backup system in case it all turns to crap, use a set of basic skills, and then go to each other’s aid with confidence after our safety checks are all done.

As we tidied up the final admin at the coffee shop and reviewed the course one participant said, “Wow. That was intense but it felt authentic”.

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Biggest Abseil

3

“The biggest abseil you could do on a school trip”

March 5

Blue Mountains

Abseiling

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.

Dan Pitch 1

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.

Total 180m

Reflected dawn light Malaita Wall

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”.