“I’ve never been much of a climber—social or otherwise.”
On Saturday morning I found myself hot, sweaty and clinging to the front of a cliff.
The sun was scorching my skin, there was sweat running down my neck and my muscles were screaming at me as I waved one foot around aimlessly, looking for any small ledge to stand on while cursing the width of my old-school sneakers.
This was rock-climbing at it’s best. Well, not really … it was rock climbing for beginners and I was far from a star pupil.
I felt like this:
But I looked like this:
In case you can’t tell, I can confirm those fingers are gripping on for dear life. As my friend Emma so kindly pointed out (from the ground) while taking that photos, “You look suitably terrified”.
And I was terrified. I’ve never been much of a climber—social or otherwise—so attempting to scale a 20m cliff while my friends sat below enjoying the river views won’t go down as my all-time favourite moment.
In between looking for places to put my feet, I was cursing myself for getting into such a sticky situation.
It all started a few weeks earlier when my friend JB put the call out for friends to help celebrate her birthday by rock-climbing at Brisbane’s iconic Kangaroo Point cliffs, I thought ‘why not?’.
Given I have had ‘abseil the Kangaroo Point cliffs’ on my bucket list since before the list itself existed, I figured it would be a bit of fun and that if I went up, I would obviously get to go back down. And surely rock climbing was kind of like abseiling.
But it’s not like abseiling, not at all really because going up is much harder than coming down.
We signed up to do our rock-climbing adventure through Riverlife, a cool little company at the base of the Kangaroo Point cliffs, who run a variety of adventure activities which mostly center around the Brisbane River (think rollerblading, cycling, kayaking, paddle boarding, abseiling, rock climbing and more).
As you’d expect the rock climbing sessions are overseen by experienced instructors and include a safety briefing (rock climbing 101). They also supply all the equipment you need including a rather saucy safety helmet!
After our safety briefing we spilt up into pairs and prepared for our first climb.
I opted to start as the belayer which meant I stayed at the bottom of the cliff and it was my job to keep the rope taut during my partner climb to prevent them hitting the ground if they fell… No pressure!
Kangaroo Point cliffs have more than 200 climbs, although some are no longer available to climb, and the most popular style of climbing is with a top rope—an anchor is set up at the summit of a route before the start of a climb.
The rope is then run through the anchor and one end attaches to the climber and the other to the belayer.
Talk about a full body workout; as the belayer (and one without many arm muscles) my upper body was given an outstanding workout; my biceps were burning, my hands ended up almost raw from pulling on the ropes and my back muscles were given a rude awakening from what had been a long, lazy slumber!
After safely returning my partner to the ground, it was time for my moment of truth but first we tested out the safety harness to make sure I wouldn’t hit the ground if I fell (and I got a fantastically uncomfortable wedgie in the process).
Then, with a very deep breath, I was off … One leg up, the next leg up and then my fingers slid straight off the rock I was desperately trying to cling to and I was back on the ground.
That happened twice. Okay, three times. Well, maybe it was actually closer to five times before our instructor Stuart took pity on me and came to give me a leg up.
From there, I took a couple more shaky steps and after lots of wild flailing of my hands in search of a hand grip to grab on to, I made it another couple of metres up the wall.
As I struggled to find places to move to, the birthday girl was on the route next to me powering up the wall and throwing back cheeky comments about seeing down my top!
Which is how I came to be just a few metres up the wall with the sun scorching my skin and my muscles screaming at me to just let go and enjoy the mini abseil back to the ground.
After being stuck on the same small ledge for more than five minutes and having worked out there wasn’t anywhere else I felt confident going without having developed some Spiderman-style skills, I admitted defeat.
I wasn’t proud of my early retirement but I was still somewhat impressed I had made it as far as I did given my fear of heights and lack of general body strength. Although it may have been the fear of falling that defeated me more than the climb itself!
But all wasn’t lost … with the rock climbing over, it was time for the best part of the day—a delicious brunch and catch up with great friends down by the river.