Cliff-hanging in Katoomba

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March 1st 2014
Published: March 1st 2014
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Cliff-Hanging in Katoomba

Before leaving England I had been pretty well determined to take part in every kind of extreme sport available while I was away. Just ‘cause. I suppose it tied in with the whole ‘finding yourself’ aspect of travelling. So when I saw abseiling advertised in the YHA lobby, I signed myself right up. The hostel itself was a grand old building, spacious and decked out with original features – especially in the ‘ballroom’ – wooden floors, banisters, windows, the lot. The fact that it was a little too big for its occupants, and the fact that it was not peak season actually added to the charm and made it feel oddly homey. The kitchen even had condiments left by people moving on someplace else. I love condiments.

Almost everything in Katoomba is within walking distance, even if it’s up or down an intimidating gradient, so on my first afternoon/evening I walked down to the viewing area to watch the sunset over the three sisters. The views are magnificent to say the least, such that you really do have to see them for yourself, so I won’t go on too much right now. I was therefore greatly anticipating catching the mini tour bus to see the rest of the sights the next day – I even bought a three day pass. Morning dawns, I throw open the window with gay abandon and what do I see? A thick mire even a London smog from back in the day would have been jealous of. I ended up at the toy and doll museum that afternoon. Sigh.

Day three and the fog finally cleared. I walked to the start point for the abseiling and tried not to look too conspicuous. Everyone else was going canyoning afterwards on the tour so was trying on wetsuits. Not at all awkward. Our guides/supervisors were called Norbert and Corky – I’m not kidding – so I had complete confidence obviously in placing my life in their hands as we rounded on the first 5m drop. The technique isn’t too hard when you’ve done it once or twice, but it’s still a little too much like putting my own life in my own hands. You have to keep one arm behind you and let rope out bit by bit, with the other guy at the bottom holding on in case you let go. Half my mind was focussing on this, while the other half was focussing on how the harness was cutting into my love handles extraordinarily and rucking my t-shirt up. Undignified is not the word.

We moved up to a 15m then a final 30m descent. 30m near the top of an already high vista, at least 200m or so. That’s like trying to eat a wedding cake by licking off the frosted flowers. I decided fear does even less for dignity than an overly tight harness however, and made the descent. I might even have enjoyed it, it was hard to tell in the moment. Afterwards we had to scramble back to the top. This was potentially more problematic as it was almost as steep as the abseil and we’d just been let off our safety rope. I grabbed onto scrubby bushes and grass on the way up, ignoring my griping knee that I’d somehow bashed on the way down. All in good fun eh?

We crammed back into the 4x4 so they could drop me off back in town and the others could go on to the next location. There’s only so much excitement one can take in one day, so although I felt a tad like I’d been benched from the team, I was glad to have my feet back on terra firma and not about to dangle off of a waterfall. The rest of the day was strange, as it usually is after an extreme activity: you’re walking on air and the world is tinted rose. You survived. Even my bed bouncing chitter chatting roommates didn’t bother me so much that evening. I had one more day in the Blue Mountains to hike and soak in the eucalyptus before getting the train back to Sydney and then a four hour bus ride on to Canberra, the capitol city. But Katoomba was going to take some topping.


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