The setting was the spectacular Blue Mountains, an internationally recognised World Heritage Area where you can bush walk, mountain bike, abseil, climb and canyon in any number of spectacular locations, and at night sit around a log fire in one of the many inviting hotels, or bed and breakfast establishments. Unless you choose to camp out in the elements, and there are plenty of places where you can do that, all within two hour’s drive from the centre of Sydney.
Janet, my partner, and two of her girlfriends joined me for the weekend, although they were there to support the local economy in the numerous dress shops and art and craft boutiques that are part of the make-up of the small towns and villages in the region, not to dangle from the end of a rope!
The weekend was a follow-up to some recent training I undertook and an opportunity to learn more advanced skills. The first day was spent learning about gear selection and fitting, rigging of suitable anchor systems, hazard identification and avoidance, self-belaying techniques, and basic rescue and self rescue systems. Whilst there was some theory involved all the training was on the cliffs, and I was joined by two other people from Sydney who came to brush up on some abseiling skills learnt from boy-scout days.
After a tiring first day I stopped by at the Carrington Hotel, a beautifully renovated Art Deco style hotel in the centre of Katoomba, to meet with the girls who were strategically seated in the couches around a log-fire sipping on champagne. Later, we went to a local restaurant, Avalon, situated in an old picture theatre, where we had a few good laughs as the girls discussed their day, and purchases. Although I did keep quiet about the two new ropes I purchased as I’m sure I would have been subjected to some friendly banter, especially after recently writing about their shopping exploits!
The second day was spent on more specialised rope rescue skills, tips and tricks that you need to know if you are going to dangle from a rope down a cliff face. And this included the use of mechanical ascenders and prusiks, and importantly, an improvised casualty evacuation method using Z–drags. These skills will form an important of my tool kit as I make my journey to Cho Oyu and Beyond, as much of the mountaineering I will be doing in the next two years will be glacier based and have the ever present risk of crevasses, so learning to rescue oneself from deep within is important. But like many things, this is all about practice, and you need to take the military approach to learning, just keep on drilling it until you can do it backwards in your sleep!
But alas, despite the serious side to the course it is supposed to be fun, otherwise why would you be doing it? And we did have lots of fun, and lots of laughs. Although the girls were heard to quip that how could anything be fun if it didn’t involve shopping!
Shane, our instructor from ASM, has a strong climbing background and also instructs at a local college on Outdoor and Recreational activities. He was able to impart his knowledge with ease and in a way that could be readily absorbed. This was great as there is a fair amount of stress happening as you are trying to self-rescue yourself from half-way down a cliff. I’ll be doing some more climbing with Shane in two weeks time which will give me the opportunity to hone in and practice the skills learnt this weekend.
And we had spectacular weather for the two days, a little cool at times when the sun slipped behind a cloud, but from our position at Mt York we were sheltered from most of the wind and the view was spectacular from our cliff-top perch – I couldn’t help but think, you wouldn’t be dead for quids!
Dope on a rope?
Well there were times I was feeling that way as I worked to master the necessary skill level with what seemed like a fist full of thumbs, but hanging-out on a rope is a blast and I can’t wait to be back out there again!
Who’s up for some abseiling and climbing?