Up, down & dangling: Caught between a rock and a hard place

Up, down and dangling.

Busy professionals might benefit from the focus that comes with climbing and abseiling.

If you have ever been caught between a rock and a hard place, you might benefit from the focus that comes with climbing and abseiling.

For Pastor Jim McKeon, rock climbing is a wonderful counterpoint to the rest of his life. It’s his buzz, his thrill. A physical and mental workout immersed in the rugged wilderness focusing on an ascent; the opposite of his people-centred day job.

“People say that it’s stressful, but it’s an incredibly good stress relief. When you are 50 metres up a cliff all other mental chatter falls away and it can be very relaxing,” explains the minister from Kincumber on the Central Coast in New South Wales.

"Most of our lives are a whirlpool of multi-tasking. Climbing is about focusing on one point." – Pastor Jim McKeon

Abseiling, or rappelling as it is known in North America and much of Europe, is practised the world over as a means of descending a crag or canyon by rope in a safe, controlled way. It’s regarded as the base level of rock climbing and canyoning.

Rock climbing is the other side of the equation. It refers to the ascent, climbing up
a cliff face or a climbing wall at the local indoor gym using ropes and special equipment.

Australia has spectacular outdoor abseiling in Tasmania, the Blue Mountains, just to the west of Sydney, and Mount Arapiles in Victoria.

It’s a lucrative drawcard for tourism operators in New Zealand, too. In South Africa, a 112-metre abseil down Table Mountain has been dubbed “dope on a rope” by the company selling tickets.

Mt Arapiles, a granite rock soaring from western Victoria’s otherwise flat Wimmera Plains, is world famous. It has a permanent community of climbers camped at its base and a mind-boggling 3000 different routes to its 140-metre peak.

Abseiling and rock climbing were popular for business training days in the 1980s and early 1990s. It was all about team building and that “lean back and I’ll catch you” moment.

There were up to 25 adventure companies operating in the Blue Mountains alone. Only a handful are left today, but all still happily promote the benefits of everyone from the office having a day on a cliff together – something they can talk about back at work.

“It relieves the conference room fuzz,” says Dylan Jones, founder of Blue Mountains Adventure Company.

Jones finds most of his business is from people – of varying ages and fitness levels – taking their first steps into climbing with a full-day introductory course. Indoor gym climbers looking for an outdoor adventure also often come to him. Finally, there are the repeat clients who are seeking a more extreme grade or a more remote location.

“One of the great things about climbing is it doesn’t matter what level of climbing you are at, there’s always a harder cliff to climb. Everyone can have the same ‘freak out’ moment,” says Jones.

Abseiling and rock climbing are activities that appeal to goal-oriented people seeking a slower mental and physical challenge. They’re also a good excuse for moving through and enjoying impressive natural landscapes.

In his years of climbing, Jones has found that client feedback more often relates to the jaw-dropping location rather than the activity.

This doesn’t surprise McKeon: “There is something spiritual about being in nature and the view is all the more sweet when you have climbed from the bottom,” he says. “It comes back to the centredness. Most of our lives are a whirlpool of multi-tasking. Climbing is about focusing on one point.”

That climbing passion

Five years ago, Melissa Satterley set herself a challenge: try one new adventure every month for a year. The program implementation leader at Suncorp Group didn’t end up a social media phenomenon, but she did find a new favourite weekend activity.

“Climbing teaches self-reliance,” she says.

“You have to trust yourself and what you are doing. It requires focus, which means you have to forget about whatever else is going on. And you get to enjoy the most amazing views. It’s fantastic.”

Satterley says upper body and leg strength are important in climbing, but so is endurance and focus at the highest level, and being aware of the body and tensioning the right muscles to reduce inefficiencies.

These days Satterley is an easier person to buy for come birthdays and Christmas, as there’s always a new item of climbing gear on her wish list.

Basic costs include a harness, from A$120-A$200, and shoes at A$100-A$200, plus the guided abseil or climb. But as in a lot of sports, it’s easy to spend thousands: rope is A$6 per metre, then there are carabiners (a metal clip that joins ropes together), harness accessories, belay devices and other equipment.

Of course, beginners don’t need to buy all this gear before they first place their foot on an incline. Adventure companies offer packages that include all equipment and experienced climbing guides.

This article is from the April 2014 issue of INTHEBLACK magazine.

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