Walking backward off a 1km-tall mountain is kind of counterintuitive, to say the least.
But it’s what Gareth Gibson persuades people to do on a daily basis. Makes you wonder what he could achieve if he employed his demonic powers of persuasion for more practical purposes. I hadn’t thought much about abseiling, adopting the same kind of feet-first, brain-later approach that had characterised my life so far. I’d been so busy persuading my friend, Valma Pfaff, that everything would be fine that I’d forgotten to think about how it would be for me.
I really don’t like heights. Sometimes I get vertigo when I stand up too quickly. And so, when Gareth starts the safety demonstration and I step into the harness, I suddenly get an OMG kind of feeling.
Gareth talks a lot about facing fears. He’s funny. I remember laughing, quite hysterically actually – hahaheeheee – even when he wasn’t
telling jokes. Apparently, love is best induced in experiences that produce fear. Rollercoaster rides and ski slopes are all known aphrodisiacs. What a pity then that I’ve opted for a sisterhood bonding exercise and brought a girlfriend along for the slide.
The thing about walking backwards over a mountain ledge is that you just don’t know what to expect. At the root of all fear is a
primal terror of the unknown. Therefore, I try to neutralise my anxiety by calmly taking my mind through what will happen when
I step off the edge. This proves to be a mistake, because when I consider it rationally, I conclude that I will flip upside down, fall
out of my harness and crash head first to the bottom of Table Mountain.
By now, I’m beginning to regret this idea.
We traipse along, tied together like convicts, pressing ourselves like paper against the rock behind a ledge which, according to Gareth, is the most hugged piece of rock in the world.
Facing one’s fears is a noble activity, but surely best undertaken in private. Above us a large group of spectators has gathered.
I have taken a wrong turn. I’m always the one who watches. How did I get here? But there is no turning back. Any notion of changing
my mind is ruled out by an unwillingness to appear cowardly before my public. How weird is the brain? It’s a miracle that our species
ever managed to survive, given that we’d opt for flinging ourselves off a mountain rather than admit public defeat.
If you’ve seen the scene in Dead Man Walking, you’ll know how I feel now. It goes against your every instinct to walk backward into
oblivion. Suddenly I’m squeezing my rope like a last hope. Gareth tells us to keep breathing and my friend and I are exhaling like rhinos
on heat. Then suddenly our feet are no longer beneath us, but in front of us. We have stepped off the mountain!
There’s no danger with abseiling.
I was told that the 112m controlled descent would last between four to seven minutes.
It seemed so much longer. Halfway down, the rock falls away from my feet and I drop into nothingness, bouncing like a baby in
a harness. For the first time, gravity is my friend; I float in my amniotic space sac, enjoying an unsurpassed view of rock, ocean,
city and sky, before being lowered, Rapunzellike, safely to the ground. What was all the fuss about?

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