Posted by: EPIC | April 16, 2011

Climbing 101: A beginners experience at Nowra

You're up next Dom!

To the top!

“What have I gotten myself into?” was the first thing that filled my head as I stood and looked up, up, UP to the top of the 15m or so wall of rock I was supposed to climb. And I thought most people get vertigo and anxiety attacks when they look DOWN from the top of a cliff…

Yes, it suffices to say that my first outdoor climbing trip in Nowra, NSW was not what I expected. I consider myself a reluctant climber at the best of times. That is to say, if it were up to me, I would have nothing to do with the sport, but my better, or at least, more persistent half, is slowly but surely getting into climbing, and consequently, so have I. Oh, it’s not easy getting me to the climbing wall after a long day of work in the middle of the week. I can usually weasel my way out of being Dom’s belay partner on Wednesday climbing sessions with the club; having to get groceries, cook dinner, or a persistent pounding headache being my favourite excuses. However, lately he has found a cunning way to include me in his climbing activities: the dreaded “double date.” Yes, he has enlisted the help of Tom and Megan, climbing couple extraordinaire, to drag me into the world of rocks and cliffs. We’d been to the indoor wall a few times with them, which from a social perspective, I enjoyed immensely. I should have guessed that the next step would be an outdoor trip to Nowra…but who can resist a weekend at the coast, whatever the reason for going may be?!

The first moment I realized that Nowra was not what it seemed came on the Friday night drive down to our camping spot. At around 10:00pm, we entered the town, and pulled into the parking lot of a McDonalds.
“Bathroom stop!” said Tom “If you gotta go, do it now.”
As we had stopped to pee not an hour before, I was confused as to what he meant.
“Well,” said Megan, “The camping spot is very urban….” Ah. I see.

Filled with apprehension (mostly at the thought of having to hold everything in until the next morning), Dom and I followed the others through a suburban jungle of houses and windy streets until the car ahead slowed to a stop in front of a barely visible path leading between two properties, and into the bushes. The sound of squealing tires, car engines and laughter filled the air, no doubt from some teenagers finding ways to amuse themselves on a Friday night. In other words, this spot seemed like the last place you’d want to camp! But Tom and Megan insisted we were in the right place, and we set off into the bushes of what seemed to be someone’s backyard. However, it didn’t take long before the manicured lawns disappeared, and we descended a rocky pathway leading through tall brush and twisting vines down, down, down into a cavernous overhang surrounded by trees. As Tonya, another climber on our trip said about the moment later, “It was like we had walked into Narnia!” Indeed, the contrast between the streets where we left the car and the cave where we set up our sleeping mats was incredible, especially considering we were parked not 200m away.

We woke the next morning, and after a quick stop in town for coffee (among other things…), we headed off towards Thompsons point, the best place for climbing gumbies like us. Once again, I was struck by how quickly the urban landscape dissolved into beautiful limestone cliffs, rivers and forest. With the morning sun slowly warming the rocks, and a fresh breeze in the air, it was easy to forget the fast approaching winter in Canberra.
“I could get used to this….” I thought to myself.

Time to set up the ropes! Tom and Megan, the efficient team they are, wasted no time in getting everyone into their gear, and securing the top rope on one of the beginner routes. We were ready to climb!
My initial feeling of relaxation and serenity quickly left me as I watched the boys scale the wall, one by one. Tom had made it look easy. The others, however, did not quite have the ease and grace of movement as he had. And Tom hadn’t looked quite so small all the way at the top…

Eventually, perhaps not soon enough, my turn came up. As I stood at the bottom of the wall, I tried to remember all of the climbing tips I had picked up from the few times I had been dragged indoors: “Keep your arms straight! Use your legs! Three limbs on at all times!” All of this seemed irrelevant as I looked at the wall. Where was I supposed to put my hands and feet in the first place! Where were the brightly coloured routes that dictated exactly where to go and what to do? Where to start?! Luckily, Tom came to the rescue, and guided my every move for the first half of the wall until I could find a route myself (Or more accurately until I couldn’t hear him anymore!). It took what seemed like an eternity to reach the top, but reach it I did, and immediately a sense of accomplishment and pride filled me. I did it! What a feeling! I could have stayed up at the top of that cliff looking out at the river forever!

We climbed and climbed the day away, and finished off the afternoon with a refreshing dip in the river, just what our dusty and stiff limbs needed to feel rejuvenated. A perfect ending to a fantastic day.

So, how would I summarize my first outdoor climbing experience in Australia? Well, it certainly beats the gym! I had no idea how much more stimulating outdoor climbing was than going to an indoor wall. Now I understand why people spend hours inside practicing this move and that: the mental image of your outdoor climbs stays with you so that even in a dark and sweaty gym, you can still feel the sandstone between your fingers and imagine the view looking out once you’ve reached the top…

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Posted by Sandra Binning
Photo by Sandra Binning, Dominique Roche and Tom Bennett

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