See that speck, second from the right? That’s me, totally abseiling down the tallest building in Western Australia. For the record, it’s also the highest urban abseil in Australia.
I wrote last month about how I was taking this “plunge” to raise $1,000 for Kids’ Camps, a charity that gives recreation and respite camps for children with disabilities. As ever with these things, it has gone from an idea in an email that I enthusiastically accepted to being all too real. This Sunday past was my day for taking the plunge.
The Measure of Adventure
People kept asking me in the days leading up to the event if I was nervous. It was a very different sort of challenge to either the Inca Trail or the Arctic Adventure — one that a surprising number of people found scary just thinking about it. The truth is, I wasn’t really nervous about it. I don’t have a fear of heights, I’ve abseiled down structures before, and climb frequently (albeit indoors) — which also involves a small amount of abseiling. I also have a kind of mental block when it comes to this sort of thing: it’s too big to really conceive of it as real.
When I visited the roof of the Central Park Building with the newspaper reporter and photographer last month, there was admittedly a small bubble of nervousness, seeing the city so far below, and imagining hanging from a rope — but I got used to it quickly.
On Sunday we all had to arrive an hour before our descent time. After checking in at the registration desk, this left us with a lot of time. A lot of time just standing at the foot of the building. A lot of time to spend looking up at the ropes, and the 52 floors, and time to spend thinking about what we were going to do. Time to spend thinking about all 220 metres of the building above us.
Shortly before our descent time, my team was chaperoned into the building and whisked up to the top — the lift ascending 50-something floors in much less time than the several flights of stairs we had to climb from where the lift finishes and the top floor starts. The top floor of the Central Park Building was a big open place office — but completely empty of all the usual things like desks and computers. Instead there was a core team of people to help us get into our abseiling gear, and give us a crash course in how to get ourselves down the building. It was also our first real view of the city below us.
I mentioned before I don’t have fear of heights, so I enjoyed standing by the large windows and staring out — but I admit to feeling a small bubble of nervousness. I’d seen this view before, but this time I was going to be dangling above it by a rope.
Stepping over the edge
Once we were kitted up, and familiar with how to work the rope and belay, there was no more delaying. We were given our rope numbers, and headed out on to the roof. Without a doubt, starting the abseil itself was the hardest part. We were clipped into our ropes, given some brief instruction on what to do, then there was nothing else to do except go over the edge. I stepped up onto the edge of the building — and had to walk backwards over it, lowering myself with the rope, with nothing but a 220m drop behind me.
Once over, I stopped almost immediately while I was given further instruction. Dangling in the air with the city so far below, I was told how to signal if I wanted to stop, and then it was all up to me. The rope was heavy, and required a lot of effort to pull through — but with my body weight and gravity on my side, it was easy to get the hang of it, and before long I was making good progress, speeding my way down the side of the building.
One thing that was different about this abseil to my other experiences was that we were asked not to “push off” — the kind of bouncing technique you might have seen — because being an office building there was a real danger that we could crash through a window. Smashing through a window into an office like that could add excitement to the whole experience, but I wasn’t so sure that it would be appreciated. Instead, I used a combination of walking down the vertical side of the building and lowering myself, hanging.
Enjoy the Ride
The total abseil was 220m, but it was staggered in two stages, because of the nature of the building. The first part was 90m, and then another 130m. Because of this we had to do the whole stepping-backwards-off-the-edge-of-the-building thing twice. It also meant that we could use the first 90m as a kind of warm up.
It was a fine, sunny day and at times I had to consciously try and slow down to try and enjoy the journey and the experience. The mirrored windows of Central Park would give me views of the city behind and below me — though friends have since suggested I should have spent more time looking down, to make it more intense.
From start to finish, we were told the whole abseil took 30 minutes — but as I didn’t wear a watch, it’s hard to say how long of that was spent on the side of a building. For an adventure that made so many people uncomfortable, it felt easy — unlike other challenges in the past, it didn’t require a lot of training, and didn’t scare me like it might have done others.
Now I have to find a new, bigger challenge to take on. Like base jumping…
Or like this one.