Abstaining from Abseiling? Absolutely! – An Adventure in Africa

While researching my activities for Cape Town, I ran across photos and ads of people rappelling or abseiling off of Table Mountain with amazing photos!  So I thought it was something I would have to try!  Abseil Africa was a company that ran one of these abseil adventures boasting the highest commercial abseil in the world – 112 meters high from the top of Table Mountain.  That is the one I went with…naturally.

I was a little uneasy when I scheduled. I did so very hurriedly because, due to weather, some of my other activities had been cancelled, so I needed something to do.  I booked this the night before and received a confirmation for the next morning.  The next morning, still with an uneasy feeling (and kind of hoping it would get cancelled or hoping there would be a mistake with my reservation), I took the City Sightseeing bus to Table Mountain, paid for my cable car ticket, and made it to the top for my early morning abseil time.  It was extremely cold and foggy that morning, so I wasn’t sure if the abseil would be canceled or not due to conditions, but I had not been contacted.  Once I got to the top of the mountain, I looked around for signage or anyone from Abseil Africa and found no one, no signage, no cancellation signage, no sign of anything or anyone.  I walked around for a few minutes – almost pacing back and forth – surely I hadn’t missed the spot – it was obvious I was in the right spot from how it was described in the email.  Finally, about half an hour after my scheduled time, I received a notification that my abseil had been cancelled due to weather, and I would need to contact them to reschedule.  I was half bummed and half relieved – bummed because i really wanted to get it over with and not want to have to reschedule because I had so many other things I already had to reschedule; and relieved because i wasn’t really feeling it anyway and was having second thoughts about really wanting to do it. So I spent 3 hours on Table Mountain that morning (with hardly anyone else there) waiting for the clouds to clear.

To reschedule, I had two options – reschedule the next day (the same day I was scheduled to fly to Namibia for my 6 day tour that I was SO looking forward to) or wait until I returned from Namibia and reschedule on top of everything else I needed to reschedule.

I opted to reschedule for the next day – the same day as my flight.
Abseil Africa emailed me saying they had rescheduled my abseil for 9:30am that next morning, but I did not receive the email in time and therefore could not make it.  Plus, I already had a tour scheduled at 11am, so I emailed them back and scheduled a 2pm abseil letting them know that I needed to depart for the airport by 4:20pm and asking if that would be enough time to do the abseil/hike and get back to my hostel for the airport.  They said yes that it would be fine.  I was still feeling like this would be rushed and maybe it wasn’t a good idea to schedule this so closely to my airport pick up time.  But wouldn’t they have told me if they thought it was cutting it too close??
My 11am tour went swimmingly and everything was going right on time, so I thought, ok, this will work out perfectly.  I actually got to the top of Table Mountain around 2:06pm, so not very late at all!  I met with the Abseil Africa people (2 guys) who were helping harness in 2 girls that were getting ready to do it.  They told me to go and sign my paperwork at the wifi lounge.  So I went there and checked in and signed my “Yes, I’m medically fit” paperwork.  I was wondering why it didn’t say “physically fit”.  That is what I was more worried about!  I asked the guys about the hike back up and they said it would take about 30 mins and was easy.  I asked if I would have to climb up any rocks and they said no.  I wasn’t even planning on taking anything with me on the abseil because they didn’t want me to have any bags, but I wanted to take my phone, money, etc. so they let me take my backpack. I threw my less-than-half-full bottle of water in there.  They never said, “Oh, that is not enough water, you should take more than that with you for the hike.”  I did not feel comfortable leaving ALL of my camera equipment and everything else that I owned with them just over the ledge where anyone could have grabbed it, but that is what they told me to do.  And they took my camera with them to take photos – another thing I wasn’t entirely comfortable with, but I couldn’t take it with me.  All of these should have been warning signs but if I opted out, I lost my money.  Maybe it would have been worth it?  Or at least maybe after the amazing photos that I got it would have been?

To get to the abseiling start point (after harnessing in and getting a very brief/vague lesson in abseiling – the 2 girls had done it before – I had only watched Bear Grylls on TV, and he makes it looks so easy), we had to climb over the ledge and literally climb down rocks.  I was not comfortable with this to begin with and had to drink some of my precious water because I got so hot and tired doing this little bit!!!  Then we had to climb down a little ladder just to get to the next ledge that we had to traverse along to get to the ledge where the abseiling started.  There, we got our gloves and our helmet.  There were only 2 ropes, so the girls went first, and I had to wait until they were done before I could go.  They got down pretty fast and then it was my turn…to go alone!!!  I did not feel comfortable in any of the gear, the harness was sliding down my legs, and I had to get them to retighten them.  it was just all foreign and uncomfortable to me.  I had to lean back and let the rope hold me, and I had to take my hands off the rope so they could take the amazing pictures of me with Cape Town in the background…basically, the “money shot”.

That is where I should have said, “Thank you so much, I’m out of here!”  But I didn’t.  From there, I took my first steps off the mountain, backwards.

It wasn’t so bad at first, and I thought, wow, I’m doing this!  I’m Bear Grylls!  I’m rappelling!!!  

But I wasn’t able to bounce around like he does, so I completely sucked at it.  I also did not enjoy the view because I was so nervous and scared.

Did I mention I’m afraid of heights, which is why I like to dare myself with things like this?  For instance, I don’t mind climbing ladders to get up high, but I’m scared to death to climb back down them!  hahaha.  Ok, really not funny.

So, I continued to rappel, thinking I was doing ok, until a ledge came up that I landed on…with all of my body.  My legs kind of went limp and I just lay there.  I scraped up my arm trying to use my head and shoulders and all my strength to get back on my feet.  Not sure why I couldn’t, it was just awkward.  And scary. I no longer felt anything like Bear. I finally got situated again with my feet below me and was able to rappel off that ledge and guess what…there was NOTHING THERE!!!!  Yep, that was a “surprise” that they had failed to mention…or maybe they had mentioned a surprise when they were briefing us, but I didn’t hear it.  Either way, there was no more side of the mountain to walk my feet down.  This was panic city.  I had no control and could not bring my hands to help feed the rope while my feet were below me.  I was in full panic mode, and I hated every minute of this feeling of loss of control. I felt very uncomfortable in the harness and wanted OUT of the situation as quickly as possible.  I curled up into a ball and told them to get me down NOW.  Neither the guys at the top or the guy at the bottom could understand what I was saying, so I kept saying GET ME DOWN NOW!  HURRY!  FASTER!  I DON’T LIKE IT!  Sadly, the 2 girls that were hiking back up the mountain could understand me and helped by yelling at the guys that I wanted to get down.  The guys were asking if I was ok, and I said “yes, I’m ok, just get me down faster!”.  Finally they understand and loosened the rope a little faster to get me down to the bottom.  When I got to the ledge, I collapsed in a ball and I could not even lift my arms.  The guy there had to open my backpack and open my bottled water because my arms were so limp and weak.  It was the weirdest feeling! I had to sit there for maybe 5-10 minutes?  I just hated it so much.  I was also very disappointed in myself for failing.  Well, maybe I didn’t fail, I just didn’t like that damn “surprise”.  I think if it had been mountain-side the whole time, I would have been fine.  Once I regained my strength and had cooled down a bit (with not much water left), the guy pointed me in the direction of the hike back up (remember it was supposed to take 30 minutes or less with no rocks to climb – very easy, right? wrong).  This damn hike took me almost 45 minutes, and I’m pretty sure I almost died.  I ran out of water not even half way through, I was huffing and puffing because I was so hot, tired, thirsty, and out of breath; there were some sheer drop offs in some of the points; and there were a few rocks that were over a foot tall that I had to CLIMB.  #FAIL
During this “easy hike” I kept thinking about all the heart attacks had on Ayers Rock in the Australian Outback…and the fact that I was out of water.  This scared me, and I was literally praying all the way back up.  Towards the end, when I started seeing people, a couple of them asked if I was ok.  But no one offered me water, which I thought was strange.

When I did get back to the top, let me tell you, I went to the shop and bought 3 bottles of water!!!!  And I told the abseil guys that the trail was hard and that I ran out out of water.  They offered me some of theirs.  Nice, but too late.  I also told them I hated the abseil…and when they asked how I liked their little “surprise”, I told them I hated it.  They were obviously oblivious to everything.  To them it is so easy and an everyday thing.  I don’t think they realize that people like me, who have never done this, can be so challenged by something that seems so simple to them.  I really don’t think they think this is hard for anyone.  They really are oblivious.  They are nice guys, just completely clueless.

So, I was supposed to start my abseil at 2pm and be done by 3pm because the company had said it would take no more than an hour.  Well, by the time I was done with my abseil, it was after 3pm and by the time I was done with my hike, it was 4pm.  So I’ve missed my airport transfer.  Then I still had to take the bus back to my hostel to get my bags.  Well, the bus left late and then got stuck in traffic.  I didn’t get back to the hostel until almost 6pm and then the driver was late coming back to get me.  By the time I got to the airport, the gate was already closed, and I had missed my flight.  It was a terrible chain of events and the worst day of my trip…probably the worst day of any travel I’ve ever had. And it didn’t end there.
I had to book another flight on a different airline for the next morning to even make it to Namibia to barely make it in time for my tour! And I spent the rest of the week dealing with flight issues for the return as a repercussion!
The moral of this story is to always follow your intuition unless you’re going to get a kick ass photo out of it! And it’s ok to try everything once. Now I know I will never abseil again.

3 responses to “Abstaining from Abseiling? Absolutely! – An Adventure in Africa”

  1. Don't give up. Write more!

  2. Thanks for reading! I've got plenty more posts on the way! Kimby

  3. You toughed it out, Kimby. It wasn't fun, and not how “Bear” would have done it. Lessons learned. Glad you're safe. 🙂

Leave a Reply