Big Out 2000 - Via Ferrata
So I managed to blag my way onto the Venture expedition to France. I mumbled something about translating in order to convince them that I should go and the unit conceded and allowed me to accompany them.
When we met, the Monday before the trip, to discuss activities and confirm the final travel arrangements, someone described the activity of Via Ferrata. I remember thinking that sounds awful, only mad fools would do that! When I looked at my chosen programme of activities, there it was in black and white; quite clearly...I was one of those mad fools that I had been thinking about. All I could remember about what to expect had something to do with hanging off a rock face with two clips to move along at the same time as climbing up.
After arriving on the Sunday, we were shown the gorge that we would be traversing with the safety of just a couple of clips. It didn't make me feel any better. Nor did it make me feel any better hearing about the Monday group who had a small problem. It turned out that one of their members - a normally cocky 16 year old (it's amazing how some people change when faced with danger) became scared and froze. The sun was beating down and he was holding back the group. There was no way down, the only way was up (isn't that a song?) He had to be lifted all the way up.
Needless to say as Thursday got closer, we were worrying a little. We had a rest from our worry on Wednesday, as the usually hot sun had hidden behind some very black rain clouds and it poured down for most of the day. We were told that the fateful activity might have to be cancelled if it continued. I felt a feeling of relief sweep over me. I would never willingly pull out of an activity; I just couldn't chicken out of something. But if it had to be cancelled, it wasn't my fault. I had to keep thinking that I had done more dangerous things...
Thursday came and it was raining again. We were told that if it cleared up by midday, we would be going for a half-day expedition instead of the full day. Although we were willing it to rain all day, by lunchtime it was hot and sunny again. We had to get kitted up. We had harness, helmet, the two straps with karabiners on the end and an emergency strap (emergency strap? I hoped we wouldn't need that!) We were now ready to go.
As we approached the rock face and stood at the bottom, I looked up and couldn't see the top - our destination. There were these large staples in the rock with a plastic coated cable running alongside it. We were to clip ourselves onto the cable and climb up on the staples, moving the clips as we went up. The instructors asked who wanted to lead the group. I stepped back.
The views on the way up were incredible and the experience was amazing. I remember having my right foot on a footrest, my right hand was gripping a staple; my left foot was in mid air and my left hand was un-clipping my karabiners to move them up to the next safest point. Not easy with your left hand. Scary.
When we got to the top, the sense of accomplishment was good, and my legs were wobbly! We took the customary group pictures and then had to walk down the path to the bottom.
Although I must admit that I was not looking forward to doing the Via Ferrata, it was an amazing experience, not like any I had done before. I was glad we hadn't been able to take part in the full day climb, as that was enough for me. It does go to show that you should force yourself to do things that you think you may not like. You have to take risks. Making yourself scared, feeling the adrenalin. Would I do it again? Probably.