Imagine walking backwards on a slippery, slimy, moss covered rock. Even as you take a few steps, a thick jet of water hits you square in the face. Now, imagine the rocky patch you’re ‘walking’ on is at an angle of 90 degrees…
This could give you some idea about ‘waterfall rappelling’!
It was Adventure Sunday. And 14 of us were seated at the base of a 55-foot waterfall at Karjat. The fall split into two torrents, thrashed down the mountain and then relaxed in a little pool, before streaming down between the trees. The resulting din drowned out every other sound.
We gazed at the waterfall, spellbound, and peered a little nervously at the thin, white rope which hung over one of the falls. “That rope can take up to 1400 kgs,” said J, astutely reading our skepticism.
Now, I’ve rappelled before. It’s exhilarating but not especially difficult or even as strenuous as say, rock climbing. Essentially you’re fitted with two ropes – a rappelling rope, by which you lower yourself down, and a belay rope which is controlled by a ‘belayer’ at the top. The latter ensures that even if you lose your footing, you don’t hurtle down the mountain.
The waterfall, however, added a thrilling element to conventional rappelling. The all-familiar anticipation built up as I strapped on my helmet and harness.
I started tentatively, trying to remember all of J’s instructions. The slimy moss tickled my bare feet and I clenched my toes to get a grip. I descended, one tiny step at a time, gripping the rope so tight, my fingers cramped. Suddenly, a powerful spray caught me smack in the face. The freezing, pelting water erased all instructions. I gasped, my foot slipped, I let go of the rope and crashed into the rock.
Thud! Glub glub glub…
The belay rope held while the water hammered hard on my helmet. I regained my footing and continued, wetter and wiser.
Rappelling works best when you work against your instinct. The normal tendency is to crouch, and stay close to the rock. But it was only when I straightened my knees, and leaned back until I was almost perpendicular to the rock, that I could balance myself. The rope swung to the left because of the force of the water, but I stayed on course, maneuvering myself to the bottom. The group cheered enthusiastically.
‘Good?” asked J smiling.
"Just warmed up…" I replied, shivering.
The weather which had been sunny and cloudy this far, suddenly changed. The heavens opened up and a misty breeze set our teeth chattering. One of the girls, a chronic asthmatic, began feeling a little breathless. 6 people whipped out their inhalers! I was surprised. An ex-asthmatic myself, I had a morbid fear of getting drenched. But these intrepid, foolhardy souls convinced me that I was at the Convention of Suicidal Asthmatics.
After lunch, we tried the second, more powerful waterfall. This time I felt more confident.
“Don’t look below or at the rope. Focus on your feet,” directed J.
I dutifully looked at my feet and almost leaped off the cliff! My feet had dislodged a colony of tiny black worms, and they were now clinging to my feet.
“Eeeeooowwwaaaaaargh!” I screamed and shook one foot violently, and then the other.
J got a little worried seeing my frenzied dance on the cliff edge. “They won’t do anything to you,” he insisted. Heck, they were doing plenty just by being on my feet!
I was stuck between a rock and a squishy place.
I still don’t know how I overcame my squeamishness, but with gritted teeth and bitter curses, I started rappelling. The surging torrent washed away the critters (and probably carried some into my mouth! Ack!) The spray stung at first and then felt like a ton of bricks. I had to turn my face away in order to breathe. But this time, I got the rhythm. My toes found footholds, I leaned back into the harness and fed just the right amount of rope to maintain balance. It was exhilarating and disappointing to reach the bottom.
A third ride down the fall and I just about had my fill. I leaned back against a rock in my soggy clothes and actually fell asleep. Mountains and dense greenery obscured the view on all four sides.
It was my friend B’s first tryst with the outdoors. She sported bruised knuckles, grazed knees and sunburned cheeks as she came up to where I was dozing.
“Leela, I feel like quitting my job and doing this for the rest of my life,” she whispered, her eyes shining.
Ah, I thought, another one bites the dust.