Rock Climbing a 1,120ft (350m) Cliff

Trip Start Aug 25, 2008
Trip End Dec 16, 2008

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Flag of Chile  , Patagonia,
Wednesday, October 29, 2008

"If you liked that, you should try Via Ferrata" my Canyoning guide said in the 4WD trip back to town.

"What is Via Ferrata?" Pucon is full of things I've never heard of before.

"It's Italian for 'Iron Route.' It's like rock climbing - but we put iron handles into the cliff, so it's more like climbing a ladder.  You don't need any experience."

"How high is it?" I asked.
"350 meters (1120 feet) - but it's easy enough that a seven year old could do it.  In fact, a seven year old is doing it tomorrow."

Somehow, I focused in on the fact that a seven year old was going to do the climb and it didn't really sink in how high 1120 feet really is. 

"That sounds pretty cool - let's do it." I said with far too little consideration.

You should know that I absolutely hate heights.  They terrify me.  It takes every ounce of courage I have to get on an extension ladder to wash my second story windows... and thats only 20 feet off the ground.  Yet somehow climbing a 1,120 foot ladder up the side of a cliff sounded like a good idea.  

I went back to the hostel and couldn't believe what I had done.  I felt sick.

What was I thinking??  That was stupid.  And worse, I couldn't back out now - a seven year old kid was going to do it, and his 11 year old sister - how could I live with myself if I chickened out. 

So I did the natural thing and started trying to talk other people into joining me in my stupid folly.  I finally got one taker - Canadian Christa.  

Now I really couldn't chicken out.  Two kids and a girl.

On the fateful day, seven of us (two guides, the two kids, their father, myself and Christa) piled into a old Japanese 4WD van and headed for the mountains. 

We had a little bit of a false start - the police pulled us over, discovered the owner of the van hadn't paid the import tax on his van, and the police impounded our vehicle on the spot. 

"It's the kayaking company's van - we borrowed it for the day since all our other vans are up at the volcano and you all wouldn't fit in the truck" my guide said as we sat on the side of the road next to a pile of climbing gear. Luckily all the shops work together and after about 45 minutes, the ski shop guy showed up with a 4WD van and we were off!

The climb was terrifying, but it wasn't quite as bad as I thought.  We were in climbing harnesses, and roped together.  One guide climbed first with the ropes, and he took up the slack as we climbed, so even if I fell, I'd only fall a few feet before the rope would catch me. 

The climb was broken into four sections  - a vertical wall, followed by a little ledge to traverse, then another vertical wall.  When crossing the ledges, we clipped our climbing harnesses onto a chain bolted into the wall - so again, if I slipped, I'd only fall a foot or two at most.

So you may be asking yourself (as I did) what kind of parents let their children do this type of activity?  Well, the father is a reporter for Al Jazeera, the Arabic news station in London - and he looked like the stereotypical ruffled BBC field reporter.  

"You must have visited some interesting places" I prompted.
Before he could answer, his 11 year old daughter brightly pepped "Daddy reported from Darfur!" 
"And your mother?" I asked.

"Mummy's climbing the volcano today, but you have to be 12 to do that - so this is all they'd let us do."

If these kids are doing this now, I really want to know what sorts of adventures they're doing in their 20s.

Next up - the weather finally cleared up, so I'm going to snowboard down the active volcano...

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