The whole point of the ILO is to encourage personal and professional growth by taking people out of their comfort zone. This weekend, I found myself as far away from my comfort zone as I could possibly be. I was on a trip to Semonkong with a group of Welsh teachers who have been in Lesotho for the last five months. Their aim was to complete the longest commercial abseil in the world as certified by the Guinness Book of Records. I was keen to visit so when I heard about the trip, I really wanted to join the group but didn’t think there was any way I would voluntarily walk off a cliff 204 meters from the ground.
When we arrived on Saturday morning, I immediately asked at the lodge if there was an alternative to the abseil. I was persuaded to take the training with the group and if still not comfortable, then I could do something else the next day. The problem I have is a fear of heights, or more accurately, a fear of falling from one so hanging from a rope is not really my dream activity.
The voice of reason was arguing that I should at least have a go so I decided my best strategy would be to do it without looking down. I allowed myself to be connected to the rope and started to walk backwards as instructed. About one step from the edge, I lost my nerve and tried to give up, however, the staff and the rest of our group gave me so much encouragement that I managed to dig deep and keep walking. I concentrated on taking one step at a time and tried not to look at how far off the ground I was. To my surprise, I really enjoyed it and just wanted to try it again to prove to myself that it wasn’t a one off. Each time, my confidence grew until I felt ready to try the big one.
Sleep was fitful on Saturday night as I started to feel the adrenaline pumping just at the thought of abseiling down the great Maletsunyane Falls. The day dawned and I started to prepare myself for the challenge ahead. By this point, the self-talk had changed from ‘I can’t do it’ to ‘I can do it’ and I was feeling nervous but calm as we reached the start point. When it was my turn, I approached the edge of the cliff. I was told that there was a stretch where the wall fell away and I would be hanging in mid-air and they also told me that when I reached this point I would probably swing around to face away from the rocks. When I realised this would happen right near the top I started to panic.
Again, I got near the edge and said I didn’t think I could do it. This time they unhooked everything and told me to take some time to gather my thoughts. The staff were so patient and reassuring, telling me that it didn’t have to be the end and I could have another try if I wanted to. As I stood there trying to calm myself, I thought about what a great achievement it would be and how disappointed I would feel if I was the only one that hadn’t gone through with it. I knew that this was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I would never be there again and I didn’t want to go home having failed without even trying.
I took hold of myself and walked forward again. Victor, who was in charge of the rope, was so encouraging and it is really down to his support that I managedit. I literally took it one step at time, putting my trust in Victor, asking questions like – Where I should put my feet? What happens if I swing that way? And so on. Five steps later, I was over the edge and moving towards the ground. As I descended, I realised that I was taking a lesson in life… to have faith, go forward with confidence and deal with whatever comes along which in this instance was bush, caves and water (there was a lot of water!). I am pleased to say that I actually really enjoyed it. I did swing around as they told me I would and I was able to look around and take in the magnificent view. To my surprise, I didn’t feel fear, instead I felt incredibly lucky to be there… especially because I was hanging from a rope.
The cheering squad at the bottom helped a lot and I am really glad that we were all able to share the experience. Abseiling down the Maletsunyane Falls in Lesotho was the greatest challenge I have faced in my life so far and I am so proud that I was able to ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’.
With special thanks to Jonathan, Victor and all of the Semokong Lodge team for their patience and kindness. You gave us a weekend we will never forget.