Arms Out - Head Up

I agree to join a group of volunteers on Saturday to go Kloofing in the valley about an hour out of Cape Town. All I really hear from them is that it’s basically cliff diving and swimming around in pools of fresh water, and something about waterfalls. Basically, I’m thinking its going to be a beautiful experience out in the mountains of South Africa so I’m definitely interested.

Well, I was right about the beautiful experience, but I was very wrong in my underestimation of the day’s events. We began by hiking about 40 minutes up, and we start with our “baby” jump of 5 meters, somewhere around 16-17 feet. It looks high but nothing I would cough at, and of course we are all stripping down excited about the first jump, but somewhat earily looking around at each other when they say this is a baby jump. If this is a baby what is normal and what is big?

One after another, we are jumping off this rock with yelping and howling coming from everywhere. This is a good time, the sun is so hot and the water is so cold, but as soon as you rest in there for 5 seconds or so, it feels incredible. The water is so fresh and clean that its actually okay to drink, so I of course go ahead and test that by drinking some that gets in my mouth during my swim. Tastes strange, but definitely all right. It’s like a small paradise really, a shady spot that’s got a waterfall to the side, trees surrounding us and a deep pond of fresh water that make for a very comfortable place to be.

The instructor comes back and instructs us to strap up our boots, we are hiking on to our next event, another 40 rigorous minutes of hiking/rock climbing. So after so much huffing and puffing, a tired set of legs is finally relieved when we fall upon another pool that is even larger, wide open almost with a huge staircase waterfall. What we are then told is that we will be abseiling, of repelling, down the waterfall on the other side, which we couldn’t even see at the moment. We stop for a second to take it all in, eat lunch, sunbathe, swim, etc. while they set up the abseil.

Within the next hour I am strapped to a rope wrapping around a huge rock, climbing around a patch or rock that terrifies me actually due to the fact that I cannot see the ground below me and all I hear is water – really, really far away. I am literally gripping the crevasses of this rock so hard I could hold up the entire group if they did indeed fall while connected to this safety harness. I sit perched up above most everybody as I am the last one to go in the group, and the wind and sun are beating down on me. I know I’m getting the burn of a lifetime while at the same time shivering in the wind. I’m actually 65 meters off the ground, some odd 230 feet - 23 stories. I have a hard time looking down at the people abseiling, and even more so the ground below me, it is forever away.

“Jacob, come on down here if you don’t mind” are the words I’ve been waiting to hear. Please get me out of this wind! Finally they arrive and I’m scurrying down this rock much quicker now than I would have expected to an hour ago, but I’m freezing at this point and I want to be on the ground. Just give that rope and drop me! No but really, I’m thinking these people who went first are probably about as ready to move on as I am, so let me scurry down this rope and get on with it. I strap up, start my repel, and then about 10 meters down my arm is on fire. I’m doing this all wrong, but I don’t know what to do because all the equipment is wet and I’m extremely nervous I’ll let something slip and it’s over for me at that point. But at this rate, my arm will fall off before I make it another 50 meters, so I’m looking at a fall either way. But, to my surprise, I’m witty enough to figure out a much better method and start flying down the wall. I’m trying extremely hard to avoid the waterfall because I know it’s going to be freezing and it’s all shade on this side of the gorge. But, there’s no more avoiding it and I plummet right into it, and boy I’m moving now to reach the bottom. “Get me off of this freakin’ rope” is what’s running through my head. I hit the water at the bottom, and I just sigh in relief. It’s glorious. I’m safe.

We continue on our journey after that to the “bigger” jumps. Most people are already counting themselves out because the 5-meter jump was more than enough for them. Well, not for a few of the guys. We are looking at a 14-meter, 18-meter, and 22-meter jump (50 feet, 63 feet, and 75 feet). You only live once, and when will I be in Africa again to do something like this in such a beautiful setting? I’m going for it, starting with the 14 first. I hope I can do this really. I step up to the edge of the jump, take a quick look down – oh my goodness – and look up immediately. The instructor speaks to me, “Deep breath in and out, arms out, head up, 3-2-1-jump!” and I’m off. The surface tension of the water slaps my feet hard; I plunge deep into the pool of water and fight to get up quick. I really never know how long it’s going to take, because after a jump that big I really don’t know how deep I really am.

Adrenaline is flowing and I can feel it, the chill from the water helps suppress it though and as soon as I catch a bit of air, the on-lookers are cheering and yelping. It is really a hard feeling to describe. The people who wouldn’t jump seem to be in disbelief with you and really think you’re crazy.

This jump leads me to think 18 isn’t anything, I just did 14 right? Yeah well until I step up at 18 meters I don’t realize the difference, and yes it is big. Same thing as before, arms out head up, and off I go. All right, I feel good. Lets go for the big boy now and hit 22 meters. Only two of us decided to actually attempt the big jump, as one of the instructors won’t even attempt this feat. The climb up is terrible, and I’m actually tired when I reach the jump spot. I really need a bit of time to catch my breath, think about what I’m doing before I plunge 75 feet.

Here goes, a little bit of cheering from deep below me, and the instructor going through the motions. Jump. Down I go. The water hits me hard, but it was apparently a clean jump - good form is what I’m told. As I’m swimming back up to the top my body is almost numb. The adrenaline running though me is absolutely insane - more of a rush than skydiving. As I reach the top, all I hear is gasps. You did it man.

All everybody wanted at the end was an ice-cold beer, so we all indulge as soon as we reach the lodge. What a good day; a full day of adventure, sight seeing, and adrenaline. I think I have done okay for my very first weekend adventure in South Africa.