My fingers ached as I grasped tightly onto each handhold, my feet wedged against a tiny ledge.
“Wayne! I’m … stuck…”
“You know, it would’ve been easier to just walk back,” Reason whispered in my ear.
“Wayne! Don’t you go up there without me!”
It wasn't long before fear loomed large above me when I realised that was a loooooong way down.
My heart pounded wildly, sweat trickled down my back; every muscle was tightly wound… until Wayne produced a camera. “Hey Hari, smile!” Click.
“Wayne! If I make it to the top alive … I’m going to kill you.”
Recklessly defying Reason
“We can walk back the way we came ,” Wayne suggested, “Or we can take a shortcut - and climb up that cliff face.”
I gazed up at the 300 foot cliff towering above us. That was just reckless, I thought.
But my bushwalking buddy Wayne was an experienced rock climber and calculated it would take us about 20 minutes to climb out of the gorge.
I glanced back towards the direction we had just come from, contemplating the two-hour return bushwalk. That was the reasonable thing to do.
“Let’s take the shortcut.”
We had no helmets, or safety harnesses, or any ropes - but hey, a shortcut is a shortcut.
Wayne nimbly leapt over the boulders and quickly disappeared over the first ledge, while I followed tentatively. And as the incline became more vertical, I found myself intimately hugging the cliff face.
“Wayne! You’ll have to carry me to the top!”
Reason continued to follow me up that cliff face, mocking me: “This shortcut is not so short, is it?”
Ignoring Reason, I focused instead on Wayne’s voice, hoping for re-assurance.
“Hey, Hari, did I tell you about the time we went caving and Mark broke his leg? The batteries in our headlamps died so we couldn’t see a thing in the dark. Mark jumped off a ledge, even though he had no idea how high it was.”
That was the moment when fear turned into terror.
“Wayne! If I fall … I’m taking you with me!”
I desperately clung to that cliff face, trying to squeeze myself into a safe spot, away from Wayne’s relentless chit-chat.
“By the way, did Kevin ever tell you about the time we went abseiling and he ended up with concussion? I was climbing just above him and stepped on a rock, which fell on his head...”
“Wayne, stop talking to me ! Just … get me… off … this … cliff !”
I scrambled painfully up the cliff face, inch by inch,with fear still hovering on one side of me, and Reason on the other: “You would’ve made it back by now - if you’d walked.”
I continued to ignore Reason and wondered where Wayne had disappeared to. “Wayne… I’m still stuck here!”
While I dangled precariously, Wayne reached the top of that cliff three times, and returned each time to report on my progress.
“You’re almost there.”
“You said that last time!”
“Just move your hand here…”
“Hari, it helps if you open your eyes.”
“I don’t want to!”
“Let me help you…”
“Don’t … touch me.”
“This sure is a long shortcut to the top!” observed Reason.
But despite the mocking, the doubt and the fear, I eventually dragged myself over that last ledge and I lay there at the top of the cliff, quivering with exhaustion.
I turned and looked Reason in the face and with reckless defiance declared: “It may be a long shortcut to the top - but a shortcut is still a shortcut!”
The safer option
Although I had often gone bushwalking with Wayne and other State Emergency Services buddies, that was my only reckless endeavour.
I had just returned from a month-long trek to Nepal - I was feeling restless and must've had excess adrenalin in my system.
I sensibly took up the safer option of a working holiday opportunity to Japan and left the country before I could be tempted by any futher reckless behaviour.