Roping in your courage

30Nov08

As published in the New Straits Times, Travel Times, 25 November 2008, and NST Travel Online.

What’s so difficult about climbing up a few ropes strung up like a cobweb amongst the trees? MAJIDAH HASHIM finds out at Nomad Mountain School’s Pinnacle Adventure High Ropes Course.

Story and Pictures by MAJIDAH HASHIM

“NO, no, you don’t understand. I REALLY have a FEAR of heights.”

I am in Gopeng, Perak. It is a truly gorgeous Saturday morning and I am slurping bihun and beansprouts in hot chicken broth for breakfast.

“It actually LOOKS scarier than it really is,” my Nomad guide Cindy tells me, with a wide grin spreading between her ears.

Yeah, that’s what they all say.

Driving up to Nomad Mountain School’s Pinnacle Adventure High Ropes Course, all I can see are the trunks of tall trees, with thin rays of sunlight streaming in from the tall canopies.

Squinting as I try to look halfway up those trees, I trace the outline of the ropes. Like a cobweb woven between the green foliage, there it is – Tree Three.

The Green Terrain

The Pinnacle Adventure High Ropes Course is inspired by Adventure Parks in France and parts of Europe. Designed in various levels of difficulties, the construction of the obstacles and elements as well as their safety systems are also benchmarked to European standards.

The course was planned and constructed under the direction of Chan Yuen-Li, Malaysia’s pioneer rock climber, who was also responsible for the development of almost all of the country’s rock climbing routes back in the 90s.

Along with Peter Ozany, another rock climbing elite and aborist (tree climber) and a highly skilled team of Nomad Adventure specialists, the course took two months to lift off the ground, literally.

“When I first saw it, I felt like a child smitten with a sense of adventure for the first time!” Chan says. “I wanted to scramble and climb and see what’s round the next bend.”

What makes the Pinnacle Adventure High Ropes Course especially unique is that it is incorporated completely into its natural surroundings. The actual design of the course is inspired by the natural rock configurations and includes a combination of rock climbing, bouldering, high ropes and feratta obstacles.

“In all my travels, and after extensive research on high ropes courses around the world, I have never seen or heard of a high ropes course built into rocks and pinnacles,” she adds.

She explains how some of the anchors and attachments had to be custom-designed and specially made for the environment. Some of the materials were even brought in from all over the world.

Safety audits were conducted by experts who had conducted similar checks on courses in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. Their verdict: Outstanding.

Doing The Elvis

The three courses vary in height, length and what Chan refers to as their “heebie-jeebie” factor.

Rock One, less than five metres long, encompasses a small cave and requires a little bit of rock climbing skills. Because it is more enclosed, it does not feel as scary. The solid rock surfaces don’t sway, and you are able to take your time and rest easily if you need to. There is even a short cut exit if one cannot manage to continue.

After having accomplished that, one moves to Rock Two, where the sense of exposure is heightened. The course is much higher off the ground and some of the transitions between the obstacles are vertical so there is less opportunity for rest.

In addition, commitment for the course is higher as after the third (of nine) element, one can no longer give up and must go on to the end.

Then, of course, there is the centrepiece of the course – Tree Three. Up to 15m high and over 25m in length, Tree Three offers the greatest sense of exposure and demands the highest level of commitment. Once you have started the course, there is no turning back.

“When you are 15m up in the air, you are more acutely aware of every sensation than you have ever been!” Chan says, looking straight at me, with enthusiasm burning in her eyes.

This is where I break out of my non-disco inclined self and start doing “The Elvis”. It is slang referring to an automatic reflex whereby one leg starts to shiver due to a surge of fear or panic. Very much like The King’s signature move itself.

“When this happens, you got to calm down and psych yourself up,” says Sam, another of the day’s guide. “You can do it!”

Fight And Flight

“I personally think that barring some physical disability or ailment, it is all mental,” says Chan.

Nomad’s approach to conducting its programmes, which get people to take on challenges by choice, empowers the individual to decide to do it.

The guides are trained to motivate participants to choose to challenge themselves and to allow them to confront these challenges at a personal level.

“I think where you are now in terms of your physical ability is a result of a series of decisions you have made and beliefs that you hold,” Chan says. “I have had participants in their 50s and 60s who have recovered from strokes and heart bypasses (who have all been medically cleared for activities) who completely enjoy the activities. And then I have teenagers and strapping young men and women in their 20s who, after a day, get fevers and aches all over!”

Nomad teaches that you don’t suddenly lose your fears. It just does not work that way. In fact, it is dangerous if it does! Instead, participants learn to manage these fears and understand that despite them being afraid, they carry on. They don’t overcome the fear, they get over it. They learn to turn it into something positive.

Swaying on the safety lines, I climb back onto the course. The wind teases to throw me off balance again. My legs, which have turned to jelly, search frantically for a stable surface to rest on.

I balance them carefully on the ropes, knowing that I cannot stay here all morning. I slowly dare a foot to venture forward, and then the next. Inch by inch, I complete another element, and then another.

Leap Of Faith

“There’s just enough time for one more element,” Sam says enthusiastically. It is high noon and we are still reeling from the other courses.

He leads us to a simple platform built 25m up a tree. Dangling on a rope just a few feet above the platform is a sepak takraw ball. The task sounds easy enough: Leap into the air, over the platform and smack the ball.

“Despite the sheer simplicity of the idea, this is probably the most emotionally-committing and nerve-wrecking of all the elements,” says Chan. “I have seen young, healthy, fit adults reduced to tears and fits of uncontrollable shaking.”

One by one, we are strapped into a full body harness and hooked onto not one, but two safety lines. One by one, we make that long way up the ladder and up the tree. A light wind whispers against our skins. The rope tugs slightly.

One deep breath.

A leap!

Not a single one of us smacks that ball. No one is able to come close to even touch the ball.

Chan says the Leap Of Faith, as this obstacle is called, is often the zenith of a participant’s emotional journey. It is the moment of breakthrough.

Of the 15 participants that day, no one achieves that breakthrough.

“What’s the secret to reaching the ball?” I ask Chan.

“The secret is that it’s not in the destination, but in the journey,” she replies, leaving me to ponder on the underlying meaning.

Contact

For more information and to sign up for Nomad’s programmes, contact: Nomad Adventure Sdn Bhd, 525, Jalan 17/13, 46400 Petaling Jaya, Selangor. Tel: 03-7958 5152, 016-202 1936. Fax: 03-7958 1710. Web: http://www.nomadadventure.com

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