No man in his right senses will do this, I think aloud, as my whole body trembles like a leaf in a hurricane. I look at the long cable that passes over menacing looking rocks, a river, and a waterfall probably a mile or two below. And I look away. I can’t do this. I just can’t do this, man. “I’d like to go back,” I tell the guide. I am so afraid that it sounds like a command. Of course, there is no ifs and buts. I just have to go back. Why should I do this? If it is adventure, I might as well enjoy. Why encounter a near-death experience?
“You can’t go back,” the guide says with a straight face. I have crossed the first phase and the only way to return to my base is by completing all the five phases of varying length. I never feel so helpless in my life. I stop looking at the cable ahead. But the shivering simply refuses to go away.
The scene of action is Karkloof, a few hours away by road from Durban, South Africa, where I go to experience what’s known as The Karkloof Canopy Tour: A three hour adventure through the magnificent Karkloof forest. The tour involves traversing from one platform to another along a steel cable suspended up to 30 m above the forest floor. The tour has seven platforms and eight slides that zig-zag down the forested valley. The scenery and birdlife is spectacular and professional guides provide interesting facts about the forest ecology during the tour, but with the deadly combo of height and speed and fear, I am in no mood for a lecture on Emerald Cuckoos, endangered Cape Parrots (I myself is endangered right now) and Samago monkeys.
Prior to this I was all very excited. When I was told about the adventure, I just thought that it would mean swinging from one tree to another a few feet away with some cables on a flat ground. Like Tarjan on a film set, you know. Giant mountains, mile long cables over immense heights were not part of the brief.
So there I am, strapped into a body harness, helmet on head and packed into a 4WD vehicle that moves up through a forest passages to a high mount where the first platform is. I can now see magnificent mountains all around and a beautiful valley down below. “This is a beginners trail,’ says our guide as I suspend myself down from the platform to take the 30 m descending ride to the next platform. I slowly release my right grip and swoosh. In seconds I am on the other end, the waiting guide stopping me with a speed- breaking device.
The exercise looks easy, but the fact that you have absolutely no control over your momentum is scary. Add to it height, and that’s enough for your bones to rattle. My knees give way and I sit crouched on the wooden platform. God, where have you landed me in! Am I on a suicide mission? It seems like, only that I’ve no mission.
As a matter of fact, it’s getting tougher now. Yes, you can also go with a guide strapped to your body, but being the only male in the group, they would rather go with the females. Oh, how I wish I was a woman. Thus, alone like a warrior with no hopes, I cross one phase to another: Stop my breath, lower myself and slowly, slowly release my grip. “Don’t grip the cable too hard while in motion,” the guide warns me, “else the steel wire may slice your fingers.” Some comfort that, I think, though I am wearing gloves fortified with extra leather. I just need to let my body go.
I do, but unfortunately to my shock and horror, midway my body does an about turn so that I am moving towards my goal – the platform – like a bullet with my back towards it, completely unable to see where I am heading. That’s it then. That’s how I am destined to end. And then with a crashing jolt I stop, legs first, body flung upwards with a tremendous force. “I told you not to hold the rope tight,” the agitated and angry guide barks at me, “That’s why you turned backwards.”
There are other challenges as well. And that includes branches of a tree directly on my route. “Hold the cable tight. Release it slowly. Then use your leg to push yourself away from the tree and then release your grip,” the guide barks. And swooooosh, I go again!
And thus, my life hanging literally by a thread, I finally complete all the rounds. Shaken, stirred, but alive. And having done that, am I glad that I have done it? Sure. A sense of achievement takes over.
Will I do it again? Never. Thank you.