Being more than 1 000 metres above the ground is a chilling feeling. Now try leaning backwards over the edge of a cliff attached only to a rope! According to Kevin Shehaan, it’s that first step of this unique and challenging adventure that’s definitely the hardest part (terrifying for most!). “The most important thing to remember,” says Shehaan, “is that you have to trust the equipment! Personally, heights freak me out. But, I love abseiling because I know I can trust the equipment. It’s not like bungee jumping where you hurl yourself from the top of a bridge without any control. Abseiling you are in control, it’s up to you (the abseiler) to move backwards and begin the descent at your own pace.”
Table Mountain is one of the world’s highest commercial abseils. Abseil Africa has been operating there for the last 20 years. Guide and abseil enthusiast, Kevin Shehaan, regards it as an adrenaline fuelled adventure sport that anyone can do! He shares his expert knowledge and first hand experience…
The thrill, adrenaline and nerves coupled by the views, the challenges and the sense of achievement at the end are hard to beat. A typical descent begins on arrival at the abseil site where a guide gives you a short safety briefing, gets you harnessed up and ensures you sign an indemnity form before proceeding. When you see tiny Camps Bay in the distance, that’s when you realise just how high you are! They don’t call it ‘The Mama Africa of Abseils’ for no reason.
Attached to a safety line, your descent begins and the views are nothing short of sensational - over your left shoulder is Lions Head and Robben Island, directly behind you are the beautiful white sands of Camps Bay Beach and to your right the Twelve Apostles. It really is breathtaking!
As you start getting comfortable in the harness, trusting the system and “relaxing” into it, you feel the adrenaline start to surge once again and if you dare to look down the base guide will most certainly be telling you to let go and enjoy the view while you still can. Some do, but many think he’s just crazy.
On reaching the base, it’s quite common to find that abseilers can’t put a proper sentence together. The base guide often receives plenty of hugs and high fives and sometimes even the equipment gets a kiss!
You need about an hour for the whole experience. The descent itself takes between five to eight minutes to complete, the hike back up takes about 30 minutes at a relaxed pace. Water is essential and a good pair of takkies is recommended, although there are a few people who opt to do the abseil barefoot.
The team on the mountain is made up of 4 highly trained guides, competent not only in how to run an abseil site but also able to understand that each client is unique and to motivate and ensure all experiences are memorable. Three Guides at the top look after your safety and one guide at the bottom to make sure you are on the correct path to hike your way back to the top.
Abseiling, like all adventure sport, has some inherent risks although most of these can be mitigated by getting the proper training and making use of qualified instructors. Abseil Africa prides itself in 20 years of operation with no serious injuries. “Sure we get a few bumps and bruises and the odd scratch”. They put this down to regular training, a strong set of very competent guides and regular site inspections by an outside party.
Abseiling, much like climbing and bungee jumping attracts mainly adrenaline junkies or people looking to overcome their fear of heights. Specially set-up indoor climbing walls are great to develop confidence and practice belay skills for climbing.[Ma1] It’s important to remember, however, that abseiling is completely different. When you’re out there doing the real deal handholds and footholds don’t just miraculously appear in front of you.