Have you ever found yourself in an uncomfortable situation entirely of your own creation? There you are, casting about in your mind for some kind solution that allows you a graceful exit from the situation, all the while knowing that you have a better chance of winning the lottery! During our Scouting Area Composite camp two weeks ago I found myself exactly in that position.
One of the many great activities at the Haliburton Scout Reserve is the rappelling wall, and this being my first time to the camp, I was very excited the morning our Troop was scheduled to go to it. Rappelling was one activity that always was brought up during program planning at the beginning of the new year but never seemed to make it past the “idea” phase. Now here I was about to cross something off my Scouting bucket list!
The Troop that I was attending camp with was a good mix of seasoned and new Scouts. As we left camp the Troop Scouter offered some advice. “Make sure that you get the kids that are eager to go first. All it takes one Scout to refuse to go and then you could end up with a bunch of them backing out”. It sounded like good advice to me, especially since they were not “my” Troop. Even though I’ve camped with them and most know me, I had yet to be in a stressful situation with them.
Now what you need to know is that I’m a lead-from-the-front kind of Scouter. I make it very clear to my youth that I would never ask them to do something that I wasn’t ready to do myself. The day before I had surprised them by going up the climbing wall , and I will admit that I enjoyed showing off a side of me that they hadn’t seen before.
When we arrived at the site I joined right in as we were harnessed up and fitted out with helmets. I spent a lot of time reassuring the youth that they just needed to trust the ropes and instructors (you might want to remember this point). I bravely told them that the instructors were experienced and wouldn’t be allowed to teach us if they didn’t have the proper skills. The movie “Follow Me Boys” came to mind as I continued to encourage the youth. I even managed to convince one youth into putting on all the gear and at least going out to the edge. Yep! I was a modern-day Lem Siddons.
Talk in the line was about as macho as a bunch of 11 to 13 year olds could get. Dreams of base jumping and wing suit diving were shared, as well as every action movie they could think of that featured rappelling. Of the group only two didn’t make it down the wall, but they both at least attempted it so I was very pleased with how the morning was progressing. Soon it was my turn, and I was all smiles as I chatted with the young woman who was rigging me up.
The portion of the wall that I was to go down actually has two parts. You first need to drop about 10 or so feet to the actual edge of the wall. Fully briefed I hung my heels off of the ledge and leaned back letting the ropes take my weight. Slowly I let out the rope and started to walk down the wall towards the second ledge. Three steps down is when the wheels started coming off!
Somehow I mis-stepped and ended up bouncing my knee off the wall followed by a rather graceless landing that involved losing a shoe. At this point I’m going to clarify something. You will have noticed that I’ve used to term “wall” several times now. The “wall” is in fact not a wall at all, but in reality a 60 foot rock-face. Taking a moment to regroup by putting my shoe back on, it occurred to me that perhaps this might a tad bit harder than I had thought.
Once my shoe was back where it belonged and the ropes straightened out my instructor directed me to again hang my heels off the ledge and lean back on the ropes. This was when she strongly suggested that I NOT look down. And this of course was when I did exactly what she had told not to do! Several unScout like words crossed my mind as I looked down. I really need to pay better attention to instructions. Quickly deciding that she was correct in the fact that I REALLY REALLY didn’t want to look down any more, I focused back on my current situation.
A part of my mind was strongly suggesting that I hadn’t really thought this whole endeavour completely out. Trying to ignore that little voice I managed to get my feet out to the edge and started to lean back. This is the hard part! Leaning back far enough so that your feet will be flat on the rock-face and you can start walking backwards down the cliff. The further back I leaned, the louder the little voice became until finally I panicked. Grabbing the rope with both hands I hauled myself back up to the ledge. This was not one of my finer moments. That modern-day Lem Siddons was all for bugging out over the hilltop shouting “follow me, boys”.
I never did get the name of the young woman that was instructing me but I am very grateful that I ended up on her side of the wall. I’m sure she could see that I was close to freaking out, and she kindly suggested that if I wanted her to, she could tighten my ropes a bit. I gladly took this opportunity to collect my wits while she worked on the rope. One part of me wanted nothing more than to say I couldn’t do this, but couldn’t see a way to back out with any kind of grace. The other part of my mind was telling myself that it was OK and to just calm down. It was one of those moments when you realize that you need to follow your own advice. I had spent a considerable amount of time telling the Scouts that they needed to trust the equipment and instructors, and now so did I.
By the time my rope had been “tightened” I was ready to try again. Slowly I leaned back out over the ledge, and this time I trusted the equipment and stepped down. I’m sure that the phrase “the first step is the hardest” was thought of by some soul in a similar situation. After that point I was far too busy paying attention to my rope and feet that I don’t really remember much of the trip down, or even how long it took to reach the bottom.
This was most likely the hardest thing I have ever done as a leader and one of the most rewarding as well. I also plan on trying rappelling again. Hopefully the next time I’m at the top of the wall I’ll remember what I learned this time around.
So what is the hardest or most challenging thing that you have done as Leader? You are welcome to share in the comment area below.
Until next time…
Be safe, be prepared, and keep Scouting!