Trusting Strangers on Australian Clifftops


australia cliffWhen my foot slips off the same ledge for the third time in a row, Jun groans sympathetically and tightens his grip. Swaying perilously from thirty feet above, I shoot my new rock climbing partner an apologetic shrug, await further instruction. I only met Jun an hour ago, and yet he holds my life in his hands like a marionette doll.

“Rotate your hips toward the wall,” shouts my Gepetto. “Don’t rely on your forearms so much. Balance all your weight on the ball of your left foot.”

I accept this advice not because of faith in my partner or an intrinsic knack for climbing technique, but because I’m out of options. My forearms are pumped to the point of no return – I can no longer trust my fingertips to support my body weight. Tentatively, my foot gropes for the exact ledge that has so recently betrayed me, and I lean into my leg. As my weight shifts onto my outer sole, my body twists and grows like ivy, giving me the extra few inches I need to reach the next hold. Jun cheers as I clamber past this problem, and once solved, I’m able to turn my back to the wall, look out at the Australian countryside, and try in vain to catch my breath.

Fat, flat-bottomed clouds rest above the Blue Mountains like cushions on a glass table, peering down lazily over the green valleys of New South Wales. Charred scars of recent bushfires litter the area surrounding the Katoomba Cascades, which now burst forth in a defiant waterfall. The crickets are nearly deafening, adding an auditory element to the total sensory overload. Even without the climb, the intensity of the view would knock me back. When added to my aching muscles, the overall effect is staggering.

And so I sat, struck. As sweat evaporated from the backs of my hands, my body cooled and my mind calmed. My grateful grin met Jun’s beam of pride, and I wordlessly thanked my puppeteer.

I could have visited the Blue Mountains alone. Their enormity and beauty were unchanged by my and my friend’s presence, and yet the experience was all the more striking with company. I could have taken a bus to a lookout point, and seen the landscape. The blue haze would linger whether I climbed for it or not, and yet it seemed brighter somehow, as if I had physically earned the view.

I travel because each new vista, each sunset, each horizon enhances the others. I climb mountains to earn these horizons, to make them that much sweeter after the salty taste of sweat. But most importantly, as Jun taught me, I embrace my need for help in order to create something more than I could discover alone. As a solo traveler, independence is a pet point of pride, but experiences are deepened and enhanced when shared. Jun and I may go on to become lifelong confidantes. We may never speak again. Either way, allowing ourselves to trust each other quite literally let us reach new heights. For this connection, even more than for the awe-inspiring scenery – for this I am grateful.

About the Author: Brooke Watson is a former athlete, future doctor, and present gypsy. Sometimes she takes pictures.

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