As Mike, my guide from Dragonfly, explained: "Canyoning is where people start, usually near the top of the river, and make their way down." He also warned that me that I would have to abseil down waterfalls. I thought: I've abseiled before - albeit down a dry rock-climbing wall - surely it can't be that much harder?
Heidi, you fool …
Mike and Jaymz, also from Dragonfly, met YP cadet Joshua Lee (my photographer and videographer for the day) and myself at Tai Wo station. From there, we took a short taxi ride to Tai Mo Shan Country Park. The hike to the top took a good 90 minutes, and by the time we reached the small, practice waterfall to start the abseiling, I was red-faced, sticky, and ready to cool down in some clean water.
First, Mike helped us put on the safety harness, while Jaymz rigged up the ropes for abseiling. It finally occurred to me what I was about to do: go backwards down a gushing waterfall. Uh oh.
Jaymz went first to make sure the ropes stayed in a straight line for the rest of us. Joshua went next so he could film and photograph my descent.
As I watched Joshua slip and slide, I became really anxious.
Finally, it was my turn. Mike carefully attached my harness to the rope, which looked reassuringly thick and sturdy.
"Keep your feet planted wide apart, and just sit back and keep your legs straight against the rocks," Mike instructed over the roar of the waterfall. "You're not going to be able to find footholds, so you're going to push against the rocks."
Tentatively, I backed towards the edge of the waterfall, and took a small step to anchor my feet and push away from the rocks.
Immediately, my legs flew out from beneath me and I fell sideways against the rocks, but I felt no pain. Cold water rushing into my face fooled my mind into a numbing state of panic, leaving nothing behind but the cold, wet awareness that I needed to get it together.
At last, I managed to find rocks I could steady my feet against, and by then Mike had joined me on his own rope.
I resumed my descent, but it wasn't long before the slippery surface and rapids meant I had slammed into the rocks again. I reached out with my left hand to steady myself against a rock while I tried to find my footing, and watched in amusement as the piece of rock broke away and fell down into the rock pool below. Like in a movie.
"What am I doing?" I thought to myself. "I'm not Indiana Jones! I can't climb down waterfalls!"
All the way down, I did more slipping and sliding than actual abseiling. To his credit, Mike was unfailingly encouraging and a great instructor. Still, about three metres from the bottom, where the rocks felt extra mossy, I gave up and slid the rest of the way instead.
Once I caught my breath, Mike said he wanted to try again but "in tandem". Meaning, he would attach both of us to the same rope with a little bit of a gap between us, and he would lead the way behind me. Abseiling this way was faster, and Mike's expertise guided us towards the steadier rocks, but I still slipped and fell more than I was able to abseil. And I was a soaking, nervous wreck by the time we reached the bottom.
Knowing that was only "a small, practice waterfall" helped me reach one conclusion: I know my limits, and I don't have the skills or nerve for big waterfalls. I was not doing the rest.
Jaymz and Mike were very understanding and agreed I shouldn't attempt the other waterfalls if I wasn't comfortable.
"As a minimum requirement, I would want someone to have abseiled down dry rocks before taking them down a waterfall," Jaymz admitted. Oh. Nice to know. But hey, we like a challenge here at Young Post!
Will I attempt canyoning again? Well, never say never, but perhaps I'll master dry rocks first before I try abseiling down wet ones again. For now, however, I think the band TLC said it best: don't go chasing waterfalls.