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The Cliff of Death

Updated: May 26, 2021

Despite being a newbie to the sport of Rock Climbing/Rappelling, the rock face which I dubbed the 'Cliff of Death' (COD), was quickly set as a personal challenge... the idea was to find a natural wall in Trinidad which we could install anchors and use for sport climbing. In order to determine how viable and sturdy the rock surface is - I had to get up close and personal.

Firstly, to get access to the base and top of the cliff and to rappel down the face, secondly to install anchor points. The CoolBlue team has completed the first part of this challenge. This blog is the story of that adventure.

Our team has spent a lot of time over the past couple years exploring and establishing trails between the valley which rests between the Lady Chancellor Hill trail (heading up to Breezy Hill) and the Maraval main road. This particular cliff face (which you can see if you look up on the mountain ridge facing the La Seiva RC school), has always piqued my curiosity and I kept telling the team "we must climb up and down that cliff"... this is how it all started!

Phase 1

Getting the crew to agree to embark of this trek took a bit of convincing, but we eventually got the ball rolling. This phase essentially required us to cut a path to the base of the cliff in order to attain the necessary vantage point, for full coordination of the mission. This 'trail cutting' was very intense - with dense, untouched, steep forest valley providing habitat for all sorts of insects, snakes even armadillos and the cutest nesting Corbeau chicks. Adding to the ambiance were adult Corbeaux swooping above us as we made our ascent through the valley... so close that the vibration of the wind caused by their wings startled us – every time!

None of the jungle life gave us any challenge or hindrance comparable to navigating through the dense mangled bush. Slowly but surely we progressed, then eventually we began to see a clear path to the base of the cliff. Some areas were so steep, we had to use tree branches to climb up through the thick brush. The feeling of actually standing at the rock wall we had been looking at for months was wonderful. There are a couple shallow caves within the rock wall - and if you are brave enough to walk along the steep drops, then there's a lot more to explore. Let’s just say- some of the team anchored at the trail head and refused to go any further!

The second half of wall access phase required us to cut a path off of Breezy Hill (approximately 2 km up from the top of Lady Chancellor hill) to the top of the Cliff of Death, so as to ascertain the best drop spot. This was accomplished in the same manner as our journey to the base... we were now at the top, cliff and rock face beneath our toes, wind and Corbeaux whizzing by and us needing to anchor to a tree just to get a sneak peak off the edge.

Phase 2... The big descent

We rallied some of our allies, @Dingole Ltd and @karimahclinton to get some drone shots and footage of the big descent. The night before we troubleshooted the different scenarios – what if the rope is too short? What if there is no second anchor point? In the event of an emergency, what gear is available for a second rappel? What ascending devices should I include on my belt? With all possible scenarios discussed, we packed our gear and set out on the mission.

At this point, minds were racing with visions of rock fall, Jack Spaniard nests on the descent and all sorts of related catastrophes. With all safety checks on point, the rope was securely anchored, and I was clipped in. Due to the distance of the rappel and unsure what natural anchor points were available, we wanted to avoid untangling ropes while on the face, so we saddle bagged the ropes to my side; the cumbersomeness of this arrangement added to my nervousness.

The first step off the edge came with much hesitation. After some time, Zarah, the 15 year old on the team, basically advised in non-sugar coated language, that abortion the mission was not an option! I had no choice in the matter at that point, with weeks of planning under my belt - I just held my breath and took my first step off the ledge. I was secured onto my single rope system with only my belay device. The descent started and it is perhaps the longest 70 meters I have ever experienced.

The wind, the height, the views and the whizzing jet winged Corbeaux, all added to the high level of adrenaline already pumping through the body at this stage. In my mind, The Cliff of Death quickly became the Cliff of Life. The team above couldn’t see me, but they sent the drone down to check on me along the way – I also managed to radio in a couple times when I had a free hand.

Luckily, I found a ledge about 30 meters down, where I took a minute to take it all in; no words or pictures can describe or capture this experience! The remainder of the journey down was thrilling every step of the way, well with the exception of some highly curious bees nesting in the cliff face cracks.

Feet on the ground I felt overwhelmed. I had to pack up my gear and communicate with the team to pull up the ropes; I truly hoped they didn’t snag anywhere. With gear on my back, there was still a lot of hiking ahead to get back up to the team. Now that it has been conquered…and all the kinks and unknowns sorted, I look forward to taking the rest of the team on this phase.

It’s now time to start the third phase – climbing up this beauty for some more action.

Until then, be safe and always thoroughly manage all the risks on any adventure upon which you embark; live to tell the tale!

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