Going to extremes ... in a nappy

A nappy-clad Ben Stubbs doesn't live a dream so much as endure a nightmare, all in the name of family honour.

The signs are plastered on mountain bikes, skateboards and surfboards everywhere: "If you're not on the edge you're taking up too much space", "Face your fears. Live your dreams", "You have no friends at 200mph".

Extreme sports slogans have never impressed me, especially those that implore me to jump off buildings or bungee platforms. I'm a sedentary sort of person; an adrenalin rush for me is drinking milk past its use-by date or returning my DVDs a day late. Danger isn't my middle name.

It is slightly odd, then, that I find myself in a nappy and dangling from the edge of a 10-metre cliff with only a rope as thick as my thumb stopping me from splattering on to the rocks below.

I'm abseiling in the Glenworth Valley, a 50-minute drive north of Sydney. I'm not here to conquer my fear of heights or yell "gnarly" as I jump off a cliff. I'm looking into some unusual family history.

We are on Peats Ridge, a stretch of eucalypt and grazing land hidden in the folds of the Hawkesbury River near Gosford. This valley was once the land of Charles Peat, a highway robber and turncoat who was transported from London to the colony of NSW on the Scarborough in 1788. Peat was pardoned for his crimes in 1792 and given land in the lush valleys north of Sydney, which he named Peats Ridge.

Charles Peat is my great grandfather (times five or so). Curious to explore the land that my first Australian relative inhabited, I thought abseiling with Glenworth Valley Outdoor Adventures would allow me to observe the Peats property from an interesting perspective.

My instructor, Paul Nash, tells me to tip myself back until my heels are the only thing touching the rock. My face is beetroot red and I let out the slightest groan as I let the rope take my weight, momentarily exposing the fear that I'm struggling to keep hidden. How appropriate that my harness resembles a nappy.

With Nash's guidance, I take a step down. "Don't stress man," he says, "you're doing fine." I nod, not believing a word.


"We once had a girl on the cliff who freaked herself out so much, she tipped herself upside down and was hanging face down from the rope squealing until I rescued her." Thanks, Paul. "She got down fine in the end though."

I step and shuffle my way down, gripping hard on the rope at the back of my harness to slow my descent to the bottom of our training slope. As quickly as it began, the first cliff is completed. We hike back through the bush to the plateau, increasing the stakes and finding a bigger drop.

Proving that he walks the walk, Nash clips himself in and strides down the next cliff head first, walking down the vertical drop as though strolling to the shops. We again head up through the scrub and at the top, Nash ties our ropes to a sturdy old gum.

It is time to tackle the big one. The 30-metre cliff in front of us resembles a mushroom. There is a curved ledge for the first 10 metres or so and then it erodes away to nothing; this means the last 20 metres will be a free-fall.

Dropping off the edge doesn't get any easier. I don't feel any braver because I know what the nausea feels like as I dangle off the cliff. The wind picks up and I sway like a pendulum. My nappy pushes me up against the rock and I again tip back. After a few steps, though, I reach the lip. Nash assures me he has my safety rope.

I look out behind me at the hills along Peats Ridge and Popran Creek, where farmland and a few houses are hidden in the trees. This area was once a hive of activity for smugglers and moonshiners during the rum rebellion of the 1820s, though by then, my ancestor had grown tired of his Australian dream and moved his family to India for their next adventure. Peats Ridge looks beautiful from here.

I snap back to the task at hand, my mind flashing to the opening scene of Vertical Limit, where the climbers fall from the cliff in a puff of dust like a Warner Bros cartoon. I grip the rope and then leap. I whizz down the inside of the mushroom cliff and land on flat ground 30 metres below. I'd love to say I was facing my fears and living my dreams but, really, it was a momentary blur of flailing limbs and a childish squeal from a grown man wearing a nappy.

The drop conquered, I shake with relief, though I don't feel any stronger, faster or fitter. Nash again jumps down the cliff with ease. He suggests we try it again but one 30-metre leap in a nappy is enough for me.

We wander across the top of the walls of sandstone, scaling the boulders to get back to the truck. As I look down from our perch through the dense bushland of Peats Ridge, I wonder how my scallywag of a relative surveyed his land back in the late 1700s. I look down at the 30-metre drop. If Charles Peat was related to me at all, I reckon he'd just walk around the rock and save himself the trouble.

Ben Stubbs travelled courtesy of Tourism NSW.