Rock climbing in Nowra: Falling for the thrill

Get a grip – you knew it was going to be sheer, spectacular and shaky.

Sure, it looks a long way down, and this cliff face is a lot more scary than it appeared from the ground. 

But what's the worst that can happen? That you'll drop half a metre or so before Rob Crow  grabs your weight on the belay rope?

The only real risk is the ridicule you'll take from your sons. They'll spare no mercy: "See, Dad, we told you that you were far too old to take up rock climbing."

Yet, as I've told them, I've been rock climbing before. While I was at university. Four decades ago. 

Since then, I've had a couple of attempts at interior rock climbing centres at corporate parties. 

But it's not the same as being up here on this exposed sandstone escarpment when you can't even see your own feet, let alone the next foothold. 

Rob – founder, owner and sole instructor of Climb Nowra which he began in 2012 – calls rock climbing "vertical yoga". No mention of downward dog, please. It's tough enough working out my next move. 

Should I go right? Left? Which route offers the best combination of footholds and handholds?

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On the 10-minute drive out of town, Rob had explained that "Nowra is world famous for rock climbing". In fact, he says, there are three great rock climbing areas in this country. The Blue Mountains. Victoria's Mount Arapiles. And Nowra.

"We have 2000 sport climbs within a 10-minute drive of Nowra's CBD," Rob says, which comes as a surprise to me because I didn't even know Nowra had a CBD.

"This is the most dangerous part of the activity – the drive," he continues. "The second most dangerous bit is the walk through the bush. Once I actually get you on ropes on the rock, I can relax."

Sixty per cent of Rob's customers are international visitors, mostly Americans, Spaniards and New Zealanders. 

As if to prove the "world famous" claim, a kombi van arrives while Rob is handing out the climbing equipment I'll need (climbing harness, safety helmet, ropes, toe-pinchingly tight rubber climbing shoes, water bottle, chalk). 

Out step a young Spanish couple on their own rock climbing holiday. They ask Rob some questions about the climb they want to do. Today is the first fine day for a week. The Shoalhaven has been bombarded by the worst storms in living memory – with many homes flooded.

However Rob had phoned the afternoon before to say there had been enough sun and wind to dry out a safe, beginner's climb.

So here we are at Thompson Point Reserve, below a climb called Something For Kate on an east-facing rock face, Thompson's Sunrise.

Before the climb, Rob gives me 40 minutes of instruction. Usually he'll have two or three customers a trip. In a typical day, the group might do five  climbs.

But because I am pressed for time, Rob has agreed to take me for a single climb. And because he's such a friendly, talkative chap, I know quite a bit about him by the time I start  my ascent.

There can't be many former dental technicians who've become published poets, spent years leading climbing and mountaineering groups in Nepal and Tibet, helped launch Sydney's unquestionably world famous BridgeClimb​, and subsequently earned $3000 a day as a corporate motivator.

All of which gives you plenty of confidence that Rob's not going to let you fall.

He'd climbed the route before me, as I'd worked the belay rope, pointing out which holds I should be looking for.

Something For Kate involves negotiating a slight overhang. From the bottom, this looks the most challenging part of the climb. In fact, where I get stuck is the section above. 

Rob shouts encouragement from below. "Put your right leg a little higher! There's a hold for your left hand below where it is now. Relax and take a rest for a minute or two!"

I'm surprised how easy it actually is to relax half way up a precipitous cliff. The height doesn't really bother me. My rubber shoes seem capable of an almost-Spiderman grip. 

So I do take a minute or two to enjoy the scenery, think things through. 

And eventually I do manage to forge a way forward. 

The last third of the climb is gratifyingly straight forward. I've done it! And the abseil down, courtesy of Rob, is a piece of cake.

As we drive back to Nowra, I try to disguise my sense of smug pride. Perhaps I won't wait another four decades before I try my next rock climb?

TRIP NOTES

MORE INFORMATION

climbnowra.com.au 

GETTING THERE

Nowra, on the Princes Highway, is 160km south of Sydney (allow at least two and a half hours to drive). There are also trains between Central Station, Sydney and Bomaderry.

CLIMBING THERE

Minimum age for Climb Nowra is 10. A "First Climb" experience is $99 a person a day (up to five climbs), including equipment, transfers and guiding. Intermediate adventures cost $129 a person. Custom designed adventures can be arranged. Phone 0417 521 305 or info@climbnowra.com.au.

Steve Meacham was a guest of Climb Nowra.

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