I will start from the outset by letting you all know that I am absolutely terrified of heights. Climbing a ladder, playing tourist at the top of the Eiffel Tower, or climbing up into sporting stadium rooftop walkways to help me ‘get that shot’, the heart pounds faster the breath gets quicker and anxiety starts to stifle every muscle in my body.
Nikon asked me recently to ‘test-drive’ some new ‘top-secret’ camera models and lenses by shooting various sports, with rock climbing being on that list of five. For some momentary lapse of reason, I said yes, forgetting that photography and my fear of heights were not compatible in any way shape or form.
During pre-planning I was able to acquire the talent of Australia’s leading female Rock climber Monique Forestier to be my ‘model’, and Simon Carter, Australia’s leading authority on climbing in Australia, to assist me with climbing spots, weather, safety, and correct etiquette. We organised our meeting place pre-dawn in Leura, Blue Mountains NSW, a 2-hour drive from home.
I packed my all-wheel drive SUV with the arsenal of heavy photography and bulky climbing gear I was capable of taking. There was so much room in the back even to place a crate full of my fear and anxiety next to the gear.
With my head full of Who What When Where and How to ‘get that shot’, all those things I rehearse over and over in my head before each shoot, my mind was also overflowing with the unknown of new camera gear and the new experience of climbing. My moment and ‘chance to do’ was getting near. The Forester was designed with my task in mind. Without knowing in advance that it would. I needed the space and capacity that the split folding rear seats gave me. The front fog lights, Steering Responsive Headlights, and heated driver’s seat kept me calm during the cold dark dawn hours in Leura. Even a small thing like the powered tailgate is such a godsend when your hands are trying to juggle so much gear.
For my first time here was my chance to drive the SUV off road as we jumped off the tar to get closer and more accessible to the climbing spot. I was not in any physical capacity able to carry my load, so the closer to the spot the better I said. The Symmetrical All-Wheel Drive helped me to control and manoeuvre in rough, uneven conditions that I would never have encounter in my suburb. I didn’t need that added stress about bumping the car when all I can think about was being helpless and ‘Out On A Ledge’.
Light was just starting to peak over the horizon as we bushwalked the last 100-metres or so to the edge. The air was still. Simon and Monique went through their setup routine, it’s not about the thrill of undertaking the climb to them, it’s all about her safety and mine right now. I was so okay with that, I had recently bought the Subaru SUV knowing it was one of the safest family cars going around town.
They were so excited to climb. It was the perfect morning. There was an ‘inversion layer’ that day, a layer of fog below us, so it looked like Monique was climbing amongst the clouds. She started her descent, just as I was harnessed and assisted centimetre by centimetre to the edge, physically and mentally. Simon was cursing as he forgot his camera at home.
I got some great pictures and some more. It paid to have got the best that day. Australia’s best climber doing what she did best. Monique made it look so easy, I was continually gobsmacked how someone was so cool and at peace floating in air, way above the earth held only by a rope.
Simon knew his stuff. He picked the right place and right atmospheric conditions for a picture. Most importantly he kept me calm, his attention to detail and my safety was above and beyond what I would normally expect.
I’d say a bit like my Forester 2.5i Premium SUV.