The Moai – Accomplishment in Failure

It was a beautiful and calm evening when we got back to Fortescue bay. The four of us started walking in the rain ten hours earlier with heavy backpacks towards the stunning sea cliffs of bivouac bay on the coastline of the Tasman Peninsula to attempt to ascend the Moai, a 35 meter dolerite sea stack.

We had a song in our hearts and hope that the rain will stop, the rock will be dry and the location will be protected from the 45km/h forecasted wind gusts.

After two hours of scenic bush walking along the bays and coastal cliffs, we arrived at the top of the cliff facing the Moai and the rain stopped. We waited for our stuff to dry. The dolerite rock seemed dry and ready for us. The wind was blowing at the top of the trees but looking down at the phallic rock emerging in full glory out of the ocean, it seemed protected and calm. We decided to go for it and abseiled to the bottom of the cliff to face the Moai.

It’s impossible to simply walk to the Moai unless you have a boat. This means that it’s not enough just to climb the 35 meter sea stack – In order to tell the tale, one must also climb back up the 3 pitches of the 70 meter cliff we came down from. Three weeks prior to the day of the climb, Dany and I hiked here to find the off-trail access and locate the bolts of the abseil point on the face of the cliff. The access wasn’t too confusing but it helped that we’ve been there before.

To avoid the prospect of being rescued by a helicopter we decided to take two ropes and leave one attached to the two bolts at the top of the cliff. If it gets hairy, we can climb back up on the rope we came down with.

Three of us came down. The forth was arguably wiser to stay at the top and set up a hammock. After the exciting 60 meter abseil we scrambled down a little further and faced directly with the beauty of this rock, bolting out of the ocean. It was magnificent and slightly overwhelming to stand there and get ready when the winds started to pick up.

With the three of us tied in, Dany led the first pitch, a comfortable 10 meters to a small ledge. When we all sat there, looking up at the remaining 25 meters of the climb trying to talk through the moves, the base of the cliff became a roaring wind tunnel. It seemed to be blowing in three different directions simultaneously. The force was so strong that it almost blew my 55kg of skin and bones off the ledge. (I was connected to a small anchor Dany built to keep us safe)

We sat there for a while, hoping that the gusts would ease. But it only seemed to be getting stronger as roaring waves came crushing on the rocks below us, splashing droplets of ocean that was now sparkling in the sun that we wished have dried our clothes earlier.

It was getting late and time management was of the essence as we had to also climb back and hike to camp before dark. It didn’t look safe to do it and after a group consultation we decided it’s best to leave now and leave enough time for our journey back. We climbed down the short pitch, took some photos and made our way back to the rescue rope we’ve set up earlier. Climbing the cliff was still pretty exciting and we made it to the top just after 5pm leaving us plenty of time to enjoy the hike back and celebrate with a nice dinner and a cold beer.

Apart from staying alive, we’ve acquired new skills – single rope abseil, rope soloing and climbing in high winds while keeping the cool (just…). The most important lesson, perhaps was arriving at the collective decision of calling it off before it might have been too late.

Of course we could have done it. All of us are capable of climbing the difficulty grade of the route (18). But for climbing to be safe, everyone needs to feel safe. It is enough that one aspect out of many involved in climbing goes wrong, and there’s a chance for it to be the last climb.

The common way to measure success is by checking if the goal that was set have been reached.

Is there another way? What about the value of the journey and the lessons learned while trying? How can they be accounted for better in life?

The euphoria of winning sets the stage for potentially unrealistic expectations from oneself – If I did it, I can do it again, I can do it better. I can try something harder, I am invincible. The intoxication of success is addictive.

The water on Fortescue bay was calm, no sign of wind at 7pm and the sky was clear as a seal was hanging out near the beach by itself, just swimming on its back in a playful manner. Greeting us on the final stretch of our journey.

We said we’d come back in March, and trust the weather forecast more. We failed to reach the goal we have set for ourselves, but we had fun, we didn’t die, and are now much more knowledgeable and ready to try again when conditions are right. Unlike the fleeting euphoria of success, “failure” provided me with a more sustained sense of humility and being human on a vast planet with beautiful nature. Nature that is bound to win in the end.

Tasmania, January 2021

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