Rappelling is without a doubt the greatest challenge at Avalanche. We save this for the last two days of the camp when the foundations of trust have already been laid through games and group discussions. I head off with a group towards the waterfall, carrying ropes, harnesses, and helmets. We are here in the middle of the monsoon season. When I came last April, there was almost no water going over the falls. This time the rains have turned the waterfall into a torrent. Much of the rock face is wet and slippery.
Jay, one of the U.S. team, is stationed at the base of the falls in case a girl panics when she drops into the waist-high water. Up on top of the falls, Richard, Avalanche's director, spends time with each girl explaining how to get ready to descend the rock face into the pool below. It's a step by step instructional that should leave every girl with no doubts whatsoever that she is safe in the harness, safe in the ropes, and safe in Richard's care. But the girls are very quiet; it's a serious group for once. No giggles, no chatting. They are holding on to every word with all their might. The fear is palpable.
The first girl steps forward. There is a look of grim determination on her face. “Lean back, legs apart!” Richard shouts. She adjusts her stance and lets the rope out in quick jerks. She lets herself down the 30 ft cliff inching her way tenuously. Every now and then she glances up at our directions and yells of encouragement. “You are doing great, you are doing amazing,” we shout. She smiles and drops lower. With every step she is gaining confidence, relaxing into the drop, and enjoying the moment. It's incredible to watch the transformation.
About a foot above the water, Richard stops lowering her. “Do you want to splash?” he asks The helmet bobs and we see a flash of white teeth. “Yes.” “Let go of the rope, then.” A second later she drops into the water with a scream. The shouts of exultation don't stop for a while. Everyone is yelling “Well done, you did it, you were amazing.” She can't resist staying in the water and once she releases the rope she swims around, playing.
Later that night, girl after girl talks about the paralyzing fear they felt going over the edge and the incredible triumph they experienced when they made it. The pride in each of their faces is what I hold in my heart and in my mind. I will hold on to it for a long time. These girls have accomplished something they thought they could not do.
As the campfire ends, I ask them to remember how they felt when they reached the waterfall pool in safety. “Take it with you girls,” I say. “When you have hard times in the future, and when you have bad memories, remember your time at Camp Avalanche when you learned that you can be proud of yourself.
And all around the campfire, the girls shout, “Yes, Yes.”