Sydney: Pass or Fail Climb


Well I’m still exhausted, and struggling to find time to write another email, hence the delay since the last one.  I find I’m falling asleep on the bus on the way into and home from work, and when I get home it’s usually straight to bed for a semi coma/ semi sleep state for about eight hours. It’s the first time I can ever recall being so tired from a job.  There is a HUGE amount of mental exercise before and during a climb, and I think that’s why I’m so stuffed when I finish.  We mostly do two climbs a day, sometimes though it is only one, or, on a big day, we may do three climbs.  At the end of a three climb day you’re almost delusional – I’ve found I ask climbers if I’ve told certain stories or not as I can’t remember!!

However, I’m jumping the gun a little; I’ll rewind back to the end of the last post and fill you in.  My fourth and last lead went really well, but I had the weekend off between that and my competency climb (I’d have liked to get it out the way early) so I figured I’d just brush up on my commentary over the next few days, and have a super store of information for the comp (competency) climb. That was the be all or end all climb – pretty much anyway –  where we were assessed as competent to take climbs on our own, or fly solo as some put it.  Two in our group had already attempted it and failed on the first go.  We had a total of three attempts before our employment would possibly be terminated, so it was quite serious.

We’d all been put out by the lack of hours we’d been getting (around 40 – 50 a fortnight) so the attitude was kind of “Well if we fail we get another go, and another four hours pay..” but of course, with my competitive nature, I wanted to be the first to pass on the first attempt.  I didn’t make this public knowledge, but it was certainly pointed out by a few of my friends.  Paul sent me a message saying “Someone has to be the first to pass the first time around; it might as well be you!” which was ironic as it was exactly what I’d been thinking.

The day of my comp climb arrived and I found out I had the assessor, Mel, who had the reputation of being a hard arse (and who’d been with the company for eight years so she knew her stuff).  It was said she was fair, but extremely picky and if I was to pass under her scrutiny my climb would have to be faultless.  Oh boy.  Talk about extra pressure!  The other two had failed with different assessors, who were known to be a little more lenient than Mel, so outwardly I took the “extra hours” attitude, whereas internally I had a “make this a perfect climb” attitude.  I’m not such the perfectionist I used to be, but I knew if I was to pass I couldn’t stuff anything up, and I wanted to set the record as the first to get through!

The climb group you get is simply whoever turns up for your climb time. They do not pick certain times or groups for your comp climb, you simply get allocated a time and you don’t know how many or what type of climbers you get until you greet them at the belt bay.  I’d had a run of 14 pax climbs (14 climbers in a group, which was the max you could have each climb) for my leads, and my comp climb was no different.  I went upstairs to prepare my belt bay, and its there you find how many climbers you have.  I had 14 damn it!  Full pax for my comp.  Well I could only do what I could do…

Everything went smoothly in the building, preparing climbers with belts and accessories, putting them up over the simulator, remembering all their names (yes, that was part of the assessment, and that was another reason 14 pax was a strain, learning names along with getting all your timings right was more difficult the more climbers you had!), and thankfully I had no issues with my radios and headsets (the hub area where we fit the climbers with radios and headsets is the cause of the most dramas for most climb leaders, there are multiple problems you can encounter with the radios, including radios programmed to the wrong channels and flat batteries or headsets not working, and that was providing my radio and headset – which are different to the climbers – worked as well).  I got out of the building on time and headed for the bridge.  Mel was alternately in front or behind my group, watching from a distance and listening to my spiel the whole time.  I tried to ignore her as best I could so I was able to focus on my group and timings.  We were assessed on five areas: safety, group management, timings, photography and commentary, and you had to pass in all areas to be deemed competent.  I’ll say again that there is a lot more to this job than I ever imagined, and on a climb you’re constantly thinking about multiple things, which is probably why I’m so tired every day.

Anyhow, the climb went really well.  I’d been pedantic about learning the correct safety procedures and I was confident I could recite all the procedures for a whole climb with my eyes closed.  I kept a close eye on my group, and was lucky that they all spoke English and as a group they all seemed fairly switched on.  My timings were spot on, to the minute.  I didn’t fudge them at all; I simply made sure my group was at the allocated location at the specified time.  It’s not hard if you keep an eye on your watch (though Han, I’m not sure how you’d go…  J), my photos were exactly as they require them to be taken, and I felt good about my commentary.  I had stories about the bridge and Sydney in general, I pointed out landmarks, and I knew my facts and figures.  My return at the hub, with the radios and headsets, ran smoothly (I’d been practicing how to have a smooth return as a lot of climb leaders find the hub return difficult as climbers tend to lose interest at that point and just want to get out of their gear as soon as possible). We got back into the building exactly (and I mean to the minute) three hours since the climbers started their climb, so I had great enjoyment in pointing that out to them.  There is a large digital clock you walk past and its funny pointing out the time to the climbers as they all gasp that it has been three hours since they started (and it meant that my timings were spot on right to the end) and my return at the belt bay went well also.  I felt good about the whole climb, but had to sit down for a review with Mel before I’d find out if she deemed me competent or not.  I couldn’t think of anything glaringly wrong that had happened, so I was hopeful but wasn’t going to say anything until I had my official verdict…

A few minutes later, after I’d handed out the certificates and photos and said goodbye to the climbers, I sat down with Mel and the assessment sheet she’d already filled out.  She asked me how I felt I went (I hate that question, just tell me what you thought because it doesn’t really matter what I feel, you’re the one who decides if I passed or failed!!!), but she wanted an answer so I said I thought it was a good climb…  She then got a big smile on her face and said “Yep, I agree.  I won’t keep you waiting” and she turned the paper over and said “I’ve already marked you competent!!”  YEAH!!  I passed, and was the first one in my group to do so, and on my first attempt!  Sweet!!  She then proceeded to say that it was a nearly faultless climb, with excellent group management, immaculate timings, and that I had the cleanest return in the hub that she could remember a trainee ever performing!!!!!!  Ooohhh yeah, bring it on!!

When I left the room everyone was asking how I went, and when I said I passed there were high fives, hugs, kisses and handshakes all around!  I must say I’ve never had an achievement so celebrated before!  One guy who’d been in the control room (recording all the times we call in and basically running the show) stuck his head around the corner and after giving me a high five and a hug said “You know you did really well – with 14 pax and keeping your timings perfect like that, that is amazing!”

Well after the excitement of passing my comp climb, I then had half an hour to get my head ready for my practical competency.  This was another assessment, one on one with another assessor, and we had to walk around the building and out on the bridge answering any questions they decided to ask us.  I was assigned an assessor named Norm, who I’d seen around but who barely spoke, so I had no idea what to expect from him.  He’d also been with the company since the beginning, so I had my work cut out for me!  We shook hands and introduced ourselves. Norm said straight out that he’d spoken to Mel and since she was extremely impressed with my knowledge and procedures I would just cruise through this assessment.  He was right.  We walked through all the areas and he asked me random questions, most of which I knew the answer to, and those I didn’t I took an educated guess.  I realised that the younger guys in my group might have been fairly good at the book learning side of things, but that I had a good common sense approach to problems outside the usual we’d encounter.  I loved the “What would you do if this happened?” questions, as I just gave an answer I thought was the most logical, and he was really happy with that.  We finished what questions he had to get through, then we spent the next two hours talking about previous jobs and lives.  I found him to be really interesting so we chatted easily.  I later found out from Dan (our training instructor) that Norm raved about how much of a “nice young lady!” I was and how impressed he was with my ‘life experience’ and common sense.  I must admit I felt on top of the world that day, I’d passed two of my three major assessments and had two long time employees of the company singing my praises.  Someone commented that I should sit the exam that afternoon and get the trifector, which was a pleasant thought but I did want to study for it a little more first.

The exam was two days later, and since I didn’t have to re-sit any assessments I had those two whole days to study.  It was just like being back at Uni, and I quite enjoyed it.  We had a huge ring binder full of information we’d collected over the past five weeks, and we’d been told the exam was based on that.  I religiously went through the whole lot of info and made notes about everything.  I felt like I knew the standard and safety procedures backwards, so I was fairly confident when the day of the exam arrived.  We had three hours to do it, and it consisted of short and long answer questions, over three sections: commentary, procedures and photographics.  I was second last to leave the room, and was happy with what I’d answered.  There were a few questions that I had to guess the answer, but I knew I’d passed.  We had to wait a few days for our marks, and when I got the phone call I was told not only had I passed, but I’d gotten an overall mark of 96%, which was the highest in the class, and the highest mark they’d had for a while.  Woo hoo!!!!!  I was now qualified to climb solo!!!!!   Yeah!

I hope you’re all well and happy,

Bel xo

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