Literally putting your life on the line

Literally putting your life on the line

The mind is a curious beast. You’d think I’d feel safe being connected via a harness to a steel cable that, in theory, will prevent me from plummeting off the cliff to certain death. But somehow it only serves to ramp up the adrenaline. 

I’m standing on the edge of the west face of Mt Buller, 1,804 meters above sea level in Victoria’s Alpine region. The views are as incredible as the drop is steep, so it’s no surprise this is where RockWire chose to create Australia’s first and only Via Ferrata.  

For the uninitiated, a Via Ferrata is a climbing route decked out with a combination of steel cables, rungs, bridges, ladders and metal pegs that allow participants to explore, traverse and climb treacherous routes that normally you’d need mad rock climbing skills to experience. 

Via Ferrata has a long history in Europe, where routes crisscross the Alpine regions, ranging in difficulty from beginner to bonkers. 

It’s been an adventure even getting to this point. Mt Buller is a three-hour drive from Melbourne, a lazy meander through gorgeous country towns like Mansfield and the lush Yarra and Delatite Valleys before the winding road that beckons skiers and snowboarders in winter. Buller is reinventing itself as a year-round tourism destination and the launch of RockWire is providing another major string to its outdoor adventure bow. 

RockWire’s HQ is at Buller’s Village Square. That’s where we don our harnesses before hopping into the minibus that takes us to the start of the 25-minute walk to the clip on point. My heart is already pumping as we tackle the short uphill section, my sights set on the peak where a man with what is surely the world’s most scenic and lonely job in the world sits in a cabin, scanning the mountains for signs of fire.  

Beyond the cabin, the walk becomes more like a goat track, shale-like rocks scattering even whilst we try to stick to the narrow path. The guides reinforce the importance of respecting this delicate alpine environment, telling us about the tiny, endangered pygmy possum that calls part of this mountain home. Small enough to fit into your palm, the females live near the summit, away from the worst of their predators, and birth babies the size of peanuts.  

When the males are only a few weeks old, the females force them to live further down the mountain. Obviously, RockWire is positioned well away from any pygmy possum action, which is commendable but I’m also secretly disappointed. I would have loved to have spied one of the little suffragettes in possum clothing.  

Back to the wire. Wearing fetching orange hardhats and harnesses that feature two types of carabiner, with the main safety clip literally unable to detach until the end of the route, we are shown how to clip on and slide the carabineers between each section of the wire. Logically, its safe but when you’re clambering down the side of a cliff, sweaty hands seeking the iron holds that have been drilled into the rock, balancing on a ‘bridges’ that are merely a thin line of cable holding you above a potentially deadly crevasse, that seems debatable.  

Instantly, my hands begin to sweat. Not great when you’re grasping steel. Never the most coordinated of folk, my hands and legs move in a clunky dance, my office-soft palms complaining.  

The first descent is a battle of the mind but, slowly, I begin to get into a rhythm. Rather than waves of adrenaline, there’s a pleasant lap. Enough of a buzz to be fun, not so much that it’s not.  

Soon, I’m able to begin to take in the majesty of this unique alpine area—its delicate wildflowers, the sweeping ranges, even Mt Timbertop where rich kids are free to roam.  

It is an epic adventure. Before we begin, we are told to expect the whole experience to take five hours. My group does it in just over four, surprising given one of our party is wearing brogues and brought a tote bag, but my legs are like jelly as we reach the final vertical ladder. It is here I note the adrenaline has been replaced by something that feels like pride – and hunger. Having forgotten to bring a snack, I could murder a pizza. It can be life and death in the mountains. 

Get there

It’s a scenic three-hour drive from Melbourne to the summit of Mount Buller.

Stay there

There are lots of accommodation options on Mt Buller, from the boutique four-star Mt Buller Chalet Hotel & Suites to the Alpine Retreat if you would like to spend more time on the mountain.

Words Kate Robertson

Photos Justin Jamieson and Luke Fraser

Tags: adrenaline, australia, Mount Buller, Via Ferrata, Victoria

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