We had driven up to the Gordon Dam a few times whilst living in Strathgordon. Aside from the infamous waters of Lake Pedder, the vast mass of concrete is the main draw for the tourists who drive the Gordon River Road deep into Tasmania’s South Western wilderness. After a couple of visits admiring its scale was no longer enough. It was time to tick off one of Australia’s most extreme offerings – abseiling the 140 metres down Gordon Dam.
The dam itself was built in 1974 and is shrouded in some controversy. The area which makes up the modern-day Lake Gordon and Lake Pedder were flooded by Hydro Tasmania in the face of much opposition from environmentalists and to some are a scarring reminder of what was lost. Nowadays, as well as being an integral part of Tasmania’s power needs and a spectacle for visiting tourists, the dam is also becoming something of a pilgrimage for adrenaline seekers.
For these people Aardvark Adventures exist. Phil and his team run several adventure activities throughout the region, chief among them however being the 140 metre abseil down the inside wall of the Gordon Dam, the highest commercial abseil in the world.
We always knew our time was looming but it wasn’t until our final day working at Pedder Wilderness Lodge that we got around to organising it and literally taking the plunge.
With Lauren’s ever increasing fear of heights and Ryan’s premature mid-life realisation that his life was indeed precious after all, it would be fair to say it was on our mind a fair bit the night before.
On the morning of the abseil we both worked and so temporarily distracted ourselves from the activity as it drew ever closer. The dam itself is only a ten-minute drive from the lodge however and once you are in sight of it, there’s no more hope of distracting yourself from the task at hand.
After harnessing up and donning all the safety gear, we descended onto the dam wall and peered for one last time over the edge. Here’s both of our – very different experiences of the 140m abseil.
Lauren – I am terrified of heights. To the point where I am physically affected by them. When confronted with any sort of height (skyscraper, bridge, step-ladder – you name it) my legs turn to jelly and the familiar whirl of vertigo sets in. This is only a recent phenomenon, I’ve skydived and bungy jumped but old age has started to creep in and push my former reckless abandon out.
Adamant not to resign myself to a lifetime sitting on the sidelines, I decide to call upon my past fearless self. My reluctance to give into my phobia surprisingly worked as I peered over the dam wall. On my last visit to the dam I could barely stand my legs were shaking so much, but now armed with power poses and an endless stream of calming mantras I felt weirdly calm and collected. Watching my fellow abseilers descend excited me rather than scared me, even when I was strapped in and dangling over the edge! Smiling and waving for the cameras, I began to slowly drop down the 140 metre wall.
After 2 minutes of calmly admiring the concrete wall, I realised that I was petrified, frozen with fear. This was unlike bungy jumping or skydiving where your adrenalin fix is contained to a single moment (the jump) rather than dragged out over a 10-minute self-controlled descent. This was the scariest thing I have EVER done. In this moment of panic, I forgot how to control the rope, remembered I was completely alone and made the foolish mistake of looking around at the very distant surroundings.
Remembering my mantras and fixing my gaze on the solid wall I slowly talked myself back to sanity and began to enjoy myself. When I gained the confidence to admire the scenery I was taken back by the beauty of the gorge and felt amazingly small and insignificant suspended in the midst of it.
As my feet touched solid ground I felt so proud of myself – conquering this had proven to me that I still had the ability to be fearless.
Ryan – I’ve never been scared of heights and I spent a fairly large portion of my youth indulging in reckless abandon as most young boys are prone to do.
But prior to abseiling the Gordon Dam I hadn’t done any adrenaline based activities for years. Had I lost my sense of fearlessness? Had I become middle-aged already and set myself into the delusory notion that I had so much to lose?
It genuinely surprised me how anxious I was about it. Of course I acted brave, making brash, reckless statements whilst wiping my damp palms on the back of my shorts.
On the actual morning of the abseil though all the mild anxiety was replaced with sheer excitement. I literally wanted to throw myself off the edge of the dam and became increasingly worried that I actually might as I was made to wait until last.
As soon as you drop from the edge, the wind completely disappears and you enter an atmosphere of complete stillness and silence. That would be my overriding memory of the whole thing, a sense of overbearing calm as you slowly descend to the distant gorge below. The only slight episodes of panic come from fleeting moments of distrust in your own ability to control your descent (doubts which are completely irrelevant as you remember you are attached at all times to your guide at the top).
It was an amazing and unique experience. Looking back up the dam wall from the bottom reaffirms just how impressive a feat of human engineering the dam is and also acted as a way of reaffirming the sense of fearlessness I thought I had surrendered.
The whole experience doesn’t end with the abseil. Oh no! You finish your experience with a gruelling ascent up 140m worth of wobbly ladders until you make it back to the top of the dam. A lot of people say that this is the scariest part of the experience but luckily our adrenalin rush was able to carry us all the way back to the top (it helps not to look down too…)
We loved our morning with Aardvark Adventures, as cheesy as it sounds it’s an experience we will never forget and one of our favourite Australian adventures to date. If you visit Tasmania then make sure you put a visit to Gordon Dam on the top of your list!