Climbing the Highest Waterfall in the World
Thursday 26th September 2019
Throughout life, challenges are unavoidable, be these physical or mental.
Professional rock climber and adventurer Ben Heason is someone who has had to combat many challenges throughout his life and career. On Friday 20 September, we had the pleasure of welcoming him to Queen Anne’s to speak to our Sixth Form students about his adventures; in particular, the challenge of climbing the world’s highest waterfall, Angel Falls.
Ben began by speaking about his childhood. His parents were both avid climbers, and at six months old he found himself on his father’s back at the top of mount Snowdon.
His childhood was spent adventuring with his brother. From the Himalayas at age 4, to Yosemite at aged 5 If they couldn’t find anything to climb, they would find something to jump off!
When Ben reached university, he became a keen member of the mountaineering club, and even build his own climbing wall in the living room of his university house. He found the time to climb almost every day. If it wasn’t clear before that this is where his career would take him, it was now.
Although Ben had some very lucky escapes when some of his climbs didn’t exactly go to plan, he recalled a time when one mistake really shook him. On a climb in the Peak District, he fell from 20ft, and broke both his ankles. However, from this unfortunate (and painful) event, Ben learned a lot about the meticulous planning needed to be a climber. “Some of the best and most important lessons are learned from failure, from mistakes” Ben told the girls.
Ben Heason’s climbing career took him all around the world, where he had the opportunity to visit many different countries and learn about their cultures. However, rathe than re-climbing someone else’s route, he was ready for bigger challenges: “I wanted to visit and climb in areas that no one had ever been before!”
When the opportunity to climb Angel Falls, Venezuela, arose, Ben jumped at the opportunity. Angel Falls is the highest waterfall in the world, at 3,200ft – a huge challenge even for an experienced climber. “I knew if I didn’t go there and give it my best shot I would probably regret it for the rest of my life” Ben explained.
And so, with a close team of climbing experts, Ben set off to Venezuela for his biggest challenge yet. The journey to Angel Falls was long. Once they reached the capital, Caracas, they had to endure an overnight bus ride, a long flight on a rickety plane, and a three-day trek by canoe, encountering large spiders and caiman crocodiles along the way.
It took Ben and his team 20 days to climb to the top of Angel Falls.
Every day they would climb as far as possible, secure their ropes, and then climb back down. After six days of doing this, the team decided that they were wasting too much time and energy. They had to start living on the wall.
Ben shared some interesting and amusing anecdotes of the team’s two weeks living on the rocky face of Angel Falls. They had to be strapped into climbing harnesses the whole time, and had to eat, sleep, and go to the toilet, thousands of feet above the ground.
“It’s amazing how quickly the human mind and body can adapt to new situations” Ben explained “We started to feel incredibly lucky to be living in such a unique place with amazing views.”
After 20 days of climbing, the team finally reached the summit of Angel Falls: relieved, exhausted and proud. “It’s difficult to describe the emotions of doing something that no one has ever done before, and that the consequence of failure would be certain death!” Ben told our students. “I can’t emphasise enough how important our teamwork was.”
Our Sixth Form students were inspired by Ben’s adventures and commitment to achieving the impossible. When asked “How do you deal with fear?”, Ben explained that a lot of everyday things have high risk, such as driving on a motorway, or cooking in a kitchen. By learning to do things safely, and by building up tolerance and experience, we are naturally able to overcome fears and scary situations.
As Ben’s lecture came to a close, he left our girls with a short but meaningful piece of advice: “Life isn’t a rehearsal. If there is something you want to achieve, then just go for it!”
To find out more about Ben and his adventures, visit his website www.benheason.com/