RETURN TO THE TOTEM

We knocked the bastard off!

— Edmund Hillary

Eighteen years after the rock smashed into my skull, leaving me partially paralysed, and with expressive aphasia, I returned to the scene of the accident in Tasmania and climbed the Totem Pole, closing a chapter on my life. At the moment I am still in shock, but as the weeks go by I'm sure I will make sense of what it actually means. I aim to write further on it and dedicate the final chapter of my forthcoming book to it. 

 Climbing the Totem Pole. Steve Monks on the summit for the 8th time. Photo: Melinda Oogjes.

 Climbing the Totem Pole. Steve Monks on the summit for the 8th time. Photo: Melinda Oogjes.

It was my mate John Middendorf, that convinced me I could jumar up the 65 metres to the top of the sea stack with only one functioning arm and leg. Late last year I began experimenting with all kinds of rope ascending systems, including three to one and two to one pulleys, but these were too complicated for my literally ‘half-a-brain’. In the end I settled on a simple one to one which meant having to haul my full 69 kilo’s with one arm. On the day I counted 126 one armers (well, with a bit of help from my leg).

Steve Monks led me up the Totem Pole and I followed on rope ascenders. Everything went like a dream. Monksy has a great deal of history with the Totem Pole. It was Steve, who made the first free ascent of the stack with Simon Mentz in 1995 and cleaned up the gear and mess left behind the accident. We had a laugh – he was relieved that the huge pool of blood wasn’t there any more!

On the climb all the memories came flooding back – I was at the base, the same place where all those years ago I got soaked up to the chest by the sea, before the rock hit me. I took the identical swing that dislodged the rock. And as I climbed the first pitch I was confronted by the huge rock scar, the hole where the block came from that changed everything.

The crux for me was getting onto the actual summit – I couldn’t do a one armed mantel shelf and so had to face plant on a pile of rope and flop around like a fish out of water. The scariest moment was launching off on the Tyrollean over the void to get back to the mainland. I’d not done a rope traverse for nigh on 20 years.

Crew at Cape Hauy. L - R Top: Melinda Oogjes, Vonner Keller, Steve Monks, Matt Newton. Bottom: Andy Cianchi, Paul Pritchard, Zoe Wilkinson, John Middendorf. Photo Margi Jenkin.

Crew at Cape Hauy. L - R Top: Melinda Oogjes, Vonner Keller, Steve Monks, Matt Newton. Bottom: Andy Cianchi, Paul Pritchard, Zoe Wilkinson, John Middendorf. Photo Margi Jenkin.

It was very much a team effort and I feel a deep gratitude for the assistance I received. But couldn’t all of us use a little help now and again? Without the team of 10 people that helped me I could never have climbed the Totem Pole.