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Solange Welch

A White Knuckle Jungle Climb

Posted from: LBA Research centre, 2 hrs north of Manaus

It's 7:30am and I've already had one of the most exhilarating and terrifying experiences of my life. If I do nothing else today I will still go to bed with a feeling of accomplishment. I could probably be a bum for a whole month and feel no guilt. I have enough adrenalin in my veins that if I was so much as to sneeze right now my constitution might go into overdrive and start fitting with anaphylactic shock. I know that's medically inaccurate but it sounds good.

We're in a national reserve just outside Manaus where LBA is doing research into carbon storage in the Amazon rainforest. Bruce has spent last night in a hammock 60m up a tree. I spent last night in a hammock with my bum reassuringly 60cm above the jungle floor.

At 4:00am the crew that were based at jungle camp fell out of their hammocks and proceeded to climb a 53m high tower near the tree that Bruce is in, which he called Angelina. The idea was to be able to film Bruce waking up in the canopy in the middle of this beautiful forest and film the trees breathing at dawn.

Now when I say 'tower', that's what everyone else was happy to call it. There is no way I would use that word myself to describe it. To me it was endless layers of scaffolding precariously stacked on top of each other.

Earlier I'd overheard Ollie, one of the climbing experts, say how impressed he was with the rigging of the 'tower'. I on the other hand have serious doubts about trusting a man who spends half the year firmly strapped into a harness. I'm sure that must severely restrict blood flow to certain parts of your body.

The scaffolding tower in the forest
The 'tower'. Or endless layers of precariously stacked scaffolding...

Here's the score: I'm scared of heights, well I thought I was scared of heights, now I know I'm petrified.

My dilemma: Do I let some illogical psychological state of mind stop me from experiencing an amazing event that not many people have the privilege to partake in or do I just get on with it.

As the sunlight started to scatter through the trees I knew this would be my last chance.

"I should just breathe in and do it."
"But what if I freeze half way up?"
Then I'll be found out.
Will they discover that I haven't been into extreme sports since the age of three like the rest of them?

Yesterday I attempted the so-called 'tower', confident that I'd grown out of my phobia. Not the case. At a pathetic height I started to hyperventilate and a sudden urge to fling myself off came over me. I thought it best to make my way down. James, the director, found me at the bottom pretending not to cry. Not cool.

That was yesterday. So this morning I was determined to give it another go. I confided in Ollie that I might cack myself on the way up and asked if he would help. My idea of help was to knock me out, carry me up and wake me up at the top. Ollie thought help was gently coercing me level by level, and it worked!

As I passed the tops of the trees and that amazing carpet of green spread itself before me I discovered what real fear was. I sat down on a tiny metal platform and tried to soak up the view. I could see Bruce in the Sky lab and nothing but forest around.

Sol at the top of the tower
Sol makes it to the top

Just don't look down, keep breathing and hold on.

The blood drained from my face and knuckles. In the same way as when your body thinks your vital organs are going to shut down. Again, probably medically incorrect.

You're here now, the least you could do is try and relax.

I saw this emerald green humming bird dart around a nearby tree. Suddenly it made its way over to me and hovered for a few seconds a palm's width from my face.

If I'd had my normal hippy head on I would have thought, "Wow man, it's a sign, nature trying to connect with me." But no. All I could think was, "Get out of my face, bird - with your 1260 heartbeats per minute and your 60 wing rotations a second - there's only room for one highly strung creature in this jungle."

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