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Climbing, Abseiling, and Water Rituals

Early Morning Pool Ceremony

At six o'clock in the morning our team knocked on our door. I quickly threw over a poncho and opened up. They all swarmed in and asked if they could do a bonding celebration in the pool. I quickly checked with management and they said it was fine if my team wanted to do that instead of the morning run.

They've chosen a 22 year old boy named Lee who was to be lowered into the water. His favourite colour was white, so we should all dress in white, if possible. They also said we should take a shower before we get dressed so we can walk into the pool in dry clothes. And off they went.

After a quick shower I put on thin white cotton trousers and a white polo shirt. Giovanni wore the same and brought his white nylon rain suit and poncho for Lee to wear.

Our team was already in the pool hall. You could see in Lee's eyes how excited he was to be the chosen one, dressed in white trousers and a thin tee-shirt. He was most grateful to wear Giovanni's rain suit and poncho. This would slow down the water flowing in, making the experience a lot more intense.

We put his anorak and poncho hoods up and wrapped the poncho tightly around him, with his arms tucked inside. Then we lifted him up and slowly walked into the pool from the shallow end.

It was a nice feeling as the water slowly rose inside our clothes, made a difference from being thrown in. As we were about waist deep we stopped and lowered Lee slowly into the water.

He was smiling as the water seeped into his clothes. The thin nylon became almost transparent so we could see the air bubbles move inside his clothing.

He asked to be completely submerged and took a deep breath. We pushed him right under and he soon resurfaced as he stood up and pushed his hands out of his poncho.

We swam around in the pool until the runners came back. Lee sat in the shallow water for a while, still wearing his ceremonial clothes, watching everyone splashing around. He looked really happy.

Morning: Free Climbing and Abseiling

Today's challenge was free climbing and abseiling in the pool hall. We've never done this before and I wanted to have a go.

The was no need to take a shower before climbing if you had one recently and put on fresh clothes. I dressed in running tights and a cosy tee-shirt, but also took a hoodie along as a warm up.

The climbing wall has an area by the pool side where you can climb secured by ropes. It has access from the side and goes up from the pool edge at about 70° angle, just right for abseiling.

Another area for free climbing overhangs the deep end of the pool. If you fall off you only hit the water, no problem.

Some of the college students were doing the rope secured climb, others started with the free climb. The goal was to climb up to the top from one pool side and come down to the other side.

Some made it across, most fell in or jumped off and then rejoined the queue. It was nice to see all these wet students in a queue, dressed in their climbing kit.

Eventually I joined the queue to have a go myself. Some students were teasing me because I was still dry. Knowing my climbing skills I didn't expect to stay dry for much longer.

I reached the wall and climbed up a little bit. This was really hard on my fingers. I got as high as 3 meters when I lost my grip and fell into the pool. Giovanni made it across twice and then jumped into the pool right from the top.

Abseiling into the Pool

Next was an introduction into Abseiling in to the pool, as preparation for this afternoon's waterfall adventure. This turned out to be huge fun.

To make it easier for us, we were asked to change into dry clothes so we're not too heavy. T-shirt, cargo pants, and anorak was all we needed to abseil into the pool.

Taking turns we climbed up the almost vertical part of the wall, being pulled and secured by the rope. The pool looked very inviting from up there.

Then I did the moon walk, bouncing off the wall as I decended slowly. There was no ledge at the bottom of the wall, it went straight into the pool.

I was told to keep bouncing off the wall as they slowly lowered me into the pool. That caused a lot of splashing which slowly soaked my clothes more and more.

Once out of the water, I took the harness off and passed it on the the next climber. It was nice to watch them all climb up the wall and then getting soaked as they splashed into the pool.

"Now let's do it all over again in wet clothes to see what difference it makes," said Alistair, our instructor. He turned on the waterfall system which rained down from above as we went up one by one, dripping all over the cliff face.

This made it much harder as the wall got a bit slippery and my wet clothes weighted more. Near the top was the hardest as I got hit by all the water and could barely see anything. The rain made a lot of noise as it fell om my anorak. Eventually I bounced my way back down into the pool.

During the break we were told to dress in our thermals, jogging suits and waterproof clothes to simulate the waterfall abseiling of this afternoon.

After I got changed, nice and dry now, I got another chance to climb up the wall. I was told to put the hood up and tie it well so I don't get wet from the water spray.

The waterproofs kept me fairly dry as I climbed up through the pouring waterfall. Nearer the top it started to leak and my jogging suit go a bit wet.

Bouncing back down through the rain I realised that I won't stay dry in this game. I was heading for the pool.

It took a while for the water to seep into my waterproof suit as I bounced off the wall a few times, getting deeper into the water. Unhooking the harness I sank into the pool to relax.

The final round was the hardest. The jogging suit had soaked up some 5 litres of water, plus whatever was in my pockets. I struggled up the wall with my hood down so I could see better. That meant a lot more water seeped into my wet clothes.

Near the top it was just gushing through. I was totally exhausted by the time I splashed back into the pool and relaxed in the shallow end.

Rope Climbing

The other group of students did some rope climbing game across the water. It was a rope bridge that wobbled a lot as you made it across. Often they fell in or jumped back into the pool and then tried again.

It looked quite challenging because they were all dressed in their college sports kit, consisting of tracksuit bottoms, blue polo shirts and grey sweatshirts. That was fun to watch.

Another Run

After our swim we had a nice long shower to rinse the chlorine out of our clothes. Then we realised that we didn't bring a change of clothes, only our hoodies were still dry.

James had the saving idea: "Why don't we put our hoodies on, jump into the pool one more time and then go for run in the rain?" Brilliant!

We jumped back into the pool and swam a few lengths which was a good bit harder because of the hoodies. Next we ran out of the pool building into the pouring rain, down the field track, through a few puddles and into the lake. That run was quite a challenge, with all those heavy wet clothes slopping around.

When we got back to our room, we stayed in the shower for about half a hour rinsing our kit and relaxing together. Hoodies make a nice sound under the showers when you put the hood up.

Afternoon: Down the Waterfall

At lunch we were told to dress up warm and get waterproof clothes from the drying room for an abseiling adventure. There was a waterfall by the lake which we were going to abseil down.

I put on tracksuit bottoms, a thermal top and a fluffy fleece hoodie, plus robust socks and shoes. Andy put on thermal underwear, warm pullover, jeans and jeans jacket. James wore tee-shirt and shorts under a fleece overall.

The waterproof clothes were chest high trousers with shoulder straps and a long cagoule. This outfit felt snug and warm, ready for anything. James wore a red nylon overall on top.

Down the Waterfall

We joined the group of students on top of the small cascading waterfall. One after the other we abseiled through the waterfall to the shore of the lake. It was nice to watch them getting splashed and soaked.

I was told to put the hood up before I descended into the waterfall so the water won't flush right through my clothes.

Slowly I edged down into the waterfall. The water made a lot of noise as it hit the waterproof clothes, especially the hood. This was very exciting. Only a little bit of water came in around my face.

Half way down was a plateau where I could stand in the waterfall for a moment. As I looked up my hood slipped back and a lot of water gushed in. I quickly put it back up to stay warm.

From there I descended into the small eddy at the bottom of the waterfall. It was about waist deep. We all went down the waterfall a few times.

Into the Lake

Finally we jumped into the lake. Swimming with all these clothes on was a bit hard but they kept us nice and warm. We didn't swim far anyway, just ran in and out of the lake, splashed or dunked each other, and relaxed in the shallow water. There was an old tree trunk from which we could jump into the lake. That was great fun.

Afterwards we went back to rinse all our kit in the showers and put the waterproof clothes into the drying room. Then we jumped into the warm indoor pool in our remaining clothes to talk about our adventure.

Evening Pool Ceremony

Throughout the day all teams had been talking about this morning's pool ceremony, helped along by Giovanni, no doubt. He knows how to promote things. I've been asked about ponchos several times. Thankfully the centre kept a few dozen in the drying room, should the need arise.

As I got to the pool hall Andy's team was already there, others were arriving in small groups, nicely dressed in casual clothes. Most walked over to the drying room and came out dressed in ponchos.

"What have you told them?" I asked Giovanni.

"Nothing much," he said with an innocent smile, "only where the ponchos are, so they can do their own dunking ceremonies." Obviously the idea caught on.

Andy's team had chosen Karim for a dunking tonight. It was his first time and he was clearly excited. He showed up in a blue hooded tracksuit, looking good.

Linda gently wrapped him in a white poncho and put his hood up. She also checked that they all were properly dressed. Then they lifted Karim up and walked into the shallow end of the pool.

I noticed that the other teams all had someone wrapped up in a poncho and followed us into the water. Karim loved every bit of this as they carefully lowered him into the water. His blue tracksuit became visible through white poncho as it got wet.

Ooli's Dunking

My team showed up late for the party, all dressed in white, the girls in white long dresses, the boys in white ponchos, probably orchestrated by Giovanni. I knew what was coming as I walked over to greet them: another of their meditative dunking rituals. I quickly put on a white poncho and joined them.

This time they've chosen Ooli. He wasn't dressed all in white, but wore blue jeans, a thin blue hoodie. On top he wore the mandatory white poncho like the others. Seems like they caught him unprepared, like me the day before. Anyway, he looked great in that outfit, but felt a bit apprehensive.

"What will they do to me?" he asked me quietly, fumbling with his poncho.

"Don't worry, Ooli." I replied. "It will be a very beautiful experience for you."

Linda wrapped the poncho closely around Ooli, with his arms inside. Then they lifted him up into a horizontal position and carried him into the pool chest deep without getting him wet. Next they slowly lowered him into water.

It was great to see his eyes light up with amazement as the water seeped into his clothes. A few moments later he was fully submerged, held up by his peers. The poncho unfolded and he pushed his arms out as he stood up.

"Wow!" he said with a huge smile. "That was awesome!" Everybody gave him a big wet hug. I haven't seen someone so happy in quite a while.

Afterwards we sat down in the shallow end, shoulder deep, and I asked what he liked best about it. He put his hands inside the poncho, playing with it as it floated around him.

Then he smiled at me and said: "I never expected this would feel so good. Being held by everyone was such a beautiful feeling. I could feel the air bubbles run up inside my clothes as the water came in. An amazing tingle. Wow!"

It was a different atmosphere that evening. Alex turned on the sprinkler to a gentle rain fall, which many had asked for. It is so relaxing to watch the rain drops roll down a poncho or soak into a hoodie and jeans.

Instead of the usual mayhem, groups settled down in the shallow end of the pool, wrapped up in ponchos and deep conversations about life, the universe and everything.