Abseiling Down The Orbit
For some insane reason, I agreed to complete and write about the UK’s highest freefall abseil down the ArcerlorMittal Orbit sculpture. The piece was published on The Resident website. There’s a video, but until I have time to edit out all the high-pitched swearing, you’ll have to make do with words only:
The day before I abseiled down the ArcelorMittal Orbit, my anxious Irish mother had a lot of questions. Naturally she felt the need to call at 10 minute intervals and field each one. ‘Has anyone abseiled down this thing before?’ Yes, quite a few. ‘Will you get training?’ Just a quick intro, but the instructors know what they’re doing, it’s all very safe. ‘But there’s no wall, WHAT HAPPENS IF YOU GET CAUGHT IN THE RED SQUIGGLY BITS?’ Now that part I didn’t have an answer for. When I signed up for this, I hadn’t really thought about navigating the sculpture’s tangled crimson innards. But when I arrived with my friend and fellow abseiler, Ash, we watched a man dangling from a rope on the Orbit’s starboard side, his feet touching nothing but the smoggy London air – and realised what I’d gotten us into. Ash checked his pulse and claimed he wasn’t feeling well, but it was too late to back out, so on we went, and tentatively signed our disclaimer forms.
You see the abseiling down the ArcelorMittal Orbit isn’t like the kind you do at Centre Parcs with a few jumps against some wooden slats. This is the freefall kind, an 80 metre freefall to be exact, where the user controls the speed. To use the technical term: push rope up, body goes down. You can choose to hang freely and take in the London views, or scream like a banshee and shuffle down at squirrel-speed whilst staring directly ahead.
On the day, we shimmied into our harnesses, the kind that squeeze your bum cheeks into four bulging compartments, and climbed up the 455 steps to the top of the Orbit (of course we didn’t, we took the lift, could you imaging the chafing?). During the rapid safety briefing, I struggled to hear a word over my wailing inner monologue and before I knew it I was strapped in and being asked to step backwards into a 262 ft drop. Saying goodbye to the ‘edge’ and embracing the dangle is the worst part – but once your heart rate slows, you actually can start to enjoy it. Ash and I descended at the same time on parallel ropes and tried to distract from our fear with shaky Tom Petty renditions. Halfway down, we were arguing over the aesthetics of the Walkie-Talkie building and waving at confused bystanders like a pair of superheroes on holiday.
Although the panoramic views of London are incredible, I was more taken with unpredictable angles of the Orbit’s alien structure. The entangled red pipes revel in their asymmetry and offer the perfect contradiction to the safe, straight descent of the abseil. By the end, I was so filled with adrenaline you could have asked me to scale the thing and I would have said yes.
This is billed as one for the thrill-seekers, but take it from the girl who once bawled on the Waltzers: you too can conquer the big red squiggly.
The abseiling experiences will take place on 24 May, 14 June, 18 July and 30 August and groups can book privately on selected dates, subject to availability. Priced £85 per person or £130 per person to include a GoPro to record the descent and a t-shirt. arcelormittalorbit.com