By Michael Burke
The roar of the water could be heard as soon as the crowd stepped on to the beach. As they looked up they saw the famous Dunn River Falls towering above them. Some laughed, some stood silently in awe and a few looked around to see if there was a way to sneak away without being noticed. The waist-deep water was rushing down the 180 meter length of the falls creating whirlpools, rapids and white water conditions. Each person standing on the warm, white sand had to call upon their own inner strength because they were about to spend the next hour and a half climbing up the middle of the falls.
This motley group of tourists was the picture of diversity both age-wise and in physical ability. Young girls in bikinis, old men in Speedos and middle aged couples in shorts and tshirts. Each of them would be relying on the others to help them reach the pinnacle.
The Jamiacan guide yelled to the crowd, “it’s time to go!” and they quickly lined up and formed a human chain. Some of the more nervous participants gripped the hands of those in front of them and behind them as if their life depended on it – and in their minds perhaps it did.
Dunn River Falls is located on the northern coast of Jamaica approximately 80 km’s from Kingston. Tourists flock here year-round and happily pay $20 for the opportunity to climb the world famous falls. The adventure starts where the falls feed in to the Carribean sea with enormous ferocity. Guests are free to climb on their own but most arrive in groups from the nearby cruise ship dock and are given a local guide to help with traversing the swift moving water.
As the group takes the first step in to the cool water, each person’s grip tightens as they feel the force of the water pressing against their legs. It is at this precise moment many wonder if they have what it takes to make the journey. With each step the water forces their legs backwards. It takes determination and strength to push each step forward. Immediately this group of complete strangers begins to rely on each other and instantaneously they form a team.
Only a few fearless individuals attempt climbing up the middle of the falls where the force of the water is the greatest. Those brave adventurers garner looks of disbelief from the masses hugging the edges of the river. The guide keeps their party close to the sides where they can stable themselves with rocks and they can use the well worn steps made from the thousands of people who have climbed here before them.
After 30 minutes of vigorous climbing the group reaches a bridge that stretches across the river. The water calms at this point but it is replaced with a different challenge. Each member of the group now has to hunch over and make their way under the six metre wide bridge. The water is shallower but finding a safe place to step while bent over at a 90-degree angle is hard for many. The group has abandoned the human chain at this point but the guide stays close and offers an arm of support as each person moves under the bridge. This slower pace creates a bottle neck as others continue to push up from behind.
Once the group has passed under the bridge and is once again standing upright there is a collective sign of relief. The water has calmed and as they gaze upward the climb appears more manageable.
It is now possible for onlookers to view those climbing the falls. Up high on the left side of the river hundreds of visitors stare down at this completely soaked, mostly exhausted but fully exhilarated crowd of climbers. Many looking down no doubt wonder enviously if they have the courage to accomplish what these others have done.
The next 30 minutes of the climb takes on a much mellower feeling. At one point the river is so deep that many line up, close their eyes, spread their arms and fall completely backwards into the refreshing water. Farther along, the river creates a natural shower where visitors can walk under and become drenched head to toe instantly. The guide ensures each person in his care is given opportunity to enjoy these special moments.
The grade of the climb drops off considerably for the last 10 minutes. The water is shallower and finding safe footing is much easier. The climb comes to an end with a large set of wooden stairs that descend in to the river. Many people take this last moment to pose for photos, reunite with their group and thank their guide.
Those lucky enough to have conquered the Dunn River Falls will have an hour and a half of memories they won’t soon forget. From sheer terror to unbridled delight.
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