I recently went on a trip with a friend of mine, and learned something fundamental about myself. This is a long article, so I am going to break it down into chunks, posting a part each day until it’s done. The posts are in 3 parts. Each a short read.
We had to bushwack through some deep woods of Pagosa Peak. We came across a trail of something that had been dragged through the forest floor. All the leaves were flattened in one direction. We followed it for a while, until we found some bear scat. Jeff directed us in a different way after that. Let me tell you, you keep your damn head on a swivel when you see bear poo in the field and what looks like something dragged through the forest.
We continued up.
Having Jeff and Dalton there was great. They would stand and debate which direction had the most merit and would come to an agreement before we went forward. (I was thankful for ANY pause in the action to catch my breath. We were almost at 12,000 feet!) It was interesting and very insightful to listen to them discuss different ways to attack a wild forest. Sometimes they never came to an agreement and would agree that they would take different routes. Hell they even told me to take my own route a few times when I tried to voice my opinion. Silly me.
Eventually, we got to what I considered the staging area for the peak. It’s where you’re nearly there, but you’ve got to get over the next hump before you can truly start climbing. After passing through a field of wild flowers (breathtaking even at sea-level!) we started up the staging area that was mostly rocks and some grass. We each just started up and had to take a few breaks on the way. We sat on the unforgiving rocks and looked around, caught our collective breath, and then turned and went back up. The scenery stirred the soul. And it was so quiet (once I stopped panting for five seconds) you felt like you were deaf.
We kept on climbing, slowly, steadily, up, up, up. The ground started to become closer and closer to a 45 degree slope. We had to lean over to keep going. I had used my walking stick so much by then, that, my hands were getting blisters. But we kept going inexorably up. (This mountain ain’t gonna climb itself)
We came to a more tamed long sloped part after that. The angle was maybe only around 35 degrees and not as rocky. We climbed to the top of that, and looked down…
Now, 1500 feet doesn’t sound like that much, when you’re at around 12,200 feet on the side of a mountain, but looking down…yeah, it’s far. Like, if-you-fall-you-die, far.
So far I had enjoyed the sweeping vistas and the cool mountain air. But looking back down at the meadow we’d just rested in a few hours ago, something ticked in my brain. See, as we moved around, we came across this one spot we had to traverse to continue up. We didn’t have any choice because there was a giant chasm to the right. When I scrambled by it, I saw the meadow again, but this time, there was nothing below me. The angle of the ground below me was so steep, I couldn’t see beneath me, except 1600 feet below where the meadow waited to receive my dead corpse.
Something in my brained freaked out then. I’ve never had that happen before. I had what I assume is called a “panic attack”.
Okay, let’s do some quick math here. On average, each story of an office building is around 10 feet. I was now around 1600 feet ABOVE the meadow. That meant, it was like standing on the edge of a 160 story building, with a sloped edge roof. My chest locked up, my body froze. All I could think of was the meadow trying to pull me down to it. One misstep, JUST ONE, and I would tumble all the way to the bottom. I plopped down onto my butt. It’s all I could do, but I could still feel the pull of the meadow. Does that sound strange? Maybe it was, but I kept feeling like I was being pulled down toward the meadow. One of the things that freaked me out so much was how this feeling of imminent doom overwhelmed me in a matter of seconds. I sat and stared for a few moments…
I’m a writer, so my mind started to kick into overdrive.
I looked over at Dalton (Jeff was already ahead of us) and said, “Okay, I just got scared. I don’t think I can do this.”
There, I said it. I was scared. I was a pussy. At the moment, I didn’t give a shit. Even sitting was doing little to assuage my fear of tumbling head over heels into the abyss. It literally felt like it was tugging me forward. Beckoning me into it’s lover’s embrace.
Dalton, being a good guy, tried to pep-talk me. He was very understanding and tried to coax me along. I applaud his efforts, and I did get up and manage to bear-crawl up to where he was, but once I got there, I made the STUPID mistake of looking back down to the meadow again.
The curve was even more dramatic. I couldn’t grip anything tight enough. But I was trying to play it cool. Dalton sensed my panic and showed me a flat place to sit with my back to a wall of stone. I managed to get there, and plopped down, trying somehow to compose myself.
It was impossible.
My logical human brain was terrified. It kept thinking I was going to fall forward. I’ve never felt that before. So I sat still for a few moments, trying to encourage myself. I knew it was illogical. I knew I wouldn’t just fall forward. But my stupid brain kept playing it out over and over in my head. I almost puked while sitting there. After a stern internal talking to, I stood up for a moment, determined to at least try to continue up where they had gone. I looked over the wall I sat against, to see if I could make it up to the Pagosa Peak (which was only TWO HUNDRED FEET ABOVE ME). I gripped the stone wall and saw the others climbing up…on the 50 degree slope.
Hell naw. HEEEEELLLLLL naw.
I felt that tickle in my stomach and I just sat down, took a sip of my water, and waited for them to get back. As the flies swarmed around me, I wondered just how I was going to get down. I started to think of the path I would have to take and remembered I’d have to skate by the part where I felt like I was being tugged. For a few moments I didn’t think I could. I wondered if they could call some rescue people up there to come and take me down.
Silly, I know. But I was petrified. First time in my life, so it was kind of a new thing to me.
I tossed a rock off the side of the cliff. That was stupid. I never heard it land.
After about 10 minutes, I began to worry that Jeff and Dalton would take another way down and just leave me there. After 15, I was certain of it. After 20, I heard their voices and calmed down. They came around the edge and made sure I was all right. I apologized for freaking out, but they told me it was okay. Jeff told me he’d freaked out halfway up and almost lost it. Then he told me about freaking out in the past too. I felt a little better, but still not perfect.
Number one: I’d not made it to the peak. That bummed me out
Number two: I was still skeptical about how to get down.
We sat there for a few minutes, while they rested. I had heard them come down, and in my mind’s eye, I pictured myself trying to get down that ridiculous final slope they had just traversed–without falling and tumbling all the way to my death. I shivered. Hell I felt like crap the entire time I was up there, due to my own stupid ass brain inventing more and more horrific things to happen to me to make me tumble down the side of a mountain.
Well, we started down, and I was pretty okay. I just really, really, really wanted to get back down to that meadow. More than anything in my life, I wanted to get back to that meadow. That, to my weak ass brain, was safety.
Going up a mountain is difficult. Going back down is just as strenuous.
My only happy feeling about going back down the mountain? I wasn’t out of breath every third step. Sure, my feet ached, my knees complained, my quads screamed for mercy, but I COULD FREAKING BREATHE.
So…we get to a few travel points where we appear lost. Remember, it took us over two hours to get up the mountain, and we were bushwhacking through the woods. We came to a spot where Jeff and Dalton were unsure of which way to go. Jeff was trying to be cautious because he said we could be going down a way that just led to a cliff edge and we’d have to climb up. I was following Jeff one way, then went to see where Dalton went, by the time I got back to Jeff, he was already gone, so I went back to where Dalton was. He instructed me to go down a way, which I did, but he didn’t know where it went. It was super steep, and rocky. I went down and Dalton did too.
We found the edge of the cliff, by accident.
Dalton found a way down through the rocks, but it was very steep and required a ton of rock climbing skills, of which I was not entirely versed in. But he was cool and talked me through most of it. But, then we came to a stopping place where we could go no further, and the ground was about 5 stories below us. Then I saw
Jeff walked out below us. I was crestfallen. He’d made it to the bottom along some other path, and poor Dalton and I were trapped up here with no way to go but back up this steep ass pile of rocks. Jeff and Dalton had a quick yelling conversation (after I yelled “WTF?”) and Dalton found a way down with Jeff’s direction. I couldn’t do it with my walking stick. I would need both hands and feet. I was climbing down using “handholds” and “toeholds” along the sides of the rocks. Did I mention we were about as high as a 5 or 6 story building?
I tossed my walking stick to Dalton. It was a shitty throw and he missed it. The stick rolled and rolled until it rolled off the edge of the cliff.
I was sad to see my stick go.
Dalton gave me some kick ass directions to get down on, but here I was again, thinking I was about to misstep and fall to my doom. This time it wasn’t my stupid ass brain, this time it was just flat-out logic. At one point, my feet got crisscrossed and I had switch them around. As I did, I felt my hands slipping on the rocks, but caught myself before I tumbled backwards. My heart stopped. But I somehow managed to slowly creep down the rest of the rock.
When we finally got to the bottom, I was so relieved I had to just sit for a minute. I was completely out of breath and emotionally exhausted. Then Dalton tells Jeff he has to go back and get my walking stick. It took my a few minutes to spot it, but I finally did. It was half way up the rocks (check the pic). Dalton was going to climb up there and get it.
The hell he was.
I yelled at him to get his ass back down the mountain. There was no way in hell I was going to risk his life for some stupid stick. He finally acquiesced and climbed back down.
We then had to traverse the rest of the forest at some ridiculous steep slopes (remember we’re going down now). I didn’t have my walking stick any more, so I had to use trees to hold up against as we made our way down. I tripped a few times and almost fell down some hills, but managed to get to the meadow.
The meadow was still filled with flies and mosquitoes and they swarmed us. The ground was almost like quicksand. You stepped down, and the entire thing like five feet around you shook like you were going to start sinking in. So you stepped quickly. Which tired us out. I was finally at the damn meadow and it was being a little bitch. So is life.
We got back on the trail and I almost cried. FINALLY back to where I wouldn’t have to worry about my life being endangered every thirty feet!
But see, I was just emotionally exhausted then. I was about to get physically annihilated.