Ok, true confession:
I didn’t make it to the very top of The Chief.
I don’t have a total fear of heights (I’m fine with flying in airplanes, looking out windows in tall buildings, even looking over a railing at someplace like the Space Needle, for instance), but I do have a tough time when there’s a lot of exposure.
For most of the hike up, you’re climbing a trail through shaded forest. VERY strenuous, but lovely. Towards the very top, however, things open up and there are sections with fixed chains and ladders, and as you get to a certain point you can start to see how high up you are, you (or maybe just me and others like me) lose sense of where the edge is, which drops off suddenly, hundreds and hundreds of feet down to certain death.
Well, I got up the second ladder and some chains and then there was nothing to really grab onto…or so it seemed. I could see the edge to my left and Howe Sound below and in the distance, and I just froze. Nothing my son and wife could tell me about how I was just a couple of hundred feet away from the summit, and how it flattens out and isn’t scary, could de-escalate my fear, fear turned to panic, and I scrambled back down to the tree line, found a nice spot with a view and a lot less exposure, and waited for my family to come down.
My wife and son have been with me before when I’ve been spooked on the trail, and they really thought I’d be fine on The Chief. At the top, there are all kinds of people going up and coming down, people who are not nearly in as good physical condition as me, and they make it just fine.
It’s not really a dangerous place, especially on a dry, sunny day like it was, I knew all of this and could see it right in front of me, no one was slipping on loose dirt and pebbles and falling off the top and then smashed to bits below. Yet, to me, it felt like if I made one wrong move, or even, as crazy at it sounds, if the wind was to suddenly kick up, gravity would grab me and pull me right over the cliff.
I hiked back down disappointed and determined to either: 1. Better avoid hiking in areas with a lot of exposure; or 2. Research various methods for overcoming this kind of fear.
The latter would be my preference, by far. There are a lot of places on this planet that I want to explore before I’m too old to do so. I don’t really have a desire for hardcore mountaineering, but I’d like to get to the top of Half Dome in Yosemite someday, for instance, and dozens of places like that.
My sense is that it will be a matter of finding somewhere nearby where I can spend some time desensitizing myself, taking up entire days creeping out near an edge and sitting there, breathing and meditating perhaps. Mt. Erie in Anacortes comes to mind. I’ll allow all the feelings of imminent danger to rise up, allow myself to continue to think of all the horrible scenarios associated with falling and crashing, but I’ll stay in that place, noticing at the same time, despite the feelings and terrifying thoughts, that I truly am solid and safe.
And maybe, just maybe, if I do this numerous times, I’ll be able to return to The Chief, and this time I’ll kick his granite ass.