Such Great Heights

Saturday morning I took to the trails again, this time up Mt Abraham. It was a really lovely hike on a pleasant, lonely trail…. but I don’t want to talk about how nice it was. How it was centering and invigorating. No.

I want to talk about fear.

The summit of Mt Abe is a balding dome. It’s a bit of a steep scramble, and fairly exposed. It’s not a big deal. It’s really not. But during the final push, using my hiking boots to smear up the rocks, I turned around to take in the view. And immediately regretted it. My stomach tried to hide behind my large intestines and my knees said Nope, nope, nope.

Heights didn’t use to frighten me so much. I never liked sitting on the edges of cliffs or climbing in the rafters of my parents’ garage, but this uneasiness seemed entirely reasonable. The Grand Canyon is, after all, a very tall cliff, and my dad would not have appreciated my falling on his favorite car.

I was also afraid of a lot of things when I was a little one. The dark. The alligator under my bed. Spiders. Clowns. Again, all reasonable things. Most importantly, these are fears I’ve gotten over. I stopped believing in the alligator under my bed. I watched spiders spin their webs until my breathing regulated. I sat in dark rooms until my eyes adjusted, and I could see for myself that no monsters waited for me.

Not so with my fear of heights. In fact, I think it’s getting worse.

I used to be a religious rock climber, hitting the wall several times a week! I scrambled up trees when I was bored! Yet, I feel light headed on an exposed slab of otherwise completely stable rock. (To be honest, even chairlifts have started to freak me out. If I ever ride with the safety bar down, you’ll notice I will keep one arm over the chair to keep myself in place.)

I’m not sure how to work on this, either. Picking up rock climbing again would surely help, but indoor gyms don’t trigger the same panic reaction that outdoor heights illicit.

As with any fear, beating this one will take time and practice. Have you dealt with something like this before? How did you keep it from getting in the way of enjoying the view, so to speak? Let me know in the comments. Maybe it’ll give me an idea as to how to face this fear of mine!

Perceptions are altitude dependent

There is a point on every trail when I ask myself why on earth I keep going out on hikes. Usually, it happens when sweat beads into my eyes and along my jaw line.  It’s when my knee and/or ankles hurt, and I’m looking uphill thinking, “This totally sucks.”

Hiking is hard.

But it’s also awesome.

Yesterday, at the summit of Mt Hunger, I ate a half-mooshed banana and set about orienting my compass and myself. See, I have a terrible sense of direction. I have only a rudimentary sense of where points are in relationship to one another, and I navigate best by associating locations with landmarks. Mountains make awfully good landmarks.

In video games, there’s an effect called the Fog of War. The effect prevents you from seeing places on the playable map that you haven’t yet explored. Assassin’s Creed does a particularly good job of dealing with the Fog; the best way to reveal sections of the map is to climb a tall building and have a look around.

View of Stowe from Mt Hunger
That’s Stowe in the distance.

Mt Mansfield to the northwest. The Presidentials to the east. Camel’s Hump, southwest. Somewhere to the hazy, foggy west, Lake Champlain.

One of my favorite quotes is from Sally Shivan’s essay “Airborne.”

Once again, perceptions can be altitude dependent.

It’s true. From the top of a mountain, faced with the panoramic view of humanity nestled in the folds of nature, it’s impossible to not experience a subtle shift in point of view. From up there, I placed the roads and towns and mountains in my life in context. There is home. There is Stowe. I am here. This is about when I forget that hiking sucks and remember that it’s awesome.

Then, I hopped, skipped, and jogged my way back down the mountain. At one point I tripped and fell. A few minutes later, I rinsed my bleeding knee in the mountain spring. It seems I’ll never learn to not run down mountains, just as I’ll never learn to not hike up them.

How do your perceptions shift when you’re in your sport? Tell me in the comments!

Snake Mountain

The nice thing about rainy days… is that if you time it right… you might just get the trail all to yourself.

A morning jaunt up Snake Mountain. A lunchtime nap on the summit. And a muddy, splashing hike back to the car.

What a view!

Liquid lunch and a view.
Yeah – I lost my raincoat, so I have to use my ski jacket.

 

Wanderlust

It’s been too long since I last disappeared. I miss the weight of a rucksack on my shoulder. I miss the moment when I first step off of a metro in a strange new city; the nanosecond-long pause to inhale the new air and realize it’s just the same as the air at home.

(I lost countless photographs in a hard-drive crash during college. I have so few photos left from my travels… Here’s one. Hopefully hard copies of the rest have survived, buried somewhere in my parents’ basement.)

A moment's rest on Mt Luxmore.
A moment’s rest on Mt Luxmore.

“You’re coming to realize that travel anywhere is often a matter of exploring half-understood desires. Sometimes, those desires lead you in new and wonderful directions; other times, you wind up trying to understand just what it was you desired in the first place. And, as often as not, you find yourself playing the role of charlatan as you explore the hazy frontier between where you are, who you are, and who it is you might want to be.”

Rolf Potts, from“Tantric Sex for Dilettantes”