Fear of Heights
The worst two hours of my life occurred this morning from 9:45am to 11:45am. This is unfortunately not an exaggeration or the lead-up to a joke.
Sarah and I were originally supposed to hike Longs Peak today. 10 days ago we were invited by a coworker of Sarah's. It sounded fun.
8 days ago I did some research into Longs Peak. After discovering that it was a Class 3 climb with an exposure rating of 3 (more on those numbers later) I sent the following text messages to Sarah.
I don't know if I can do Longs Peak, Sarah. I'm not ruling it out, but it does not seem like a good place for somebody who is afraid of heights.
This isn't to say that you shouldn't do it or that I'm unwilling to research it further, but based on what I've read so far it really doesn't look up my alley. I am extremely uncomfortable in situations like that, and I know that I need to challenge myself and I like challenging myself, but I don't know if that's the avenue in which I want to do it.
There are plenty of times in my life where I don't feel like doing things and try to weasel my way out of them without much of an explanation. This wasn't one of those times. I couldn't simply say "hey, I don't really want to do Longs Peak" because I needed Sarah to understand the desperation with which I didn't want to do Longs Peak. If that meant I had to be a little bit more vulnerable in a text message than I'm used to being, then so be it. Because I really don't want to die.
I don't have many fears. But a fear of heights - or more specifically a fear of falling to my death from heights - is one that I do have. And all of the fear that I don't have in other areas of my life is funneled into this one, because damn is it a massive fear.
Two days later Sarah's coworker must have done her own research, because she came to the same conclusion. She bailed, citing the fact that it did not seem like a safe first 14er.
Since everybody but Sarah bailed, Sarah I asked if I would do an easy 14er with her. "For sure." So we chose Grays and Torreys.
To the trailhead.
Sarah and I woke up at 5am and were on the road by 5:40, heading to Stevens Gulch Trailhead where we would hike both Grays Peak and Torreys Peak, two 14ers (mountains with a 14,000' or higher peak) that are connected by a trail roughly 400' below their peaks, thus essentially making it a 2-for-1 deal.
I got to drive up a gnarly 4x4 road for 2.5 miles, passing tons of people along the way who chose to park at the bottom. This was my favorite part of the day. I savor any chance I get to do a little off-roading in my 2015 Forester.
At 6:52am we parked 0.5 miles from the trailhead. That's as close as we could get because of the parking situation. Lots of places recommend that you start these sorts of hikes at 5 or 6 am, and people listen, so the parking lots and overflow fill up fast.
The recommendation to start early is because of early-afternoon thunderstorms, which are a very real concern. Storms can form quickly, and you don't want to be above the tree line when one rolls in. There's literally nowhere safe to go except for back below the tree line, and depending on where you are and what kind of shape you’re in that could take two hours.
We respect thunderstorms. But we hike way faster than the guidebooks say. A ”6-9 hour" hike takes us 4 hours. Thus we sleep in longer, start later, and are fine. And if for some reason a hike takes us longer than expected or a storm moves in earlier than expected, we have no problem turning around. We are fortunate enough to live close to these mountains, and can always come back another day. Out-of-towners don't have this option, so it makes more sense for them to play it safe.
On the trail.
After a few minutes of adding layers (it's 37° F outside) we're off.
0.5 miles later we reach the trailhead and its accompanying bathrooms. We hop in line. The line is 16 deep for two bathrooms, and I'm guessing at least half of those people are going to be pooping. That seems like a big waste of time, so I talk Sarah into using the woods instead.
0.5 miles later Sarah is peeing on the side of the trail.
0.5 miles later I'm pooping on the side of the trail. And then burying it.
0.75 miles later we reach a fork in the trail.
The wrong turn.
We're 1.75 miles into the trail when we come to a fork.
Sarah's planning had told us that the trails for Torreys and Grays should split somewhere around 0.5 miles from their respective summits. That would be 3-3.5 miles into the trail, not 1.75. Also, we look to be a whole hell of a lot farther than 0.5 miles away.
But, here we are, and there is a clearly defined second trail. Can this be right?
A man hanging out by the divergence of the trails must see the questioning look in our eyes, because he tells us that the main trail is Grays, and the trail to the right is in fact Torreys.
Okay cool. Maybe Sarah's planning was off. No big deal.
Sarah turns and asks me "which do you want to do first?" I point at the Torreys trail and say "that one is way less crowded so let's do that."
It was way less crowded for a reason.
We both walk with this info in our heads for 0.2 miles. We're both trying to wrap our heads around the fact that this trail split where it did, when Sarah's research clearly stated otherwise. We're trying to contort the math to make it add up, and eventually we come to a stop and start talking about it.
A different man, sitting on the side of the trail, again confirms that this is in fact the trail for Torreys. And that once we get to the top we can take "that saddle up there" to get over to Grays.
We're feeling better. Two (assumingly) unaffiliated men have both pointed us in the same direction. Both without doubt or hesitation. So unless they're conspiring I think we're safe. And although this trail is 95% emptier, it's not completely empty. It's clearly a real trail.
The route we took, and both men confirmed, is called Kelso Ridge. Neither man was wrong. It is in fact a route to Torreys Peak, though I'd argue strongly that it's not the route. And it's especially not the route to tell people without making any mention of the difficulty.
Kelso Ridge is a class 3 (out of 5) climb with two class 4 sections. It has an exposure rating of 4 (out of 6), which is defined by 14ers.com as "More serious exposure that could result in serious injury or death if you fell. Moving past the area will require some scrambling or short technical moves."
If you go back and look at the rating in the first section you'll notice that Longs Peak - the climb that I purposefully avoided out of sheer terror - is less dangerous than this climb that we ended up doing. Oh yay.
The combination of the technical difficulty and the exposure essentially means the following, at least to someone who is afraid of heights:
- If you fall you'll probably die.
- There are hundreds of points where falling is a possibility, though it's highly unlikely as long as you're diligent about making sure each of your holds is secure (there is a lot of loose rock on this climb) before advancing.
- There are two points where you're somewhat likely to fall.
- When you add that all up: you're probably going to die.
On to Kelso Ridge
For the first bit this seems like just another easy 14er route. As if this was in fact the correct route to Torreys. Cool.
Within the first 0.5 miles we do some mildly technical scrambling over a rock formation. There isn't much exposure, and we think we might see a trail below that we could take if this got too hard. This fun.
We keep running into more and more of these formations, with each a little more challenging and a little more exposed than the last. My fear is creeping in, but in the back of my mind is that path that we think we might have seen. And surely we definitely saw it as far as by brain is concerned. So we can turn around at any point.
Two men slowly catch us. Perhaps a father and son. They seem like real climbers. They seem to know what they're talking about. And they have maps and stuff.
They do the navigating, which isn't straightforward. We follow closely behind.
The four of us are all going at a similar pace, but taking breaks at different times, so we alternate between being directly behind them and being a few minutes behind them, and we keep flowing like that for a while.
The Point of No Turning Back
We turn a corner and see them both halfway up a steep face, trying to decide where to go from there. There are two options. The left side is less steep and less enclosed. The right side is more steep and more enclosed.
They both start up the left side, and then Sarah follows. At this point I let another man who is moving faster pass me. We both share a chuckle over our mutual fear of heights and how we ended up in this situation.
The first two men are now at the top and I hear them talking about how they think maybe the right side would have been a better option because of its more enclosed nature. It might be 70° to the other route's 40°, but it has a 270° bank of hand and foot holds.
After hearing their discussion I decide to be the first to venture up the right side.
Each move I take is deliberate, and I'm scared, but I never freeze. I never get to a point where I don't know what to do next. So I keep moving and I'm good.
Unfortunately when I to the halfway point the already-narrow route gets even narrower, and I don't think I'm going to be able to squeeze through with my bag on. Nor do I want to chance it, because the last thing I want is for my bag to get stuck on a rock and me to have to try to unstick it.
So I do the dreaded down-climb during which each move seems 500% harder than its countermove on the way up. The land below is only about 20°, but it's super loose, and I really don't want to fall 10 feet onto it and then trust that I'll stop at some point.
I make my way back to the start and then begin the ascent of the left side.
Sarah, who has been done this problem for several minutes now, is talking to me. "You can do it." "You'e almost there."
"Sarah, please stop talking to me."
"Okay, sorry, I was just trying to help."
When I get scared I get matter-of-fact. There's nothing nice or not nice about anything that comes out of my mouth. I'm communicating exactly what I need to communicate and nothing more. There is no tone or inflection to speak of. Just words.
I crest the first part of the problem onto a temporary safe-haven. As the wind blows I tuck as tightly against the rock as I can, clutch it with all four limbs, and begin crying lightly.
I'm crying in part to let out the panic from what I've just done, and in part because of the panic of what I still have to do. (At this point I'm thinking that the remainder of this problem is the remainder of my problems.)
And I'm crying only lightly because I still have 20% of the problem to go. While my current position is safe and protected relative to this problem, it’s nothing compared to the safety that exists 30 feet away. I really want to get to the top. So I stop crying a few seconds after I start. And I move.
The last 20% of the problem has extreme exposure to the left. As I climb there are several points where my feet are less than a foot from the edge, in a place where one shouldn’t fall.
I see Sarah watching me from above and I call out to her "Can you just climb around the corner? I really need it to just be me and the rock right now." Again, there's nothing offensive in my words and she knows it.
Finally I get to the top. This is the most terrifying thing I've done in my life. I'm so glad that it's over with.
Keep in mind that we weren't planning on coming this way. It was an accident and we knew nothing about the route. So when I name things like "Kelso Ridge" or "The Crux" or “The Buttress” please know that we didn't know what they were at the time. We didn't know which problem was the crux or the suggested way to navigate the crux.
These are all things I learned after getting home.
This, as I'll later learn, is the first class 4 section of the day. Woohoo.
The first move is easy, but once it's made it's made. Undoing a move is a lot harder than doing it. Logic says that falling after one move isn't a big deal, but logic is wrong in this case. The first move requires going significantly to the right of flat ground, leaving sharply angled ground below you, and a lot farther below you than the aforementioned flat ground.
I make the first move and immediately feel trapped. I hadn't thought ahead, I don't know my next move, and as much as I look around I can't see a next move.
There are various micro foot holds, but I am in running shoes not climbing shoes. They might hold, but they might not. At these stakes I'm not playing the "might" game.
Okay, let's take a step back and reassess. There is a move. A move that ends with a large handhold and an even larger foothold, and one that I'd nail 100 out of 100 times in the gym. But it requires a dynamic movement.
It’s a simple move. There’s no reason why I would ever misjudge the distance or miss the hand-hold. But all I can think about is the fact that it’s not a 100.000000% certainty. There has to be another way.
I keep looking around and I keep seeing nothing else. I don't know what to do. I start to panic because I know I can't hang in this position forever. Moving isn't urgent yet, but eventually it will be. The more I wait the more my muscles will fatigue.
"SARAH? Sarah, I don't know what to do." I hear the panic in my own voice. I'm curious if Sarah hears it as well, not that it matters.
She acknowledges me and starts climbing back to me, and just as she does two climbers are approaching from behind me. I can't see them but I can hear them. And deep down some macho, insecure part of me can't let them see me like this. My testosterone overrides my fear just long enough for me to make that dynamic move. And from there the rest of the problem is a breeze.
By the time Sarah gets to me I've already navigated the problem. Sorry for making you down-climb, honey.
Sarah starts off. The two men behind me haven't yet tackled the problem. I'm safe where I am. And again I cry, this time more deeply than the last.
One of the men pops into the picture. He's talking back down the mountain at the other man who isn't comfortable doing this. The two of them talk about alternate routes. Nobody told me about any alternate routes.
To appreciate how traumatic today was for me it's important to note that I am not a crier. I have historically gone many years between each time I cry, and the last time I cried multiple times in a single month - let alone in a single day - was in 2005 when one of my high school buddies was murdered.
What if it storms?
Clouds are starting to pop up in the sky. They look friendly, but still it gets me to thinking about the clock. This is the last place on earth you want to be during a storm.
"You don't want to be above the tree line in a storm" is the common advice, but this is worse than that.
On an easy 14er, like the standard route up Torreys, it's generally easy (if you're in good shape) to get below the tree line in 45 minutes or less from any point, even from the summit.
But we can't go down. It's not an option. So if it starts to storm we have to summit fist and then go down. Luckily it's not even 11am and storms usually don't start until 1pm, so we shoullllld be good.
The Easy Part
For a 10-15 minute period it looks as if my troubles may be over. The mountain widens and solidifies. It's still only 15 feet across, but that means that I don't have to be right up against the edge. And, for the first time all day, there isn't any loose rock.
This is the only time all day where I fall. I trip over a rock and then extend a hand to catch myself. I chuckle, lighthearted for the first time in over an hour, humored by the idea of falling and rolling off this easy section of rock after freaking out and carefully navigating the difficult problems of the day.
Despite my fear of heights, for some reason I genuinely find this funny.
No more easy part. Well, technically this part should be easy. But not for someone who is afraid of heights.
We come to a section where we have to navigate a 40ft-long ledge to the left. The ledge varies from 8-18 inches in width. The footing is composed of somewhat loose rock, but it's flat.
If I were to fall… well, let’s avoid that.
The scariest part is that the protruding rock from above the ledge makes it impossible to lean into the mountain. I have to hang my torso out over nothingness in order to navigate around this.
Because I'm leaning away from the mountain every hold has to be sure. But not every hold is sure. I’m only leaning slightly away from the mountain, though. My hands only need to hold 10-20lbs each. I don’t need jugs, but in my mind there just have to be jugs somewhere.
I never find any jugs, but I shimmy across anyway. Not that I have a choice.
There’s a short scramble immediately after the ledge. I hurry up it, and again I cry. Again, more deeply than the last. This time there is nobody around and I’m in a perfectly safe space. For the first time I let it all out.
This was not the most challenging or scary section we’ve encountered thus far. I can’t say for sure why this one gets to me more than the others. Perhaps it’s the totality of all the stress until this point. Perhaps it’s the setting realization that this climb really could be like this all the way to the top. Perhaps it’s because it’s the first time where I feel like I have the space to let it out.
We arrive at what we later learn is "the crux". Not having read the manual it is not obvious to us which way we're supposed to go.
Kelso Ridge is unmarked and does not have a defined trail. Basically if you're going up then you are more or less on the "trail". That said, there are several places where there are multiple routes across a problem. This is one of them.
For the last hour or so Sarah has been tasked with scouting ahead any time we don't know which way to go, which is often. We always know the general direction, but sometimes there are three or more ways to get past whatever we need to get past.
I feel bad that Sarah is climbing extra, but there's nothing I can do about it. Thankfully:
- Sarah is not afraid of heights, and is actually loving every minute of this aside from how bad she feels for me and for taking me up this way, even though it was my decision.
- My discomfort is painfully real, obvious, and severe. This isn't me being whiny or dramatic. I am in a bad place and Sarah is fully aware of it. And she knows it's her job to get us home.
From our vantage point there are two options.
- Go straight up and over the rock and then see what's on the other side.
- Go around the rock to the right on the ledge that is less than three inches wide.
I desperately want #1 to be the right choice because #2 scares the #2 out of me. To be fair, #1 scares me almost as badly, but not quite. Both require navigating the crux before the crux, a smooth 10 foot section of slab with nothing but a few cracks to grab onto. Like, actual rock climbing.
Sarah (I love her so much) voluntarily goes straight up and over to see what's there. Then she immediately comes back down and says "no, we're not doing that."
It turns out that what she saw was the famous Knife Edge, which is apparently (I never actually saw it) a section that you have to straddle your way across because it is only 2-3 inches wide at its crest, with maximum exposure. Or in other words: If you fall left you die, and if fall right you also die.
Although the route we end up taking, from a technical standpoint, is more difficult than Knife Edge, Sarah definitely makes the right call. The exposure on Knife Edge would have overwhelmed me. Yes, falling from the route we took would also have killed us, but at least I could turn completely toward one wall and not look at the exposure.
The Alternate Crux
When Sarah says "no, we're not doing that" I don’t give it a second thought. Contrary to everyday life I’m happy to give up as much control as I can. Please, just tell me what to do, and I'll try my best to do it without dying.
She goes across first, taking her time and repositioning herself a few times but not seeming to struggle in any significant way. I'm studying every move she makes. For the first time all day I'm thinking to myself "please be careful, please be careful, please be careful." There were two other problems today where I legitimately thought I might die, but this is the first one where I'm scared that she might.
I don't voice my wishes of caution to her because I don't want to get in her head. She's halfway through the problem and that's not the time for me to put these thoughts in her head. So I stay silent. (Saying "don't look down" isn't freaking helpful.)
A big part of me starts feeling terrible for the fact that she's going first on what has to be the most dangerous problem of the day. I know that I'm just as technically capable as she is. I'm stronger than she is. So logically I should be going first, but I also know that my crippling fear is not working in my favor; that I'm actually more likely to die because I'm afraid of dying. Funny.
Sarah makes it across with me sweating more than she is. Now it's my turn.
First I tackle the 50° slab. I turn my body towards the wall and slowly start moving to my right.
The 50° slab bumps directly into a 90° slab. I keep one foot on the 50° section and put one foot onto a 5-inch ledge on the 90° section. I slowly shift my weight to the right, move both hands to the right by about one foot each, and then move my left foot to join my right foot.
I'm now standing entirely on a 5-inch ledge on a perfectly vertical wall. My next move is not 100% obvious to me and I almost start to freak out, but then something stops me. It's like my fight-or-flight response knows that I can't afford to freak out right now. That it's not an option. I'm shockingly calm, and to help maintain that calm I start talking out loud to myself.
It's just a math problem. With some strength and technique thrown in. Your technique is good. You're strong. So it's just a math problem. It's just a math problem. You like math.
If you get it wrong you'll die.
No, don't worry about that. Just breath. Look at the wall. Figure it out. It's fine. If you were doing this 4 feet off the ground in a gym you would nail it every time. This isn't any different.
Just figure it out. You're in a great spot right now. Your muscles are never going to get tired where you are. You could stay here all day. Take advantage of that. On the last problem the only bad part was when you got stuck and didn't know what to do next and panicked. So don't let that happen here. Look across the whole wall, plan out every move, and then do it.
I extend my right hand as far as I can, sliding it up and down the wall to test the different holds. Then it catches on one. A "jug" if you will. I tug on it a few times to test its security and then breathe the biggest sigh of relief. I can't quite do a one-arm pull-up, but I can easily dangle from one arm, and this is the kind of hold that's good enough to let me do just that. Finding this hold legitimately feels like a rescue.
I take my right foot off of the 5-inch ledge and put in on the 3-inch ledge that lies three feet to the right and two feet above. This 3-inch ledge is angled slightly to the left, which means it's angled toward me at the moment, which is helping me form a nice secure wedge with my body.
Okay, only three more technical moves left. Then it's all cake from there. You got this, Patrick. One at a time. Take your time, but get it done.
The next thing I need to do is move my right hand to the right. There is a hold that I've already scouted out. It's a pretty far reach, but not too far. And I have long arms.
My only concern is that the hold isn't as good as it looks. I don't think that will be the case, but I don't want to leave that to chance. So I make sure to move in such a way that my other three holds remain secure and that I can retreat to this position if I need to.
I lean all the way into the rock. My entire left arm, left side of my chest, and left side of my face are all scraping the wall (all on purpose) as I extend my right hand. I grab onto the hold and test it by first giving it a gentle tug, and then three progressively harder tugs. I test it this way because I'm afraid that if I go for one hard tug and it comes loose then that could have a bad impact on my body positioning.
I keep my right hand on that hold and then shuffle my right foot six inches to the right.
I attempt to move my left hand to where my right hand just was, then start to panic for a second as my left hand can't immediately find the hold. My body is completely smushed against the rock so I'm incapable of looking down. Preventing myself from looking down is not the reasoning for this position, but it's a nice perk.
I stop panicking almost immediately. Again, I guess my brain has realized that it's not a viable option right now. I keep my other three holds strong and very calmly rub my left hand left-to-right, top-to-bottom across the rock until I find the hold.
Finally I move my left foot to join my right foot and that move is complete. Now as I look to my right the rest of the problem looks easier than it did previously. The next two moves look a lot easier than the two I just did. And those two didn't kill me, so things are looking up.
With two moves to go I hear a woman talking to us as she starts to navigate across the 50° slab. She's cheerful, having a great time, and is quickly approaching me.
"Please give me space" is all I say to her. She's being jovial and inquiring about our day and our hike and where we live, and that's all that I can get out. There's not a mean-spirited thing about it, though.
Over the next 5+ minutes Sarah and her have a great conversation. Any time this woman asks a question, even if it's directed at me, Sarah responds.
Thank you, woman from Houston. Even though I couldn't talk back to you, just hearing the relaxation in your voice calmed me down and helped me through this. I can recall every detail and every thought I had during those first few moves, but I can't remember a thing about those last two moves.
I complete the final move, which I can't remember the details of, and then do 6-10 feet of scrambling to get onto a flat, somewhat protected area. And then five minutes of absolute terror comes pouring out of the bottle that I had trapped it in.
I nestle myself into the most protected position I can, grab onto rocks with both hands, and start crying. Sarah comes over to comfort me and I cry harder.
The woman from Houston comes into view as she works her way onto the final couple of moves. She asks how we liked the climb. Sarah tells her how awesome this is and how much fun she's having. I continue sobbing, give her a thumbs down, and then start laughing. I'm scared but I'm not sad. I realize how ridiculous I'm being, and I have no problem laughing about the situation at the same time that I'm crying about it.
The woman hangs out for about a minute, during which time I temper my tears a touch, then she heads out and I lose it again. I might as well just get it all out.
The man she was with comes around the rock a few minutes later, at which point I'm back on my feet and ready to go. We let him go ahead of us because I'm being slow.
(I'm moving so slowly that at one point my watch chirps and vibrates to let me know that it's time to move. As far as it can tell I've been on the couch watching The Simpsons all morning. I wish it was right.)
After the crux there isn't much left. There's maybe 30 feet of easy class 3 climbing and then a class 2 scramble to the top from there. The only tricky part is how loose the rock is all the way up, especially on the scramble.
Sarah and I are both on the last 10 feet of the class 3 part when we hear the man from a few minutes ago loudly yell "rock rock rock". We look up and there's a rock about the size of a shoe flying down toward us. Neither of us are in a position where we're capable of completely moving our bodies, but luckily we're still on the class 3 part where we're a lot more protected by neighboring rocks.
We both get into the best defensive positions that we can, where we can at least shift side to side, and we both have one hand free to deflect the rock if needed. Catching it or stopping it would be impossible, but redirecting it should be easy if we time it right.
The woman and man are stopped at what is essentially the summit, but technically still about 50 feet short. It's peaceful here. The man apologizes to us, but he did all he could do. It was his job to make sure that we knew the rock was coming, and he did that job well.
We sit with them for a few minutes. This time I use words in response to their words. I explain to that I'm not an anti-social prick, but rather that I'm so afraid of heights that I wasn't able to talk. Neither of them seem offended.
We then make our way to the actual top, which is just a formality at this point. We look toward Grays peak and are in shock at the number of people we see lining the trails. There are hundreds and hundreds of them. The trail is so consistently packed from top to bottom that it looks like a conveyer belt of people.
I turn to Sarah and tell her that as scary as that was, and as much as I never want to do it again, it sure was serene and peaceful.
On to Grays
We descend on the easy route. Obviously. We had decided that hours ago.
Within 15 minutes we're at the intersection of the two trails, and we turn to go up to Grays. 30 seconds later I stop and tell Sarah that I'll wait for her here. I'm spent.
Physically I'm fresh. But I just want to be done and go home. After tackling what we just tackled I honestly don't care in the slightest about adding one more easy 14er to my bag right now. It doesn't matter to me, and I can't talk myself into making it matter to me.
The fact that it's such an easy addition makes it, if anything, even less desirable.
Sarah continues on. I make snowballs. In August. Pretty cool.
The Just-in-Time Descent
I try to track Sarah as she ascended Grays, but she keeps getting more and more ant-like.
The innocent-looking clouds of earlier are looking more rambunctious so I turn my phone on to give Sarah a call. Weirdly I have reception, but the call goes straight to voicemail. Her phone is off. Not a problem. If we want to stay dry it’s time to get off the mountain, but we’re not in any danger yet. I just wanted to give her a heads up in case she couldn't see the clouds from her angle.
Within 10 minutes of that we were back together and making our way down. The farther down the mountain we go the worse it looks up above. It starts raining in the last 0.25 miles of our hike on the dirt road back to our car. And on almost our whole ride home we get to watch a very cool, very violent storm.
On the way back down, and later in the evening, I thought about two questions that people always get asked after they take on their biggest fears.
"Aren't you proud of yourself for facing your fears?"
"Now that it's over, aren't you glad you did it?"
Am I proud of myself for facing my fears?
You might as well ask me if I'm proud of myself for not dying. From the second problem onward that was literally the only thing I was trying to accomplish.
There's nothing to be proud of. I didn't choose to face my fears. I didn't do this voluntarily. I took a wrong turn, climbed some crap, and only kept going up because down-climbing is more dangerous than up-climbing.
Not only didn't I choose to face my fears, but I resisted facing them to the extent that I could. I cried five times, I told Sarah that if there was ever a route off the mountain I was taking it, and I legitimately considered requesting a helicopter rescue.
Eventually, yes, I did face my fears. But only because I had zero other options. My goal was to not die, and that meant I had to keep going. I was successful. But no, I'm not proud of myself.
Am I glad I did it?
I’m still stressed. It's nine hours later as I'm writing this and I have not come back to my baseline calm yet. That's not to say that I'm freaking out. I'm not. But I'm noticeably stressed. It's a shame that I'm currently not drinking, because I could use a beer right now.
I badly want to say that no, I’m not glad I did it. That’s the way I felt immediately after getting back in my car, and that’s the way I expected to continue feeling. How could I be glad to do something that caused me so much pain, and is still causing me pain?
And yet, yes, I am glad I did it.