Challenging the Limits of Fear

“You know, one little slip and it’s all over. It’s a fatal drop off on either side,” the voice said. “I know, but you hiked up more than 10 miles. You are so close to the summit. You can’t quit now!” said the same voice.

I had heard you could summit Mt. Bangs, the highest peak in the area at just over 8000 ft. Two years ago, we had hiked up to within about a mile, but it was winter and we had no intention of summiting that day, just exploring. Ever since, it’s been on my mind and list.


Mt Bangs in Arizona

Mt Bangs, also known as Hancock Peak, is actually located in the far northwestern corner of Arizona. Several of us had talked about summiting but never seemed to get around to it. Most were talking about driving to within about 3 miles and going from there. I preferred the longer hike up Elbow Canyon, one I’ve done many times. The opportunity finally came and five of us were in.

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Heading up Elbow Canyon

Gary, my awesome friend and running partner, and I chose to hike Elbow Canyon and meet the other three at the upper trailhead. That meant about 7 miles of hiking and about 3500ft gain just to get there. I knew there was a trail part way up the mountain from the trailhead, but also heard there would be a lot of bushwhacking on the final stretch. Little did I know, the tough part would not be bushes but boulders.

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Discussing the trail options

We met the guys and all five of us continued up the trail, chatting and enjoying the scenery. As we got higher, the views got better and better allowing us to see vistas in both directions for many miles. To the south and west we saw the Grand Canyon Parashant National Monument and Gold Butte. To the north and east we could see St. George and Signal Peak, even as far Zion National Park.

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Nearing the end of the trail

Though someone had nicely marked the trail with cairns and cut the brush back, the trail ran out all too soon. We hit a stretch that required us to scramble up a steep embedded granite boulder. Everyone else climbed right up, but not me. It’s where I got the first twinge of fear. These rocks can be slippery and I didn’t trust the shoes I was wearing. Gary suggested dropping my pack in hopes that would make me more nimble and secure—it did.

The area above that rock was ok but the ridge was narrowing. Looking straight ahead along the ridge, you could see both sides from the corners or your eyes—and it was a long way down. The guys scrambled up another set of larger boulders, waiting for me to follow. I had some serious hesitation. But, with coaxing, I made it up that set only to find more boulders and an even narrower ridge.

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Boulders on the knife edge ridge to the summit

This was becoming a real test of my will and wits. “Go ahead, I’ll just wait for you here,” I said several times. But they wouldn’t have it. They extended hands to me and encouraged me to keep going and not to look down. I scrambled a few more and stopped again. The internal battle in my mind continued. I mean, after all, what’s the big deal about making it to the top? How important is it anyway? I haven’t even seen my new grandbaby yet. It’s not worth risking my life!

With my heart pounding and my body physically trembling, I scaled another boulder wondering how in the hell I would get ever get back down. I imagined myself like the woman recently stuck on the side of a hill, afraid to move, ultimately rescued by a search and rescue team. This climb topped the list for being one of the times I was the most afraid ever. The guys were so great, encouraging me, grabbing my hand, placing their own bodies on the outside so I could climb up and through with more confidence.

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Mentally exhausted at the summit

After every scary boulder set, I desperately wanted to stop right there and wait. It often took several minutes to get me to agree to carry on. With their help I pushed on, climbing a few more boulders and finally, we were all up. At the top, I held tightly to the rocks – staying low. I enjoyed the view but never really relaxed. And, I was happy when we decided to head back down, but apprehensive about having to actually do it. Strangely, it wasn’t that bad and we were off the rocks pretty quickly.

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Happy trails

Although we still had another 9 miles to go back to the car, I was happy and proud to have conquered the mountain. I could never have done it without the help and support of friends. And, the best part is, I never have to do it again.

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Basking momentarily after conquering fear

Fear can be so paralyzing. So, when you are able to do something to break through it, you feel free as a bird. I spread my wings a little that day.

I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.  – Nelson Mandela

Terri Rylander

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