Mountains to Climb

Driving to the cabin for a recent 3-day writing retreat, I passed a landmark that brought back a flood of memories.

Many years ago, when we had only four children, Hubby and I were invited to go on a backpacking hike without the kids. I had been camping and had done day hikes before, but I had never backpacked. Howard had backpacked with some of the people in this group before. It sounded like an adventure. Little did I know!

The trail that had been chosen was the Rockwall. I was to be the only woman. There would be Hubby and four other guys. Three of the guys had done this trip before and assured me that anyone could do it. Just to set the stage – back then I weighed 102 lbs on a heavy day, and I was 9 months past a major car accident with second grade whiplash. When we did our group pack check my pack weighed 35 pounds – and that was after Hubby had taken some of my gear and stashed it in his pack.

We put in at Lake O’Hara and hiked for what seemed like forever until we got to where we were pitching tent for the first night. That first night, because I had not adjusted the straps on my pack properly, my back seized up so bad I couldn’t move my arms to drop my pack. Hubby had to lift it off me. And then I couldn’t move my upper body to get undressed for bed. This trip was not starting well. One of the other hikers had some drugs with him – Roboxacet and Tylenol 3. He offered them to me, and recognizing that I was in deep trouble, I took them. I slept like a baby and woke up feeling refreshed, relaxed, and out of pain. The guys helped me adjust my straps properly and that solved the back/neck issues.

We continued on. There was no day shorter than 10 hours of hiking, and every day had a massive climb up and an equal descent down. I was sure we were on the wrong hike. I had been told we’d be hiking for an easy five hours each day. Ha! These 10-hour days repeated for each of the 4 days of the trail, with a shorter version on day 5 when we came out. Once we were out, at Numa Falls, one of the guys had to hitchhike back to Banff (about a 90-minute trip) to call his wife to drive up from Calgary (about a 3-hour trip) to come get us.

The physical pain of the first day was something that has been burned into my memory, but there were other challenges that were far greater. I have a strange fear of heights. I can fly just fine. I can go to the summit of a ski run and love the view looking down. I can go up the Calgary Tower and it’s all great. Put me on the side of a mountain on a narrow ledge and I panic. Yes, we had what felt like miles of ledges – mountain straight up on one side, an 18-inch wide path to walk on, and a cliff straight down on the other side.

And then there was the log bridge across the river. It was a single log that had been felled to serve as a bridge – and the river walog across rivers way, way, way down. The log was a good 20 feet long, but my mind saw it as miles and miles and miles long.  Crossing that in hiking boots with a 35-pound pack on my back – I sat at the start of it and cried. There was no way I could do it. A few of the guys went first. I watched them. Then I had a choice. Hubby and I could turn around and go back, which meant everyone would have to go back – that was the rule – or I would have to ‘find it’ somewhere deep inside to get across that stinkin’ log. To this day, I’m not sure how I got across – only that when I got to the other side (you guessed it) I sat down and cried.

We passed piles of fresh bear scat and signs nailed to the trees warning us of bear activity.

Hubby and I talked about the book we were going to write when we got home – the one about perseverance, setting and reaching goals, about doing hard things. The book has never been written, but the lessons that were learned in those five days have stuck with me.

Each and every one of us is tougher that we know. There are times when we don’t want to be tough and strong, where we just want to sit down and cry, but in the end we ‘dig deep’ and ‘find it’ and we keep going. It’s not until that chapter is done that we realize what we learned and what we accomplished. The Numa Falls parking lot is now my reminder, every time I drive past it to come to the cabin, of triumphing over the difficult and continuing to move forward.

Everyone has mountains to climb. How do you summon the courage to do what has to be done to keep climbing? Please share.

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