In passing, I’ve previously mentioned a fear of heights – in fact, it played a role in the decision not to climb the Grand Teton. I’ve downplayed it to avoid the inevitable queries about why someone with any such concern would decide mountain climbing was for them. But occasionally that fear rears its head again, like the proverbial dragon waking up in its cave. And I realize that each time I set off for a new summit, vertical drops provide their own very special form of challenge (or torture). It goes back to kindergarten when on my way to the second floor of the building I somehow slipped between the steps of the fire escape style metal staircase, just catching myself before I fell. I was a skinny child. I didn’t say much to anyone about it, but I remember it to this day.
Year later, when I was about 13, my family made a trip to Grandfather Mountain in North Carolina, where my father walked my brother and me over the swinging bridge that crosses a gorge several hundred feet below. I still have never told anyone how completely paralyzed I felt on that bridge, but one of my repeated anxiety dreams (aside from the one where you have to take an exam in a class that you forgot to attend) is of being on a high, narrow bridge with no rails, unable to move forward or back.
So, yesterday when my husband (now known as J) and I decided the time had come to clean the skylights on our house, I clambered up the ladder after him. (The roof really is a bit steeper than the photo shows.) As soon as I put my foot down on the sloping roof every fear I’d had was triggered – what in the world would prevent me from simply sliding right back down and onto the patio below. I started to think about the angles of Cotopaxi – and, if we do it, Chimborazo – and thought, well, if you’re having a hard time on your own roof top you aren’t going to do very well there. So I took a deep breath, trusted in the grip of my tennis shoes, and bribed myself with the promise of the great view I would have of the neighborhood and everyone else’s backyards.
And it worked. By the time we were done I was skipping around on the roof – if not like a mountain goat at least like one of those mules that go up and down the Grand Canyon.
But, you know what? Last night I still dreamed about walking on a narrow ledge at the very top of a multi-level mall. I had to hold on to some sort of rope and half way along the ledge drop one rope and pick up another. I did really well on one side of the mall, but when I had to cross the ledge on the other side, I found myself saying to the anonymous, but stern, guides, I’d just prefer to do this tomorrow.
Still some work to be done before Cotopaxi!